Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Seasons Series and the Murder Mystery Series are the creation of the author.
As always, my gratitude and thanks to Lisa, Inga and Susan for their support as beta readers. Special thanks to Sharon and Pat for their technical assistance.
Note: The Seasons Series and the stories in the Murder Mystery Series all interrelate. It is best to start at the beginning.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Special Warning: These stories deal with the practice of forensics in a fairly accurate manner, more sensitive readers might find some of the scenes upsetting.
Visit Anne Azel's World at < http://www.jes.com.au/~azel/ > or write Anne at <firstname.lastname@example.org> The Anne Azel Murder Mysteries Book 1 can be ordered through Amazon.com or Openbookltd.
It had been great. The building of tension and then the sudden incredible release of emotion had left him feeling tired but content with life. It was wonderful to be so much in control. To be able, because of your talents and intelligence, to do just what the hell you wanted.
The man smiled. He looked both ways up and down the streetlight lit and empty road and then put his gym bag down on the edge of a flower planter. It was one of those large cement planters that offices often have on the side walk, filled with hardy annuals. He frowned for a second. Whoever had been hired by this company to keep the beds was not earning their money. The bed had been choked by weeds and he had had to come the day before and weed it. People had no respect for living things like flowers. Nor did they have any respect for the dead. Thank God, he did!
Carefully, he lifted a folded potato sack from his bag and slipped it under the petunias. Unfolding the edges, he carefully rearranged the charred bones so she would be comfy and decent. Even through his plastic gloves he could feel the grease of the melted marrow on the bones. He stepped back and looked at his work critically. Then he nodded in satisfaction.
Carefully, wiping his hands on a towel he carried for this purpose, he once again reached inside his gym bag and pulled out a wallet. It was pink. The girl had dropped it when he had yelled at her. He smiled. She had been cute and in good shape too. A tomboy like his sister had been at that age. Carefully, he placed the wallet next to the bones, stopping to straighten it so that it was in perfect alignment. Lastly, he reached in to his bag and pulled out a red plastic clown nose and viciously screwed it into the nasal cavity, breaking away the remaining charred tissue that had once been the victim's nose.
The man was breathing hard when he finished, not with exertion but with emotion. He took off his gloves and dropped them carefully into a plastic grocery bag that he had brought with him and having tied it tightly, he dropped it inside his gym bag. He zipped up the bag and walked away laughing. Only he could have got away with burying the bones in a flower bed on a main street in Toronto!
Aliki woke in a foul mood. Getting out of bed, she brushed her teeth, ran a comb through her hair and then slipped into silk shorts and a cotton t-shirt. Lifting her t-shirt, she tied a canvas belt around her waist. Now nestled in the small of her back was a slim knife sheathed within the canvas. Dr. Alberta Aliki Pateas was a master in the use of shinto blades. During her years as an R.C.M.P. officer, she had got used to always carrying a knife. She still did. Only once had she ever drawn it in defense. That was to kill Mrs. Alexandra Williams.
The Williams family were famous. Alexandra had been a renowned ballerina and her much older husband a self made multi millionaire. Their three children each carved a notch for themselves as well. Roberta was an Oscar winning actor, director and playwright. Elizabeth was a world renowned physicist. And Billy-the-Kid, before his death on the track, had set records as an Indy racer.
The thoughts of the Williams family made her scowl even more as she jumped off her front porch and ran across her lawn to drop down to the lake front, a lovely strip of parkland along the shoreline of Toronto. Her life had been well ordered, planned and in control. She had been happy enough. Now all that was gone, partly due to the Williams family.
It had been Aliki who had gotten Robbie Williams off a first degree murder charge when she was able to establish that the famous actor and director could not have killed her father. She had thought herself in love with Robbie's wife, Janet, who had helped to prove Robbie's innocence with her. Even now, she felt the burning heat of embarrassment reach her face as she remembered the night that she had made a pass at Janet. She had kissed her only to be turned down ever so nicely. That was the moment, she realized, when her quiet, secure life had started to fall apart.
Not only had she made a pass for Robbie's wife but she had also used her knife to kill Robbie's mother. It had been self defense, the woman had already shot her once and was about to finish off the job. But still...killing people's kin did not endear them to you. And that was the root of one of Aliki's problems.
She had gone home to Alberta earlier in the month. The visit had originally been planned to allow her to attend her brother's wedding. The wedding had delayed, however, while Ari's wife, Joan, had been in a serious car accident and needed time to recover. The visit did give Aliki the chance to have a long talk with her father. Baba admitted that he'd had an affair with Alexandria before she had run off and married Williams and Aliki knew that Alexandria had told Robbie that her father had not been Philip Williams. That Robbie looked so much like Aliki that they could have passed for sisters, had made Aliki very suspicious. So she had questioned to her father, then checked Robbie's birth date. It was highly likely that Robbie Williams was her half sister. Baba had been embarrassed about his indiscretion but delighted that he had yet another child. He wanted to meet Robbie.
Aliki pounded down the trail, setting a pace that was brutal. Considering the history between Aliki and Robbie, it was going to be damn hard to go the director's door and say, "Hi, guess what!? I'm your half sister!" She had brooded about it all winter and late in the spring had phoned Robbie's office. Robbie was in Britain. Aliki had not known whether to be disappointed or relieved.
Aliki swore under her breath and then faced the worst source of her depression. Dawn Freeman.
