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. And 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.
Janet had come to realize that the more controlled Robbie's face was, the more upset she was. When she and Ryan had got back from the concert, Robbie was there to greet them and smiled, laughed, and asked questions about their evening out. But Janet could tell Robbie was acting, beautifully, of course, but still acting. Now that Ryan was off to bed, she meant to find out what was up.
"You're upset. Do you want to talk about it?"
"No, I'm not!"
Janet sighed. "Like I don't know when you are upset?" she said, running her hand through her hair in exasperation. "Come on, Honey, tell me."
Robbie sat on the edge of a chair, arms balanced on her knees and head down. "You will all have to know tomorrow, I guess, but it is embarrassing."
Janet sat down cross-legged at Robbie's feet and smiled gently. "I was gone three hours. How could you have got yourself in trouble in that amount of time?"
Janet waited but no further explanation was forth coming. "So?" she encouraged.
Robbie got up and paced back and forth. "So she thinks her father is mine also. She said Alexandria and her father had an affair in Winnipeg around the time I was born."
Janet jumped to her feet and hugged Robbie. "Oh Robbie! Wouldn't that be wonderful!"
"Why?" Robbie asked suspiciously, a hint of hurt in her voice. She was still a little jealous of Aliki for having kissed Janet while Robbie was in prison.
"Because she is nice, we both like her, and Ryan and Mac email back and forth all the time. You do look like her! I was thinking Aliki might be one of the Others that Gunnul Dedeman talked about. But this is even better! A sister, isn't that nice, Robbie?
Robbie stood stiffly. "I don't look like her," she grumbled. "She might look a bit like me and I already have a sister!"
"Robbie! You have been worried and upset about your heritage since Alexandria told you that Philip Williams wasn't your father. Now you find out who your real father is and you are all annoyed!" Janet laughed, giving Robbie a shake.
"A father is fine. I don't need another sister," Robbie grumbled.
Janet went still. She searched her lover's eyes for the truth. "Robbie, you know I love you don't you?"
Robbie wrapped her close in her arms and kissed the top of her petite wife's head. "Yeah, I know that. I just feel awkward with her. I guess it is a competitive thing."
"Robbie there is no competition. You are number one!" Janet reassured, reaching up to kiss a taut jaw. "Besides, I was under the impression that your half sister had fallen in love with a woman out west." Robbie brightened noticeably. You are so easy, Robbie Williams! Janet thought. And I love you dearly!
"Yeah, she did, didn't she? Well, that should be okay, I guess. I think she has brothers too. Having brothers would be all right if they're nice. Billy wasn't," she admitted, talking about her kid brother and Reb's father who had died in a racing car accident. "We didn't get along. Do you think I'll get along with them, Janet?"
"I don't see why not," Janet responded, rubbing Robbie's back, as the insecurities started to come out one after the other. Robbie needed to feel safe and loved before she was able to open up. Too many years living with lies and mistrust in a dysfunctional family had left Robbie with a massive wall of reserve.
"I don't know what to say to her. She took me by surprise and I agreed that we would all go over to her place for morning coffee at ten tomorrow. She said Mac was there."
Janet patted a nice firm bum. "Don't you worry, Lover. Between Ryan and I, you and Aliki won't have to say anything," Janet joked. "Seeing you aren't going to sleep tonight," she continued, after placing a soft kiss on Robbie's lips, "why don't we go to bed early?"
Robbie smiled and one eyebrow went up. She picked her lover up in her arms and after a very long, passionate kiss, Robbie carried her to their bedroom.
Aliki put the phone back on its cradle and hugged Dawn close. "What have I done?! I didn't know what to say so I invited them for morning coffee. Boy, was that lame!"
"I thought you did very well," Dawn said supportively. "You need to see Robbie face to face and talk to her about your family. She will want to know." Dawn looked up with serious eyes. "Aliki, you do realize that Robbie is liable to be a little defensive. You will have to be patient."
"I'm patient!" protested Aliki.
Dawn gave the woman she loved a gentle squeeze. "I think the two of you might be very much alike. You are both defensive, quick tempered and blunt. I need you, Aliki, to understand what Robbie must be feeling. I want this to go well for you."
Aliki looked grumpy. "It's not easy for me either!"
"I know, Love. But it will be fine. I know it will." They sat quietly for a bit, holding each other close. Then Dawn went off to bed while Aliki secured the house. In her room, she paced about like a caged wolf.
A soft knock came at the door and Aliki looked up to see Dawn standing on the threshold. "You can't pace all night, Aliki. Come to bed with me. I need to have you close."
Aliki followed, like an obedient child. Shedding her clothes by the side of Dawn's bed as the smaller woman watched, she slipped in beside the warm, petite body. Dawn snuggled close, placing her head on Aliki's shoulder. Immediately, Aliki felt calmer and she hooked her arm around the woman she loved and gently stroked her back.
Okay, I'm in bed with her. Say something romantic! "I almost threw up!" she blurted out, surprised to feel her eyes over flow with emotion at the admission. Stupid! Why did I say that?!" she thought, as she wiped away tears angrily with her free hand. More replaced them and streamed down her face and she realized her body was shaking with raspy sobs. Oh Shit!
Dawn sat up and pulled Aliki into her arms. "Sweetheart, what's the matter? Come on, I'm here. Share whatever has upset you so much!"
For a bit Aliki was too upset to speak. Dawn held her gently and cooed tender sounds into her hair, waiting for Aliki to find the words she needed.
