Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Seasons Series and the Murder Mystery Series are the creation of the author.
Although a mummy conference was held in Arica, the characters and events in this story are totally fictitious.
My thanks to Lisa, Inga and Susan, my beta readers and friends, who are always willing to offer assistance in editing and researching my stories. Thanks.
Note: The Seasons Series and the stories in the Murder Mystery Series all interrelate. It is best to start at the beginning.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Special Warning: These stories deal with the practice of forensics in a fairly accurate manner; more sensitive readers might find some of the scenes upsetting. This particular story describes in part the process of an autopsy.
Visit Anne Azel's World at < http://www.jes.com.au/~azel/ > or write Anne at <email@example.com> The Anne Azel Murder Mysteries Book 1 can be ordered through Amazon.com or Openbookltd.
NOTE: The story "Dead Right" that is referred to in this story will be posted 11.2002.
Robbie paced around their hotel room restlessly. "Now me, I could understand; breaking rules for me comes naturally. But you are about as conservative and uptight as mayonnaise. Saints have gone farther astray than you have."
Aliki, in the process of pulling on a black t-shirt, raised an eyebrow but said nothing. The white lettering on the t-shirt announced, Forensics: bone up on body language. Robbie stopped her rant and read the t-shirt. "Okay, so under that deep layer of respected scientist there exists a truly twisted sense of humour. I concede that, but Aliki, this is not funny. We are going to end up murdered or worse - thrown in some medieval prison until we mold over and go mad.
Aliki smiled as she pulled a Shinto knife out of its sheath and checked the edge. Satisfied, she slipped it back into its shark skin casing and strapped it to her leg. "That, of course, is a possibility," she admitted.
"A possibility! The potential for disaster is in the red zone. Hey, haven't you seen "The Night of the Living Dead"?
Aliki smiled sheepishly. "No, actually, I haven't. Horror movies scare me too much."
That stopped Robbie in her tracks. "You make your living feeling up the bones of the dead and you are afraid of a horror movie?!"
"You asked." Aliki shrugged. "You ready to go?"
"Afraid of being in a room of dead people at night?"
"No!....Okay, yes. This is nuts," Robbie admitted with a nervous laugh.
"Are you coming?"
"Of course I am. Someone has to talk some sense into you." Robbie sighed, and grabbing up her knapsack, she followed her sister out.
They walked down the street and had dinner at the Restaurant of the Dead, making sure they were seen and then slipping out quietly when they got the chance. Walking down the street, they did their best to stay in the lengthening shadows. By the time they had got to the olive trees, it was dark. Without hesitation, Aliki headed through the orchard towards the buildings that housed the university's mummy collection.
Robbie kept up a running monologue in a whisper as they went, her voice a little too tight to hide the nervousness behind her humour. Robbie was quite fearless in some ways but her father's death had haunted her early life like a wraith casting dark shadows on everything she did. Death was not something she was comfortable with. The wounds of her past were still too recently healed.
"So how do you tell which is a good mummy and which is a rotten copy? Squeeze them like melons? What if there is a curse? There could be a curse. There is always one for added tension in a mummy movie. Hey, maybe I could make a movie about this! Try to trash a dozen or so Undeads with a few good karate moves, okay. That would be cool. They could chase us through the olive grove. The play of light under the branches with a full moon would be terrific on film. Didn't the Inca rip out still beating hearts? You might have to die but don't worry, I'll bring you back with some magical mummy dust."
"There it is." Aliki whispered, ignoring Robbie's patter.
"Oh shit. Now would be a really good time to change our minds," Robbie suggested.
"I want the movie royalties," Aliki responded drily. "Are you ready?"
Robbie raised an eyebrow. "I am learning a lot about your darker side on this trip, sister of mine. I'm as ready as I am ever going to be. Somehow it is hard to get into character for breaking into a room of dead people in the middle of the night."
"Be a professional," Aliki snickered, as she took a lock pick from her pocket and started working on the mechanism.
Robbie watched impatiently, literally jumping at shadows. "What's taking so long?"
"Nothing. It takes longer in real life than it does in the movies," Aliki explained. A few more minutes of nervous silence and Aliki heard with satisfaction the click as the padlock released. She slipped it off and pushed one of the double doors open just wide enough for them to slip in. Then she carefully closed the door again.
"I can't see a thing!" grumbled Robbie. Aliki's flashlight snapped on, the beam focused on a table where human bones bleached white by the desert sun were in the process of being arranged in anatomical order on a work bench. "Oh shit!" exclaimed Robbie.
"Get your flashlight out. There are no windows so we should be okay. That room over there," Aliki said, indicating with her flashlight, "is the room we viewed the Chinchorro mummies in. I suspect the Inca mummies will be in the storage room over there."
"Why do you suppose we weren't shown them too?" asked Robbie, as she fished in her knapsack for her flashlight.
Aliki shrugged. "Probably didn't think it was worth it. Most of us will stop in the capital on the way back and the Inca mummies at the museum there are vastly superior in preservation. Arica is known for the Chinchorro mummies not so much for Inca."
"I can't believe it. You talk about mummy preservation like the difference between cheap screech and a vintage wine. You bunch are nuts, you know that don't you?"
"So who's with me breaking into museum property and assisting in an illegal mummy unwrapping?"
"Assisting! No way. I'm just here to protect my sister's soul from zombies."
