Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Seasons Series are the creation of the author.
Special thanks to Pat for her expert knowledge on rescue and firefighting methods. Thanks also to Sheri for providing the information on the beautiful island of Tobago.
My grateful thanks to the many readers who have traveled with me through the Seasons. You are the best! My deepest thanks to Lisa and Inga, my beta readers, who work very hard on my behalf and to Susan for her insightful critiques and for overseeing the character continuity. Lastly, to all those individuals who have written me about their own life stories, my respect and my best wishes.
Note: The Seasons stories interrelate and should be read in the order they are posted.
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.
Robbie had phoned Polinski at his law firm the next day and he had sent up Roger Sullivan. Sullivan had been a cop in Bramford but had quit after five years and gone solo. Most of his work now came from law firms investigating damage suits or divorce cases. He had worked for Polinski once before over an incident involving the Williams' girl when she'd broken some kid's arm. Polinski said the kid was a spoilt brat and nothing but trouble. He would have turned the case down if times had been better but summer was his slow season.
Robbie sat at her desk and looked Roger Sullivan over. He seemed okay. Relatively fit, rather average looking, with sandy hair and pink skin dotted with freckles. He dressed conservatively and had a quiet, calm manner about him. He'll do, Robbie concluded.
"I'm sure you have heard that our children were kidnapped," Robbie began. Outwardly, Sullivan didn't react, other than to nod his head in acknowledgment. Inwardly, he sighed heavily; babysitting two gay women's kids. What a job! He should have stayed with the police force!
"There is some concern that the kidnapper might have been working for someone else. The police are looking into that. In the meantime, I don't want my girls left alone. If Janet and I are not there, you will be. The daycare will be locked from now on and you'll only be able to enter if you are on an approved list. Bartlett is too big a school to make completely secure, so you will need to stay with my eldest daughter during the day.
Sullivan nodded his understanding.
"Once the girls return to the house you are free for the rest of the day and of course weekends. Do you have any questions?"
"Your oldest is a teenager, ma'am. Is she going to be comfortable with this? I really need her co-operation," Sullivan stated firmly.
Robbie smiled down at the desk, enjoying a private joke. Ryan had teased her that anyone Polinski had picked for the job would have been warned that Ryan was trouble. Robbie looked over at Sullivan. "She is not happy about it. But the kidnapping was a very scary experience for our two girls. Ryan understands that it is necessary until we can find out for sure who really was responsible. She won't cause you trouble."
Sullivan nodded, feeling some of the tension draining. Williams didn't seem to be the Holy Terror she was supposed to be and the kid sounded like she was going to be reasonable. He'd give it a shot and see. "Okay, I'm satisfied. When do you want me to start?"
"This Monday. If you go into the Donut shop, Stacy should be able to tell you were you can find Greta Corry. She's a hard lady to track down. Greta rents rooms at her place, mostly to the Ontario Provincial Police officers stationed up here. She provides breakfast too. Tell her to send the bill to me." Robbie stood and Sullivan nodded, thanked Robbie Williams and left.
He smiled as he walked among the trailers that currently made up the nerve centre of Robbie's new studio complex. Williams was just as beautiful in real life as she was on the movies. Wait until he could tell the guys down at the gym that he'd been away working for Robbie Williams! Their jaws would be trailing the ground. No need to tell them he was really protecting the kids.
Saturday morning found the Williams all in the lake. "No, Ryan!" stated Rebecca, emphatically, "I don't want to swim with you!"
"Why not?" asked Ryan in surprise. She had been looking forward to teaching her baby sister how to swim.
"You drowned me," Reb accused.
"Reb, I had to hold you under the water so you wouldn't get burned," justified Ryan, feeling rather embarrassed and hurt by her sister's attitude. In the past, she had silently enjoyed Reb's complete adoration. "If it hadn't been for me, you'd be a crispy critter!"
"No swim with Ryan!" came the stubborn response from the small child as her lip curled into a pout.
Janet slipped off the dock and came over, realizing that Ryan was starting to get upset. Ryan still was easily hurt. It didn't take much for the emotionally insecure child not to feel she was wanted. This situation needed defusing quickly. "Ryan, could you help me try to locate the old anchor we used to tie a raft to. Robbie wants to build a new one so we can swim out to it. I've got some idea where it was. If we can find it, we'll tie a rope and plastic jug to it until the raft is ready."
"Sure, Mom. What about Reb?" asked Ryan.
Janet smiled wickedly at Ryan and winked. Then she looked up on the beach where Robbie lay on her stomach on a lounge reading over her script. She wore a black bikini and her skin was lightly tanned. Only here and there were there circles of lighter skin where the deeper burns had been. She looked great! Especially from this angle, Janet concluded. Her wife had a nice ass. "Robbie, could you give Reb a swimming lesson. Ryan and I are busy."