They had met last summer when Aliki had gone home for a rare visit. She had tried to keep her distance from Dawn, but the mother and her daughter, MacKenzie, had wormed their way into her heart. When they had parted, Dawn had promised that she would be there in the fall when Aliki returned. She hadn't been. Neither had MacKenzie. They had been in California instead, promoting Dawn's first book for the adult market. It had been number one on the best seller list now for weeks and there was talk that Growing Up Free would be made into a movie.
Aliki came to a staggering stop and bent over. She had a massive stitch in her side and she could feel the calf muscles in her right leg knotting. Shit! That's what I get for not pacing myself.
She forced herself to stay moving and, both more slowly and more painfully, she headed back to her house.
Aliki had read Dawn's book three times. It was great; sort of autobiographical, about a girl growing up in a log cabin in a remote area near a national park much as like Dawn had. The novel reflected just as much an inner growth as it did a physical maturing. However, Aliki hated the ending and never read it. She had read the book the first time while she was still at her Dad's. When she got to the part where the girl married a male cop, she had thrown the book across the room.
She had thought that she and Dawn were on to something really good. She had thought the spirited, petite woman had loved her. Idiot! She scolded herself. You should have known better!
They had kept in touch at first, sending romantic love notes via email back and forth each day and phoning each other. Then Aliki had been sent to the Arctic to investigate the finding of an old plane-crash site. By the time she had got back, Dawn had been away in New York visiting her publisher.
Their emails had always seemed to miss each other. The passion and romance had turned to trite statements between strangers. Lately, there hadn't been any emails. Well, what did you expect, Aliki? You fell in love with someone you hardly knew! You didn't even have the guts to make some sort of commitment to the woman. Now she's gone. The forensic anthropologist dropped down on her front lawn and grabbed her toe to try and straighten out the charlie horse that was knotting up her leg. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Did I do a warm up this morning? She couldn't remember.
The worst of the pain gone, she limped into her kitchen and poured orange juice and made toast.
Honey and peanut butter this morning, she thought. She needed some sweetening up. If all that had not been enough to weigh her down, there was the matter of the serial killings that had scared the Toronto area to near panic since spring.
The more populist of the newspapers had stirred the public's fear even higher by labeling the killer The Fire Clown. The title was gruesomely accurate. Each victim's body had been burned to the bone. And each charred pile of bones that had been found had a red plastic clown's nose sitting on the blackened skull where the nose would have been. That made it Aliki's area of expertise and after three killings, she was no closer to pulling the rabbit out of the hat.
It had consumed her time, and now recovered from her run and fortified by breakfast, she was able to admit it had added to the communication breakdown with Dawn. She was keeping weird hours and when she did get home, she was too tired to write with any real thought or feeling. She had to admit she was partly to blame. But damn it! Why did Dawn have to go and write a best seller and become rich and famous? Why did she have to go away?
The phone rang and Aliki reached out a long arm and lifted the receiver from the wall mount. "Dr. Pateas."
"Aliki, we have another one. A bus driver, on her route late last night, opened her door for a passenger and saw the bones in a large planter she looked down on. She called her dispatcher on her radio and they called the Metropolitan Toronto Police," said the voice of her boss and friend, Doctor Thomas Bates.
"Are the bones at the lab yet?" she asked.
"I'll be there in forty minutes."
Aliki quickly washed up her breakfast dishes and put everything away neatly. That's my problem, I departmentalize everything. I put Dawn in a compartment in my life and only got to her when I had time. She thumped upstairs, annoyed with herself on so many levels that the bleak mood she had woke up in was boiling over now into anger. Life sucks!
A quick shower and a change of clothes and she was on her way to work. Her disciplined mind closed the doors on all her upset and focused only on one aspect, trying to identify The Fire Clown. The first killing had occurred during the middle of March, just after the students had returned from their term break. The victim was Helen Rose, a thirty two year old, athletic woman, Caucasian, who worked for Hydro Ontario and played basketball in her spare time. Her bones had been found under a bush in High Park.
The killer always left the remains in some sort of garden setting, the bones stacked very neatly on a potato sack. It would be an almost respectful gesture if it wasn't for the cheap, red plastic clown nose wedged into place on the charred skull.
Twenty nine days later, the killer left the bones of the second woman in a flower bed on the edge of Ontario Place. This time the victim was an eighteen year old Caucasian in her first year of university. Her major had been archaeology. She played on the softball team for the local department store where she worked part time. Her boyfriend told the police that she had left for a Saturday morning practice and had not returned.
The second week in June, the killer had attacked again. The victim was a twenty-five year old oriental woman. She had been reported missing by her husband when she had not returned home from her job working at a fitness centre. Her bones were found a week later in a garden behind a historical building in the city. They had been left in their usual neat order under a rose bush.
Now, a little over two weeks later, the Fire Clown had struck again. This wasn't good. The killer was feeding into the notoriety he was getting from the press. And his need to kill was becoming more frequent. Parking her van in her designated spot, she got out and headed around to the front doors of the forensic laboratories where she worked.
Running up the stone steps, she pushed the heavy door open and entered the lobby. "Morning, Alice," she muttered as she signed in and picked up her I.D. card to snap on her collar.
"Morning, Doctor Pateas. Have you seen the morning paper?" the receptionist asked.
Alice held up the front page of one of Toronto's numerous papers. The headline read, "Fire Clown Gets Away Again!"
"Oh shit. This is not good," cursed Aliki with a grimace.
Alice nodded. "I think every politician and administrator in Toronto has called this morning. They want an arrest."