"I went to the morgue and was working on the last girl's skeleton when Dr. Bates told me that it was Mac. I...I just went to pieces." Aliki admitted, through violent sobs. When had she cried like this before? Not since she had been a little girl. "If anything was to happen to you or Mac...I don't think I could stand it!"
Dawn said nothing for a few minutes. She held the one she loved close and let her anger and pain dissipate in tears.
"You shouldn't have tried to hold that in, Aliki. What an awful experience! But we are safe here with you now. It's okay," she reassured, dropping kisses on Aliki's head. Slowly the kisses became nuzzles until their lips met and the taste of Aliki's tears was on both their tongues. Tentatively, Dawn ran her finger tips over Aliki's nipples, delighted when her lover's body shivered with need in response. Her lips followed, sucking and teasing the soft ,warm flesh with pleasure.
A groan of need, and Dawn found herself on her back with a strong, powerful body moving against her hips rhythmically. She pulled Aliki closer and allowed her eyes to close so that she could focus on all the sensations that Aliki was creating with her love making. It felt good, it felt right, it felt wonderful. Tomorrow's problems faded. Tonight there was only their love.
Ryan sat stunned, a spoonful of grapefruit half way to her mouth. Her mother, Robbie Williams, with a little encouragement and support from her Aunt Janet, had just managed to tell her that MacKenzie Freeman was her cousin. "Oh shit," Ryan whispered, in frustration.
Robbie looked uncomfortable and her hand shook slightly as she lifted her coffee mug. "Is there something wrong with that? I thought you and Mac emailed each other all the time," she probed, before taking a sip of her morning coffee. Last night had been great but she felt pretty tired and scared this morning. The last thing she needed was for Ryan to have one of her temperamental spells.
"This first cousin thing is going to be a problem. I think I'm going to marry Mac," responded Ryan thoughtfully, as she chewed on a slice of grapefruit.
Robbie choked and sent coffee spewing everywhere. Janet patted her on the back as she coughed out, "What?!"
"Down the road. I think I'll play the field a bit. Like you told me, a girl's gotta get some experience first," Ryan explained conversationally, as she dug at her grapefruit, ignoring the shocked looks on her moms' faces.
"You told her that!?" Janet accused Robbie in surprise.
"I was taken out of context!" Robbie defended quickly.
Ryan had gone on organizing her thoughts around this new development. "Not that it matters particularly. It is not likely we will be having our own children!" she smiled.
"Aagh," Robbie managed to articulate.
Janet laughed. "Ryan, you are very bad! Talk about a trouble maker! I think you are far too young to be planning who you are going to want as a partner, so stop pulling your mother's strings!"
Ryan smiled. Her second mom was a cool lady. "Okay. But she's going to like Mac a lot better than she liked the guy who took me to the Bartlett Community Centre dance. At least Mac can't get me pregnant!"
"Aagh," came Robbie's contribution to the conversation.
Janet laughed as she finished wiping the table and pouring a fresh coffee for her lover, who just wasn't up to this conversation this morning. "I'm looking forward to meeting Mac. She is a younger woman isn't she, Ryan?" she asked, teasingly.
"Oh yeah, she is thirteen, but we have a lot in common and the difference in our ages won't matter down the road," Ryan explained seriously, enjoying the parade of emotions crossing her mother's face.
"Is there some reason that you couldn't find a girlfriend who is your own age and doesn't have a mother that has a black belt in karate and shinto knives?!" growled Robbie at last.
MacKenzie blinked several times as she absorbed the information that her mother and Aunt Aliki were telling her. "Does that mean that Ryan and I are related?" she asked, in confusion.
Dawn thought about it for a second. "Yes, you might share a common grandfather. If that is so, then you would be cousins on your father's side."
Mac smiled. "Awesome! I like Ryan. She's cool and not the least big headed about having a rich and famous mother."
The two women laughed, Aliki releasing some of her tension at Mac's acceptance of the situation. "Hello, Mac. Your own mother is now rich and famous," Aliki reminded her.
Mac shrugged. "But mom is rich because granddad found gold and she is only an author not a famous film star."
Aliki feigned shock. "And here I thought that I was seeing someone with money and fame! But you are ONLY a best selling author!" she teased Dawn.
The blond woman's eyes sparkled with love and amusement as she swatted her tall lover's arm, hurting her fingers as they hit solid muscle. "Ouch! You be good!" Aliki raised a dark, long eyebrow in a silent challenge and Dawn blushed deeply.
"We need to bake muffins," announced Mac, oblivious of the moment. "So the house smells nice when they walk in and we have something to serve for tea. Can we have coffee in the garden, Aunt Aliki, under the big maple?"
"Sure," Aliki smiled. She caught Dawn's eye again, knowing they shared the same thought; this was home, this was family and it just felt right.
Nathan Garwen was very upset and that was not good. He did bad things when he was upset so he had wisely stayed home from work today, phoning his boss and telling him that he had a back problem from lifting and laying sod yesterday.
The day had started fine. He had been highly excited about the discovery of the woman who looked like Tracy would have done, if she had not gone to heaven before she had grown up. Tracy and his Mama must be helping him to do things right because the girl he had picked out for Tracy was also living at the same house. He had been stupid to talk to that girl but now it was going to be okay because he could send her to Tracy.
He had made his morning coffee, making sure that he boiled the water a long time to vaporize the mind altering drugs that the government put in to keep people from being smart and reasoning out things like he could. Then he took time to carefully scoop the bubbles off the top of his coffee with a teaspoon because they could also contain drugs. There weren't too many bubbles this morning and that indicated to him that it should be a fairly good day.