Robbie looked back at her family over a muscular shoulder glistening with suntan lotion. "Okay," she flashed a smile.
"Suckered!" Janet whispered to Ryan and the teen giggled. "Come on, race you out there!" Janet yelled and pushed Ryan playfully as she ran and dived into the deeper water. Ryan was right behind Janet, her competitive Williams' nature coming out immediately at the challenge. Robbie smiled as she got off the chaise lounge and walked down to the water's edge where Reb sat in the sand. The two bodies sliced through the water, arriving at the dive spot at the same time. Two wet heads bobbed up and down, giggling and chatting. Robbie watched with pride and the warm, fuzzy feeling she got whenever she realized how lucky she was.
"Obby, I go too," demanded Reb.
"You can't, Reb," Robbie said, sitting down next to her little daughter.
"Why?" asked Reb.
Because you can't swim," explained Robbie.
"Why?" asked Reb annoyingly. Why was a word that had just become Reb's mainstay of conversation.
"Because you wouldn't let Ryan teach you," explained Robbie, bending to come nose to nose with the child.
Reb's enormous liquid eyes turned stormy blue. "Ryan drowned me!"
"Did she mean to?" asked Robbie in surprise.
Reb looked confused and shook her head. "No."
"Oh. Was it an accident?" asked the child's adopted Mom, persistently.
Reb frowned. "No."
"Hmmm, I don't get it, Reb. Why did Ryan drowned you?" she asked conversationally.
"Because of the fire," Reb explained impatiently.
Robbie looked all around. "There isn't any fire now, Reb. It's all gone."
"All gone?" Reb asked for reassurance.
"Yes, all gone," Robbie smiled, slipping an arm around her daughter.
"Why?" asked Reb.
"Because the rain put it out," explained Robbie.
"Because water drowns fire," Robbie explained patiently. "You want me to show you how to swim while Ryan is busy?" she continued before another why came her way.
Reb sat watching her Mom and big sister laughing out in the water and diving for the elusive anchor for a minute. "You no drown me, Obby," she stated.
"Okay," Robbie agreed happily. "I'll be careful."
Janet dived down into the cool, clear water and skimmed along the sandy bottom looking for the barrel of rocks that they used to tie a raft to as children. When her lungs started to burn, she arched her body and with strong strokes of her arms rocketed to the surface again. She hadn't played like this in years. It was so super to be a family. Ryan was just a wonderful child. A much more stable blend of personality traits than her mother. She had her Aunt Elizabeth's quiet logic and Robbie's creative spark and daring.
Janet wondered if Robbie had any idea just how bright Ryan really was. She wondered if she should talk to Robbie again about Ryan's test results and then rejected the idea. Ryan needed space to decide for herself what she wanted to do with her life. If she talked to Robbie, Janet wasn't sure that her focused partner would not force Ryan into a life style she didn't really want.
She looked over at her gorgeous lover as she patiently fitted water wings onto Reb. Robbie was such an amazing mixture of fire and ice it was hard to know always which way she would go. She had been wonderful about the swimsuit. Robbie had walked in and found Janet sitting on the bed crying as she looked at the swimsuit that was specially designed with a pocket for a breast mold to be added.
Robbie had sat down beside her and held her close. Then she had stripped the housecoat off her and they had made love tenderly. Later, Robbie had taken the swimsuit from the floor where it had fallen and gently slipped it on her lover with a good number of kisses and caresses. 'You are beautiful. You excite me. And I am so proud to be seen at your side,' Robbie had said, in such a sincere manner that Janet never felt awkward again slipping into her swimsuit. Robbie could be so wonderful.
"I think I saw it!" Ryan yelled, breaking the surface to the right of where Janet trod water. The teacher smiled and brought her focus back on the job at hand.
"Okay, Reb, this swimming is easy. Even Rufus can do it." The dog in question raised a large, unruly eyebrow and looked at the two humans with mild disinterest. Rufus had no intension of going in the water. Lying in the sun was so much more fun.
"First, you have to lie on your stomach in the shallow water like this," said Robbie demonstrating. "Then you kick your feet and move your arms. Okay, you try."
Reb, who had watched with intense, big eyes, rolled over on her belly and dutifully kicked and stroked with her arms as she had seen Obby do. "Great, kid. Now you got to remember to keep your fingers together to scoop the water. That's right." Reb giggled as she splashed water all over Obby as she dog paddled, anchored to the shore by her belly.
"Now, this is what happens next," explained Obby. She walked out deeper in the water and did the dog paddle for Reb to see. The she came back to shore where Reb sat looking very apprehensive.