Pateas rolled her eyes and headed over to the elevators. She got in beside Becky Wilson, the lab's entomologist. Becky was a petite, cherub-faced woman who wore pretty cotton dresses. She had that rosy, well scrubbed complexion and there was always a scent of lavender about her. She was polite and courteous and Alilki had heard that she was happily married to a United Church minister and had two children.
"Hello Alberta, or should I say Aliki?" the small woman smiled.
"Either is fine. People seem to have found out that my given name is Aliki and have started to call me that in over Alberta."
Becky laughed as they got out on the same floor. "Dr. Bates posted it in the lunch room. A big sign that read "Alberta today, Aliki tomorrow!"
Aliki stopped and looked at the smaller woman in shock. "He didn't!"
"He did," the woman laughed with merriment dancing in her eyes. "He said he liked the name Aliki much better but couldn't use it unless everyone did or we would all be confused."
"That old devil!" snorted Aliki. Then she sobered. "We have another one, did you hear?"
"Yeah. I saw the paper. Let me know if I can help." She smiled, softly touching Aliki's arm, a gesture that very few people would be comfortable in doing.
Aliki nodded and turned the other direction to head down to her own office. If you met Becky Wilson you would think that she was a nice middle management secretary. In fact, she was one of North America's leading authorities on maggots. On her lab door was a colourful sign that read, "Bugs-R-Us".
Aliki walked through the hall door into her small office and dropped her briefcase on her desk. Without breaking stride, she continued through into the research lab and on into the autopsy room. The sickening sweet smell of roasted human flesh hit her like a truck as she passed through the double set of fireproof doors. Thomas Bates was over by a workbench making notes on a chart while beside him Carl Ling worked mounting cold sections of a liver on slides.
"Same as the others?" Aliki asked, as she passed by him to enter a small locker room where she kicked off her loafers and got into a pair of rubberized shoes designed for rainy days. These she covered in cotton foot covers. She lifted a fresh lab coat off the hook and slipped her arms in. From the locker shelf, she picked up her pocket tape recorder. Methodically, she checked the battery strength before slipping it into her pocket and clipping the mike to her lapel as she walked back to join her boss, Doctor Thomas Bates, chief pathologist for the Metro Toronto Forensic Lab.
"Same as the others, it would seem," Bates answered belatedly, as he watched his forensic anthropologist double glove , mask, and slip on protective glasses. Alberta nodded seriously, as she reached out and pulled a small leaf off a mint plant that grew in a pot on the widow sill. She bruised the leaf and slipped it into her mask. The aromatic plant did not hide the smell of burnt flesh but at least it gave you something else to focus on. It had been Doctor Bates who had introduced Alberta to the custom. Lastly, she slipped a floral paper hat on, tucking her hair inside.
Turning, Aliki went over and removed the sheet to reveal the charred and dismembered bones that lay on the stainless steel gurney. They would need soaking and stewing in a series of basic household cleaners to remove the remaining muscle and tendon tissue. Only then could a proper analysis be done of the bones to determine for sure the cause of death. In the meantime however, Aliki could compare dental charts and other known characteristics to those of the records of missing persons in the hope of making an identification.
The lack of a prominent supraorbital tori and gonial angle indicated a female along with the over all gracileness of the skeleton. Aliki picked up a surgical tool and carefully removed the burnt debris from the eye socket. Running her gloved finger along the upper edge of the orbit, she could feel a sharp edge, indicating the sex as most likely female. She nodded and then verified her assumption by checking the pelvis, which was the most reliable indicator of gender. The iliac blades were laterally flared more than one would expect for a male and the sacrum was fairly broad. The remains were female.
She picked up a tape measure from a surgical tray that had been set up for her by Carl Ling the department's technical forensic assistant. First, she measured the over all height and then verified her findings by vertebra and tibia lengths. The victim had been a relatively tall female at 167 cm. In a quiet, confident voice, she recorded her findings and observations into the mike attached to her lab coat.
Aliki's gloves were now greasy and covered with bits of burnt tissue, ash and blood. Impatiently, she wiped them on a paper towel and dropped it into a hazardous waste container. Considering the heat at which the bones had been burnt, it was unlikely that any deadly organisms still existed but it paid to be cautious. In today's society, blood could be listed as an assault weapon.
She moved back to pry open the jaw and look at the teeth. A first glance showed that there was no sign of wisdom teeth and the second molars were only just starting to push through. Based on this and the position and state of the other teeth, Aliki suspected the female was about eleven years old. The theory was reinforced by the fact that the individual bones of the skull and face had only just started to show signs of fusing together.
Dr. Bates had finished his observations and had wandered over to where Dr. Pateas was working. She was good and he was glad to have her working on the case. He had taken the forensic anthropologist under his wing and felt more than her boss but her mentor and friend as well.
Not that Pateas was an easy person to know. She was a very private individual and put a lot of walls between herself and others. Around the lab, people were either in awe of her obvious strength and intelligence or intimidated by her abrupt, cold, professional manner. Bates had taken to her right away. Her clients might be the dead but she was willing to always go that extra mile to get justice for them or give closure to those they had left behind.
She was a strange one though, Bates had to admit. He had worked with her for almost a year before he had realized that she was an RCMP officer as well as a forensic anthropologist. She did not like to be seen as an officer of the law but as a scientist. The truth of the matter, though, was that she thought like a cop and that quality helped her to do her lab work better. She understood crime where many people working in the lab did not.