He had sat down at his kitchen table and opened the newspaper and his good mood had shattered. There, on the front page, was an artist sketch of the Fire Clown! Tracy's little friend had betrayed him! Worse, the sketch looked remarkably like him! He fought for control. Lots of people could look like this sketch. He had to stay calm in order to do things right today. Once the girl was with Tracy, she couldn't be an eyewitness. It was at this point that he got up and phoned his boss, then, saying he had hurt his back. Staying calm was important and he always got upset when the other men weren't careful in laying the sod straight.
This done. He returned to his breakfast, taking up the newspaper once again. Beside the sketch of the Fire Clown was a picture of the woman whom he had buried so nicely in the flower container a few days ago. He read the attached article carefully, so that he could take flowers to her grave site. The dead woman was Joyce Leadsen and, according to the article, she had been only thirteen.
Nathan's world tilted. With a roar of fury, he heaved his coffee cup across the room. He looked at the dark stains running down the walls in horror and went and got a bucket of hot water and detergent to clean the mess before his Mama looked down and noticed. He had to clean the whole house then, so that everything matched in its level of cleanliness. The place needed a good scrubbing, anyway. It hadn't been done since the day before.
By late afternoon, he was calm enough to reason things out. It was bad to kill a child, but it wasn't his fault. He had thought she was in her twenties. She had worn lots of make-up and she had been tall and well built. She had been wearing tight blue jeans and a scrimpy top that left a band of tanned skin around her middle. Nathan could see the flair of her rib cage and her belly button as she walked towards him, her hips swaying sexily. Tracy had been dark and sexy too. That's why they had argued that day.
This was not Nathan's fault. It was the girl's and her Mama's. What sort of Mama would let a girl that age dress up like that? Mama had told Tracy that she couldn't wear high heels or make-up until she was out and had a job of her own. Tracy sometimes did, though, when Mama didn't know. Nathan pushed that thought out of his head. It wasn't nice to think ill of the dead. Tracy and Mama were in heaven now, so they had perfect souls.
His soul was okay too, because he hadn't known that Joyce was so young. It had been her fault so it was okay that she was dead. Just like it was going to be okay to kill the girl who had stopped to tie her shoelace because she hadn't been raised right either and she had betrayed him. Everything would be okay, the house was clean and the two girls could be Tracy's children. Tracy always liked to play with her clown dolls. She'd be a good mother.
Nathan was feeling a lot better. He realized now that he had done nothing wrong, he had just needed time to think things over. He had been smart in telling his boss he had back problems, he could take a week or so off without anyone suspecting. He had business to see to that couldn't wait. The girl and the woman she was staying with had to die.
The house had been filled with the scent of warm cinnamon and apples when the Williams family arrived. There was much chatter, hugs and confusion around the door although Aliki and Robbie greeted each other with a handshake and then relied on their families to keep the conversation going. They sat in the mottled shade of a huge old maple, sharing their news, and ate warm apple muffins with their coffees. Reb and Rufus had chased each other around and around the tree until they had both fallen asleep next to each other and Ryan and Mac had disappeared into the study where Aliki's computer and internet connection were located.
Aliki had quietly gone and got her briefcase. From it she brought out the information she had gathered. Alexandria had always maintained that Robbie had been born premature, but the hospital records indicated that she had been a full term birth. "You were born after seven months of marriage and, prior to Alexandria's marriage to Philip Williams, she was having an affair with my father," explained Aliki.
"This doesn't prove anything," objected Robbie, "She could have had a bunch of lovers including Philip and your father!"
"True," Aliki conceded, patiently, after catching Dawn's concerned eye. "But I know bones and you, my father and I all have very similar genetic structures. Look at your hand. The centre finger is almost a full joint longer and your little finger a joint shorter, just like mine and Baba's.
"Your eyes are the same shade of blue, you have the same small ear lobes..."
"Yeah, well, what about impersonators? They look like they could be related too but they're not."
Aliki frowned. Her logical mind found Robbie's argument totally crazy and she would like to have said so...but Dawn would kill her. She tried to be diplomatic instead. "I see your point...my father is quite willing to have a DNA test."
Janet could see her difficult partner was going to be just that...difficult. Before Robbie responded, Janet cut in. "That is the sensible solution. Why don't you and Robbie go for a walk and wear off some energy, while I help Dawn clean up. I can't leave Reb until she wakes up, anyway."
Dawn smiled and quickly supported Janet. "That's a great idea. Aliki you can tell Robbie all about your crazy Greek family! If she is related, she needs to be forewarned! Wait until you meet Baba, Robbie! He is just a wonderful man!"
Aliki hesitated and frowned. She didn't want to leave Dawn and Mac alone. Dawn sensed her concern and continued, "You don't need to worry. We'll stay inside the house until you get back and keep the exterior alarm system activated. And I've got your cell phone clipped to my belt. You two go on. We'll be fine."
Nathan Garwen watched from some distance away. He wore an olive green shirt and trousers both neatly pressed. Through the surveyor scope he had set up, he watched Pateas's house with interest. Beside him was a small sandwich sign that he had set up at prefect 90% to the edge of the sidewalk. It read: Surveyor Training Program.
