Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The characters and events of the Seasons Series belong to the author.
My special thanks to Fran, who allowed me to tell you part of her story on the journey to recovery from cancer.
My special thanks to Pat for her expert assistance in rescue and fire fighting procedures.
My thanks to the many readers who have taken the time to let me know that you are enjoying my stories or to share your own with me. You are special people. My grateful thanks to my beta readers Lisa and Inga for their hard work and to Susan for her guidance and insights.
Check out the Seasons dolls at http://www.geocities.com/maclay529/azel.jpg
Note: The stories in this series are interrelated and should be read in the order they are posted.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. If you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp, please do not read on.
The library of the hundred and ninety-five year old house was warm and cozy. One wall was book shelves rising to the ten foot ceiling. On the second wall, a fire in the old hearth crackled softly against the morning chill, the third contained an archway of french doors and the last held a carved Victorian china cabinet. The walls not covered by books, were rag rolled to look like soft suede and framed on them was an eclectic mixture of rare art; a fragment of an ancient Egyptian painting on papyrus, an illustration from a 16th century Persian manuscript, and two 18th century wood block prints from a Japanese pillow book. On the mantel was a section of rock containing fossilized fish from the Green River prehistoric fossil beds and sitting on the oak library table, were the woman worked, was three Nigerian clay ink pots tied together with bark. An Edwardian chandelier bathed the room in mellow light and Antonio Vivaldi's Larghetto concerto OP. 3 played softly in the background.
It was a scholar's room, the remaining furniture consisting of two over-stuffed wingback chairs, and the library table's sturdy armchair. The woman sitting there, however, was a jarring contrast to the surroundings. She was tall and lean with the wiry muscles of an athlete. She wore running shoes, sweat pants and a T-shirt that read: FORENSICS: The Dead Do Talk!
The dark head leaned forward holding the magnifying glass close to the small object that she held in her other hand. She was examining the left anterior view of a fragment of maxilla bone. The frontal, zygomatic, and alveolar progress were present as was the anterior nasal spine.
Deciduous teeth, only DI2, DC1 and DP3 remaining. Considerable charring, Doctor Alberta Pateas noted, placing the jaw fragment back in the cardboard box that held the rest of the bones. Male, approximately three years old. A First Nations' pot burial, she concluded, closing her eyes and letting her senses drift on the flow of the music. The child in the box had been forgotten.
The oak, pendulum clock on the wall had just softly chimed the hour when the vibration in Alberta's pocket indicated a phone call. She sighed, slipping a long slim hand into her pocket to pull out a small cell phone and flip it open. "Pateas."
"Al, it's Tom Bates. There is a squad on the way. I need you to exhume a possible murder victim before the press get word of it. This one looks like it is going to be high profile. The body was buried in a shallow grave about fifteen years ago."
"Shit! I hate acting like a pig hunting truffles!" Pateas growled.
The man snorted. "As if. Al, it's the Williams' case. The body's possibly the old man, Philip Williams. A witness, who was a kid back then, got a bout of conscience and came to tell us. She saw the grave dug and led police to it."
Pateas sneered. "So how much did the tabloids pay her to discover her conscience?"
"Enough, I guess. She had a reporter in tow claiming to be doing his civic duty. I need you out there quick before the place is crawling with them. Once this guy publishes his exclusive, all hell will break out. Go get the bones, and I'll do the examination as soon as they arrive."
Alberta looked out the window. It was a grey, cold, blustery spring day. Yesterday, it had rained heavily. She sighed; rank had privilege. "Okay."
Bill Gorski had been on the force for less than a year but he knew of Doctor Alberta Pateas. She worked out at the same fitness centre as he did. She was gorgeous! Nice enough too...as long as you didn't try to get too close. Word had it in the police rumour mill that she had about as much emotion as the dead she worked with. A pretty strange profession really, examining bones for a living. Why would anyone WANT to do that?! Still, if his grizzly remains were ever found in a shallow grave, he sure hoped it was Pateas' beautiful hands fondling his bones. He smiled at his own joke as he turned off the car and opened the door.
A cold, wet wind blew around him. This was going to be a hell of a day to play in the mud, he sighed, as he walked up the pathway. He rang the door bell of the French lap building, and read the blue metal historical plaque on the wall as he waited; The Sinclair House, 1805.
The door opened. "Come in. I'll be right with you. You might as well enjoy some warmth while you can," the beautiful woman said, her tall figure moving away from him down the hall as he watched.
"What's your name?" asked the voice from inside a closet.
"Gorski, ma'am. Bill."
Pateas reappeared carrying a big gym bag and now wearing a warm rain jacket. "I'm Alberta. Let's go, Bill."
At the estate near Unionville, Bill drove the squad down the long paved drive and around the back of the house. Off in the distance, across the perfectly manicured lawns, yellow police tape could be seen tied to trees at the edge of the bush. It fluttered wildly in the wind. Alberta sighed and opened her door, letting the blast of the blustery spring day enter the confines of the warm car. Bill grimaced and got out to join the forensic anthropologist.