"I'm going to support you with my hand just like the sand did. We'll move out into deeper water slowly. You know I won't let go of you, Reb, so you just relax and splash me all you want. You are really safe. Swimming feels good, Reb. Its just like when I used to lift you up and let you fly."
This idea appealed to Reb. Robbie kept the child in the shallow water for a bit so Reb could still feel the bottom, then gradually, she drifted her small charge out into deeper water. Reb kicked and splashed in glee as Robbie spun her around in circles like she used to do over her head, when Reb was smaller. "Obby! I fly, Obby!" Reb laughed.
"No, you are swimming! Way to go, Rebel!"
"I swim by myself," demanded Reb. Robbie caught her daredevil daughter up into her arms before the small child could wiggle free.
"No, Rebecca, you have to practise a lot first. It takes more than one lesson to learn to swim."
Big, liquid blues looked seriously back at Robbie. "I can swim. I go swim with Ryan and Mommy," the child stated firmly.
"Okay, Rugrat. But you have to hold on to me, okay?" negoctiated Robbie. Reb nodded, a smile flashing across her face.
Janet was just tying the line to the empty bleach bottle that Ryan held when she was hit in the face with a splash of water. "I swim, Mommy! I swim! Look Ryan, I swim. Now I can't drown!"
The small child wore a full life jacket now and clung to Robbie by the back straps of her bathing suit. Janet laughed. "That's great, Reb! Good for you!" praised her mother.
"Ryan, I swim with you now!" begged the now fearless child.
Ryan looked a bit sulky. "Thought you didn't trust me?" she muttered.
"I trust, Ryan. I swim like Ryan too," protested Reb.
Her big sister was won over by Reb's enthusiasm. With a few strong strokes, she was beside her Mom and Robbie slipped Reb carefully from her own shoulder's to Ryan's. Reb wrapped her arms around Ryan's neck and her legs around her big sister's waist. "Go Ryan! Go! We fly!" giggled Reb, as Ryan did a breast stroke through the water around her parents.
Rufus woke with a start and ran to the end of the dock barking and growling, suddenly realizing that his cub was out in the deep water. "Hi Rufus!" came a cheery voice from out in the lake. Rufus howled in frustration, took a few steps back and then with a short run launched his big hairy body out into the water. The splash was like a small tidal wave. With huge orange paws, the fretting Rufus covered the distance between the dock and Reb.
"Easy, Rufus! You're scratching me!" laughed Ryan, trying to push the big, worried dog away while keeping Reb above water. Suddenly, Robbie and Janet were on either side of their daughters and acted as side guards against the upset Rufus as they were all herded towards the shore by the annoyed dog.
Once on shore, Ryan looked down at the soggy mound of orange fur. "I bet you are pleased with yourself, you stupid dog. You almost drowned us!"
"No Ryan!" protested Reb, coming to her canine friend's defense. "Reb can swim now"
Janet shook her head. Olives. She had a family of olives. "Reb, you are doing very well but you can't swim by yourself yet. You are not to go near the water unless one of us is with you. Promise."
Reb looked rebellious. Robbie tapped her little daughter on the shoulder and when Reb looked way up, Oby raised an eyebrow significantly. Big eyes got wider. Reb looked over to her Mother. "Okay, Mommy, Reb no go near the water," she promised. Janet looked with relief at Robbie and then with annoyance at Rufus. "It is going to take a week to dry this monster out and the whole house is going to smell like wet dog!
"Rufus can dog paddle too," Reb pointed out proudly, reaching up to scratch the massive dog's ear. Rufus turned and started to lick Reb dry. The little girl giggled .
"No, Rufus!" Janet said and Robbie picked the small child up and put her on her shoulders.
"Time for burgers on the barbeque. Let's head up to the lodge," stated the director, and the family happily gathered up their stuff and took the trail through the trees back up to their new home.
The woman looked around the one room cabin that she had rented with contempt. It was like living like a savage. Why would people think coming here was a holiday? Still, the cabins were close to the lake where the Bartlett Regatta would take place. That was important. It was just a matter of waiting now for the right moment. Robbie Williams had betrayed her and for that she was going to die.
The woman smiled. She realized now that she should have killed Robbie long ago. She had been far too patient. But now that her mind was made up, she could see that it was the right course of action and had been for some time. It was foolish of her to have hired Pennon. She had wasted money that she could have used far better. Still, it was only a minor set back. The stupid fool had been killed in the fire and so had not been able to betray her to the police. The police must not know she was here. That was very important.
She laughed softly as she sorted through her bag to find her swimsuit. It wouldn't hurt to get a better tan. That way she would not stand out as much among the summer people at the regatta. She knew boats. She had spent every summer by the lake. Boating accidents happen. Tourists can be so careless especially if they have been drinking.
