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 rolled over and looked at the sleeping face of her wife. Janet was beautiful all the way through. It sometimes brought a lump to Robbie's throat to remember her life before Janet. It was just too painful. Her gay marriage had given her happiness, family, and stability. There was always something that made Robbie stop and realize just how lucky she was but the best thing was just waking up and seeing Janet sleeping beside her.
"Hey, what are you thinking about so seriously, Blue Eyes?" Janet murmured, waking slowly to the spicy, heady scent of her lover.
"When did you wake up?" Robbie asked with a soft smile, leaning over to kiss the end of her partner's nose. "I was thinking just how wonderful it is to wake up and know that I am married to you."
Janet's eyes softened and she cuddled in close to her lover. "You old smooth talker."
"Last night was..." A loud hammering at the door brought Robbie out of the bed with a curse. She slipped into a housecoat and stormed over with a look close to murderous on her face. Janet chuckled softly.
"They're gone!" Philby stated and Fenwick, who stood beside him dwarfed by his massive body, nodded in agreement. "Come on, get dressed. We gotta do something."
"Who's gone?" Robbie asked, grabbing Philby before he could run off.
"Aliki and Dawn. They're gone. We tried to wake them up over three hours ago and couldn't. I finally got a key from the desk and entered their room. They didn't stay there last night. The bed is made. Would you get dressed, it's nearly noon!"
"Shit!" Robbie snapped, closing the door and heading for the closet. Janet was already pulling on clothes.
The gathering in the lounge sometime later was going nowhere fast and faces had gone from worried to gloomy. "Okay, let's go over it again. Who was the last one to see Dawn?" Janet asked with a sigh.
"I believe I might have been. She found me on the beach around six o'clock and told me she was interested in doing a documentary on Doctor Jennings' disappearance. I told her that the evening of the disappearance had been very tense and that I had as a result observed stressful behaviour on many people's parts, including my own. I didn't feel I knew what was relevant or not and that sometimes our perceptions prevent us from seeing truth," Samir stated in his precise manner looking worried and strained as he sat on the edge of his chair.
"I might have seen her after that," put in Philby rubbing his face. "She came and got Alberta from the bar where some of my graduate students were having a discussion with her on the appearance and identification of rickets. I didn't check my watch but I believe it would have been later than six. At any rate, Dawn came to get Alberta to get ready for dinner just as I came in. I would guess at around 6:30."
Victor Van Vogt walked in at that point and looked around with concern. "Is it true what I heard, that Alberta has gone missing?"
"And her partner, Dawn," Janet answered.
"This is not good," Van Vogt said bluntly.
"Can you remember when you last saw them?" Fenwick asked, reaching out to refill Janet's cup of coffee from the carafe that sat on the table. Janet smiled her thanks.
"I saw them leaving the hotel last night around eight. They headed up the street towards The Restaurant of the Dead. But when I arrived there about a half hour later, they were not there. I assumed they had decided to go somewhere else for a change."
Robbie was pacing around with a worried frown on her face. " We need to call the police," she finally announced. Fenwick nodded and as the others stood about silently he went to place the call.
Don Reinaldos arrived looking frustrated and worried. He spent a good deal of time questioning first Robbie and then Janet and then Robbie again, wanting to know what they had found out and why they were interfering in a police matter. In the end, it was only Janet's calming influence that stopped Robbie from having a temper tantrum of gigantic proportions. They were finally dismissed by the police with a sharp warning to stay out of an on-going police investigation and the others were called one by one to make their statements.
Janet sat with the very pissed off actor-director on the terrace, looking thoughtful and oblivious to Robbie's muttering.
"They weren't going to the restaurant," Janet suddenly announced grabbing Robbie by the arm.
"They weren't going to the restaurant. They were going to the university to look at the mummies again."
"How do you know?"
"Because a body is still missing and Dawn realized that. Come on Robbie," Janet ordered, getting up and heading through the gardens towards the road.
"Hey wait! What do you mean?" whispered Robbie urgently, as she trotted along beside her determined wife. "I hope you are not planning to do what I think you are planning to do, are you?"
"Yes, I am."
Robbie sighed. "I was afraid of that."
Janet stopped and looked at Robbie with sincere, worried eyes. "We should tell the police."
"Yeah we should." Robbie considered. ". ..After. Let's go do our own investigating first. Then we'll tell the police if we find anything and on the way you can fill me in on what you've worked out."
Just short of the university, Robbie pulled Janet to a stop. She crossed the street to a small store and emerged a few minutes later with a baseball cap. "Come on, we need to find a washroom in one of the university buildings." Janet smiled, realizing what her famous partner was planning. Only Robbie would have the confidence to pull this off.
Once in the washroom, Robbie set to work tucking her hair under the baseball cap and feathering it along the sides and front using Janet's nail scissors. She widened and darkened her eyebrows and used a touch of lipstick colour to make her lips look a bit thinner. Then, looking intently into the mirror, her body posture changed, her face appeared to elongate and her expression became serious and controlled. Robbie Williams ceased to exist and instead a remarkably convincing Inspector Aliki Pateas stood looking into the mirror. "Come on, Janet, we have to find Robbie and Dawn." Aliki's voice said as the actor winked at her partner.