There was another one; she had arrived a few hours ago. Nathan's face was passive but inside he was taut, humming with excitement. Mama and Tracy must have sent him here. He had thought so and now he knew it for sure. It upset Tracy that there were girls that looked like her enjoying the things that she had been denied. Nathan admitted, although it hadn't been his fault that Tracy had departed, that he owed it to her to see that her wishes were carried out. He didn't mind. They were all snobby women, who thought they were God's gift to men. Just like Tracy, they would reject his show of affection. They deserved to die. It wasn't his fault.
The two tall women, who could be sisters of Tracy, came out of the house and walked down the street towards him. He tried not to look hurried as he picked up and folded the tripod and placed it carefully in the trunk of his car, keeping his head low in the trunk as they went by. He gave them a good head start while he removed his shirt so that he wore only his white undershirt. He slipped sunglasses on and pulled his hat down low over his eyes then followed in his car.
It was as if Mama and Tracy were directing his whole day. The two women turned and walked down the flight of wooden stairs that led to a ravine park land. Nathan went past and a half block later, turned his car down into the driveway that led to the parking lot of the park. They had to come this way unless they turned back. It was going to be so very easy. He got what he needed out of the glove compartment and waited.
It had been really hard at first. Aliki and Robbie had stumbled for conversation but then Aliki had started to tell her newly discovered half sister all about her childhood on a cattle farm and growing up with three brothers. They had laughed, Robbie sharing the difficulties of having her own brother problems.
They had walked nearly the length of the park and were just crossing the parking lot to access a second flight of stairs that would once again take them up to the residential areas on the bluff when the attack came. Suddenly, the man was there and Aliki gasped and bent over, her hands over her face as she got pepper spray directly in her eyes.
"If you call out or try to escape, I will kill her," the man stated, indicating the snub-nosed pistol he held to Aliki's back . Robbie looked up from trying to wipe the spray from Aliki's face to meet the coldest pair of eyes she had ever seen. In her gut, she knew immediately that it was the Fire Clown. "Help your friend into the back seat of the car and put these cuffs on her wrists," he continued calmly, nodding towards a set of metal cuffs on the back seat of the old but immaculate Ford Escort. The man was careful to keep Aliki between himself and Robbie. In one hand, he held the gun to Aliki's back and in the other, the small container of pepper spray stayed aimed in Robbie's direction.
"Run, Robbie!" Aliki ordered, as she tried to put aside the pain of her eyes and the tears that ran down her face and focus with her other senses.
"As if," muttered Robbie in annoyance. "Here, watch your head," she instructed, as she guided Aliki into the back seat waiting for an opening to go for the man. She didn't get the chance. The man, stepping away from Aliki, promptly but the car door between himself and the two women corralling them. Robbie sighed in annoyance and bent to put the cuffs on the scientist.
"You make sure they are tight, otherwise it will be your fault if she dies," the man said. Robbie snapped the cuffs properly in place. "Tell your friend to slide over," he instructed, the gun now near Robbie's neck.
"You heard him," Robbie said, giving Aliki a light push.
"Run!" Aliki ordered again, in desperation.
"If I did, I'd be running from my conscience for the rest of my life. Move over!" Robbie stated, pushing in beside her hurt sister.
The man closed the backseat door and opened the front door. "Put your hands over the seat," he ordered Robbie, and when she did, he placed cuffs on her wrists too. Then he took out a chain and looped it around Robbie's cuffs, pulling her hands down and anchoring them to the seat belt bracket on the floor. He did the same to Aliki and then closed the door and slid over to the driver's seat. "If you signal to anyone, or if I feel I am being followed, I will pull over and shoot the two of you. Do you understand?
"Yes," Robbie responded.
When Robbie and Aliki weren't back two hours later, both Dawn and Janet tried to raise their partners on their phones. There was no answer on either phone. "Something's wrong," Janet stated. "Robbie always answers when it is me calling."
Dawn nodded looking worried. "I'll phone Aliki's boss, Dr. Bates," she stated, already pressing the code to dial the number. "Dr. Bates, it's Dawn Freeman, we met...yes. Aliki is missing. I'm really worried. I can't get her on her cell phone and I know she had it with her. She is with Robbie Williams and Robbie is not answering her phone either...okay...yes, I understand. Bye."
Dawn snapped the phone shut and looked at Janet. "He said it is probably nothing but under the circumstances we'd better take it seriously. We are to stay inside and be alert to any possible danger. He is contacting the officer in charge, Volenni, and then coming over here. We are not to open the door to anyone but him unless he phones to tell us otherwise." Janet nodded. Robbie was in trouble, she could feel it in her gut.
Sometime later, Dr. Bates was at their door with Detective Volenni in tow. "Ya said they went for a walk?" he asked, after they had settled around Aliki's dining room table.
It was Janet who answered. "Yes, Robbie had just found out that Aliki might be her half sister. They had things to talk about in private," she explained, holding a worried Reb in her lap. Reb didn't really understand, but she had been through enough crisis in her young life to know something bad had happened. She snuggled into her mom and kept an eye on her big sister, Ryan. Ryan looked worried and so did Rufus, who sat with his massive, shaggy head on Ryan's knee.
Mac sat next to her mother, quiet and pensive. Volenni was taking notes while Tom Bates stared out the window. "So how long have they been gone now?" he asked.
"About three hours," responded Dawn, as she rubbed Mac's back reassuringly with her hand.
Volenni snorted. "That's not long. Look, ladies, I'm sure you're worried about them but the police don't see it as a missing persons case until after twenty-four hours. They probably got talking and lost track of time. It happens all the time."
"Then they would answer their phones," responded Dawn stubbornly.