She slipped her sunglasses on as she left the cabin and turned to carefully lock the door. Then, placing a straw hat low over her face, she sauntered down to the small beach that was part of the Pioneer Cabins property. This late in the season, the beach was deserted. The vast blue waters of Lake Superior spread out in front of her, sparkling in the late summer sun. Life was good, she thought, as she arranged herself on the chaise lounge and took out a book to read. Life was very good.
Robbie was feeling happy and mellow. She flipped a hamburger onto a bun and then walked over to join the rest of her family at the picnic table. Janet watched with amusement as Robbie piled on the hot peppers, lettuce, pickles, mayonnaise...
"Don't even think about going for those onions," Janet whispered into Robbie's ear. Blue eyes slowly came around to look down into green. An eyebrow arched in challenge. A warm hand squeezed Robbie's thigh in reply. Robbie took a big bit of her burger and chewed slowly. Life was sooo good!
Ryan looked up from wiping ketchup off Reb's nose. Her Mom was eating her burger with a happy grin pasted on her face. This looked like a good time to broach the subject. "Ahhh, there is going to be a dance at the Lion's Hall on the Friday night before the regatta next Saturday," Ryan said. "John asked if I'd go with him." .
Robbie swallowed a mouthful of burger without chewing and nearly choked. Janet patted her on the back and passed her a glass of iced tea. Robbie took a long drink, put down the glass, and looked at her daughter. "No. You are only fifteen. Who is this guy anyway?" she grumbled.
"He's Paul and Mary Digby's son. You know them, Mom, they run the art and framing shop in town. It's not really a date, Mom. He's just picking me up and we are meeting the rest of the gang there."
"He drives! How old is this guy?!" squealed Robbie, through a throat tightening with stress. She rubbed the moisture off her palms on her shorts and started when Janet's hand wrapped around one of her own and held on tight.
"Almost seventeen," responded Ryan moodily. Her Mom was going to be a real jerk about this she could tell. She was going to be getting her old age pension before her Mom was going to let her date!
"Hmmm, attracted to older men, huh?" joked Janet, holding on to Robbie's hand even tighter. "Well, if it is all the gang meeting together and if I'm allowed to come and pick you up, I think your Mother and I would feel it was okay for Paul to take you to the dance. Right, Robbie?" she asked, nudging her lover firmly in the ribs.
Robbie took her free hand and wiped the sweat from her lip. Shit this was awful! What if the guy made a pass for Ryan. She felt sick. She opened her mouth; nothing came out. She tried again, "We'll pick you up at eleven. You'll phone us when you get there and you are not to leave the building. Sullivan will be there of course." Suddenly, having to have a bodyguard for her daughter seemed like a really positive thing.
"Sullivan! Ahhh, Mom!" protested Ryan.
"Ryan," interjected Janet calmly. "This is really hard for your Mom. You know that. She has said you can go. Let's just take this dating thing one little step at a time, okay?"
Ryan's eyes flashed with anger but she nodded. Aunt Janet was right. Her Mom had agreed to let her go and if she pushed it she knew that her Mom's legendary temper was likely to erupt and then she'd never get a chance to date! "Okay," she agreed picking up her burger again.
Robbie looked down at hers with disgust. If I eat that, I'll throw up, she thought. Janet nudged her and looked at the burger significantly. Robbie smiled weakly, picked up the burger and some how managed to get it down.
"She's only fifteen," came a voice out of the darkness of the room.
"And it's only a town dance not a real date," responded a voice with a yawn.
"Everything is unraveling!" the first voice complained. "My sister is sleeping around, my daughter is meeting strangers at dances...how can I protect my family if..."
The light switched on and Robbie blinked like an owl into the face of her annoyed lover. "Hold it right there, Williams! (A) your sister is NOT sleeping around! She is very much in love with a very sweet man who adores her. (B) your daughter is NOT meeting strangers; we know the family and I know John. He is a very nice boy and..."
"That's what you said about David and now he's sleeping with my sister!" grumbled Robbie. "What the hell is going on with my family?!"
Janet rolled her eyes and prayed for patience. For a creative genius, Robbie could be as dense as a hardwood plank at times. "I'll tell you what is going on, Robbie. Your family is healing. Elizabeth doesn't have to hide in fear anymore and Ryan doesn't have to wear a chip on her shoulder because she doesn't have a mother. They are reaching out in a very normal way for human companionship. Let them, Robbie. You're healing too, my love. You don't have to keep looking over your shoulder. You can plan for a future and not have to keep people at bay with your temper and sharp wit. You can be loving and caring and part of this family and community.