"There was a wallet associated with this site," he said as he slipped a pink plastic billfold from a police evidence envelope. "We have a name that might help us identify this one." Pateas did not look up. She was busy checking teeth. Her beautiful face just above the black gaping jaws was passive.
"It was like the killer wanted us to I.D. her. The wallet was not burnt just left with the bones," Bates went on, not the least put out by Pateas' lack of response. She was giving her work her full attention. He knew, however, that she would digest everything he was saying. "The address card is written in a child's printing and the name is MacKenzie Freeman, R.R.#2, Swan Hills, Alberta. It looks... Alberta?!"
Bate's monologue had been interrupted by a gasp of anguish from Pateas. He looked up to see the tall woman backing from the table as she ripped off her gloves and dropped them to the floor. The look on her face was one of total horror. Bates didn't have to ask. He knew by that look that the charred remains was someone Aliki knew.
Dawn Freeman sat at an antique kitchen table, oblivious to the drama that was occurring several miles away. She had a headache and she rubbed her temples as she sat over her morning cup of coffee. She felt stretched and drained of energy and overwhelmed by all she had to do. She had never expected that her first book would become an overnight success. Nor had she any idea just how many demands that would put on her. Now here she was eight months later, the owner of a run down but beautiful historical home in the Beaches, an expensive and trendy area of Toronto.
Last night, the steady drip of the kitchen tap had become a stream. She had contacted a series of plumbers and discovered that by paying a small fortune she could get one to visit as early as the end of next week.
She had tried to turn off the cut off valve but there hadn't been one below the sink. When she'd followed the pipes in the basement she had discovered that the main intake valve was not located in the new basement under the addition but down a narrow crawl space under the older section of the house. She'd had no intention of crawling down there last night. So she had wrapped electrical tape as tightly as she could around the leaking joint and left it for this morning. The steady drip of water escaping from around the tape and rapping against the stainless steel sink was driving her crazy.
With a sigh, she got up and headed for the basement. The job needed to get done and it wasn't going to happen unless she got started. It was a good time to get on with it too, as she wasn't expecting her daughter, MacKenzie, back from a sleep over until eleven.
What was really eating at her, she knew, was the knowledge that only a few blocks away Aliki Pateas lived. They had for a brief time been lovers. When they parted last summer, they promised to keep in touch and meet again in the fall. It hadn't happened. Dawn had been stranded in L.A. by bad weather and ended up, when the weather cleared, having to fly on to New York City to be on a talk show.
Then Aliki had been in the Arctic on a case....somehow the phone calls had become more stilted and the emails less frequent until they had stopped. Her daughter, who idolized Aliki, kept nagging at her to contact the forensic anthropologist. Dawn wanted to desperately, but she didn't think she could stand the heart break if Aliki rejected her. She hadn't known the RCMP officer and scientist long but she knew she loved her. She needed to be with Aliki. In her heart, she felt that she was supposed to be with Aliki. That she wasn't, hurt like hell.
She picked up the old wood ladder that lay against the wall in the basement and awkwardly swung the heavy apparatus into place against the far wall. Being short had advantages but moving tall ladders was not one of them. Gingerly, she climbed up the rungs to the crawl space that led under the really old section of the house. Fishing a flashlight from her pocket, she directed the beam down the dark tunnel.
The passage had been hand dug well over a hundred years ago. The walls were lined with dry stone and the floor was dirt. The thick beams of the foundation and the under-boards of the floor above formed the roof of the tunnel. It was filled with black, filthy cobwebs, and bits of the old seaweed insulation that had been popular in the eighteen hundreds was littered about.
She batted away the first layer of webs and slipped from the ladder to the tunnel. Slowly, she edged her way down the gloomy shaft, clearing the webs as she went and fighting down her reaction to bolt. At last, she got to the main shut off by the outside wall and with difficulty turned the corroded knob off. Having the valve moved to a more accessible location was going to be a number one priority as soon as a plumber finally did show up.
With relief, she headed back up the tunnel. She had barely turned around in the cramped space and started off on her hands and knees, when her right hand holding the flashlight broke through the dried earth into a large rodent tunnel below. Rats! her mind registered immediately, and fear and panic took over from reason.
Leaving the flashlight buried, she pulled out her hand and charged for the opening. In her imagination, rats by the thousands scurried up the hole and chased after her. The broken bits of web and brown isolation stuck to her perspiring face and arms. Blind with fear, she dived out of the tunnel and fell heavily to the cement floor eight feet below.
Tears rolling down her face, she staggered to her feet and charged up the stairs to slam the basement door between her and her greatest fear. Wolves, snakes even Grizzly bears didn't scare her but rats were a different matter all together! Heart pounding, she sank to the kitchen floor surprised to see the blood dripping from her face to her lap. She had not felt any pain when she had landed on the hard basement floor, but now a throbbing ache had started at the side of her head and her shoulder and back were stiffening up.
Bates had said no more. He had pulled the sheet up over the burnt remains that Alikis's horror-filled eyes were frozen on. Then he had gone quietly over to her and taken her by the arm and led her into his office to sit. Opening the "W" file drawer, he pulled out a mickey of whiskey and poured a good shot into a glass. He brought it over and wrapped the forensic anthropologist's hands around the drink. "Here, have some," he advised softly.
Aliki looked down at the glass in surprise and then over her shoulder to where the covered remains lay in the other room. Bates stepped into her line of vision casually. "Drink," he reminded her. Aliki looked back at the glass, hesitated and then took a good mouthful. Swallowing hard, she felt the smooth amber liquid burning all the way down and thawing the ice that was sitting in her gut with its warm after glow.