Alberta had got her bag out of the back seat and, hoisting the strap up on her shoulder, she headed out over the cold, soggy grass. She was glad she had changed to waterproof rain shoes. Bill kept pace beside her. He wondered if he should offer to carry the heavy looking bag. Better not. The lady seemed capable of taking care of herself, and word had it you didn't want to offend the Doctor.
Several miserable looking officers stood around a partly dug up grave. The outline of a skeleton could be seen in the wet, black earth. "Morning, men. Hell off a day," greeted Pateas, dropping her gym bag down and squatting by the hole. "Did you guys do the digging?"
"Yes, ma'am," came the response from a burly looking cop standing on the opposite side of the grave.
"I'll need the dirt collected and boxed for sifting. There might be evidence in it we can use. Did they take photos?"
Pateas stood and then bent over the gym bag. She pulled out a pair of hip waders and stepped into them. Taking off her jacket, she passed it to Bates to hold, while she slipped her suspenders into place. Then gratefully she accepted back the jacket. Next, she pulled a cement trowel out of the bag. Without a word, she stepped down into the grave and started to scrape away the debris.
Bill realized that like the others, he had been standing there staring at the mesmerizing woman who now straddled the dead man and casually worked dirt out from around his ribs. "Come on, you two, let's find something we can get this dirt in," he growled. They left Pateas to her quiet, methodical work.
Several days later, Alberta read about the arrest of Roberta Williams in the morning newspaper as she sat in the white wicker chair on her sun porch. She lifted her coffee and took a thoughtful sip as she looked at the picture of the handcuffed director being put in the squad car.
In the background of the photo, a small blond stood in a doorway looking on worriedly. Cute, Alberta concluded, and then let her eyes drift back to the figure of the director. The bones she had dug up came back into her mind. Something....yes, something about those bones didn't fit the pattern of the police report. She made a metal note to have another look at them now that they had been cleaned up and Bates had finished his work
Robbie sat on the bunk in the Bartlett jail starring at the stained cement floor. She had been sitting like that since they had booked her and apologetically locked her in the only cell that Bartlett had. What the hell had she done to the people she loved and had sworn to protect? Wrecked their lives, that's what! You weren't supposed to get involved, Robbie. You knew that! What the hell have you done?!
Dull blue-grey eyes looked up to met soft, worried green. The eyes widened and Robbie was at the bars in an instant. "What are you doing here?!" she growled.
Terry quietly opened the gate and let Janet in. Then quickly locking the door shut again, he walked away. "Where else would I be?" Janet responded belatedly, stepping closer so Robbie could wrap her in her arms.
Instead, Robbie backed off. "You shouldn't have. Where are the girls?"
Janet looked taken aback for a second. Fear mixed with pain crossed her face and then was replaced with tender understanding. "Amanda's at the cabin with them. Don't do this, Robbie. I'm your legal partner," continued Janet, moving close again and grabbing onto Robbie before she could escape.
The director's body was rigid and unresponsive. Janet stroked her lover's back pretending not to notice. "I love you. I married you knowing that you kept a dark secret that you feared would someday come back to haunt you. You were honest with me, Robbie. You tried to warn me off but I didn't care. I still don't. I love you and that's forever."
Strong arms came up to pull the smaller woman in close. "I'm so sorry!"
"Don't be," answered Janet firmly, reaching up to plant a kiss on Robbie's chin.
"Does Ryan hate me?" mumbled Robbie, looking at the far corner of the room, as her jaw worked nervously.
Janet hesitated and then told the truth. "She thinks she does." Janet felt the pain shoot through her lover. She reached up and grabbed Robbie's face forcing her to make eye contact. "Don't you dare give up on us!" she snarled angrily. "Because we are not going to give up on you!"
Robbie swallowed, fought for emotional control and then spoke, placing her hands on Janet's shoulders and looking intently at her partner. "You listen, that joint bank account I established, I put a lot of money in it. You take a leave, get our kids out of here. Change your name, just disappear!" begged Robbie.
"No," responded Janet.
Robbie pulled away in exasperation, walked to the corner of the cell and turned back to look at her determined wife. "You have no idea what it is like! The press are going to have a field day with this. How long do you think its going to be before the marriage certificate comes to light?! Jesus, Janet! Just go away! I should never have got involved with you in the first place! Or thought that it was safe to contact my daughter! Christ! What have I done?!" Robbie finished, sinking down onto the cot.
Janet came over and sat stiffly beside her. "Don't you love me anymore, Robbie?" she asked quietly.
Robbie's head snapped around, eyes blazing. "Of course, I love you! That's what makes this whole thing so wrong! You don't hurt the people you love!"
Janet shrugged. "It sometimes happens," she responded philosophically, taking Robbie's cold hand. "If it was the other way round and I was in here, would you leave?"
A moment's silence then a humourless laugh. "No, I'd be ripping the walls off to get to you," she admitted.
Janet giggled and lifted the strong hand to kiss it. "Well, I didn't have to go quite that far, but I did have to get pretty firm with Terry and the desk sergeant! I got permission to leave my cell phone here with you too."
Robbie pulled Janet into her side in a hard hug. "I don't deserve you!"
"I like that attitude," joked Janet, kissing the ear of her lover, "It gives me the upper hand. I'm going to get you out of this, Robbie. I don't know how, but I..." fingers against her lips stopped her speech.