Robbie, you've got to let go of all the old baggage," Janet pleaded.
Robbie sat silently, her back against the headboard. Tears welled in her eyes. "I'm afraid," she finally admitted.
Janet pulled her lover down so that Robbie's head rested in her lap. She gently rubbed her lover's temple with the tips of her fingers. "I know. It's not easy letting go. But Elizabeth and Ryan and some day our Reb need to make their own way in life. We'll offer all the support, advice and love we can but in the end we have to let them decide. No one makes good decisions all the time. Our family will get a few scars along the way, Robbie. Just like we did. Are you happy, Robbie?"
"I am now, with you and the girls," Robbie answered honestly.
Janet smiled and bent to kiss Robbie's temple. She could feel her lover starting to relax. "See, even with the scars you acquired in life, you are still happy. So will Elizabeth and our girls be."
"How do you know? There are a lot of really unhappy people out there!" challenged Robbie.
Janet laughed. "Because we taught them that happiness is not given to you. It's made inside. We taught them to stand on their own two feet and live life for all it is worth and we taught them never to dwell on the scars you get along the way."
"Did we?" Robbie asked, looking up at Janet with those big blue eyes that were so much like Reb's.
"Well, we'll have made a good start if we leave Elizabeth and David alone and let Ryan go to the dance," smiled Janet, playfully wigging Robbie's nose.
Robbie caught Janet's hand and kissed it before it could escape. "I'll try," she sighed.
"That's my Olive Oil," smiled Janet. "I have an idea, seeing you can't sleep."
"I'll get the rest of the chocolate icing out of the fridge, you put on some soft music and I'll show you just how kinky our sex life can be."
Robbie smiled; this sounded like a prefect scenario for a creative genius!
Alberta went through her routine with total focus, reaching deep for the controlled strength and balance of mind and soul that was necessary to reach a height of perfection in a martial art. Her Sai blades whistled through the graceful flowing movements, not reaching for an imaginary opponent but through one. She made it look effortless. A deadly dance on the brink of violence, beautiful, entrancing and powerful. Alberta had never lost a tournament.
When she was finished she smiled. The missing piece of the puzzle had just fallen into place. Alberta knew who was after Robbie Williams. She looked out the window and watched as the setting sun kissed the twisted boughs of her Japanese Maple. She'd shower and change first. It was Friday night and no doubt the Williams family was unwinding after a busy week. Robbie had hired a bodyguard, she knew, so there was no immediate danger.
The feeling of contentment and peace that she always enjoyed after a serious workout, however, did not last long. An uneasiness that she had come to recognize as a warning to her conscious mind kept growing within her. She cut her shower short and dressed quickly in faded blue jeans and a white T-shirt, then she bounded down the stairs to look up Robbie and Janet's cabin number in her phone index. She paced the room impatiently as the phone rang and the answering service came on. The tone indicated she should speak. "It's Alberta Pateas. Be careful. I've got a bad feeling. Call me on my cell phone. I need to talk to you," the doctor stated calmly.
She hung up. Alberta was feeling anything but calm. That niggle inside was working its way into a full blown alert. Alberta loped upstairs, threw a few things in a bag and headed out. She should be able to get to Bartlett by two in the morning if the weather was good.
Robbie paced back and forth while Janet did her best to ignore her. To be fair, Robbie had been wonderful. She had been polite and relaxed with John Digby when he had come to pick Ryan up and except for telling him three times that Ryan was not to leave the hall until she was picked up at eleven, she had been a role model for understanding parenthood. Once the car had disappeared down the driveway, however, Robbie had let the monsters inside out.
Other than a few grunts, the only two words Robbie had uttered in the last four hours would not have been found in the Oxford dictionary. As Janet worked at her lap top on organizing course requirements, she watched Robbie pace past her desk yet again. The teacher wondered whether the Courts would be lenient if she got her squirrel gun and shot the legs out from under her lover.
The pacing stopped in front of her desk. "It's ten o'clock. You should be going now," Robbie told her.
"It's a fifteen minute trip," Janet pointed out.
"So, you could be a little early!" grumbled Robbie, looking about ready to burst.
"No!" Janet said emphatically, "and don't ask again!" Robbie looked like she was going to argue but stopped herself when she saw the look Janet gave her. Instead, she went over and looked out the window into the night, swaying back and forth on the balls of her feet. Janet considered dropping something to see if Robbie would jump out of her skin then decided against it. In the mood her lover was in, she was liable to go through the roof and turn around twice before she hit the ground, and when she did she would not be in a good humour!