"I am going to look at the child, Dr. Pateas. I want you to stay here," Bates explained, firmly but quietly.
Aliki nodded, her face tense with emotion. After Bates left, she sat staring at the floor. She could hear MacKenzie's laughter and her voice, soft but hesitant. Tears rolled unchecked down the forensics scientist's face. She had loved that child as her own.
It was some time before, Bates returned. When he did, he squatted down beside Aliki's chair and put his hand on her arm. "Aliki, I need to ask you to come look at the dentition."
Aliki's head turned to look at him, her eyes wide with horror. Already she knew that the image of the burnt flesh and bones would never leave her mind. She swallowed, fighting back revulsion.
"It is important, Aliki, or I wouldn't be asking. I want you to redo my dental examination. According to me, that child in there is Joyce Leadsen, not Mackenzie Freeman." Aliki was on her feet and moving towards the door so quickly that Bates was almost knocked flat. When he came out, Aliki was double gloving as she looked down and the nightmarish remains of the poor child.
Aliki worked slowly and carefully, checking both the x-rays and charred teeth against the dental chart of the missing girl, Joyce Leadsen. Since the killing had started, the forensic lab had made it a point to keep the dental charts of any females that had gone missing in the Toronto area in their data banks. A quick identification helped family and friends to come to terms quicker with their loss and cut down on the agonizing days of simply not knowing what had happen to someone they loved.
Joyce Leadson's mandibular molars had three root branches instead of the more common two. The third root of each molar was distal of the midline. Aliki checked the x-rays of the remains and with relief saw the same pattern. Each facet of Joyce's dental records matched one after the other with what Aliki could see on the x-rays and in the blackened mouth of the skull on the table before her.
Bates watched as Aliki worked. The woman moved with smooth, economical motion. Her face was a beautiful still mask covering the emotions that must be just below the surface. The only indication that Aliki was in deep shock was the slight tremor of her hands as she worked.
Finally, she straightened and looked at Bates. "It's not her."
Bates frowned, had he made a mistake? "It's not Joyce Leadsen?"
Aliki looked confused for a second, then registered what Bates had said. "Oh. Yes, it's Joyce. It isn't Mac....MacKenzie." Her voice trembled with emotion.
Bates nodded, noting how white the forensic anthropologist was. "Clean up and join me in my office. We need to talk," he said.
Aliki removed her soiled gown, shoe covers and gloves, dropping them in the appropriate containers. Then she scrubbed with disinfectant soap. She met Dr. Bates in his office a few minutes later, sliding into the visitor's chair again and reaching for the glass of scotch that had been poured for her. In a few swallows it was gone and the after burn made Aliki shudder.
Bates watched her with kind, concerned eyes under bushy eyebrows once dark but now almost white. Absently, he sucked on his old briar pipe, which he wasn't allowed to light in the building anymore but refused to give up.
The small office they sat in could be described as cluttered by the more charitable. In fact, it was a chaotic mess of stacked files, open file drawers and grizzly specimens that never seemed to make their way over to the storage areas before they were replaced by others.
"Who is MacKenzie Freeman?" Bates asked.
"The daughter of a ....woman I met out west last summer," Alberta admitted carefully.
There was silence for a minute. Then Bates continued. "The daughter of Dawn Freeman, the author?" Bates asked.
Aliki looked up in surprise. "Yes." Bates was like that. He gave the impression of being totally unaware of what was going on around him but the reality was that he was not only focused but observing and recording all in a brain that seemed to have very few limitations.
Bates sucked thoughtfully on the stem of his unlit pipe. "Close the door, Aliki," he finally said.
Aliki frowned but reached back with one long arm and swung the door shut. She looked at her boss expectantly and he went on. "It took me a few minutes to add this all up but I think I am drawing some conclusions here. Swan Hills, Alberta is where you come from is it not, Aliki?"
"And Dawn and Mackenzie, I take it?"
"Last summer you returned here with your feet barely touching the ground and the smile of a love-sick lunatic permanently stuck on your face. You spent all your coffee breaks and lunch time sending emails. Then this fall you return from a second trip to the west, ill-tempered, moody and a pain in the ass. If I am not mistaken there might be a connection here. Isn't that about the time Ms. Freeman's novel hit the top seller list?"
"I don't know where you are going with this conversation, Dr. Bates," Aliki stated quietly, a hint of coldness in her voice.
"You are in love with Dawn Freeman. I've seen the picture of her that you keep inside the drawer of your desk."
Aliki said nothing.
"You know what this means, don't you, Dr. Pateas?" Bates gently asked.
Aliki's stomach tied in a knot. "No, what does this mean?" she said, swallowing down a lump in her throat.
"It means you might be personally involved and that is going to make things very difficult. Defense lawyers will jump on it."
Aliki blinked in surprise. She had anticipated a discussion on her sexual preferences not on criminology. "That's not Mac," she finally managed to get out. "I am not personally involved."
Bates looked at his pipe sadly then up at Aliki their eyes locked. "Aliki, the killer had Mac's wallet. We might not have found Mac's body yet or it might be that Joyce had Mac's wallet for some reason, or it might be that Mac had a very near escape from a horrible fate. We need to look into this more closely. Did you know Dawn and Mac were in Toronto?"
"No," responded Aliki, feeling faint with shock and worry. "But Toronto is where Dawn's Canadian publisher is located."