Janet smiled and stood on her tiptoes to kiss her lover's cheek. "You are good, Williams. You are damn good."
Together the two went to let the security office know that they were doing some more investigating in the shed that stored the university mummies.
"Si, Inspector Pateas. I saw in the book that you were here last night. I will get you the key again. Just drop it through the mail slot if I am out on rounds." Robbie risked a look at Janet and green, serious eyes met her own. They were on the right track.
The two conspirators took the offered key and headed down to the storage shed in the olive grove. Robbie opened the door and the two walked in and stood looking at the bones laid out on the table. The shed was a makeshift place divided into three rooms. "It seemed like a good idea until we got here," Janet observed with a shudder, her voice amplified and sounding strangely hollow in the empty space.
"I gotta tell you, sis's occupation creeps me right out. The adult mummies are through here. Would you believe that she could sniff the fresh ones out from the decayed," Robbie revealed as she led the way to the sliding doors that separated the mummy storage area from the work area of the shed.
"Please tell me there is another way of deciding," Janet muttered.
"Yeah, she could tell by the weight too."
"Thank God. Oh my God! Look at them all!"
"More mummies than a materity ward," Robbie sighed dryly. Gingerly and with looks of disgust the women started to lift and move each wrapped mummy. They had only got to the third one when they both looked up and their eyes met. "This one?"
"Think so. I guess we have to check, huh?" Janet asked with a grimace.
The two women looked down at the body that they held much like a board between them. There was a momentary silence while they each imagined having to unwrap the remains. Janet cleared her throat. "How about we put it somewhere handy and poke around to see if we can find anymore evidence. Maybe we won't have to unwind it."
"Sounds like a plan. We left Jennings on the pile of bones on the table out there."
"Okay." Janet's voice echoed the nervous stress that she could hear in Robbie's response. The women shuffled around and awkwardly carried the mummy into the workroom and placed it carefully on the table. "First I'm washing," Janet insisted, holding her hands up like a doctor prepared for surgery and heading over to a sink.
Robbie joined her. "They're probably okay," she said, more to reassure herself than Janet, as she scrubbed her hands under the cold water. "I mean Aliki has a black belt and Dawn knows how to take care of herself. Right?"
"Sure." Janet smiled nervously, drying her hands on her jeans and turning to start poking around. Robbie headed off in the other direction.
It was only a few seconds later when Janet tried the back door and looked out onto a set of deep tire prints. Between them in the soft sand were the clear imprints of two pairs of running shoes in sizes that were most likely women's. "Robbie, over here."
The two women stood in the doorway looking at the prints. "I'm a city girl, this is more your area. You come from the back bush," Robbie said after a minute.
"Robbie, they are tire tracks a good three inches deep! A blind woman could understand this one. Someone recently backed a small truck or landrover up to the door and two people came out of this shed and probably got into the back of it."
"You think they got in willingly?"
"No. Whoever, it was must be one cool character. They locked the women inside and then took the key back to the security shed. They probably dropped it through the mail slot while the guard was doing his rounds. Then cut around the back of the shed and got into the cab of the truck."
"You read that in the tracks!" Robbie exclaimed with a grin.
Janet belted her playfully across the arm. "You got a better scenario, Lone Ranger? I figure it has to be the murderer and that person now has to get rid of Dawn and Aliki. Mummification worked last time. I think the killer will try the same method again."
"They headed out into the desert last night." Robbie stated, feeling the worry growing in her gut.
"Probably." Janet answered grimly.
"We need a helicopter. I'll flag a taxi and head out to the airport and see what I can do. You find Don Reinaldos and fill him in on our suspicions. I'll meet you back at the hotel."
Janet nodded and the two women headed off as fast as they could. Time was running out. Already they might be hours too late to help Aliki and Dawn.
Janet thought Don Reinaldos was going to have a stroke. He went all red in the face and bobbed up and down on his heels in aggravation. His flawless English deteriorated into a series of splutters the gist of which seemed to be a debate with himself on whether he should throw Janet and Robbie in jail or send them packing on the next plane out. In the end, he did neither but spun on his heels and stormed out. Janet gave a sigh of relief and went to look out for Robbie.
The actor-director was having her own set of problems and arrived outside the hotel sometime later driving a very old and very orange school bus. "All set?" Robbie asked as Janet boarded the bus with a smirk. "Hey, it was all I could get."
"Well, it is only to the airport so I guess it doesn't matter," Janet shrugged, taking a seat behind Robbie.
Robbie closed the door of the bus and got underway before she answered. No use in taking any chances. "Actually, I wasn't able to get a helicopter."
"Small plane?" Janet asked.
"Ah no. Seems you have to have a government permit to charter a aircraft and it takes weeks to apply."
"So what do we have?"Janet asked, suspiciously.
"A school bus built in 1972 and a map printed about the same year."