At ten thirty, Janet took mercy on her partner. "Okay," she said, snapping her lap top closed, " I'm going. You are to stay here. Your job is to babysit Reb. I will phone you if there is any problem. Robbie, do try to relax and remember what I said, no third degree. A girl has a right to her privacy. She will tell you what she wants to tell you."
Robbie sunk into a chair, weak with emotional exhaustion. It had been a hell of an evening. Janet came over and kissed her tenderly. "You've done wonderful, Obby. Not long now, okay?"
Robbie nodded dumbly, feeling anything but okay.
Ryan waved goodbye to several teens at the doorway of the legion and slid into Janet's new truck, a gift from Robbie. Janet had stopped for gas in order to arrive at the appointed time but she was pleased to see Ryan waiting for her. "How's Mom," the teen asked as she did up her safety belt.
"A wreck," answered Janet honestly. "How was the dance?"
"It was great! John's nice but he can't dance worth a damn. I think Sullivan is putting the moves on Stacy Barlow. She brought a bag of day olds from the donut shop and he got to choose first. Debbie's got the hots for Larry Butler. Can you imagine! The guy's a dork! Angela danced with Ted Peel junior. I think they make a nice couple. Both their Dads own car dealerships so they bonded. But if they married Angela's sister-in-law would be Stacy Nona. I think she'd rather live in sin!" babbled Ryan happily.
Janet laughed as she rooted in her purse for her phone. Winking at Ryan, she punched in the lodge number, Robbie answered it on the first ring. "Hi love! I've got Ryan beside me and she seems to have had a good time. We are on our way home now. Put the kettle on, okay?"
"Was she really that upset?" Ryan asked.
"I could have wiped her off the floor with a mop. This evening was really hard on her, Ryan. Be gentle and for God's Sakes don't tease her! It will be easier after this, I'm sure. Ryan, your Mom, well, she has a lot of emotional issues still to deal with from her youth. Sometimes you'll just have to be a little patient with her."
"Yeah, I know," Ryan said. "She's a great Mom, you know, but I'm glad I have you too. You sort of balance each other."
Janet smiled. "We were meant to be together. You'll find your special person someday, Ryan."
"Hope so," Ryan mused, as they turned down the lane towards home.
Alberta tried the cabin number and Robbie's business number every time she stopped but no one was answering. Construction had really slowed her down and she realized that she was going to have to stop for a few hours sleep before she fell asleep at the wheel. Reluctantly, she pulled into a small Motel a few hundred kilometers south of Bartlett at one in the morning.
She booked in and accepted her sparse, cold room grimly. Setting her alarm for six, she crawled into a saggy bed between sheets that were stiff with starch and damp with lack of good air circulation. She forced herself to relax. She would be in Bartlett by eight in the morning and then she should be able to find out what was going on.
Robbie toweled down from her shower and then slipped into worn blue jeans and a white T-shirt. Her hair had now grown back enough that she had been able to have it styled into a cut that looked almost decent. Another six months or so and it would be back to a good length. Janet liked her hair long.
She followed the smell of home-made french toast to the kitchen. Reb saw her coming and ran over for a hug. "Hey, about time you woke up!" called Ryan, as she set up the table. "I wanted to sic Reb on you but Aunt Janet wouldn't let me!"
"I need all the beauty sleep I can get at my age," mumbled Robbie with a yawn. Janet winked at Ryan and Ryan laughed. By the time they had shared a pot of tea last night and chatted about everything that had happened at the dance, Robbie had been near dropping with exhaustion. Her daughter's first date had taken a real toll on the director.
Robbie grabbed her teen daughter from behind and tickled her ribs. "Laugh it up, kid. Wait until it's your daughter, then I'll get the last laugh!
"Hey, you two! No rough housing in my kitchen! Sit down and be good before the food gets cold," ordered Janet.
"I got a date like Ryan!" announced Reb, who felt a need to be just like her big sister.
"Please tell me it is with Ableton's son," smiled Robbie evilly, looking across the table at Janet.
"I got a date with Rufus!" Reb revealed proudly. "Mommy said I could walk Rufus tonight!"
"Rufus, huh?" mussed Robbie. "I hear he's a better dancer than John!" she teased.
Reb nodded. "He is," she agreed loyally and everyone laughed. The family cleaned up quickly and then headed out to where the Bartlett Regatta would take place this year, at a beach back near Harriston. The regular location at the Bartlett School beach was not being used to allow the fire scorched vegetation time to recover.
The morning was spent by the Williams in preparing "Tubby", their sailboat, for the races in the afternoon and in exploring the various booths at the fall fair. At noon, they sat under the boughs of an old maple and ate corn on the cob freshly cooked by the Lion's Club and dipped in butter. Then, for the first time that day, they separated, Robbie and Ryan going to do some practice laps before the big race and Janet and Reb reporting to the starters' launch to act as judges.