"Janet," whispered Robbie. "I killed him."
Green eyes hardened in determination. " I am going to get you out of this!" she repeated with determination. "Now, you've started. Tell me the rest." demanded Janet, already knowing that her lover was going to lie.
Robbie squirmed, swallowed and started.
Janet drove home an hour later with a lump in her throat that was threatening to choke her. This was no time for tears. Later tonight, maybe, in the privacy of their bedroom, but not now. She had the girls to worry about, particularly Ryan. Earlier that day, after Robbie had been taken away and Janet had contacted both Robbie's law firm and Amanda for help, she had sought out the teenager.
She'd found Ryan, curled in a ball in the corner of her bed, her earphones in place and her eyes closed.
"Can we talk?" Janet had asked, standing at the bedroom door with Reb in her arms. Eyes similar to her own in colour, opened in a cold stare but the teenager nodded.
Janet had walked in and sat on the bed. Reb had immediately squirmed out of her arms and into Ryan's, curling up quietly into her big sister's lap and sucking her thumb. "Reb never sucks her thumb," Ryan noted, her voice dull and lifeless.
"No," agreed Janet. "She's scared. We all are."
Ryan fought back the tears. "Did she do it?"
"I don't know what really happened that night. Robbie never wanted to talked about that time in her life. I do know that your Mom is not capable of murder."
Ryan looked up and met Janet's eyes. She saw only trust and confidence there but her pain was too great for her to believe again. "Robbie's not my mother. I might as well not have had one," she said.
Janet looked at the floor. Ryan was so controlled. So without emotion. Why didn't she cry or yell? Anything to get her pain and disappointment out? "Mrs. Singh is going to come to babysit Reb. I'm going down to the police station to make sure your ...Robbie's okay. Do you want to come with me?"
Janet tried not to show her worry and anger. She got up and looked down at Ryan. "What ever happens, Ryan, you remember that, with your permission, I adopted you as my daughter. Just as Reb was adopted by Robbie. I am very proud to have you as my daughter. I love you. We will always be together as a family."
Ryan snorted. "Yeah, my...Robbie said the same thing only a few hours ago!"
Janet cringed inside but outwardly she remained calm and smiled. "Good, because she is right. We are a family and we will stay together. Don't give up on us, Ryan. This damn branch of the Williams family is worth fighting for!" For a second, their eyes held in silent communication. Then Ryan slipped her earphones back in place and, hugging Reb tight, she once again closed her eyes. Janet had leaned down and kissed each of her daughters on the head and then had walked out to wait for Amanda.
Now, several hours later, Janet pulled into her driveway and tried not to think about the pressure headache that was threatening to take the top of her head off. Just stay together a few more hours, she commanded herself, as she slid out of the cab into the cool afternoon air. Amanda was waiting at the door, a worried expression of sympathy on her face.
"How's Robbie?" she asked, as Janet stepped up on the porch.
"Upset," stated Janet.
Amanda nodded knowing not to push. "Nothing on the news. I checked," Amanda reported. Janet smiled weakly, too tired to be glad of the brief reprieve. Amanda helped her out of her coat and gave her a hug. Janet allowed herself to be held for a second, needing the emotional warmth and support. How had she become so dependent on Robbie so quickly? She felt like part of herself had been torn out.
Before she completely lost control, she pulled back and smiled her thanks to Amanda. "Thanks for helping out. Where are the kids?"
"I put Reb to bed. She fell to sleep in Ryan's arms. Ryan paced about a bit and then said she was going to chop wood. I wasn't sure I should let her in her present state of mind, but I didn't know how to stop her. She's so...so controlled! I've been watching her from the window until I heard your truck.
Janet nodded again, aware now of the sound of an axe splitting wood. The rhythm was similar to the pounding in her head. For a second, she closed her eyes. Amanda took her arm. "You okay? Do you want me to stay?"
"No. I'm fine, just a headache. I need to talk to Ryan. Listen, could you just quietly let the others on staff know? I don't want them to wake up tomorrow to find 60 Minutes on their doorsteps wanting interviews!"
Amanda smiled at Janet's attempt at humour. "Sure thing!" She slipped into her coat and before heading out to her Honda Civic, she turned to look at Janet. "Call if you need anything. You know you have friends. Don't be afraid to lean on us."
Janet smiled through misty eyes. "Thanks."
Amanda nodded and was gone. Taking up her coat again, Janet crossed over the livingroom and went out the front door to find Ryan placing a log on the old stump. With a powerful swing of the axe the wood was split in two. The teen put the axe down and bent to throw the pieces on a nearby pile.
"The first thing Robbie asked was whether you hated her," remarked Janet. "I told her you thought you did."
A cry of pain came from deep inside Ryan. She took the length of wood she was holding and smashed it against the tree stump over and over again. Janet waited, letting Ryan work the anger out on the tree. When she saw the blows were starting to weaken, she went over and wrapped Ryan in her arms. "Why?" sobbed the heartbroken child. "Why did they take Mom away from me?"
'Shhh, love. Shhhh, don't you worry. We'll find a way to bring her back to us," soothed Janet, gently rocking the teen like she would Reb. She held her tight for a very long time. When the painful sobs subsided, she pulled back a little and smiled. "I left my cell phone with your Mom. You want to phone and say hi? It would mean a lot to her. She's really down on herself."