Janet nodded. "Robbie has grown up as a famous person. She knows the importance of making sure people know where she is and what she is doing. She has had to deal with crazies all her life. If there was a change in plan or they were going to be late, Robbie would phone."
"Yeah, well, I understand that but usually when this happens ..." Volenni started, but Bates cut him off.
"I think, Joe, we need to take this very seriously. We know that it is likely that Mac has seen the Fire Clown and that the burning of the Freeman house was arson. Dr. Pateas was at the site and might have been observed and followed by the Fire Clown. We have every reason to believe that he is very thorough and cunning." For a second, Bates hesitated, and then he went on. "It concerns me that both Aliki and Ms. Williams meet the criteria of characteristics that seem to be a preference for the Fire Clown."
"Oh shit," whispered Ryan and Janet reached out to place a reassuring hand on the teen's knee.
"I hope I am over reacting but I think, Joe, we need to consider this disappearance very seriously."
Volenni nodded grudgingly. "Yeah, okay. I'll go look around. They are probably down in that ravine somewhere where their cell phones can't pick up a signal. Won't hurt to check it out though . You coming?"
"Yes, I'll go," responded Bates. "Ladies, I don't think I need caution you to be very careful."
"We will," Janet promised, getting up. "Take Rufus with you. He will find Robbie. I'll get his leash."
"What kind of dog is that?" asked Volenni, looking at the animal with a mixture of fear and confusion.
"We are not sure. Robbie found him," Janet explained, as she brought in the dog leash from the hall and snapped it on Rufus's collar. Seeing the expression on Volenni's face, she wisely handed the leash to Dr. Bates.
At the door, Janet knelt down and took Rufus' head in her hands. "Find Robbie," she ordered, and the big dog barked, pulling at his leash to get going.
Dawn locked the door after they had left and reset the window alarm system. Nervously, she checked her cell phone to see if it was functioning even though she had checked a number of times already this morning. Ryan stood in the doorway holding an unusually subdued Reb and Mac was close at her side.
"Mac said her mom is an excellent shot and I know where Aliki keeps her police revolver. I asked her if she had one and she showed me it last time we were here," she stated.
The two women looked at each other. A silent and worried communication past between them. "Give me Reb, Ryan, and you go with Dawn and show her where it is. Mac, how about you come and help me make some sandwiches. I think it is going to be a long day."
Ryan picked up Aliki's keys from where she always left them in a china dish in the hall. Then she and Dawn headed up to Aliki's bedroom. Ryan opened the closet and reached up to take down a metal file-box. She placed it on the bed and used a small key on the ring to open it. Inside was Aliki's RCMP holster and revolver. "She keeps the bullets for it in the bottom drawer of her filing cabinet in her study. It's locked too but the key is in the desk drawer," Ryan explained.
Dawn nodded, gingerly lifting the heavy gun from the box. Carefully, she checked to see if the gun was loaded. It wasn't. She undid her belt and slipped the holster on. Then she refastened her belt. Grimly, she followed Ryan to the den and unlocked the filing cabinet. She had grown up with hunting guns. They were a necessary evil when you lived in a remote area. Her Uncle had made sure that she was a good shot with a rifle. She had never used a hand gun. No one she knew even owed one. Still, if she needed to use it to save them, she knew she could. She loaded the gun with confidence, snapped the safety in place and slipped the cold, heavy metal into the holster on her hip. Then she flipped down the leather holster cover that the RCMP dress holster had and snapped it shut. With the kids around, she didn't want to take any chances.
Silently, they headed back down stairs to join the rest of the family. Janet looked at the gun on Dawn's hip and then up into Dawn's eyes. "Do you think we are over-reacting?" she asked.
"Probably, but in this case I think it is wise to do so. We don't have any idea how this guy might react but we do know that it is likely that he has already planned to kill my daughter."
Mac blinked and Ryan put her arm around her. "Don't worry, Mac. I've been through worse since joining this family. Our Moms can handle it," she reassured, sounding more boastful and confident than she was actually feeling.
"Oh course we can," Janet agreed, forcing a smile.
"I think we should set up a command headquarters around the dining room table. I know Aliki keeps notes on the case in her den. I think we should pull her files and see if we can see a pattern, anything that might help us identify this guy or where he lives or works."
"Sounds like a battle plan," responded, Janet. "Ryan, Mac, we are going to need you to entertain Reb so Dawn and I can go through this stuff. Also, as we gather any data we'll have you two start recording it on the computer on some sort of spreadsheet so we can work with it."
"No problem," stated Ryan.
"We'll cover these sandwiches and have them later when the men get back with Rufus," Janet stated.
"Rufus find Obby," boasted Reb.
Rufus put his massive orange muzzle to the ground and took off at a steady trot, pulling a startled Dr. Bates with him. Volenni followed behind, trying not to look like he was hurrying to catch up. The big dog headed down the street then stopped at the top of the flight of stairs and sniffed around furiously. With a bark, the dog started down the steps with Bates holding onto the leash with one hand and the rail with the other so as not to be pulled off his feet.
Once in the park, Rufus soon picked up the trail of his owner again and moved forward at a steady pace, making little growling noises as he went. They traversed the length of the park following close to the edge of a creek then cut over a parking lot towards a flight of stairs that led back up to the residential area on the bluffs. Before they got there, however, Rufus stopped, looked confused and started wandering in circles. A one point, the dog backed off suddenly and sneezed several times.