Aliki chuckled and opened the door to the storage room to the left. Flashing her light inside, she saw the walls lined with brown, emaciated figures distorted by pressure and time into creatures not far removed from Robbie's monster movies. They were propped up against the walls like soldiers on guard. In the air was a stale, dusty smell of decay and mold. It was a sweet, unpleasant scent that left an acidic feeling in the back of your sinuses.
"She's not here," Robbie observed looking over Aliki's shoulder. "Let's go."
"Over there are the mummies that haven't been unwrapped," Aliki observed, pointing the beam of her light on a line of blankets, their brilliant colours faded by time and dirt.
"They don't look like mummies."
"No, they don't look like Egyptian mummies, which is what everyone thinks of when they hear the word. Inca bodies were wrapped in ceremonial clothes and then wrapped in fine, beautiful blankets or linen. Come on. You'll have to help me lift each mummy and set it aside."
"Oh God. You know my other sister, Elizabeth, never gave me this sort of trouble. What is that smell?"
"You probably don't want to know. Here, grab an end and be careful. These are valuable archaeological finds."
Carefully the women lifted each body one at a time and laid it down again on the sand that had been shoveled in to cover the floor. "We are leaving foot prints."
"Ours and a lot of other people's. If we don't find her then we'll stack everything back the way it was and no one will know we were here. If we do find her then we'll have to bring the police in."
"The police. Why do the police always have to be involved?" sulked Robbie, who was not fond of the police since she had been arrested and held in jail until Aliki and Janet had been able to find her innocent of murder.
"Oh, I don't know, maybe because this is a murder investigation and I'm a cop," Aliki responded drily.
"I try to forget that," muttered Robbie.
"This one," Aliki announced as they lifted the fifth mummy remains.
Robbie almost fumbled her end. "How do you know?"
"I don't. That's why we have to unwrap it. I am assuming by the slightly different scent, texture of the material and small difference in weight, that this might be a more modern item in the museum's collection. Let's carry it out to the work bench and see what we have got here."
Together the two half sisters manoeuvered the blanketed and stiff body out to the bench and laid it carefully on top of the bones that lay already on the table.
Aliki pulled latex gloves from her pocket and put them on. Then she bent down and reappeared with her knife in her hand. Carefully, she cut away at the knotted cord that tied the blanket together and unfolded the stiff under sheeting. Beneath this was a thick ceremonial robe.
"Well?" asked Robbie, holding a flashlight over the operation with shaking hands.
"Hard to say. I am not an expert on materials but I don't think these are as old as they look. The layering is right though. If it is Tiddy, whoever did this did a really superb job."
"Aliki, this is not the work of an artist but a murderer."
"Yes, but one with a beautiful eye for detail and a vast knowledge of Inca mummification," Aliki muttered wistfully, as she carefully pried open the cloth from around the withered face. Robbie rolled her eyes.
The wrinkled, tanned face of a woman looked up at them, her face flattened on the left as she had lain on her side in the sand. She looked asleep, her eyes closed and her lashes softly touching her skin. "It's her."
"No not good at all. What we'll..."
"Hands up!" someone yelled from behind Robbie, and actress gasped in shock and dropped the flashlight, leaving them in darkness.
Archie Fenwick cleared his throat nervously and looked at the two newly arrived woman in front of them. "It's a bit awkward," he explained. "They were here yesterday but they seem to have disappeared."
A gigantic man behind Fenwick snorted. "We ought to be notifying the police. I saw them last night across the room of the Restaurant of the Dead. I thought they'd join us later in the bar for drinks but they disappeared just like Tiddy. Went to take a leak and never came back, Tiddy did, and now Alberta and her sister have vanished too."
"It's awkward but we needn't rush to conclusions. It could be that they are perusing some other interest or have gone sight seeing or something. I think it would be premature to go to the police. They could walk in at anytime. You said yourself Philby, that Ms. Williams was here for the surf."
"She was joking, you idiot!" roared Philby in frustration. "Look Fenwick, what do you think the chances are of Dr. Pateas coming all this way and missing Victor Van Vogt's lecture this morning on intestinal parasites?"
"Oh dear that is a point. That is distressing when you consider. I can't imagine Alberta missing such a riveting presentation. Outstanding research. I thought particularly his material on c.parvum.Cryptosporidium and its association with barnyard runoff during the yearly Nile flooding was most interesting and..."
"Am I understanding you right that neither Robbie or Aliki have been seen since dinner last night?" Janet cut in, feeling a growing anxiety in her gut.
"Just like Tiddy. I hammered on their door this morning. I thought maybe they'd gone bar crawling and slept in. I didn't want Alberta missin' Victor's lecture..." Philby explained.
"Robbie doesn't drink," Janet cut in with a good deal of impatience.
"Ha! Saw her down three pineapple Margaritas just the other day, crushed ice and all," laughed Philby, loud enough to be heard several districts away.
Dawn caught Janet's eye. The message was clear. Their partners were undoubtedly in trouble. It was Dawn who spoke up. "First, we want to see their room. Then we'll need to contact the police. Dr. Philby, perhaps you will vouch for our identity while we try to get a key from the desk. Then Dr. Fenwick, if you speak Spanish, perhaps you could assist in talking to the police."
"Yes, of course, of course. Probably nothing, but well, it is awkward..."
The three left him still muttering reassurances as they headed for the hotel desk.
Upstairs, Dawn checked through Aliki's neat and organized suitcase while Janet went through Robbie's chaotic mess. "Aliki has her knife with her," Dawn observed.
Janet nodded. Nothing unusual in that. Aliki usually carried a knife.
"It is not her usual one. It is a helmless, short bladed shinto knife. One favoured by Ninja assassins. I recognize the empty case. She wears it on a leg strap."