"Hmmm, I think we'll do this. I'll pick up the homicide counselor and go over to the Leadens to inform them that Joyce's remains have been found and identified. You will locate the Freemans. Take an officer with you. We need to know if Mac is alive and whether she saw the killer. If she did the child is going to need protection."
Aliki felt cold and terror grabbed at her guts. She had just accepted that Mac was alive only to have her fears fed again by Bates' words. Please God make sure Mac is safe! She stood to leave, unaware that Bates was watching her closely, noting her red eyes and the grey pallor.
The tall woman stopped. "Yes."
"I need to know. Are you involved?"
The woman straightened her shoulders and looked at her boss calmly. "I am very much in love with Dawn and her daughter is like my own. I thought they loved me...I might have been wrong," she answered honestly.
"Well, we'll need to be careful then on how we handle this case. I'll deal with Volenni, he is not known for his tolerance," Bates went on, referring to the officer in charge of the investigation into the serial killings. "You try and keep a low profile on this one."
"Yes Sir," Aliki responded, relieved that her boss was willing to accept, to some degree anyway, her sexual orientation.
Bates went back to writing notes but as Aliki turned to leave he added, "When this is over you must introduce me to your loved ones over dinner at your house."
Aliki looked back at the small, unassuming man who was part devil and part saint inside. "Thanks, Dr. Bates...for understanding."
"Thank you, Dr. Pateas for the lovely homemade blueberry pie you will make on that occasion!
As you know, it is my favourite."
Aliki laughed despite herself and Bates smiled at her, his eyes filled with devilment. She turned and left, deciding that she couldn't deal with a police officer, however understanding, with her when she met Dawn again. She got her shoulder bag from her locker and headed out to her Honda van.
Pateas had to pull her badge in order to convince the publisher that it was important that she have Dawn's address. Then had to waste time explaining to a worried publisher that Dawn Freeman was not involved in a police investigation. With a sigh of frustration at the delay and Dawn's address on a piece of paper in her hand, she headed off again.
Her earlier shock had been replaced by a feeling of depression and flashes of resentment. Dawn wasn't renting, she had bought a house only a few miles from where Aliki herself lived. So Dawn had planned to move to Toronto and not tell Aliki that she was here. That realization hurt like hell.
She drove over to The Beaches and parked her car in the driveway of a house that she had noted a number of times before when she had been out jogging. It was a small, beautiful example of the Queen Anne style but in very sad repair. She hadn't known it was for sale. If she had, she would have been interested in buying it herself for the fun of restoring it.
She got out of the car and headed up the cracked walk to knock on the door. She noted with a shake of her head that the inner door was open and only an old wooden screen door stood between an intruder and entry into the house. Her knocking got no response and there did not seem to be a door bell. Placing her hand up to her eyes to shield out light, she looked through the screen.
No one seemed to be about but there were large splashes of blood on the floor leading from the kitchen down the hall and up the stairs. Aliki pulled the door handle. The screen door was latched with a hook. Without hesitation her fist went through the corner of the nylon screen and she flipped the lock off and entered.
"Dawn!" she called but got no answer. Her gut tightened in a knot. In the kitchen, she found a pool of blood on the floor, several smears and a bloody hand print. Footprints led back down the hall. Someone had lain here bleeding and then had staggered to their feet and had headed down the hall and up the stairs. Aliki followed cautiously, the knife she always carried now out and ready in her hand and her heart pounding with fear for those she loved.
She made her way up the stairs, keeping her back to the wall. No one. Sweat dripped down her back. She slipped into the first bedroom and realized that it was Mac's room. Fighting down the pang of rejection that pierced her, Aliki checked the room and the closet for an intruder and moved on. The next was a large bathroom that had clearly been made from a spare bedroom. Aliki simply looked in and moved on. The last room was Dawn's bedroom. The scent of sun, and warm herbs faintly tantalized Aliki, bringing back memories of lying with Dawn in her arms.
She slid along the wall and checked the closet. No one. There again, on the hardwood floor, were several drops of blood. Cautiously, she made her way over to a small en-suite bathroom and looked in. Dawn was lying in a pool of blood on the floor. Aliki, rushed to her and with cold fingers she reached down to see if there was a pulse, her eyes still searching the small space for an assailant.
The heartbeat was very fast but strong. Someone or something had scared Dawn badly. "Dawn?
Dawn?" Aliki called, putting her knife away and pushing hair matted with blood aside to see if she could see the extent of the injury. A laceration about four centimeters long ran between the mastoid process and the external auditory meatus. In short, the blood had come from a nasty cut behind her right ear. Dawn's jaw was swollen and bruised too and Aliki carefully felt for any breaks.
Dawn moaned then gasped at the feel of hands on her face. "It's okay, Dawn. It's Aliki. It's okay. I'm here," the forensic scientist reassured. "Don't move. I'm going to call for back up. Did you see who did it? Where's Mac?" Aliki had to ask, fear gripping her heart.
"No back up. Don't need it. Rats. At a sleep over," Dawn mumbled.
"I just fainted." muttered Dawn with difficulty. "Help me up, Aliki, I had the scare of my life. There are rats in the crawl space. Mac's at a sleep over and won't be home until noon. How did you get in? Dawn asked, as she tried to make sense of the world around her again.
Aliki prudently ignored the last question as she carefully helped Dawn to her feet and guided her to the toilet seat where the writer sat down, looking pale and shaky.
Aliki was shaking a bit too as she wet a towel and started to clean away the blood from Dawn's face. "What happened?" she asked as she checked Dawn's eyes.