"Robbie! We can't go out into one of the most desolate deserts in the world driving a school bus!"
"I couldn't get a taxi driver to do it for love or money, and you can't buy a car without a permit. I only got this through bribes and lies," Robbie grumbled, as she negotiated the roads out of Arica.
"Who did you get it from?" Janet asked with a frown.
"The Catholic Mission."
"Robbie! You lied to and bribed a priest?!"
"We like to look on it as a donation to the orphanage fund. And it was one of those Jesuit lies for the greater good," Robbie smiled wickedly.
"I hope God buys into your convoluted reasoning," Janet snorted. "What have you got back here?"
"A few things I was able to pick up in case we need them. A first aid kit, oil, antifreeze, spare tires, two gallons of water, a large jar of Skippy peanut butter, and four loaves of bread."
"I'm sure glad you remembered the antifreeze," Janet said sarcastically, as she rooted around in the boxes. "I hear it can drop as low as 100 degrees in the afternoons. What the hell is this!"
"What?" Robbie asked innocently, stalling for time as she bumped the bus off the road and onto a dirt trail leading into the Atacama desert.
"This bit of army surplus that looks a lot like a bazooka."
"It's a bazooka."
For a moment there was a noticeable silence while Janet closed her eyes and counted to ten. "I don't want to know what was going on in your mind or where you got this. I just want you to know that if we survive it is NOT coming back with us."
The bus by now was swinging wildly back and forth as it struggled over rocks and out of pot holes. Janet held on tight and with difficulty managed to get back into her seat where she clutched the safety bar in front of her for dear life. "You're no fun," Robbie smirked at her through the cracked driver's mirror. Janet rolled her eyes.
The desert was a vast plain of rocky hills and loose stone. Janet told Robbie that such barren hills were called hammada and that the rocky plains were reg desert. "Sand dune desert is called erg. Although you see it in films all the time, it is really not all that common. Most deserts are reg, including the greater part of the Sahara. You won't find desert much more dry or barren than this one though."
They drove until the sun was nearly overhead and the road had narrowed into little more than a foot path. Finally, they came to a narrow ravine in the dry rocky hills. The bus could go no farther.
Dawn and Aliki had been led at gun point to the back of the shed the night before. They found a truck parked against the shed, its rear gate pushed up. They were told to get inside and pull the gate shut. In the darkness, they heard a padlock being snapped into place.
Dawn snuggled up to Aliki and the taller woman wrapped her arms around her partner. "We'll just have to bide our time until I get an opening,"Aliki explained. Dawn nodded but said nothing. They sat down and waited. It was a long wait. Finally, the truck rocked as someone opened the driver's door and got in. The sound of the door closing cracked like a gun shot in the silence. The engine caught and they were jostled about as the vehicle made its way out of the olive grove and onto the road.
"I'm sorry,"Aliki mumbled sadly, kissing Dawn's temple gently. "I always seem to be putting you and Mac in danger."
"Aliki we have been down this road before. I am your partner and if I choose to get involve in one of your investigations then I have to be prepared to take some chances and so does Mac. We know that your work can sometimes be dangerous. We accept that because we love and want to be with you. You have to accept it too."
Aliki sighed and looked miserable. "I do every time a crisis is over but then another one occurs and I can't stand seeing the people I love in danger because of me."
Dawn hugged Aliki as tight as she could in the bouncing truck. "You don't ever have to stand for it, my lover, just accept that it can happen and your family is willing to deal with whatever danger comes along. Just like Robbie and Janet's children have to deal with the danger of having famous parents."
Aliki smiled into the darkness around them but Dawn felt the smile in the hug that her partner gave her and in the subtle relaxation of her body. "You okay?" Dawn asked softly, well aware that Aliki was a long way from recovered from the break down that she had suffered after her last case.
"Yeah, a little strung out but I can hold it together. I took a pill just before we left the hotel," Aliki admitted.
"Good," Dawn said keeping her voice neutral. She hated that her partner needed to take medication to help her deal with her nerves since her breakdown. She worried too about Aliki's physical endurance.
She held on to her lover as best she could, shielding the tall gaunt figure from the worst of the bumps with her own body. It was sometime before the small truck bounced to a halt and the engine shut off. Silence seeped in like a cold vapor as they waited for what would happen next.
"Get in the far corner and stay low,"Aliki whispered. Dawn nodded. Aliki moved silently forward and crouched like a runner a few feet away from the gate.
They heard the truck door open and close and the sound of pebbles shifting as the killer walked to the back. The padlock rattled as it was undone. "Move to the back," the voice commanded.
"Okay," Dawn called and shuffled around a bit on her hands and feet to make it sound as if there were two of them. Aliki smiled to herself. Dawn was quick and resourceful.
The gate raised. It was barely half way up when Aliki dived forward and tackled the person on the other side. They went down in a tangle of arms and legs. A gun cracked and flashed in the darkness. Aliki snapped her opponent's wrist sharply and there was a sickening crack and a groan of pain. The gun dropped heavily to the ground and Aliki used the opportunity to move behind the woman and apply a choke hold. A few seconds later, the body she held slumped.