That got Janet's attention. "She was expecting trouble?"
"Maybe. She was certainly taking no chances. You know Aliki."
Janet looked up and shared a smile with Dawn. Where Robbie was spontaneous and unpredictable, Aliki was measured and conservative in her actions. Two sisters could not express so many similar genes in such different ways.
"Nothing in Robbie's luggage, no notes, and no messages on their cell phones. What do you think?"
"They knew we were arriving today. They would have been here. We'd better call the police," Dawn reasoned, feeling the first fingers of fear spreading into her gut.
Janet nodded and the two women headed back down to the lobby to find Fenwick.
Aliki sat on a narrow bunk, pale and quiet, while Robbie paced back and forth on the edge of panic. Being in jail again was bringing back memories that opened very deep emotional wounds. "I told you we'd end up in some moldy, old jail!"
"Actually, it is not a bad cell. Good light, clean, interesting brick work. I wonder if this was designed by Eiffel too."
"I'm going to kill you," Robbie informed her frustrating sister.
"As soon as the el miembro de una comision gets back from Peru we'll get out of here. I told you, I know the man. He'll vouch for me."
"You do realize that our partners will have arrived and will be worried sick about us," Robbie sighed.
To her shock her normally controlled sister was there in her face in one swift move. "I have not thought of anything else!" she growled, and then backed off to stand by the window looking moodily at the endless blue sky. Time passed.
"Captain. It is a pleasure to meet you and a delight to know that you can speak English so well," Janet stated. "As you know we are very concerned about the whereabouts of Roberta Williams and her half sister Dr. Aliki Pateas." The two women with Fenwick in tow had spent a frustrating two hours being led from one office to another until they had been finally brought to the acting chief's office and were relieved to find that his English was excellent.
"On that point, I can ease your mind. They are safe and being held in our women's prison."
"God grief! What has the olive done now?"
The captain looked confused. "I do not understand."
"It's a nickname," stated Janet, suddenly feeling a lump in her throat and having to swallow hard before she went on. "What have the women been charged with?"
"Ah! Breaking and entering and damaging ancient relics with the intention to steal."
"Aliki? Damage an ancient relic? Hell would freeze over first," snorted Dawn in disgust.
"Captain, we have come all the way from Canada in order to meet up with our par...friends. I wonder...I do not know how your system works but in Canada, it is possible to post a bail bond in order to get someone out of prison until their court case. I'm afraid all we have is American dollars..."
"Yes, of course. I am sure something could be arranged," smiled the Captain. How convenient that his boss was away.
Aliki was feeling exhausted. Her hands were shaky and her head ached. Tears kept running from her eyes no matter how hard she tried to stop them. She was so depressed. She needed her medication to help stabilize her mood. She was getting better, she knew, but when she got over-tired and stressed everything had a way of caving in on her.
Robbie, she noted, wasn't in much better shape. She had stopped pacing now and sat on a cot, her head buried in her hands. Being back in prison was hell on her. Aliki knew she felt trapped and near panic. The worst part was there was nothing they could do but wait until someone found them.
Janet and Dawn waited with some impatience too in the warden's office of the woman's prison. The paper for release into custody had cost them ten thousand dollars American. They had handed it over to the warden along with their passports and been told to wait. They had now waited two hours and fourteen minutes.
"Do you think we should go ask what the delay is?"
Dawn shook her head. "No, best just to wait it out for a bit longer. If we don't hear anything by two then we'll better call the Captain to intervene."
Some thirty minutes later, a clerk returned with their passports. "You wait. You wait. Outside," they were told and so they waited again, this time on the doorstep of the prison.
At one thirty a guard had arrived at Robbie and Aiki's cell. "Stand up. Move back," they were ordered. The two women obeyed. The door was unlocked and they were motioned out with the end a machine gun barrel.
"Remember, we only have to give them our name, rank and serial number," Robbie whispered.
"If that works for you," her sister responded. "Personally, I'm going to tell them anything they want to know."
They were ushered down the cell hall to an elevator and taken up several floors. Then having been frisked they were led down yet another hall to an office. There, they were told to sit in two straight back wooden chairs that were much scarred and dented. The guard posted himself at the door, his weapon held against his chest with crossed arms. Robbie looked around the bare room. "You're right. Let's tell them everything they want to know and then some."
A woman warden entered the room and sat down behind the desk facing the sisters. She was thin, angular and stern, yet when she spoke it was in quiet, well disciplined English. "I am
Senorita Isabella de Lome. I wish to know why you were found destroying a rare and sacred part of our history."
Robbie looked at Aliki. "I am Inspector Aliki Pateas of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I am also a trained forensic scientist here to participate in the Mummy Congress currently being held in Arica. As I am sure you are aware, three years ago one of our leading scientists disappeared. The police suspected foul play and I assisted them in the investigation. Sadly, we were not able to find a body and so the case remained open.
"This year, I had the pleasure of once again returning to see the fine collection of mummies at the university. It was during the tour that the idea came to me that the best way to keep a body hidden was to hide it away amongst the Inca mummies.
"My sister and I were not eager to discuss the idea in case we tipped our hand to the murderer. So we came back at night to go through the mummies and see if one did not fit the age and pattern of an Inca burial. The mummy we were caught opening, Senorita Isabelle de Lome, is not the ancient remains of an Inca but the partially mummified remains of Doctor Tidwell Jennings. We were just on our way to the police with our findings when we were caught by the security guard."