Ryan nodded. And the two walked back into the house together.
Robbie lay on the cell bunk, now staring at the cement ceiling. She wasn't sure that she could spend years locked up like this. She closed her eyes and tried to fight down the fear and worry. Silently, Janet's phone went off in her pocket.
Like a drowning woman reaching for a life preserver, she pulled out the phone and flipped it open. "Hello."
"Mom," inquired a quiet voice, tentatively.
Robbie's heart contracted and the blood roared in her head. "Ryan! Ryan, I'm so sorry!" she choked through her tears.
"I was angry," the teen admitted honestly. Then added to lighten the impact. "For an actor, you sure have bad timing."
Robbie sniffed out a laugh. "Yeah, I sure do. I love you, Ryan."
"I know, Mom. You okay?"
"I am now. How about you?"
"Okay, I guess. Aunt Janet wants to say good night," evaded the teen, and handed the phone over to Janet.
"Is she okay?" asked Robbie.
Janet thought about that for a minute as she watched Ryan disappear into the bathroom. "No. But she will be in time. She had herself a good Williams' scene when I got back and that let some of the pain out. She is a remarkable child, Robbie. Strong, like you. She'll work through this, it's just going to take time."
"No kid should have to work through something like this. I love you all so much! I never..."
"Robbie," cut in Janet, "we're past that. Now we are moving forward as a family to see this through to a happy conclusion that can bring you back to us."
"I love you, sweetheart. Feel my arms around you tonight. I am still with you and always will be," reassured Janet, as tears silently rolled down her face. She knew Robbie was crying too.
"I love you too, Janet. I am so lucky to have you. Good night, love."
"Good night," whispered Janet and hung up.
The next morning, Janet woke to the sounds of the door bell ringing and Rufus barking. She was just slipping into her housecoat, when Ryan appeared at her door on the run. "Reporters! They're all over the place! I pulled all the drapes."
Janet sighed, knowing that they would have to face the gauntlet on the way to work. The phone rang and she went over to her bedside table and picked it up. "Hello, Janet speaking."
"Hi, it's Carolyn. The Sun out of Toronto has broken the story of the arrest this morning. Wouldn't you know it's Lucier's story. I'm going to kick him where it hurts next time I see him!
Listen, Janet, I phoned to warn you; the front page has a picture of Robbie in handcuffs being put into the police car. You're in the background. There is also a copy of your marriage certificate on page two."
"Oh shit," whispered Janet. Ryan's eyes widened in surprise. Aunt Janet rarely swore.
"As soon as I saw the paper, I headed over for coffee at the donut shop. I figured you'd want to know what was going down. The town is crawling with reporters! Stacy took me aside and told me that there is a meeting of the school trustees this morning. They sent Larry Butler over to get them all donuts and coffee. They're meeting in the boardroom at the car dealership and then going out to see you at the school."
Janet sank down on the bed. "This doesn't sound good," she muttered. Ryan came to sit beside her and Janet wrapped an arm around her, needing Ryan's warmth as much as Ryan needed Janet's reassurance.
"Yeah. Glady Billingsley stopped in. You know how she and Rev. Billingsley powerwalk with God in the mornings?"
"Well, they've got a mess of righteous indignation up their back ends and it looks like they're going to take steps to ask you to leave the church. You're living in sin."
"No, I'm not," argued Janet drily, "but I want to be."
Carolyn laughed. "Opinion is going to be split in town, Janet. You know that. Just remember you and Robbie have a lot of friends, no matter what!"
Janet smiled. "Thanks. That means a lot to me, Carolyn. I appreciate you calling to let me know the lay of the land. I'd hate to be facing today blindfolded. It's going to be ugly. Our cabin is surrounded by reporters. They keep ringing the door bell. I'll get us to school as soon as I can. Try to keep everyone on our regular schedule and warn them not to talk to the press. Phone the police and see if they can spare an officer to be up at the school. I don't want the school kids getting harassed."
"Okay, bye for now."
"Bye, Carolyn. Thanks."
Janet looked at Ryan. Their eyes communicated their feelings. Suddenly, devilment danced into the worried principal's eyes. "Let's phone your Mom and give her a rough time for being the biggest damn olive in the Williams' jar!"
Robbie paced one way, then the other, trying to fight the urge to smash at the bars. The constable on morning duty had brought her The Sun with breakfast; a big, grin on his stupid face. Damn! This was going to be a nightmare for her family! She checked her watch again. Still a little too early to phone and warn Janet.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the vibration of the cell phone. "Hello."
"Morning, love! How are you doing?" came Janet's tense voice over the sound of the doorbell ringing. The ring stopped abruptly. "Thanks, Ryan," Janet called out.
"Lucier broke the story in The Sun, this morning," Robbie stated. "Is that the press at the door?"
"Since six this morning. We are under siege here. Carolyn phoned to warn us," explained Janet, as she smiled up at Ryan, who having disconnected the door bell, had just walked in with Reb and Rufus.
"Phone! Phone!" squealed Rebecca, running over to her mother. Janet laughed and held the phone to her daughter's ear. Reb's beautiful eyes sparkled and she grinned broadly with delight. She had just discovered the magic of phones.