"Aliki"called a concerned voice from inside the truck.
"I'm okay. Come out and give me a hand."
There was shuffling from inside the truck and Dawn jumped out into the night carrying a length of cord from the back. "Is it Chris, Aliki?"
"Yeah. It's her, I think, although she sure could pass for Hilda. I don't know how I didn't realize." Aliki sighed in disgust.
"Sometimes our perceptions prevent us from seeing truth,"Janet repeated. "Hilda was so quiet no one really noticed her. Chris was in debt and she was eaten with a need for revenge against the woman who rejected her. So she showed up at the last convention, killed Jennings and then Katz because she had found the scarf. Then she became Katz. They were about the same size and build and looked very similar. It was just a matter of cutting and dyeing her hair and wearing Katz clothes and glasses. Hilda always stayed in the background any way and no one noticed her. All Chris had to do was retire from Hilda's career and keep a low profile."
"Think you are so smart, don't you, you bitch,"groaned the figure on the ground, as Dawn and Aliki tied her up with the coil of rope that Dawn had brought from the back of the truck.
"She's a hell of a lot smarter than you," Aliki sneered. "You made three fatal mistakes; dropping that scarf, showing off your talents by mummifying your victims, and feeding your over sized ego by coming back to this conference to mock us. Lady, you are going down."
"You think you are so good don't you, Alberta? I should have killed you years ago. You're just a stupid, arrogant queer."
Aliki ignored her. "Help me lift her into the truck, Dawn." The two women pulled Chris to her feet and carefully placed her in the back of the truck so as not to hurt her broken wrist. Then Dawn pulled the gate down. "You okay?" she asked, wrapping Aliki in her arms.
"A bit shaky but it felt good to be able to exert that much energy again."
"You are going to be fine, Sweetheart. Come on, let's get this load back to Arica. The sun is starting to come up and people will be worried if they find us missing." Arm in arm they walked to the cab and climbed inside. Aliki slumped against the passenger door, exhausted from her night, while Dawn turned the truck around slowly and they headed back.
The sun rose, a hot red ball of fire, and spread its rays across the desert in a flood of heat. Dawn's shirt was grimy with dust and sweat and her head ached with lack of sleep and the cruel glare of the sun. Beside her, Aliki slipped in and out of exhausted sleep, feeling queasy and out of sorts. It was the sudden jerking of the truck to a stop that brought her finally fully awake. "What time is it?"
"Close to noon, I think. We have a flat."
"Shit," Aliki mumbled, rubbing the grit and sleep from her eyes. "We'll have to get Chris out of the back. She'll cook in this heat, lying there while we change the tire."
"Okay. She'll need some water too," Dawn murmured through dry lips, pulling one of the canteens from between the seats.
They got out stiffly and stretched. Then they walked to the back and hauled Chris from the truck bed. "Just give me some water and leave me the fuck alone." Their prisoner snapped.
Dawn held the canteen for Chris while Aliki got out the spare and jack. "You have to come out. You'll fry in there while we change the tire. We'll put you in some shade to wait."
After Chris had her fill of water, they lifted her out of the back and placed her in the thin shade of a boulder, then started to work changing the truck tire in the grueling heat. It was slow, hellish work and when they had finished they were burnt and exhausted, their throats parched and their lips cracked. Wearily they went over to drag Chris up and put her back in the truck. Aliki had just about had all she could take. She needed her meds. Her nerves were on a hair trigger. It was just sheer will power that was keeping her together.
Meanwhile, Janet was having her own problems. "Robbie this is a really bad idea."
"We need to get their attention, don't we, so they know we are here," the actor argued, reading from a dog-eared manual. " This will get their attention even if they are miles away."
"You are just using this an excuse to fire it," Janet sighed.
"That too,"Robbie grinned. "Okay, I got this worked out,"she said, kneeling down and hefting the old bazooka on to her shoulder. "Just drop the shell into the cylinder."
Janet licked her parched lips nervously and picked up the heavy shell. "I hope Elizabeth and David won't mind raising our kids.
"I told you, it's not a live shell. Trust me."
Janet rolled her eyes. "Here goes."
Janet dropped the shell down the cylinder and turned away, her hands over her ears. There was an incredible roar and the shell whistled on a plume of smoke from the barrel of the bazooka, sending Robbie onto her back side. "Wow, that thing has a kick!"
The shot, rather than arcing into the air, hit the ground in a belly flop and roared up the hillside blowing away the ridge in a cloud of debris and disappearing down the other side in a landslide of pebbles.
"I don't think they saw that," Janet said dryly, as they heard the dull thud of the shell impacting into something.
There was a second of silence and then an incredible explosion that fire-balled into the air.
"They'll see that," Robbie gasped, from where the two of them had run for cover behind the school bus.
"You told me it wasn't a live shell!" Janet protested, swatting her partner across the arm.
"I might have been misinformed," grinned Robbie, brushing dust from Janet's hair.