"I fell. I panicked because of the rat nest. I hate rats! I scurried along the crawl space and fell down onto the basement floor. I ran upstairs and closed the door and then the world started to go around. Then, I came up here to get cleaned up.....what are you doing here, Aliki?" Dawn asked softly, looking up at the woman she loved with eyes brimming over with tears.
"It's a long story. Let's get you cleaned up and see if you need to go to Emergency," the forensic scientist evaded. Aliki ran water on the towel again, wrung it and used it to clean Dawn's wound, face and hands. Then she carefully held a gauze bandage on the wound, adding a little pressure to slow the bleeding. The cut didn't look deep but head wounds always bled a lot.
"I don't need to go to emergency. I just did something stupid and hit my head," responded Dawn, looking up just as Aliki leaned close to take another look at the cut to see if the bleeding had stopped. Eyes met. "I missed you," Dawn admitted.
"You bought a house in Toronto and didn't even let me know!" complained Aliki angrily, replacing the gauze with a proper bandage.
"We lost touch...I was afraid...I didn't want to be a nuisance if you had decided...I mean, I had come on to you...you hadn't want..."
Dawn's disjointed explanations were cut short by Aliki's lips meeting her own in a soft kiss. The scientist sank to her knees in front of Dawn. "I've missed you. I thought you'd changed your mind when you weren't there in the fall. You were busy, you're rich and a famous author now. I thought I'd lost you."
Dawn shook her head. "No!" she protested softly, wrapping her arms around Aliki and holding on to her for dear life.
Aliki picked her up easily and carried her down the stairs to the kitchen. She put the kettle on for tea and mopped up the blood while she carefully got information from Dawn without scaring her. "You need me to pick Mac up at her party? I don't think you should drive today and I want to keep you awake for a while. You let me know if you feel dopey or if your vision blurs."
"No, Mrs. Simpson is going to drive Mac home after she takes them out for brunch. Wait until you see her, Aliki, she has really grown. It's scary, how quickly they grow up. She talks about you all the time. She's been after me to phone you."
"Why didn't you?" Aliki asked, stopping what she was doing to look at Dawn.
"Why didn't you?!" Dawn shot back
Aliki shrugged and looked miserable. "Afraid, I guess," she mumbled.
Dawn sighed. "Me too."
Aliki put the mop away, washed her hands carefully and made the tea. Dawn watched, savoring the opportunity to rediscover the beauty of Aliki's long, strong body.
"So why did you come today?" Dawn asked, as Aliki carried over two mugs of tea and a plate of shortbread cookies.
"That's a long story," Aliki said, looking at her watch. Twenty minutes past twelve. Where the hell was MacKenzie?! She didn't want to alarm Dawn but if Mac wasn't back soon, she was going to have to go look for her. "Best left for later. MacKenzie should be home any minute now."
"Do we have a later?" Dawn asked nervously.
Aliki looked up with startled eyes that turned sincere and gentle. "I hope so, Dawn, I really want there to be a future for us."
Dawn leaned forward to capture Aliki's lips again, then pulled back quickly when she heard the front door slam. "Hi Mom! I'm home!"
"In the kitchen, Mac," Dawn called, a big smile on her face.
"I had a great time. How did the front door screen get damaged? You know what...Aliki!" the young teen launched herself at the tall woman who had risen to her feet at the sound of MacKenzie returning.
Aliki wrapped the girl in her arms and held her close, kissing the top of her head. "I've missed you, kid."
"I've missed you too! Mom wouldn't phone you because she thought you'd be too busy for us but I know you'd come because you love us!" MacKenzie explained happily.
Aliki blushed and swayed uneasily from foot to foot. She looked down at the preteen with sad, serious eyes. "I'm here on police business," she stated honestly. "Come and sit down with us, Mac, we need to talk."
"Mac isn't in any trouble is she?" Dawn asked in worry, as she tried not to show her disappointment that Aliki hadn't come to see her.
Mac looked at her mom and her eyes got wide in shock. "Mom! What happened? You've got blood on your shirt! Are you hurt?"
"What? Oh no, I fell off the ladder in the basement and cut myself and got a few bruises. I'm okay. Aliki has already given me first aid," Dawn revealed, suddenly aware of her aches and pains and bloody t-shirt. She should go change but she needed to hear what Aliki had to say.
"Mac, Honey, could you just run upstairs and get me a clean t-shirt?" she asked.
"Sure, Mom," came the response and Mac went immediately to fetch the item
Dawn looked at Aliki. "What police business?" she asked bluntly, now showing her hurt.
Aliki looked up with sad eyes. "Mac's wallet was found associated with another killing by the Fire Clown," she stated softly.
"What?! Surely, you don't think Mac has anything to do with these murders?"
"Of course not!" snapped Aliki. "How did she lose her wallet?"
"Here, mom," a voice from the doorway interrupted. "I lost it downtown on a school trip, Tuesday. I'd stopped to do up my shoe lace and there was this weird man weeding the flowers in a cement container. He yelled at me to get going and I ran to catch up with my friends. Shortly after, I realized my wallet was missing. I think it must have dropped out of my windbreaker pocket when I bent over to do up my shoe.
"There wasn't much in it. Just a few dollars that Mom had given me in case I needed to buy a drink or something. I wasn't going back to check because that guy was really scary and I figured if it was on the sidewalk someone would have picked it up."
While Mac talked, Dawn turned away from Aliki modestly and slipped off the bloody t-shirt and put on the fresh one that Mac had brought. The gesture was not lost on Aliki and her depression grew.