The warden nodded slowly considering Aliki's explanation against the evidence she had in the report in front of her. "You have acted very highhandedly, Inspector Pateas. The Chilean police are very capable and do not need foreigners meddling in their affairs. Bond has been set for you. You will not leave this city until such time as the police have finished their investigation and you have written consent from the police to do so. Do you understand?
"Yes, Senorita,"each sister said obediently.
"You will follow me."
For the next hour, the two women filled out forms and had them stamped. Finally, they were led down a hall to an exit door. Outside, they found their partners looking very tired and somewhat the worse for wear.
Robbie was immediately wrapped in Janet's arms. "You okay, olive?"
Robbie shuddered with relief. "I am now."
"Hey, what's this I hear about you downing three pineapple Margaritas? I've never seen you drink, Robbie."
"That's because you have never seen me sitting in the Restaurant of the Dead surrounded by ghouls discussing the best tools for removing finger nails from undeads. Come on, let's head back to the hotel so I can say hello properly."
Aliki hesitantly gave Dawn a hug and only relaxed and held on tight when she felt Dawn respond to her touch. Neither woman said anything. They just held onto each other and didn't let go.
"Hey," Robbie said softly, touching her sister's elbow. "The taxi is waiting. Come on."
The four piled into a cab, Robbie and Janet in the back and Dawn and Aliki jammed in the front. No one talked. Robbie held onto Janet's hand and Dawn and Aliki sat closely yet stiffly side by side. It was with relief that they all piled out at the hotel.
Robbie and Janet went off to book another room and Aliki and Dawn stood nervously by.
"You okay, Aliki? You look shaky," Dawn asked, nervously biting her lip.
Aliki swallowed. "I'm okay. Better now. Look, why don't we find some place to talk. Aah, we could walk on the shore. I...If you want. I mean, I'd like that. I guess we need time for Janet and Robbie to move out. I mean, can we share a room? Is that okay? I don't want to pressure you or..."
Dawn stopped Aliki's nervous patter with a hug. "You go get your medication and I'll wait for you here. A walk would be good." In actual fact, she was exhausted. She had been traveling by car and plane for a day and a half and then had been looking for her partner since she had arrived. She was feeling really rough. But she knew that Aliki had been locked up for most of that time and was very stressed. Aliki needed to feel free. Then maybe they could talk.
After Aliki returned from taking her medication, they went out across the patio feeling totally out of harmony with the lively music and the sun bathers. They walked down to the beach and once they reached packed sand, they started strolling side by side. Dawn slipped her hand into Aliki's and was surprised at how desperately the tall woman hung on to it.
They walked silently for awhile until Aliki suddenly stopped, almost jerking Dawn off her feet. "I hate not sleeping with you. I hated living in my own house as a stranger. Damn it, we are supposed to be married. Why the hell did that fucking, murderous bitch have to come out of my past and... and..." Tears rolled down Aliki's face and she crumpled to the dark, golden sand, her shoulders shaking with the sobs that racked her body.
Dawn kneeled down beside her and let Aliki bury her face into her shoulder. "I never cry. Damn, what is the matter with me?"
"Maybe it is just time you cried," Dawn soothed, rubbing Aliki's back gently.
"I'm supposed to be making a home for you and Mac and instead I walk out on you and now I...I can't even stop crying. Look at me, I'm a mess."
"You have made a wonderful home for Mac and me. We love you very much and we need you. Do you know what Mac said when I told her I was coming here? She said, 'You bring Aunt Aliki home mom. She ought to be here with us.'"
Dawn held Aliki until the tears stopped and then they sat close in the damp sand, looking off into the distance where the headland jutted out into the moody surf. Finally Aliki spoke.
"I can't live there with us living like ...like friends. I know I fucked up, not trusting you with what I was facing and just disappearing under cover. It was stupid. I was so upset. I thought...well you know what I thought. I just wasn't thinking very straight. I was just so afraid that she would kill again. And then I got thinking of the danger my career can put you in...I just felt like I'd been made into a dirty, nasty bomb that was going to go off and... and hurt everyone around me."
"Your work does sometimes put you in danger and that means your family can be in danger too. It's rare but it can happen. We know that and we take all the precautions we can. But most of all we worry about you. We want to be your family and family sticks together and is there for each other. You have to trust us Aliki," Dawn stated earnestly, trying desperately to make Aliki understand.
"My mom died."
"What?" Dawn asked in surprise.
"She told me she wouldn't and she did."
The surf washed ashore in a steady, timeless beat. A seagull cried high in the sky. Dawn tried to wrap her mind around what Aliki had just said.
"Is that why you find it hard to trust? Why you've always been such a loner?"
Aliki swallowed. Where had that come from? That pain that had welled up so intensely and bitterly. Why had she told Dawn that? "I guess. I was so angry at her for lying to me and I felt so rotten because I loved her and I shouldn't have been angry. And then I had to take care of the house and help Baba raise the twins...if you don't get close to people you can't get hurt."
"Do you regret getting close to me and Mac?" Dawn asked. Her guts were churning. She was way out of her depth here.
Aliki turned and looked at her in shock. "Of course not! I love the two of you more than anything else in this world." Dawn looked into intense blue eyes filled with confusion and pain. The eyes darkened and Aliki bent close. Their lips touched and the rush of desire jagged through their guts like lightening. Aliki gathered Dawn in her arms and lowered her to the sand.