At the sound of the bazooka firing, Dawn and Aliki had turned in surprise and looked with shock as a shell came bouncing over the top of the ridge in a cloud of dirt and roared down the other side. Aliki dropped Chris back behind the boulder and grabbed Dawn, pulling her down behind the rock too.
The shell flew off the high bank and slammed into the side of the truck. A second or two later, the truck exploded in a massive fireball lifting it right off the ground and dropping it down on its side.
"I wish that had happened before we changed the tire," Dawn muttered, after the debris had settled.
"You okay?" Aliki asked, helping Dawn up to her knees.
"Christ! Chris angrily interrupted, "I'm in pain here. I'm going to sue you. Do you hear! You'll pay for this!" Aliki and Dawn ignored her.
"Yeah. I'm fine. Do you think this is an army test range?"
"I sure as hell hope not. You stay here and I'll go to the top of the ridge and see if I can see anything," Aliki stated.
"Nope. I'm coming too," Dawn corrected her. Aliki smiled at the back of her stubborn partner who was already scrambling up the rocky hillside.
"We'll be back to get you," Aliki told Chris. "Do yourself a favour and stay in the shade." Gathering up what energy she had left, Aliki followed Dawn.
Meanwhile, Robbie and Janet were standing looking at the shattered top of the ridge. "Now what?" Janet asked.
Robbie looked down at her partner. "I guess we wait and see if they answer."
Janet snorted and looked annoyed. "As if. Robbie we will fry out here waiting."
"You damned idiot! I should have known it would be you!" came a roar from the top of the ridge, causing the two women to start and look up again in surprise.
"There, you see," smirked Robbie. "It worked."
They watched as Aliki and Dawn, burnt red by the sun, grimy with sweat and dirt, and their clothes still smoking from being singed in the fireball when the truck exploded, came plodding down the hill. Aliki walked up to her sister. "If Dawn would let me, I'd shoot you."
"Got our message, huh?" Robbie smiled.
"Yup, right into the side of our truck," Aliki scowled. "363,000 square kilometers of nothing and you manage to blow up my truck!"
"Oh, that was the fireball! See, Janet, I told you it wasn't a live shell."
"That's it, to hell with the gun. I'm going to rip her apart with my bare hands!" Aliki threatened, but more in jest than anger.
"Are you okay?" Janet asked Dawn, leading her over to the bus so that she could give her some water.
"Yeah. It's been a rough night. We have Chris Philby over on the other side of the ridge. She killed both Jennings and Hilda Katz," Dawn explained, sitting on the school bus steps and taking a long drink from the bottle of water she was offered. "Nice wheels. Was the train not running today?" Dawn asked with a snort.
"I sent Robbie. Need I say more." Janet laughed.
Dawn grinned, although the effort cracked her lips painfully. "The bazooka was certainly a nice touch."
Robbie took the moment of privacy with her sister to reach out and ask with concern. "Are you okay? You gave us a hell of a scare." Aliki looked pale and exhausted.
"Yeah, I'm okay," sighed Aliki, pushing her hair back with a shaky hand, "but I'm pretty close to the edge of my limit. Can I ask you to climb over the hill and bring Chris back over here?"
"Sure thing," Robbie said softly. "Let's get you on the bus so you can lie down."
"Okay. What did you do with the kiddies?" Aliki managed to joke.
"It's a mission bus. I had to throw the Christians to the lions." Robbie smiled, helping her sister over to the bus with concern on her face.
"I believe you too. You damn near burnt us at the stake with that blast. What the hell have you done to your hair? You've got this funny ragged bang."
Robbie smiled. "I was pretending to be you. It was easy, I just gave myself a bad hair cut and acted grumpy."
Aliki blinked in surprise and shook her head as she climbed up on the bus slowly. "I am too tired at the moment to deal with this. Just tell me how much trouble you have caused for me."
"Hey, hardly any at all. We just went to the university and found the missing body. Then we knew you were in trouble and that probably you had been brought out here," Robbie explained, as she guided her sister into a front seat on the bus.
Janet and Robbie fussed over Dawn and Aliki, making sure they had lots of water and were as comfortable as they could be on the hard bus seats. Then together, they climbed over the ridge to find Chris.
"Wow! Look at that! Bloody amazing I call it. Look Janet, I killed that truck!" Robbie beamed, surveying the smoldering skeletal remains of the burnt and twisted chassis from the top of the ridge.
Janet surveyed the blackened area around. "Looks like you came damn close to doing some collateral damage. Aliki, Dawn and Chris are lucky to be alive."
"Hey, how was I to know they had parked the truck here," Robbie justified, as the two of them slipped and slid down the hill. "Come on, Chris. We've come to rescue your sorry soul. Up you get."
"About time. Water," croaked the woman, as she was yanked to her feet. Janet held a plastic bottle of water to Chris's lips and poured some water into her mouth a little at a time. When she'd had her fill, Chris whined, "I gotta broken wrist thanks to your sister's brutality, so be careful getting me up that hill." Robbie pulled a funny face at Janet behind Chris's back and Janet laughed. "What are you laughing at, bitch?"