Alberta looked at her watch; it was almost noon. She had wasted a good deal of time driving out to the cabin to find it empty, then going on to the lodge to find that the Williams family was not there. A quick enquiry at the gas station resulted in the frustrating discovery that she must have driven right past the Williams, who would be at the Bartlett Regatta back near Harriston.
Alberta now pushed through the crowds along the water front looking for any signs of the Williams family. The gut feeling was growing; it was a perfect place to seek revenge.
"Alberta! Alberta!" called a voice. The scientist looked up to see Ryan standing by a boat ramp waving her arms over her head. The tall woman smiled and headed over to the young teen.
"Hi, kid. Where is the rest of the clan?" asked Alberta, trying to sound casual.
"Aunt Janet and Reb are out in that boat over there," pointed Ryan. "Mom went to get the entry form for the race and told me to wait here. But I gotta get the boat in the water. Others are waiting to use the ramp. Can you help me, Alberta?"
Alberta could see that Ryan was feeling stressed. Several boaters were waiting with their boat trailers ready to back down the ramp as soon as the Williams' outfit moved out. "Okay," Alberta said. Ryan took the lines, while Alberta got in the cab and backed the boat trailer out into the water. She then hopped out and walked back to release the cable so that the boat could slide into the lake.
For a small boat, it sure is sitting low in the stern, Alberta remembered thinking, as she released the lock and the handle of the winch spun wildly. Instead of the boat sliding easily into the water, the stern dropped and the bow snapped up and caught Alberta firmly under the jaw. Alberta let her body relax and went with the blow. Even so, the impact sent her flying back into the water and knocked her senseless.
From a cluster of trees, some distance off, a tall woman smiled cruelly as she looked through a set of binoculars while people ran to fish the body out of the water. This time Isabelle had done her job right! Then the smile turned to a scowl and the binoculars lifted again to focus on a figure madly trying to get through the crowds to where the accident had taken place.
"Ryan! Ryan! Excuse me, sorry! Ryan! Are you all right?!" yelled Robbie, as she pushed through the crowd to see Ryan kneeling beside a body that looked remarkably like hers.
"Mom, it's Alberta! She's really hurt!" called Ryan in distress.
Robbie splashed into the water and knelt beside Alberta. "Don't move," she said. "Someone find the Ambulance service. We need a neck brace here!" she ordered. Alberta lay still, letting the far away sounds pass over her until her scrambled mind could start to make sense of what was going on around her.
"No, I'm okay," she mumbled, through a jaw she thought might be broken. Damn! "Robbie?" She felt more than saw the figure beside her lean forward so she could hear what Alberta wanted to say. "That was meant for you. Pennon is Selo's cousin. You remember Isabella Selo? She's the disenchanted fan who ratted on you to the police. You be careful!"
"Shit," Robbie growled. "I've had it with all this crap. Hang on, Alberta, we'll get you to the hospital." Alberta, now feeling more alert, shook her head weakly. She moved her jaw cautiously, and was relieved to realize that all the bones and muscles were still in place if severely bruised from the impact. Next, she moved her arms and legs and lastly her neck. "No, I'm okay. Just got my bell rung. Help me up, Robbie."
"You sure?" Robbie asked anxiously.
"Yeah, bones I know," Alberta managed to get out though a badly swollen and bruised face. Carefully, Robbie and Ryan helped steady Alberta as she got to her feet. The crowd clapped and Alberta flushed with embarrassment.
She looked at the boat. The stern was submerged in a few feet of water and the bow was sticking in the air. "Go check that boat," she said into Robbie's ear.
The director nodded. "Ryan, don't let go of her," Robbie ordered, and waded farther out to look under the canvas covering of the small sail boat. The stern was stacked with bricks. Her eyes looked up to meet Alberta's. "Bricks. The stern is filled with them."
"That's a pretty lousy practical joke!" someone snorted in disgust.
"Coulda killed someone," stated another.
"Come on, let's give the ladies a hand," offered a third, and people pitched in unloading the wet bricks to the dock and bailing the small craft so that it floated properly.
Robbie, Ryan and Alberta stood by and watched. The Ambulance driver wanted Alberta to go to the hospital but she chose instead to sign the waiver of responsibility and stay. Robbie offered to take her to the hospital but Alberta insisted she was fine.
When the boat was tied along side the dock safely and the mast had been stepped and the sail attached, the three walked over to where they had parked the boat trailer. Robbie squatted down and examined the winch. "It's been tampered with. The teeth have been filed so that they wouldn't catch."
"Where the hell is your bodyguard?" growled Alberta, who was fighting a blazing headache that had started in her right temple.