"It's Obby," Janet explained to the child.
"Are you on a plane?" asked the child.
"No Reb. I ...I had to go away for a bit," Robbie evaded, feeling her heart filling with loneliness.
"You come home!" commanded Reb, with a pout.
Shit! What do I say now?! Robbie fretted.
"Obby will be home when she can," Robbie heard Janet say to her daughter.
Then there was the sound of the phone changing hands again. "Hi," stated Ryan. "You okay?"
Robbie snorted. "Probably better off than you are. I've got police protection. You okay there?"
"Yeah. Here's Aunt Janet," was the awkward response.
"Hi, well my favourite olive, you have really spiced the pot this time!" came Janet's happy voice again. Robbie could hear the tension hidden behind the brave front.
" Janet, I never meant..."
"Robbie! Don't, okay?!" snapped Janet, running a nervous hand through her hair. "We are going to get through this. The news of your arrest has just been broken so there was bound to be a bit of a sensation."
"They published the marriage certificate. How is that going to impact on you?" asked Robbie.
There was silence for a minute. "Our friends are being very supportive. There are going to be some repercussions obviously. You are well liked in this town, Robbie. Once the nine day wonder is over, we'll be fine. Your law firm will have someone there today for you. I'll be around as soon as I can. Don't worry."
"I am worried. You keep the kids close and stay away from strangers. I don't want some right winged, neo-asshole hurting any of you because of me!" snarled Robbie, the fear and frustration of the situation mounting by the minute within her.
"I promise," Janet said firmly and calmly, trying to relieve some of the stress that her partner was under. "We have to go now. I'll phone you as soon as we are safe at the school. Don't worry!"
"Be careful! Don't let the press stop you! Don't talk to them!" advised Robbie, in a nervous rush.
"Okay," agreed Janet, "Love you, bye"
For a long time, Robbie stood there looking at the phone in her hand. Dear God! This is awful!
An hour later, Janet helped Rebecca into her spring coat, while Ryan stuffed her books into her school bag. "Okay, This is it. Ryan, you carry Reb. Keep your faces away from the cameras if you can. I'll go first with our stuff and open the truck doors. We'll take Robbie's truck. Stay right behind me, and no matter what happens, don't react or speak!"
Ryan nodded nervously, and Janet moved forward to give her a big hug. "You don't know how much your support means to me! I know this is an terrible thing for you to have to go through. Just remember it won't last forever and there will be better times ahead."
Ryan nodded, hugging her aunt stiffly. Then Ryan bent to pick up Rebecca. Janet looked at the big hairy dog that brushed protectively against her knee. "Rufus, don't bite anyone! Well, at least not too badly," she amended, smiling up at Ryan and giving her a wink. "Keep Rufus by you."
The nervous teen nodded. "Heel, Rufus," she commanded quietly, and the lumbering orange dog came to sit beside Ryan's knee.
"Good dog!" Reb encouraged, looking down from Ryan's arms. Rufus wagged an affectionate tail.
"Ready?" asked Janet. Ryan nodded. Janet opened the door to the sound wave of clicking, whirring cameras. As they stepped off the porch in a tight formation, reporters swarmed in from all sides.
"Did she do it?"
"How is Robbie handling her arrest?"
"Have you spoken to her?"
"What's it like to be in a gay marriage with Robbie Williams?"
"Is she pleading guilty or innocent?"
'Did your mother tell you she'd killed her father, Ryan?"
They were jostled about, unable to make much headway until Rufus let out a threatening growl and started barking. The shaggy monster came off the porch in a rush and scattered reporters in all directions. Janet nudged Ryan, and they used the opening to get to the truck. Rufus stood behind them growling menacingly at the stunned crowd, as the Williams unlocked the doors of the truck, placed in their bags and strapped Reb into place.
Janet started the engine, "Come, Rufus," she called, and the big dog leapt into his regular place beside Reb. Janet reached back and closed the truck door and they were off.
Things were a little better at the school. Carolyn had arranged to have an O.P.P. police cruiser at the gate for the start of the school day and had ordered a few more security guards to help patrol the grounds. Once Janet had slowly edged the truck through the swarm of reporters at the gate, they were safe.
Parking the truck in the spot reserved for the principal, Janet felt a cold dread spreading through her being. She turned to look at the silent teen beside her. "I might lose my job today. If that happens, I'll come and get you and Reb and we'll get out of here. Robbie set up an account just in case something like this occurred. Her law firm too is doing everything it can for us. Robbie tried her very best to protect us. Try not to worry. We are going to get through this no matter how rough it gets in the short haul."
Ryan nodded, her jaw white and clenched with stress. "I'll take Rufus to his pen."
Janet nodded, squeezing Ryan's hand before she opened her door and then turned to open the back door to get Reb out of her car seat. Holding her daughter's hand she watched Ryan and the big, ugly dog disappearing around the corner. Ryan was like her Mom, she internalized too much. How much could one child handle emotionally? With a worried frown, she led Reb into their small day care centre.
Carolyn Carr stood and came out from behind her desk to give Janet a big hug. "They're down in the staff room waiting for you to arrive."