"Watch your mouth, Chris," Robbie snapped, defending her partner. "One more word out of you and I'll leave you out here to dry in the sun. I'm in to this mummification thing."
Together Janet and Robbie pulled Chris up the loose, dry gravel ridge and back down the other side to the school bus.
"You gotta be joking," sneered Chris, at the sight of the vehicle that Robbie and Janet were driving.
"Yeah," joked Janet drily. "These hummers come with amazing camouflage don't they. In you get and right to the back so we don't have to put up with you on the ride back."
Once everyone was settled and things wedged into corners so that they wouldn't bounce around, Robbie started the bus and carefully turned around. Then they started the slow, hot journey back to town. It was late in the afternoon when, exhausted, dehydrated, and dusty, they pulled up in front of their hotel.
To their surprise, police immediately surrounded their vehicle, and Inspector Don Reinaldos, robot-stiff with anger stormed out to them. He was nearly jumping with pent up fury as he waited for Robbie to pull the door mechanism open. He was up the stairs in a second. "You were NOT to leave! You have been where? You have been where?!" he demanded, saliva bubbles forming at the edge of his mouth.
Robbie was so hot and tired she wasn't even capable of making a coherent sentence. It was Janet who was first to rouse herself from the stupor of the hot bus. "We were able to find Aliki and Dawn and were able to help them bring the murderer of Doctor Tidwell Jennings and Hilda Katz in. Chris Philby, the former Miss Kristinia Katz if I am not mistaken, is tied up in the back of the bus."
Don Reinaldos made a noise deep in his throat that sounded much like a growl. Then, turning quickly, he stomped off the bus and yelled a series of orders in Spanish. In no time, Chris had been transferred to a police vehicle, the ladies had been helped from the bus and sent to their rooms, and the bus was on its way back to the mission driven by a police officer.
Dawn wrapped an arm around her exhausted partner and together they headed to their room. They took turns showering and then sat down to big bowls of chilled melon salad, fresh rolls and a pitcher of iced lemon tea.
After, Dawn slipped a disc into her walkman and took Aliki by the hand. She stripped the hotel terrycloth house coat from her lover's body and then took a tube of green pear body lotion and squirted some on her hands. Slowly, she started to rub the cooling cream across Aliki's face and lips and then worked down to her shoulders and breasts.
Aliki, who had been passive until now, gave a groan of need and reached to lower the house coat from her partner. Dawn let the cloth slip to the floor and then stepped back out of Aliki's arms, very aware of the smoldering blues eyes that took in every detail of her petite form.
"No," she said softly. "You are not allowed to move. Not until I am finished with you."
Aliki's eyebrow went up in surprises but she stood still, her arms at her sides, and let Dawn move closer again and continue her sensual treatment. Dawn went behind Aliki and rubbed cream into her broad shoulders and down her strong back. She let her fingers rake and caress and dropped kisses at the back of her partner's neck as her fingers slid to a tight round backside.
Aliki groaned and squirmed with need.
"No, not yet. Not yet lover. Control," Dawn whispered into Aliki's ear as she ran her own naked body along the long lean length.
Dawn moved around her tall, beautiful lover and placed more cream on her hands. Then, looking Aliki in the eye, she ran the warm, creamy substance over her own breasts. Aliki watched every move with burning hunger in her eyes, her lips slightly parted and her breath ragged with need. Dawn's hands, fingers spread wide, trained down her own stomach and hips, covering her body with a fresh, heady scent.
"Don't move now," Dawn warned as she walked up to her lover and wrapped her arms around Aliki's neck, and kissing her with passion as she moved her hips against Aliki's sex. Their bodies slipped gently on the lotion teasing, tantalizing and tormenting. Dawn slowly dropped to her knees, leaving a trail of kisses in her wake until she could use her tongue on the very centre of Aliki's need.
Dawn heard the soft groan of delight and felt her lover shudder with need. Strong arms lifted her into Aliki's embrace and warm lips begged entry. Aliki carried her to their bed and the liquid heat of their love making blended to one.
The following day the four women spent at the police station, sometimes being questioned but most of the time sitting on hard wooden chairs in various stuffy rooms waiting. So it wasn't until the next day that they had the opportunity to explain things to their curious colleagues.
"It was the information that Janet picked up in her discussion with the person we all thought was Hilda that made all the pieces fall together," explained Dawn, as she sat next to Aliki on the terrace surrounded by an interested group of scientists. She took a sip from her iced tea and continued, "Janet had said that she had called her Kristinia not Chris and that Hilda had mentioned that the family had said Kris had bad blood. Janet and I both thought at first that Hilda had been one of Chris's conquests too and that Chris had dumped her for Jed Philby. But the wording just didn't seem right. Finally, we both realized independent of each other that Chris and Hilda might be sisters. In which case, who had been murdered, Chris or Hilda?"