Volenni walked over and knelt down to smell the area on the asphalt. Then he got up and walked around slowly. "You keep that mutt over there, out of the way," he ordered.
Dr. Bates pulled in the big dog and took Rufus to stand in the shade of an old oak. "That's a good dog, Rufus. Good dog," he murmured, patting the ugly, big dog reassuringly, as he waited for Volenni to investigate.
He watched as the detective stopped and took a folded paper bag from his pocket. With the end of a pen, he lifted a watch by the buckle and dropped it into the page. He searched for another ten minutes or so and then returned to where Bates was standing. "You recognize this watch?" he asked, holding the bag open.
Bates looked inside. "No. I've never seen Aliki wear such a watch. It is a very expensive make. I would suspect that it might belong to Robbie Williams."
Volenni nodded. "I'll ask her girlfriend when we get back," he said, rolling his eyes and sighing in frustration.
"Wife," Bates corrected.
"What?" Volenni asked startled.
"Wife. Robbie and Janet are legally married. Ryan and Rebecca are their daughters."
"Shit. As if police work isn't a fucking mess as it is, now they gotta go change the natural laws of nature. We'll need to get back and see if the WIFE can identify this. We got trouble, I think. That spot over there on the asphalt where the mutt acted weird, smells like pepper spray to me. And I don't think this watch was pulled off or lost. There is nothin' I can see wrong with the buckle. I'm thinkin maybe Williams left it behind as a sign. Dumb thing to leave an expensive watch like this. Anybody coulda picked it up," he grumbled, as he unclipped his radio from his belt and requested a crime squad to the area to gather samples and search for any other evidence.
Once the squad had arrived and Volenni had left instructions, they headed back again towards the house. "What do you speculate happened?" Bates asked, looking more for confirmation of his own ideas rather than new information.
"Hard to say," Volenni shrugged. "No sign of a struggle. I figure the guy hit them with pepper spray to get them to co-operate. Maybe Williams had time to leave her watch before they got into a vehicle. Then again it could belong to the abductor or to anyone who used the park in the last few days. We got no evidence that they didn't just decide to catch a matinee and didn't think to tell the ladies."
"Do you believe that?" asked Bates, puffing a little as Rufus pulled him along.
"I think Pateas is not stupid. She's used to headin her family and she's smart for a girl. She wouldn't have left her family if she thought they was in trouble. Ya know, Dawn was married to her brother or somethin and Mac is her niece. Family has to stick together. I figure Pateas believes in family" Volenni explained, as they walked along.
Bates wisely kept his opinions to himself. Revealing Aliki's relationship to Dawn did not seem beneficial nor did he see that it had any bearing on the case. One element did, however. "Dr. Pateas is a trained RCMP officer. She also has a black belt in karate and is a master of the shinto knives. I think if she had been able she would have resisted being apprehended."
"That's not good news, Doc," muttered Volenni.
They had been taken into an old building and pushed down stairs and through damp, poorly lit basement halls to a brick room. The door was metal and when they were locked inside without a word from their captor, the sound of the metal door closing echoed off the old walls. A single light bulb hung from a wire over their heads. Against one wall was a pair of tapes with a single faucet from which hung a short piece of old garden hose.
Robbie pulled her sister by the arm over to the wall. "There is a tap. I'm going to wash your eyes out. I hope that bastard hasn't damaged your eyes," Robbie muttered, trying to adjust the water temperature and flow with her wrists cuffed.
"Hurry," begged Aliki, who was trying not to show her pain.
"Sure thing, sweetheart," Robbie responded. "Here we go," she directed, as she ran the water down Aliki's face. "Try not to rub your eyes. Just let the water flush them out. Can you see anything?" she asked, as she continued to hose down Aliki's hair and clothes.
"Just blurs. What do my eyes look like?"
Robbie turned off the hose and faced Aliki. "The whites are bright red and the tissue around is badly swollen. I can barely see your eyes. Do you think they will be damaged?"
"Possibly. It depends how badly that stuff burned the tissue," Aliki responded, more calmly than she felt. Her eyes were her career, her livelihood. "That stuff was much stronger than the pepper spray that is usually used to subdue people. Describe the room," she ordered, needing to focus on what she could deal with.
"Eight foot ceiling, an old red brick room maybe ten by twelve in size. The door is metal. Along the one wall are these taps with a two foot bit of rotting garden hose on the end."
"That's a weapon," Aliki interrupted.
"Right," responded Robbie, putting her one foot against the wall for leverage and pulling with both hands. The hose pulled off grudgingly. "I got it."
"Good. Anything else in the room?"
"No furniture, just a cement floor. There is a small drain hole in the centre of the floor, the ceiling has a light and a hook and at the back of the room there is a metal furnace. I'll go check it out."
"Robbie! Don't," cautioned Aliki.
"Don't open the furnace...just in case."
"There was a moment of shocked silence. "Shit! You don't think...."
"Yeah, I do. I smell stale blood. Any stains on the cement?"
"Yeah," Robbie rasped, through a suddenly dry throat. "Around the drain hole mostly."
"He slits their throats then hangs them up by the hook, I imagine, to drain. Then finishes them off in the oven," Aliki explained, blinking her eyes trying to make sense of the blurs around her.
"I didn't need to know that!" Robbie complained.
The men returned about an hour and a half later. Volenni was patronizing in the extreme. "We didn't find much. The dog lost the trail. I got a crime team down there now, poking around. Aaahhh, errrr Mrs.Williams?" Volenni asked, feeling himself go red. What the hell surname did married queers take?