Janet nodded, knowing that "they" had to be the members of board of trustees. "I need to speak to Amanda and Milka, first. Have Jason, Alex and Wanda cover for them and get them down here as quickly as you can."
"Sure thing, Janet."
"Ask Jason to sort of keep an eye on Ryan, just in case there are problems. She seems to have fit in nicely now but...well, ask him," fretted Janet.
Janet nodded her thanks and went into her office. She wanted to get her paper work caught up just in case. Ten minutes later, Amanda Singh and Milka Gorski came into the office and Carolyn flagged the two worried women on into the office.
Janet was all business, needing to keep a barrier up between her and her emotions until she had everything organized. "Have a seat, ladies."
"Janet, we're all so sorry. You know you have the support of the staff, don't you?" said Milka.
Janet smiled. "Thanks. That means a lot to me. I'm surprised I have Wanda's support. She is very religious."
Milka laughed. "She said that she couldn't approve of your life style but she didn't think it was any of her business. She thinks God will get you so she doesn't need to bother!" the English teacher laughed.
"Oh, brother!" sneered Amanda, rolling her eyes.
Janet shook her head in disbelief. "Well, I appreciate her tolerance if not her mind set," sighed Janet. "Okay, down to business. There is a good chance I will be asked to resign. I won't, so that means they will have to place me on leave with pay or buy out my contract. Either way, I think it's fairly safe to say that my career is done like dinner after today."
"It's just not fair! You are so good at what you do!" protested Amanda, and Milka nodded.
"Thanks, but the Board of Trustees is going to have trouble with the image of their school principal being in a gay marriage with a suspected murderer," responded Janet, cynically.
"Bored trusses!" muttered Milka, using a favourite teacher expression for the Board of Trustees.
"I need to review how to handle things with you. I'll recommend both of you as possible replacements. You both have the education, knowledge and experience to take over."
"Please," interrupted Amanda. "I would like to help anyway I can, but I have a young family at home. They come first in my life at the moment. I don't want the job, not yet anyway."
"I want it but not like this!" protested Milka.
"It won't be your fault if I loose my job, Milka, and I'll feel better leaving knowing the person taking over will do a good job. Okay, let's go through this stuff quickly, the Board's waiting."
An hour later, Janet sat on an orange plastic chair and looked at the elected citizens who were in a position to judge her despite the fact that not one of them knew anything about education. The old tradition of a community body overseeing the local one-room school seemed ludicrous some times in today's modern society.
"Mrs. Williams, ahhh, the Board met this morning and we don't feel that the present situation you are in is good for the school's image. We know you have two years left in your contract but we would like to ask you to resign," Bartlett explained.
I should have let Robbie finish tearing him apart at the party, Janet thought. "My marriage is quite legal and fortunately people are still innocent until proven guilty. I do realize that this is embarrassing for the school but I will not resign. I have done nothing wrong."
"Yes, well, of course, you are right, but Bartlett has a paying clientele and image is everything in this business. We would ask that you reconsider for the sake of the school," said Bartlett, feigning the more in sorrow than in pain tone.
The Trustees squirmed uncomfortably in their seats and looked from one to another. Bartlett sighed. "Then I'm sorry. We have voted to put you on a leave of absences with pay until your contract runs out. It will not be renewed."
"Fine. You would do very well to promote either Milka Gorski or Amanda Singh to my position.
They are both well qualified," Janet said, without any sign of reaction.
The Tustees looked surprised. "We have been very pleased with your work, Mrs. Williams. It is just an impossible situation for the school. We hope there are no hard feelings," one member felt the need to justify.
Janet smiled. "Yes, there are hard feelings. If I decided to take this to the Equal Rights Commission they'd make mincemeat of you. It might, however, be quicker just to sue for damages, since you have no cause for dismissal. You have made a very poor decision today. Good day." Janet got up and walked out of the room. Let the assholes chew on that!
Ryan walked down the hall to her locker aware of the wake of silence around her. Jenny Kingsley, who had the locker beside hers, leaned around the beige metal door. "Hi Ryan. We're really sorry to hear about your Mom. Look if there is anything we can do to..."
"Thanks," came the sharp response; then softer, "Thanks, that's good of you. I don't know what is going to happen. The press are like vultures out there."
Debbie DeLuca stepped over and patted Ryan on the back. "Yeah, that's the trouble with having a famous parent. Look, when you first got here...we didn't treat you very well because we were all afraid of Stacy. We'd like to make it up to you this time round."
"No need. Look, I know a lot of you are not comfortable with the gay issue. You don't have to pretend you are. If you want to help just stay out of it! Okay!?" Ryan slammed her locker shut and hurried down the hall to home room."
"Well, she wasn't very nice!" grumbled Nona.
"Cut Ryan some slack!" snapped Debbie. "Shit! Her mother's a queer married to her principal and probably killed her grandfather! How would you feel!?"
"Talk about your bad hair day," interjected Angie, trying to lessen the tension.
"Yeah," agreed Debbie with a nervous giggle."Come on, let's get to class."
Janet signaled through the small window in the classroom door to Ryan. Quietly, Ryan got up, took her books and left.
"Hi," greeted her aunt a bit awkwardly.