Robbie had settled Janet into their own room and then raced down the hall to get her own stuff. Jamming things into her bags, she was back to the room in record time. The sound of a shower running met her ears and a note propped on the pillow caught her eye. It was in Janet's neat, even handwriting. "Hey, sexy. I sure could do with my back washed." Robbie was out of her clothes and heading for the bathroom before the note had hit the floor.
"Hey lover. Got your note," Robbie growled, stepping into the small hot, steamy world. She wrapped Janet into her arms and gathered her wife in for a kiss. It was a kiss of lovers with no inhibitions and no doubts. The kiss was deep, probing, and demanding. Hands roamed and the body language was needy. Janet ran her soapy leg up along Robbie's thigh as she let the hot water rain down on them, mixing with their own heat.
"I missed you," groaned Robbie. "I want you."
"Show me how much," Janet dared her lover.
Robbie turned the taps off, and taking her wife's hand, she stepped from the stall. Quickly she dried their bodies together, using her silky skin and the coarse towel in turns to tease and stimulate her lover to an incredible need.
Janet got her own back, capturing a nipple between her lips and teasing it with the tip of her tongue. Her hands molded around her lover's cute backside and rhythmically pushed their sex against one and another.
With a growl of need Robbie threw the towel away and wrapping a strong arm under her lover she carried Janet to their bed. Their love making was hard and needy and when it was finished, they lay in each other's arms exhausted and sated. The scent of their love making was Janet's last conscious impression as she drifted into a deep sleep.
Aliki forced herself to end the kisses and with a shudder of effort pulled away. "W..we'd better head back to the hotel," she managed to say.
"Yes," Dawn replied, fastening her shirt once again. They walked silently, close but not touching. The need was too great. Feeling embarrassed and not sure why, they headed across the terrace, through the lobby and into the elevator. The door was barely closed when Aliki and Dawn were once again in each other's arms. The kiss lasted a second or two longer than the ride up and Aliki had to make a grab for the button to reopen the door.
Laughing nervously, they went down to their room. Aliki was relieved to see it had been made up by room service and that Robbie's stuff was gone. Taking no chances, she turned the dead bolt and slipped the chain in place.
Then she and her lover helped each other out of their clothes. "Are you sure?" Aliki asked as she dropped kisses onto Dawn's throat.
"From the first moment I saw you. No more running away from our love, okay Aliki."
"No. No more," Aliki stated and knew down deep that she had found some closure on a very old wound and that now at last she could commit to a real and truly deep relationship.
Their love was tender and all the more powerful in its intensity because they held the passion in that threatened to explode them apart and worked to express their love as well as their need. When each came in turn it was with a cry of relief and wonder that started from deep, deep inside. They held each other close, the aftershocks of their love making almost as intense as the coming. Again they made love and then slept curled close.
It was in the wee hours of the morning when Dawn woke and lay quietly looking at her lover. Aliki was skin and bones and so very pale. "I love you," she whispered softly and snuggled closer so that she could be reassured by the slow steady beat of Aliki's heart.
Automatically, Aliki reached out and pulled her lover closer still. Her eyes blinked open. "I was afraid to wake up in case I had dreamed it all."
"No, I'm here," Dawn whispered gently against Aliki's breast.
"Dawn, I want you as my wife," Aliki stated sincerely, gently stroking Dawn's bare shoulder. " I want to know that we have committed to a life together. I want to help you raise Mac as our daughter. Will you please forgive me for not allowing you the right to be at my side in a time of danger? I will never insult you like that again. I wouldn't be the mess I am now if I had turned to you for support instead of feeling I had to shoulder all the responsibility. I love you."
"I love you too, my gentle one. That love was always there, I was very angry at you and hurt, that you would run out on me like that. I think I understand why a little better now and I think we have bridged that gap so we will never find ourselves in this same situation again. Yes, I want to marry you. I need that commitment from you too. But we have a way to go yet.
"Mac is feeling pretty confused. You are her hero and you left. She was pretty devastated. She wants you back in our life desperately but she is also angry and feels betrayed. You have a lot of ground work to do there, sweetheart."
Aliki swallowed and pulled her lover into a deep embrace. That hurt. It hurt to the bottom of her soul but she knew she had it coming. She was going to do everything she could to work it out with MacKenzie. Hell, she loved that kid as her own.
Several hours later, it was Philby hammering at their door that got Aliki out of bed with a curse.
"Well, about time. You keep that up, girl, and you'll go blind. I heard you were in prison," Philby bellowed joyfully. "Ah! One of those cops that have gone bad, huh? You okay? I was worried," Philby asked wrapping her in a hug.
"Yeah, I'm okay now," Aliki sighed.
Philby, however, was looking over Aliki's shoulder. "Well, I'll be damned. Who is this cutie? And what have you done with that drop dead good looking sister of yours?"
Philby reached over Aliki and offered his hand to Dawn. "Hi, I'm Doctor Jed Philby."
Dawn smiled despite the fact that she was feeling a little more than embarrassed by the situation.
"Hi. I'm Dawn Freeman."
"The author?" Philby demanded to know, pumping Dawn's hand.
Aliki pulled Dawn free. "Yes, the author. Jed, this is my future wife."
Philby blinked and his mouth snapped shut. He blinked again and the silence that he had left seemed to overwhelm the space. Then all hell broke loose! "Hell shit! Hey, everyone, Alberta's getting married!" he yelled down the hall. "And wait until you see who it is! Drinks are on me tonight at the Restaurant of the Dead!"
"Jed! For God's sakes shut up!" hissed Aliki.