"Aaahhhh, I need you to look at this watch here in the bag, but don't touch, okay?" he explained carefully. "You see it might be evidence and maybe we can lift a print or somethin."
Janet forced herself to remain patient and looked in the bag that Volenni held up, ready to snatch back if she went all hysterical on him.
"It's Robbie's watch," she answered calmly. "Where did you find it?"
"Now don't you worry none about that. You just let the police handle it. I think it would be wise if you lot stayed in the house and kept the....Jesus Christ what are you doing wearing a gun?!" Volenni blurted out suddenly, noticing the holster on Dawn's hip. "You can't have that, lady. It's illegal. They're dangerous too!"
Dawn crossed her arms and looked determined. "My daughter's life is in danger and I don't suppose for a minute that we are going to get police protection. I am not so stupid as to use this gun without just cause but if I have to, let me tell you, I have been handling guns since I was a child and I'm a damn good shot!"
"Its against the law!"
"So is kidnaping, arson and serial killing!" Dawn snapped back.
Volenni snapped his mouth shut. There was no point in arguing with a woman in a case like this. They got all emotional. He'd warned her and he figured that was about the best he could do, other than tackling her to the ground and taking the weapon away from her. "Yeah, well you just watch that thing around the kiddies," he grumbled. "I'll get back to you. You comin, Bates?"
"No, I think I'll stay here if the ladies will allow me," the scientist responded.
"Of course we would," Dawn smiled. Volenni grunted his good byes and left.
"Let's go into the dining-room where I see you have set up shop and I will tell you what we found," Bates offered, before the two women started giving him the third degree.
"Did you hear him?" Ryan growled angrily to Mac as she swung Reb up into her arms. " The cop called us kiddies! I call that police brutality!" Mac gave her friend a poke and smiled for the first time that morning.
They sat side by side, shoulder to shoulder, their backs against the rough brick wall. "No!" Robbie argued emphatically. "You are not going to tackle him, I will!"
"I'm the one with the training and it is my knife!" Aliki stubbornly pointed out. They had been arguing back and forth since Aliki admitted to the knife she carried in the sheaf along the small of her back.
"You are also as blind as a bat at the moment! What are you going to do, hope he whistles?"
Robbie grumbled sarcastically.
"I can see shapes. I'll be fine. A lot better than you would be. At least I know how to fight," Aliki argued, ignoring the sarcasm.
"I know how to fight! I've had to take lessons for some of my movies," Robbie protested.
"Robbie, this is NOT a movie!" Aliki snapped, her patience wearing thin.
"Yeah, well I'm the oldest!" Robbie shot back.
There was a beat of silence. Then, Aliki responded with a voice thick with emotion. "Yeah, you are, aren't you.....funny thing, I always wanted a sister while I was growing up. You know, it was a house full of men. Hadn't bargained on anyone like you though," she added with a dry laugh to cover the emotion she was feeling.
"Yeah, well, I'm not much of an older sister. I sure let Billy and Elizabeth down."
"You risked your own freedom to save them from your father, Robbie."
"I've gone over it and over it. Trying to figure out how I could have known that he was sexually abusing my kid sister and brother. It must have been going on for years! I was five years older, why didn't I realize?!"
"The police go into homes all the time to remove kids that are the subject of abuse. The family and neighbours are always surprised. Abusers put on a good public front and the kids are too afraid to talk. Usually, it is teachers who pick up on it. They see the regularity of the bruises or the unusual fear or depression and they report it."
"Yeah, I guess...I hope you are my kid sister," Robbie stated awkwardly. "You're okay."
"Yeah, you're okay too," Aliki responded.
"I gotta use the knife," Robbie stated. "You can hardly see anything can you?"
"Not much. You be really careful. I don't want to lose you, Robbie," Aliki replied, accepting defeat in the argument reluctantly. Maybe her eyes would improve before the killer came back.
For a minute, the two sisters sat in silence. "Janet and Dawn will try to find us," Robbie stated.
"I dropped my watch so they would know we got as far as the parking lot," Robbie admitted.
"A little," Aliki lied. She was in fact near panic that the bastard might be out there right now stalking her family. "But Dawn can handle herself just fine. I saw her back down a grizzly bear back home. She saved my life!" Aliki bragged.
"Yeah, well, Janet is pretty cool and brave in an emergency too! She paddled right through the remains of a fire storm to rescue Ryan, Reb and me. Her hands were burnt and she still paddled us to safety," boasted Robbie, not to be out done.
"God! I hope they are alright!" Aliki said.
"Yeah, me too!" agreed Robbie.
Paper was everywhere. The dining-room committee had sifted through Aliki's files looking for every possible clue they could find. Ryan and Mac had occupied Reb, brought coffee when needed, and entered such data, that the adults felt was appropriate to share with the children onto Aliki's computer.
"Well, I have always been impressed by Dr. Pateas' intelligence and sense of order," muttered Bates, around the cold stem of his beloved pipe. "But having had this opportunity to go through her files, I am even more so. She is meticulous!"
Dawn stood looking around at the mess of papers everywhere. "When she sees this she will have a fit," she observed, and then was embarrassed as a tear escaped down her cheek. She turned away quickly but not before the other adults had noticed.
Bates met Janet's eye and then called over to where the three children were busy putting pins in a map where the bodies had been found. "I think, if I am understanding my stomach correctly, it is time for dinner. Would you three wonderful young people help me in the kitchen? You know, I think with help, I can put together something that will feed six with some to spare. Do we have any meat? I make a prize winning chilli and my corn bread is excellent. I got the recipe from Dr. Pateas."