"You fired?" asked Ryan bluntly, as green eyes met Janet's.
Janet smiled cynically. "No, I'm on permanent leave."
Ryan rolled her eyes and looked around the school hall sadly. She had always wanted to go to this school. She could have got a good education here.
"So I could home school you if you like," Janet stated, watching her niece and adopted daughter closely for a sign of what was going on inside. Ryan and Robbie were both charged with emotion but it displayed itself in such subtle movements of muscle under skin or a slight twitch of a nerve. Rarely did the emotions play across their faces openly. They were always on guard. Always afraid that if they showed the weakness of feelings they would be hurt. She had to deal with her partner and her daughter so gently.
Ryan's muscles tightened, causing her jaw line to whiten. A small vein throbbed at her temple.
"Sounds like a plan to me," she stated toughly.
Janet nodded. "Let's clean out your locker and get Reb. You want me to call a few of your friends out to say good bye?"
Ryan looked back through the glass. New friends sent fugitive, worried glances towards the door. "I was kind of abrupt with them earlier. I think I owe it to all of them to say good bye properly."
Janet smiled and hugged Ryan. "You, kid, are one of a kind. I hope Reb grows up to be like you. Go say good bye. I'll be back to get you."
Alberta Pateas wore a lab jacket and sat on a tall stool. Her face was only inches away from the skull of Philip Williams as her magnifying glass edged along a deep indentation in the left temporal. The blow had shattered the articular eminence and filled the squama of the temporal with a web of hair line cracks that formed a concave dish. It had been a hell of a blow. So had been the one that had cracked his jaw.
"Are you double checking my work?" came an amused voice from behind her.
Alberta straightened and twisted to look seriously at Doctor Thomas Bates, the chief pathologist in the Toronto Forensic lab. "No. Your report is very accurate. There is just something here that I'm not comfortable with and I don't know what it is."
Bates walked over and picked up the left ulna, playing with it absentmindedly. "It's our job just to report the medical facts, Alberta. Not to draw conclusions. That's for the lawyers."
"But the lawyers will want to know what we can deduce!" protested the forensic anthropologist, her eyes blue and clear as they looked at Bates.
He had been that idealistic at one time; that eager to find truth. He still did his job well, but he'd come to realize over the years that truth was a very slippery eel. In the end, no matter how clear the facts, court procedure and jury perception ruled, not truth. Truth lurked in the muddy depths of people's conscience and was rarely caught, no matter how highly we prized the quality.
Alberta was relatively new to police work, having done her earlier research on prehistoric Inuit sites. Yet she'd quickly made a name for herself. She had that special combination of intelligence, observational skills, and gut feeling. Better still, she was cool under cross examination in court.
"Doctor Pateas, I could tell you to just do your job and not try to be a hero or play God but you wouldn't listen," Bates drawled, tossing the arm bone back on the gurney and taking out his pipe. He slowly and lovingly filled his old briar with the strong St. Bruno tobacco then continued, "but you wouldn't listen! So tell me what you have observed and perhaps whatever is bothering you will reveal itself in the process."
Alberta smiled. She liked Doctor Bates and felt in a short time she had learned a lot from him. She especially appreciated his tolerance now and was willing to forgive him his noxious smoking habit as a result. He never actually lit the pipe inside the building but the smell of stale tobacco tended to follow him like a wake. Most people in this line of work smoked. At the morgue or in the Forensic department, a good sense of smell was not necessarily an asset.
"The subject was hit with a blow to the left side of the mandible, close to the mental foramen, resulting in this green fracture. It was not the cause of death, although most likely it resulted in unconsciousness."
"An assumption, Doctor," muttered Bates, sucking happily on the stem of his pipe. The fact that the damn pipe was not lit seemed to go unnoticed by the smoker.
"Yes, an assumption. But it is on fairly safe ground. It was a blow hard enough to cause a broken jaw and he was an older man," responded Alberta. Bates nodded, but said nothing.
Alberta went on. "It was not the blow that killed him. The one that did was to the right temple area after the subject was on the ground."
"The first blow was an upper cut by a right handed person. The second blow was a down stroke ..." Alberta stopped and stared at the skull. "The murderer was left handed!" she exclaimed.
"There were two different people there that night the murder took place!"
Bates smiled, his eyes sparkling.
Alberta looked at him in surprise. "You knew that!?"
"But you didn't state it in your report!"
"No. It is an assumption, although highly likely. The defense will have their own medical experts to analysis this data. They will draw the same conclusions based on my report and it will most likely come out in court under cross examination."
"What if it doesn't!?"
"We report scientific facts. We also work FOR the police not against them. That's why they have two sides to the courtroom, Alberta," stated Bates, wiggling his eyebrows mischievously. "All the information is there. Each side can do with it what they may." Bates patted her arm affectionately, and walked back towards his office. Alberta looked down at the bones and brooded.
At his office door, he turned and remarked, "Of course, Doctor, it could have been a gentle blow to the jaw that caused the damage, if the victim had osteoporosis. He was after all getting up in years. Also had the attacker been facing the opposite direction, the blow to the temporal squama could have been made by a right handed killer. Please verify your facts, Doctor. Lawyers are very exacting." Having played the Devil's Advocate, Bates disappeared into his inner sanctum.