"No way. Hell, you don't think you can marry a cute little thing like this and stay in the closet do you? Okay, okay, we'll all promise not to say anything back in North America. Mum's the word for all one hundred and eight three of us. But hey, we gotta have a stag! Come on, Dawn. I'll introduce you to the rest of us."
"Ah, thanks, ah Jed, but I thought I would get dressed first. I don't think this hotel housecoat is quite the thing."
"Oh. Too bad. I kinda liked the Inca funerary motif on the pocket. Hurry up, Alberta. You are going to miss Samir's lecture on pollen spores. It promises to be a humdinger."
Philby caught sight of Robbie and Janet coming out of their room. "Hey, there's Robbie! Morning, Robbie. Did you know your sister is getting married to Dawn Freeman? Hey who's that? Is that the school teacher you married? Runs in the family, eh? Hi, I'm Doctor Jed Philby. I read all about you in the tabloids while standing in line at the grocery store."
"Hi, I'm Janet Williams," she laughed.
Robbie smiled wickedly at Aliki, who was a very brilliant shade of red. "I thought the tabloids would do. Never even thought of getting a town crier to spread the word. Subtle move, sister of mine."
"Town crier. Good one," laughed Philby. "Hurry up, Alberta! See you all downstairs. Stag at the Restaurant of the Dead tonight. Hey, Fenwick, wait. Hold the elevator. Did you hear, Alberta is getting married to a woman?" The elevator door slid shut and the hall fell silent once again.
"I'm wearing a housecoat with a funerary motif?" Dawn asked, nervously trying to fill the silence. The four women broke into gales of laughter and Aliki and Dawn hurried to get dressed and join the others.
El miembro de una comision arrived at the hotel in the late morning and sent a messenger in to bring Doctor Alberta Pateas out from a lecture on mummification methods in the twentieth century. He waited for her, as befitted his status, in the hotel manager's office. Carlos Don Reinaldos liked Alberta. He found her beautiful and intelligent. She was one of the few North American women he had met who knew the power of only talking when it was necessary. She was, too, excellent at her career although he found such work very unsuitable for a woman.
He stood when she entered, lifting slightly off his heels and then bouncing down again. "Inspector Pateas. A pleasure."
"Commissioner Don Reinaldos. I am so glad to see you. I hope I find you and your family in good health and that God has been kind to you."
"Indeed. We prosper." Her clothes hung on her tall frame and she was pale and shaky, he observed. Rank and position forgotten, he had come around his desk immediately and held her seat for her. "You are ill?"
"Thank you. I have been ill but I am on the road to recovery now," Alberta answered politely but vaguely. "Once again, Don Reinaldos, I find myself needing the help of the Arica Police department."
Carlos Don Reinaldos returned to his seat and gave a grimace of a smile. " You, my friend, are in a lot of trouble." He picked up a report from the desk. "Trespassing on university property, breaking and entering, and damage of a national treasure with the intent to steal."
"I was continuing the investigation we started three years ago when Tidwell Jennings disappeared."
Don Reinaldos grunted knowing that this simple explanation hardly did justice to the charges. "I have had a look at this mummy. It looks Inca to me."
"Yes, it does. But I can assure you it is not. That body is the remains of Tidwell Jennings. Whoever committed this crime has to be well versed in the arts of mummification. This was not the job of some random killer."
Carlos Don Reinaldos sighed, leaned back in the office chair and steepled his fingers, his elbows propped on the arms. "The face is flattened on one side, the skin tanned brown, and the hair an Indian style. How can you be sure?"
"Tiddy wore her hair in just such a bowl cut. I have known this woman for years. Believe me, it is her."
Thoughtful grey eyes met Aliki's. "You might know this because you were the murderer. Following up on her disappearance, finding the body, it would deflect suspicion from you. Perhaps you killed her and have been drawn back to the scene of your crime."
"Commissioner Don Reinaldos, you did a through investigation of Jennings' disappearance. I am sure you are well aware that I disliked the woman intensely. Many of us did. But I am one of the few people who would not have had time to mummify Jennings. As you recall, I left within a week of her disappearance and I have not returned until now. With the surrounding desert, this is not an area that is easy to enter illegally and if you check with customs you will see I have not been back before this."
The Commissioner gave a brief smile. "I have checked. I think, however, a brief glimpse of the face by flashlight late at night is not a reliable identification. Our pathologist is currently doing an autopsy on the mummy. If you are well enough, I would ask you to assist in this matter and to make a proper identification."
"Certainly, Don Reinaldos, anything to assist the Arica police in this matter," Aliki dead-panned, knowing that she'd better toe the line here despite the fact her stomach had tied in a knot at the thought of witnessing an autopsy for the first time since her illness.
"Good. If you are free we will go now."
An autopsy is a clinical procedure. It is detached, invasive, and efficient. The victim, once alive and dynamic, is reduced to a database from which the pathologist will extract the evidence he or she needs to identify cause of death and to bring about a legal resolution.
After detailed photography and an external examination, the body is stripped naked and the clothes sealed in plastic bags for further study. Hair, dirt, blood, insect samples and many other pieces of trace evidence will be collected and analysed. The body is treated to a similar procedure. Using a spotlight and large magnifying glass, every inch of the body will be checked and samples taken. Hair and fingernail clippings will be saved and the residue scraped from under the fingernails will be collected for testing. Hopefully, the DNA of the attacker might be collected from skin or blood residue if the victim fought off the attack.