The four disappeared down the hall and Janet went over and wrapped Dawn in her arms. "Sorry,
I just...if anything has happened to her...I'm sitting here reading her reports of what he did to his victims and...Oh God! Janet, don't let it be true!"
Janet let Dawn sob, feeling the same pain. After a little while, Dawn stopped and pulled away, grabbing a tissue from a box on the table. "I don't know how you can be so brave!"
"I had my cry in the bathroom an hour ago," Janet admitted. "You'd think I'd be used to it by now, Robbie is always in some sort of trouble, it gravitates to her," she sighed, running a shaky hand through her hair. "All I can say is that she has more lives than a cat and I've got to believe that they are alive and safe or I am going to fall into so many pieces, they'll have to use a vacuum to pick me up!'
Dawn gave a weak laugh and straightened her shoulders. "Of course, they are okay. We just have to find them, that's all!"
Dr. Bates' chilli was a bit like his sense of humour, quiet and deadly. His secret ingredients, which he had shared quite openly with his kitchen crew, produced a flavourful, full-bodied chilli that slid down easily and then kindled a fire that brought sweat to the brow. His corn bread was sweet and fluffy and the meal was served with large amounts of iced tea. The dining-room committee felt a lot more positive and revitalized when they again went back to work.
They had now broken into research teams based on the leads that Aliki's notes suggested. Bates was on his cell phone with the Toronto Historical Society trying to track down buildings that would still have large furnaces in them. Aliki's notes indicated the presence of coal dust on the charred bones. That suggested a furnace. They had reasoned that the furnace could not be in a building that was still in use. It would be too great a risk for the killer to get his victims in and out.
Ryan was calling landscape companies and flower shops and asking them if they had anyone away today. The committee reasoned that the killer couldn't have worked this morning if he had picked up Robbie and Aliki. In her usual confident and daring manner, she identified herself as Dr. Aliki Pateas, RCMP.
Mac was adding all the places that were possible furnace locations to their map and keeping a list of places they had checked and what they had found out. Reb had been given the responsibility of feeding Rufus and then giving him a good brush in case he was needed to do more tracking.
Meanwhile, Dawn and Janet were sitting side by side at the computer, going back and forth over the hundreds of bits of information that they had identified, looking for a pattern. They all grew tired and discouraged. Bates took Rufus for a walk late that evening and on returning, he insisted that they all have a lie down for an hour to clear their heads before they started back at it again.
"We might be looking right at the answer but we are too tired to see it. A small power nap will help us to get this job done more effectively," he commented. They had all argued but in his quiet way, Bates had managed to get them all to have a lie down. Then he turned off the lights and made himself comfortable in a chair in the livingroom, sucking on his pipe stem and mulling over details thoughtfully.
Nathan Garwen had waited a very long time, but he was a patient man when it came to doing things right. He had not stayed in one spot but had moved about the neighbourhood, hiding in dark places where he could watch the house from a distance. Now the majority of lights had been turned off and he felt it safe to go ahead with his plan.
He slipped from behind some bushes and walked down the street casually. At the Pateas house, he turned, walked up the driveway and around to the side door. People never questioned anyone who looked confident and at this hour of the predawn it was unlikely that anyone would be looking out a window anyway.
He had already slipped plastic gloves on and he wore common cotton workman's overalls to reduce fiber loss that could be traced. His hair was netted and hidden under a cotton baseball cap. He carried his tools in a metal lunch box to give the impression, should he be seen, of a man coming home after a night shift.
At the side door, he placed his lunch box on the stone step and opened it carefully. Taking out a roll of masking tape. He carefully taped the window to reduce the chances of shattering. Next, he took a wooden door knob that was attached to a suction cup. He used water from a small plastic spray bottle to wet the end; spit could be used to establish his DNA code. He gave the apparatus a shake to get the extra droplets off and then stuck it to the window. Now when he used the glass cutter to remove the pane, he could lift it out silently without fear of it dropping inside and shattering. He put away the tape in the bottom of his lunch pail, closed and locked his lunch box neatly and then took his glass cutter from his pocket.
The girl had to be killed and sent to Tracy. He had tried just punishing her by burning her toys on her bed when he had gone to kill her at her home and she hadn't been there. He had had to punish Tracy too when she had laughed at him by burning her clowns. It wasn't his fault that Tracy had tried to save them and hadn't got out. He had made it up to her by sending her lots of clowns to heaven that looked just like her. She shouldn't have laughed at his advances.
Lost in his thoughts, he almost fell from the step as he reached his hand in and a loud alarm went off and the exterior lights flashed on, bathing him in their glow. He grabbed up his lunch box and bolted across the backyard and vaulted the fence. He could hear a dog barking and people yelling. Lights in nearby houses came on.
He ran between two houses and then forced himself to walk down the next street, relieved to turn into a gas station parking lot at the corner and get into his own car. He did up his safety belt with shaking hands and pulled out of the lot after stopping and signaling properly. A block farther on, a police car with its lights flashing raced past him.
His fright had subsided now and been replaced with a deep anger. This was not his fault! He had planned everything so carefully. It was the fault of the two women he had locked in the furnace room. They had delayed him. They looked like Tracy. Tracy had been trouble too. Not that he'd think about it because it wasn't nice to think ill of the died. He'd hurt these two real bad and then burn their bones and send the bitches to Tracy. He'd have the last laugh!
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