Alberta stood there looking over her shoulder at the closed office door. "Shit!" she mouthed silently and then sat back down on the stool to cover the bases she had missed until Bates had pointed them out to her.
"What!? When!? Well, Jesus, why didn't somebody notify me?! ....Okay, okay. Where was she taken? Yeah, I'll pick up my phone when I get the chance. Good bye."
Ryan sat in the chair across from the principal's desk and looked at her upset aunt. What had gone wrong now? She felt a tightening in her stomach; was her Mom safe?
Janet hung up the phone angrily. "Your Mom was transferred today to Toronto. She'll be held there until she is remanded for trial, then she'll be sent down to Kingston." A nervous hand ran through her hair as she fought for self control. "Obby's not going to be able to handle being locked up very well. She wanted to phone me but they wouldn't let her take the time. They took the cell phone away from her before she was transferred "
Then tears spilled over and she covered her face with her hands and once again fought them back. Silently, Ryan pulled some tissues from the box on Janet's desk and passed them to her aunt. Janet gave a weak smile in thanks, wiped her eyes, blew her nose and squared her shoulders. At least now she knew what to do next.
The ride to Toronto in the back of the paddy wagon had been boring. Robbie sat in the tin box with a female police officer whose job it was to prevent her from doing anything drastic. She looked at her handcuffed hands that were chained around her waist and to ankle cuffs. You'd have to be pretty imaginative to do so. Robbie spent the rest of the time coming up with various alternatives on that theme. She'd come up with twenty-seven possible scenarios by the time they had reached Toronto. Six of them, she felt were quite feasible.
The booking process had been humiliating. Once again, she had been finger printed and photographed. Then she was ordered to strip and shower with a matron watching on. Lady, if I was going to do anything drastic, I'd have done it in one of twenty-seven creative ways before I got here, Robbie thought as she stood in the grotty stall and made herself presentable for her prison debut. She was drying her hair on the thin, small towel when she saw the matron walking towards her wearing plastic gloves. Oh shit!
The search for illegal substances had been embarrassing and disgusting. After, Robbie had been given an orange coverall to put on. It was a little short in the arms and legs and a bit baggy in the hips and ass.
Once again she was fitted with her stainless steel jewelry and lead to another room where she stood at a counter with the matron. The ferret faced woman handed over Robbie's personnel effects to the clerk who slowly and laboriously listed each item on a form.
"You gotta take the ring off too," he growled, shoving a manila envelope over for her to put her watch, gold chain and wedding band in.
"It's my wedding ring!" protested Robbie, as she slipped off her watch.
"Yeah, so I hear," the clerk sneered. "Put it in the envelop, lady. Gold is valuable. She ain't worth getting mugged over.
Robbie took the ring off. It was just a ring she knew, but removing it filled her heart with a sense of dread. It was as if she had broken some precious link that joined the two of them together. Janet, I'm sorry! The ring dropped into the brown envelop and then she quickly sealed it.
"Look this list over and sign that's all you got," ordered the clerk.
Robbie read and signed. The matron took her arm and lead her to the first of the barred doors that would lead to her cell and new life.
They had left the school grounds by a little used service road and once at the cabin, the remaining Williams family had packed hurriedly while the press was still unaware they had left. By three they were on the 401 heading south to Toronto.
"Are we going to stay at Robbie's?" asked Ryan.
"Yes," responded Janet briefly, preoccupied with her own thoughts. The teen kept silent after that. Now it looked like she'd lost her home too.
They had hit the rush hour traffic, moving along like a vertebra in a slow moving metal snake. Janet gripped the steering wheel in angry frustration. Her nerves and patience were ragged after today. It was nearly seven o'clock when they finally turned into the condominium complex by Lake Ontario, where Robbie had made her home.
With a sigh of relief, Janet activated the garage doors to enter the underground parking lot. Swinging around a pillar, she was surprised to find a Ferrari in one of Robbie's parking spots. Did Robbie own it too? Janet had no idea. She knew Robbie had the Stingray and the B.M.W. and, of course, the truck she was now driving but she wasn't sure if Robbie owned any other vehicles. Really, she knew very little about Robbie.
She felt a dread creep into her heart with that thought. Robbie had so willingly moved into her small Canadian town world. Except for the funeral, Janet had very little contact with Robbie's world. How much did she really know about the history of the woman that she had married? How much of the legend of the Williams family was true and how much lies?
Tiredly, she unloaded some of the basic luggage they would need and herded her family into the private elevator that would take them to the penthouse. Janet leaned back into the corner of the lift and allowed her eyes to close for a minute while she listened to Ryan explain to Reb that they were going to stay in Obby's house for a while. Reb was being fretful and difficult. Who could blame the poor kid. Her routine had been turned up side down in the last twenty-four hours.
Janet opened her eyes and leaned forward to rub Ryan's shoulder affectionately. "Here, let me take her. It's just been too much for her and she is over tired. We all are," reassured Janet quietly.
Ryan nodded and handed up the whining child. She too had just about had all she could handle. The door to Robbie's home slid open and a sharp voice stunned them out of their exhausted state.
"Just who are YOU and what are you doing in MY daughter's home?!"
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