Wounds are examined for the tell tale signs of the range and weapon used, and the order in which the wounds might have been inflicted. Then long, thin probes are pushed into the wounds to estimate angle and direction of the attack. Skin samples, swabs of orifices and fingerprints are saved and the body is x-rayed, measured, and exposed to any number of specialized tests felt needed for the further gathering of evidence.
It is only after all this that a Y cut is made from each clavicle and down the centre of the chest. The skin and muscle are peeled back, and the internal organs exposed. Again wounds are examined, this time from the inside to establish order and which wound was the actual cause of death. Samples are taken from all organs and they are examined for disease, drug and alcohol abuse, injuries, and evidence of decay by enzyme action, invasive bacteria and insects to help establish time of death. Any foreign objects - knives, bullets, shrapnel, insects, are collected and sealed in labeled bags for further study. Organs are removed, weighed, examined and photographed.
Lastly, the skull cap is sawn off and the facial skin pulled down off the skull. The brain is removed for examination for disease and foreign substances and the remaining bones and tissue examined. What is left on the stainless steel table is a bloody, empty husk far more terrifying than any horror movie could possibly convey. When the pathologist is satisfied that no further evidence can be gathered, organs will be packed back into the chest cavity, the skull cap put in place and the facial skin flopped back over bone. The body is sutured, the toe tag dated and signed by the pathologist and the body is lifted onto a cart and wheeled away in its body bag for storage until such time as the family will be allowed to claim the remains. The bloody examination table is hosed down and life goes on.
Aliki watched all this from behind her safety glasses and surgical mask with the clinical detachment that was necessary in her profession. At least in the case of Tiddy, the natural mummification of the desert had made the remains far less grizzly and smelly than most. Aliki hated it when the maggots wiggled everywhere and crunched under foot as you worked and the stench of decay was over powering.
Carlos Don Reinaldos stood the other side of the room, not wishing his immaculate suit to be crushed under lab gowns. "It is her, Doctor Pateas?"
"Yes, no doubt."
"Cause of death?"
The pathologist met Aliki's eyes and shrugged. Aliki replied, "None evident. No wounds, no sign of a strangulation, no broken bones. Nothing. Naturally, the lab will need to check for drugs and poison in the samples."
"Anything of note?"sighed Don Reinaldos in frustration.
"No. The body shows no signs of physical violence. The mummification process is virtually complete and there is little evidence of decay. The victim was buried in the desert sand very shortly after death if not before. Sand certainly has been inhaled onto the lungs. To what extent can not be determined until the lab reports come back."
"You are saying she was buried alive?"
"Possibly. But I doubt very much that she was conscious. She was not tied and there is no sign of a struggle."
"A most interesting case. When you are finished, Doctor Pateas, perhaps you will join me for a late lunch and then I will return you to the hotel."
"I would be honoured, Don Reinaldos. I will join you shortly."
Once the commissioner had left, Aliki and the pathologist discussed in scientific terms their findings. It seemed extremely likely that Tiddy had been made unconscious by some means and driven out onto the desert for burial almost immediately. It was both a daring and hideous crime. Aliki hoped that Tiddy never was aware of what was happening to her. Whoever killed Tiddy was filled with murderous hate. Sadly, that narrowed the field very little.
It was late afternoon by the time Aliki got back to the hotel. Dawn met her at the door of their room and gave her a long hug and kiss. "You look beat. I'll run you a bath while you get undressed and then I'll order room service. Do you want me to cancel the plans for tonight? We will have to be there," Dawn paused to check her watch, "in three hours."
"No, let's get it over with," Aliki sighed, bending her head for another kiss.
"You okay?" Dawn asked softly, realizing this must be Aliki's first autopsy since her break down.
"Yeah, I came through it okay. Once I got in there it was business as usual." She hugged her lover close. "Thanks for asking. I...I was worried if I'd ever be able to do it again."
"You don't have to, you know. If it is going to bother you, you could go into another field," Dawn reassured.
"No, forensic anthropology is what I do and I'm good at it. I'm going to be just fine as long as you are at my side," Aliki stated with more conviction than she felt. She had got through the procedure just fine, although she had to admit it had left her shaken and drained. Her job was bones and she rarely had to watch the detailed proceedings of a regular autopsy although they were often going on in the lab around her.
Dawn gave Aliki another quick hug, the worry showing in her face. "Go get changed then while I get the water running. Once I order us a light meal, I'll come help wash your back.
"Promise?" Aliki smiled, one eyed brow raised in challenge.
"You are so bad! I promise," Dawn laughed, reaching up to drop a kiss on the taller woman's lips.
Her jobs completed a short time later, Dawn, checked the lock on the door, stripped down and entered the bathroom. Aliki was asleep in the tub. Dawn smiled softly, her eyes tracing the beautiful form of the woman she loved. Then she went over and knelt by the tub. "Come on, lover, let's get you to bed,"she whispered, kissing Aliki softly.
"Mmmm, what? Oh, fell asleep. Come here," Aliki muttered reaching for the enchanting form of her naked partner.
"No. Come on, a quick dry and into bed with you. I promise to snuggle close and once we get back from the party tonight, I'll take you up on that offer, okay?"
"Okay," Aliki agreed sleepily, allowing her partner to pull her from the cooling water and to towel her down with care. She even allowed herself to be led to the bed. After that she made up her own rules.
They arrived at the Restaurant of the Dead a bit late, having been teased unmercifully by Robbie all the way over until Aliki was about ready to pop her. Not surprisingly, the celebration was long underway by the time they got there. Someone had managed to hang ribbons in the colour of rainbows over the doorways and a large purple heart with A. P. Loves D. F. on it was suspended over the bar.