Dawn stopped for a sip of her lemonade and then continued, "I twigged to it first because I talked to Samir. He had a feeling that Hilda was not who she seemed to be but wasn't sure. So rather than lead me in what might be a false direction, he planted the seed of an idea that he hoped might allow me to find the truth. He said, 'Sometimes our perceptions prevent us from seeing truth'. You see, everyone was used to Hilda being on the edge of the group. No one took any notice of her. All Chris had to do to maintain her new identity was to be seen every now and again. With her blond hair dyed brown, and cut short and styled straight, and those thick glasses, she resembled her sister quite a lot and of course she knew enough about her sister to carry it off convincingly."
It was Janet who took up the explanation from here, leaning forward to pick a chip from the bowl on the table. "The joy of revenge in killing Jennings was muted by Chris's realization that Hilda must have known that she had been there after Hilda found Chris's lost scarf. She was also afraid about returning to the US because of her mounting gambling debts. So she decided to solve both problems by killing her sister too and taking her identity. Don't forget, Chris was a mortician. She not only knew about preserving bodies but she knew a lot about makeup."
"It was almost the perfect crime," Robbie observed, after she has stolen the chip from Janet's hand and chewed and swallowed it. She reached for the bowl of chips and offered it to her partner to select a new one before going on. "Chris buried them out in the desert and once she knew they would be well mummified, she came back here, wrapped them and hid them in the one place, for religious and moral reasons, no one would ever be likely to look, the mummy storage shed. Even if on the rare chance one of the bodies was unwrapped and found to be a recent murder, the suspicion would not fall on Chris but on someone attending the mummy convention that year and that was exactly what happened."
Aliki nodded and took up the story. "Getting away with the perfect crime wasn't good enough for Chris. She needed the ego rush of walking amongst her old associates. She came back to the conference again this year disguised as her sister. And once again she almost got away with it. But she was caught by surprise that anyone else knew about the scarf and overplayed her hand just a bit. Dawn and Janet picked up on it."
"Well, I must say that is an amazing story. I feel so bad for Doctor Philby and Doctor Katz. Dear me," sighed Fenwick. "I wish now that I had spoken up at the time but I don't suppose it would have prevented the tragedy. You see when I went back to the hotel that night, I found Philby in a very agitated state. He said he'd gone to the Restaurant of the Dead early that night for a pint or two before dinner because he'd had a flat out in the desert that day and was thirsty. As he was standing at the bar he was sure he had caught glimpse of Chris. He chased after her but when he got outside there was no sign of her."
Fenwick blushed and coughed gently before going on. "I overheard him in rather a heated discussion with the hotel manager about whether or not Chris Philby was staying at the hotel. Naturally, I did my best to calm him down and convince him that it would be extremely unlikely that Chris would come to a conference where she was likely to meet the other two corners of a very unpleasant love triangle. At the time, I sincerely believed I was right. Poor Philby I am afraid had become quite obsessed with Chris. He hoped, poor fellow, that she would come back to him. I saw no reason to embarrass him by telling the police."
"How is Philby holding up?" Robbie asked, absentmindedly resting her hand on Janet's knee.
"He feels a bit of a fool, as we all do a bit. He asked to see to having the bodies buried. Said it would allow him some closure. I think he has finally seen Chris for what she is."
Two days later, the conference ended and the four women flew together back to Canada. After a night at Aliki's home in Toronto, they took a helicopter north to Robbie and Janet's lodge near Bartlett.
From the window of the 'copter they could see their children running out onto the porch overlooking Long Lake with Elizabeth and David not far behind. Ryan and Mac stood side by side waving to them and Reb was standing by the massive family dog, Rufus, trying to get him to wave a paw.
The helicopter lowered and soon the women were reunited with their families over a huge breakfast that David happily prepared with Elizabeth's help. The story of their adventure came out in bits and pieces with a good deal of laughter and some serious questions. Aliki said little. She was very aware that Mac, sitting by Ryan at the other end of the table, was watching her with hurt, confused eyes.
When the group finally broke up Aliki asked Mac quietly if they could go for a walk. The young teen was silent for a second and then hesitantly agreed. Dawn watched with worried eyes as the two quietly slipped from the lodge and headed down the forest path.
It was a beautiful day. The summer heat cooled as it passed through thick green leaves whispering on a gentle breeze. Mottled patches of sunlight danced across the trail and highlighted here the deep green of moss on an old log, or there a circle of red capped toadstools growing from a carpet of dried pine needles. Shafts of sunlight spot-lit the thick forest turning deep, rich greens to emerald brilliance.
The two walked in silence, Aliki trying to think of the words that would help patch the distrust between them. "Aah, nice day," Aliki stated awkwardly.
"Yes," Mac answered and said no more.
Once again they walked in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. The trail curved close to the lake edge and they stopped to look at a black and white loon diving for fish not far off shore.
"I need to talk to you, Mac. Could we sit here for a bit?"
"Sure," answered the teen briefly, being co-operative but noncommital. Mac sat on the rocky ridge that bordered the shoreline.