Aliki nodded. "This guy. Why did he seem scary?"
Mac just shrugged. "He just was."
Aliki looked frustrated. "Okay, I can accept that, Mac," she responded patiently, "but I need more detail if you can remember. This is important. Was he wearing a uniform like lawn companies put their workers in? Did he look like a street person? Think, Mac!"
Mac looked suddenly worried, her body tense. She looked back and forth between a serious looking Aliki and her mother, who looked really upset.
"Sweetheart, Aliki thinks you might have seen the Fire Clown killer. Another body was found close to where your wallet was found. You need to answer Aliki as best you can."
Mac paled. "That man, he was the serial killer?" she asked with big, scared eyes.
"We don't know, Mac," Aliki explained, trying to appear relaxed and patient. "Maybe, but it is more likely he was what he appeared to be, a gardener who just doesn't like kids."
Mac played with the edge of a placemat that lay on the polished wood table. "He was not really very tall for a man but powerfully built, like he worked out. His hair was light brown and cut like they wear it in the military," she started, looking down at the place-mat as if the information was written there. "He had on black jeans and t-shirt and he looked really neat and well pressed. He didn't seem mean until he growled at me. He had weird eyes, like they were almost crossed."
"That's great, Mac," Aliki said forcing a smile. "Now can you tell me exactly what he said?"
Mac nodded, swallowing her fear. She didn't like it that her Mom and Aliki looked so tense. "I bent to do up my shoe lace and he stopped what he was doing and turned on me. He yelled at me,
'Get going, kid. Get the hell outta here!"
"Is that it?" Aliki probed, her hands wrapped around her mug of tea for warmth.
For a minute there was only the sound of the kitchen clock ticking. Then Aliki looked first at Dawn and then at Mac. "You two need to pack. You are going to come to live at my place. Anything perishable we'll take or throw out. You could be gone a long while."
"What?! Hang on here! You just can't walk in here and start ordering us about, Aliki Pateas! I own this house. I've got things to do. Mac has school..."
"Not anymore she doesn't. She is under police protection. It is likely that she is the only one who can identify the Fire Clown and that puts her in great danger."
"Oh God," Dawn whispered, in shock, and Mac sat still staring at Aliki with eyes filled with fear.
It had been a difficult afternoon. Aliki had sent them upstairs to pack while she emptied the fridge and threw out the garbage. She went from room to room, unplugging electrical items and checking windows to see if they were secure. She went to the basement and guiltily verified Dawn's story and then leaned the fallen ladder on its side by the wall.
Quietly and nervously, they packed their hurriedly gathered belongings into Aliki's van and got in with relief. The forensic scientist checked her watch. It had taken them two hours and fourteen minutes. Just in case, Aliki toured around, making sure no one was following her before she went home.
If it had been awkward at Dawn's house it was even more so at hers. She showed them to the guest rooms and made a quick escape downstairs to phone Bates. He wasn't home, so she left a message on his answering service and faxed him a copy of Mac's statement. Aliki Pateas knew she needed to contact Detective Joe Volenni, but decided to wait in the hopes Bates would phone her back, then he could handle Volenni. She would need to bring Dawn and her daughter down to the station the next morning so that Detective Joe Volenni could interview Mac anyway.
Dinner had been a pizza order. They had eaten it in the den while they watched a video so that they would not have to talk. After, Dawn had helped Mac with her homework and then, when the girl had gone off to bed, she had picked up a book to read. Aliki had gone to the room over looking her Japanese rock garden and worked at her karate and shinto exercises until she was ready to drop. Then she headed upstairs to shower.
When Aliki came down, Dawn had made tea for the two of them. They took it into the livingroom and stared silently at the empty fireplace. Finally, Dawn spoke. "This is awkward."
Aliki looked up at her from where she sat on the floor, her back against an easy chair. "Yes, it is."
"Where do we go from here?" Dawn asked.
Aliki got up and joined Dawn on the sofa. "I came back in the fall like I promised. I wanted to..to see if...well...to see if we couldn't ...come to an understanding," Aliki got out awkwardly.
Dawn looked perplexed and put her hand to her forehead, like she did when she was confused and nervous. "An understanding? What's that?"
Aliki swallowed and rubbed her sweaty hands on her slacks. "You know, that we would only see each other."
Dawn snorted and got up. "You mean like teenagers? We are going to go steady!"
"No!" protested Aliki, getting to her feet. Emotion gave her the courage to go on. "I mean I love you and I want to see if we can move towards becoming a family."
For a minute there was a stunned silence. Then Dawn managed to get out, "You love me? Are you suggesting a commitment?"
Aliki looked at her feet. Things were way out of control here. "Sometime maybe. We need to get to know each other again. I don't know if...."
Dawn was in her arms, holding her so tight that Aliki could hardly breathe. With relief, Aliki's arms wrapped around the smaller woman. She had missed this. "Aliki, I love you so much! I've been so sad and lonely! Yes, please, let's move towards becoming a family!"
"Slowly," Aliki added, feeling as if she had just dived off a very high cliff with no bungy cord.
"Slowly," Dawn promised.
Aliki smiled and buried her face in Dawn's hair. It smelt of sweetgrass and warm herbs on a summer's day. Suddenly everything felt good again.
The fire was started around two o'clock in the morning by placing Mac's stuffed animals on her bed and soaking them in lighter fluid. The old house went up in minutes. The fire department could do nothing but prevent the flames from spreading to the neighbours' properties.
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