"Hey there they are! Belly up, the drinks are on me," called Philby. "All together guys; 'For she's a jolly good fellow, for she's a jolly good fem. For they're a jolly good couple and so say all of us!'" The singing was terrible and the cheers and clapping deafening. Even those uncomfortable with the relationship had seen fit to make a token appearance because of their respect for Aliki as a scientist and fellow mummy hound. They crowded around with drinks in their hands laughing and talking.
"Two pineapple margarittas," Robbie yelled at the bartender over the racket, watching with amusement while colleagues clapped Aliki on the back and shook her hand and kissed Dawn congratulations.
"I'm not sure I want a margaritta," Janet protested.
"They're both for me. What would you like?"
"Robbie! You never drink!" Janet pointed out, a frown on her face.
"Wait until you have been with this group for ten minutes. You'll be ordering drinks by the half dozen," her spouse responded as she dropped some money on the damp bar counter and organized her drinks in front of her.
"Hey guys, Aliki has to do the mummy toe!" someone called from the back of the crowd.
"No!" Aliki groaned, pulling a face.
"Hey, we make all bachelors do it to prove that they have got what it takes." Philby argued.
"I don't have what it takes! I improvise," Aliki protested, her arms outspread. Dawn buried her face in her hands and shook her head in disbelief. Janet's eyes were wide with surprise. She had never seem Aliki among her colleagues before and she was certainly a different person.
"Two whiskey sours," Robbie ordered, after checking out the look on her wife's face.
There were gales of laughter and jeers. "Come on, Aliki, don't let the rainbow team down!"
"How come Dawn doesn't have to do it?" Aiki argued as she let herself be pushed towards a table.
There was a long wolf whistle from the back of the room. "Hell, we already noticed that she has the right stuff!"
"Hey watch it back there!" Aliki growled with a mock scowl. Aliki was pushed down onto a chair and a yard of beer was set in front of her in a glass bulb with a long thin neck and wide mouth.
"This I have to see," laughed Robbie, slipping off her stool and heading over to the table where the assortment of very mellow scientists were standing. Janet and Dawn followed close behind.
Fenwick cleared his throat and spoke in his usual dignified and reserved manner. "As the current Chair of the Mummy Congress, I am charged with the enormous responsibility of being keeper of the toe which has been passed down from chair to chair now for some years. Occasionally at stags, weddings, funerals and other happy gatherings of the Congress," at this point he had to wait for the laughter to stop, "it has been the responsibility of the Chair to produce the toe and test the fiber of those colleagues about to take the plunge into a new life. Ladies, gentlemen, and others, the toe!"
From his pocket, Fenwick pulled a rather grotty looking brown lump to the cheers and applause of all those around. With reverence he reached over and dropped it into the yard glass. A silence fell on the gathering as all watched the disgusting object floating about in the suds until it became saturated and slowly nose-dived to the bottom. A cheer of joy went up.
Fenwick called for silence. "I now call on our distinguished colleague, Doctor Aliki Pateas, to show her worth. Doctor?"
"That isn't a real mummy's toe, is it?" Robbie asked Samir Tagore who stood beside her.
"First tarsals off the right foot of a court scribe of the late Egyptian empire. I was sick for days after. It's against my religion to drink and I am not sure where my faith stands on the matter of human flesh. They do rather frown on beef."
"Oh dear God! Where is my Margaritta?!"
"The story about how the tradition got going is really rather fascinating."
"Too much information. Say no more," Robbie said, holding up a hand.
Aliki looked at Dawn to see how she was reacting to all this. Dawn smiled and winked at her. Aliki stood. The crowd went quiet. Aliki composed herself, letting her martial arts training calm her. Then she picked up the yard, and started drinking.
"Half way!" someone yelled.
"Three quarters. She's slowing, I don't think she is going to make it to the toe."
"Go Aliki! Don't stop. You are nearly there!"
"Come on, I've got a five pounds on this!"
"She did it!" Cheers filled the room. The yard glass was empty and a soggy looking brown toe lay in the froth at the bottom. Aliki wiped her mouth and smiled rather stupidly.
"Glad I don't have to sleep with her tonight," Janet whispered into Dawn's ear.
Dawn snorted. "The things one has to do for love."
The party was a merry affair and Dawn found herself dancing in her lover's arms on the dance floor amongst other couples. "You are very drunk. You know that don't you?"
"Damn", slurred Aliki with a goofy smile. "I was hoping there were three of you and I was in for a really kinky night."
Recognizing the fact that Aliki was unlikely to make it back to the hotel under her own steam, Janet called a taxi and the three of them managed to negotiate Aliki into the back seat where she promptly passed out.
She might have had to remain there until morning if it hadn't been that Robbie was just about as drunk. With an amazing heave, she pulled her sister from the cab and threw her over her shoulder in a firefighter's hold and then staggered to the elevator singing the Volga boat song rather loudly and off key.
Janet and Dawn followed behind, laughing so hard they could barely stand.
"They'll probably ask us to leave in the morning," Janet laughed as Robbie deposited her unconscious sister on the bed in Dawn and Aliki's room.
"I think it is a given," Dawn sighed. "Do you think she'll be okay?"
Robbie, swaying dangerously back and forth on her feet, looked at her sister with a critical eye. "In a few days," she concluded. "Come on, Janet. Bedtime. 'Night, Dawn. Congratulations."
"Watch she doesn't choke," advised Janet, as she was pulled from the room.
"Great. Just great," sighed Dawn, left alone to see to her lover.
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