Aliki sank down beside her. "I didn't handle my last case very well, Mac. I...I thought that the people on that plane had died because of me. It became very personal. Finding the person I thought had brought that plane down became more than a job. It was an obsession. I feared for you and your mom and for anyone else that might be another victim of the killer's madness."
Mac said nothing. She picked up a bit of stick and focused on stripping the bark off, not willing to look up at Aliki.
Aliki swallowed painfully and looked out over the water. "Seeing all those people dead...I was in shock and then when I got the letter from the killer...a....and I thought those hundreds of people had died because of me...well, I just cracked, I guess. I felt I couldn't have anything to do with you until I had somehow righted the terrible wrong that had been done in my name. It's all a jumble in my head. I went undercover, living a really low life and trying to think like the killer. It took a great deal from me emotionally and physically...I guess you know that, huh? I must have been a real mess when your mom found me."
"Yeah. You were. It was scary. I didn't like you like that. But you weren't sick when you walked out on the wedding. Not then," Mac spit out, her eyes ice and startling blue against the tawny skin of her Salish Indian heritage.
"I think I was, Mac. Maybe not as sick as I was to become but even then I was not thinking too rationally. I was wrong, Mac. I hurt and embarrassed you and your mom very deeply. I wish I could change what I did then but I can't. All I can say is that I am so very sorry and I really want to make a life with you and your mom. I love you both very much," Aliki managed to get out around a huge lump in her throat. Tears welled in her eyes and she could feel her lip quivering. Shit, she'd cried more in the last year than she had in her whole life time.
In the silence that followed, she reached into her pocket and pulled out her pills. Suddenly a hand was over the top of hers. Aliki looked up into eyes filled with worry and determination. Aliki let the pill bottle drop into Mac's hand. With a small cry of anguish, the teen threw herself into Aliki's arms. "You scared me! Don't ever do that again, Aliki!" the teen wailed. Aliki held on to her adopted daughter and the two of them cried openly each trusting the other with their pain.
Sometime later, after they'd let all the sorrow and anger out and had washed their hot tear-swollen faces in the cool lake water, they lay in the noon sun and talked a lot of things out. Then, a lot happier than they had been in a long time, they walked back to the lodge to try and pick up on a future that had nearly been lost.
Three months later, the fall weather had made the trees blaze with colour. The brilliant red of the soft maple, the crimson of the hard maples, and the gold of the beach and aspen blended against a rich background of oak rust and the deep greens of the evergreens. And on that special day, the lake was mirror calm reflecting the clear blue sky.
They stood on the huge cedar balcony of Robbie and Janet's lodge that looked over Long Lake. The railing and coach lights had been decorated with boughs of wild roses and white pine and inside the lodge a banquet of food catered by the Bartlett woman's auxiliary stood ready.
Aliki, Dawn, and Mac wore blue jeans and sweaters that Elizabeth had knitted for them. Mac gave her mom away and also held the rings that Aliki and Dawn exchanged. As a family, they greeted the family and friends who came up to them after the wedding ceremony to wish them well. Aliki held Dawn and Mac's hands and beamed with pride, very aware of the gold band that now encircled her finger, a symbol of her lasting commitment to Dawn and Mac.
All of Pateas family had come out from the west and Ari, as the only married man in the Pateas family, had took it upon himself to have a talk to Aliki about her responsibilities to Dawn. He had been married for over a year now and he and his wife had just found out they were going to be having their first child in the spring.
Much to Aliki and Dawn's delight, Fenwick, and Philby had also flown in for the occasion and
Dawn had several of her publishing associates there as well. A number of Aliki's colleagues had shown up from the city to see their friend married including her boss Doctor Bates, Doctor Becky Wilson the lab's entomologist, Carl Ling the lab assistant, and Phil Koo and his girlfriend Alice Niles from the Toronto Police department. Much to Aliki's surprise, Detective Joe Volenni, who was not know for his liberal stand on any issues, had come too.
To be truthful Volenni was feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable to be there but he figured that Aliki was alright and so he had come. He didn't understand why anyone would want to live a gay life style but after Bates had had a good long talk to him, he'd come to the conclusion that Aliki was a good scientist and police officer and the matrilineal head of a responsible and caring family no matter how queer she was. He didn't have to believe in or like her ways but he figured he could tolerate her being different as long as she was normal in most other ways. He figured though that he'd have to go to mass next week and do penance for being at this wedding. There was no use in taking any chances.
After the buffet, Aliki led Dawn down to the beach and they stood watching the sun set red over the lake.
"I never thought I would marry, never mind have a family," Aliki admitted. Dawn snuggled closer to Aliki but said nothing. She had learned that her stoic partner needed time to get out what she felt. "You and Mac coming into my life has been the most special gift that any person could have. I know I haven't done very well at this courtship thing, but I want you to know that I love you and Mac so very, very much and that now you are my family, I am the happiest person alive."
"No regrets?" Dawn asked, smiling up at the woman she loved.
"Only that I did not meet you and Mac earlier," Aliki smiled. "I love you."
Life is good and to be in love is wonderful, Aliki thought, as they kissed. Behind them the sun set in a blaze of gold.
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