"He doesn't work weekends," sighed Robbie. "Besides, his job is to protect the girls."
"Great," muttered Alberta, rolling her eyes.
Robbie frowned. "I need to contact Janet and let her know what is going on. She has the cell phone. We'll need to find a pubic phone."
Alberta nodded, seeing the logic in this. "Okay, you first, Robbie, then Ryan, I'll bring up the rear. We are heading up to my van by the school over there."
"Why?" asked Robbie, hands on her hips and looking rebellious, as the crowds flowed past them.
"To get my cell phone so you can contact, Janet. You just got put under police protection," Alberta stated.
"You're a cop!?" Ryan asked, in surprise.
"A Mounty, actually, come on," she said, nudging Ryan on, knowing Robbie would fall in immediately.
Sure enough, Robbie was right at her side. "You don't have an ounce of authority, do you?"
"No. But I'm all you got," Alberta pointed out.
"So what are you? My big sister?" Robbie asked sarcastically, but she did stay at Alberta's side as they hurried along.
Alberta stopped and looked at Robbie in surprise. Then she seemed to shake herself out of her thoughts. "Come on, let's go. We need to warn Janet to be careful, although I suspect you are the principle target now."
Isabella Selo waited, as she had been told, by the beverage tent. Everything would go well this time, she knew it. Her part had already been done. It had proven to be much more simple than she would have thought. Now all she had to do was wait for her "friend" to tell her when to act. She looked around once more. Still no sight of the person she was waiting for. She shifted from one foot to the other. Her heeled sandals were not a good choice for a northern Canadian town. Isabella loved the city. She couldn't see why anyone would want to live surrounded by woods and wild animals. Then she saw her friend and hurried over.
"I did well, no?" she asked, with pride.
There was a moment's hesitation, then her friend said. "Yes, very. Robbie will be looking over her shoulder now. We will play with her like a cat with a mouse! Now, I owe you a lovely meal and a few cold drinks while we make our final plans. Come!" Isabella smiled and followed obediently behind. She was not a smart woman. Had she been, she might have lived.
"Janet?" asked Robbie as she sat in Alberta's van, playing nervously with a small dried bone that had been sitting on the table between the two front seats.
"Robbie! I'm so glad you called! Something happened and..."
Robbie sat up straight. "Are you and Rebecca okay?"
"Yes, but I'm sure I was deliberately pushed from behind. I almost fell between the dock and the boat but a tourist grabbed me. Fortunately, I'd already lifted Reb up onto the launch or she could have easily fallen in! Robbie, I think we have a problem."
"I know we do," Robbie stated, and went on to tell her about the bricks in the sailboat and the doctored winch.
"What are we going to do?" Janet asked, feeling frustrated at being out of reach of her lover and other daughter.
"Nothing at this time. We'll just have to be really careful. You and Reb are probably safe out there but still, be on your guard. Alberta is here. Did she ever mention to you that she's a cop?"
"Alberta?! N..no, I thought she was in forensics," spluttered Janet in surprise, as she unconsciously pulled Reb closer to her and stroked her daughter's hair.
"It seems she is a lady of many talents," observed Robbie dryly, making contact with the woman that sat beside her. Alberta felt the heat rising in her face. "She has offered herself as police protection."
"Take it! Robbie you and Ryan be careful!" Janet ordered.
"We will," Robbie reassured her. "The race is starting soon. We'll be safe enough out in the water. In the meantime, Alberta is going to watch our backs."
"Okay, just be careful," Janet reinforced and the two hung up.
"What's this?" asked Robbie holding up the small bone, after she had snapped the phone shut.
"A small human hand bone near the base of the thumb. It fell out of a box. I keep meaning to put it back," Alberta observed.
"Jesus Christ!" exclaimed Robbie, dropping the bone on the dash. "And they say my films are blood thirsty!" Alberta raised an eyebrow and gave Robbie a look. Ryan, sitting in the back seat, laughed.
Janet stood at the rail, looking across the water to the crowded beach of merry makers. It was such a happy scene and yet there was one speck of real anger out there that was poisoning their lives.
Isabella sat in the power boat. She didn't feel very good. Perhaps the heat or the beers they'd had with lunch. She didn't want to say anything to Mrs. Alexandria. She had been a most generous friend and it would be insulting to say that the lunch had made her sick. She wiped a large hand, calloused by work, over her wet face. She had done well today and Mrs. Alexandria was no longer upset that her cousin Pennon had failed. In fact, she was so pleased with her that she had now entrusted her with a very important mission.
Mrs. Alexandria had said that once they had finished here, she would take her back with her to South America and she could be in charge of Mrs. Alexandria's household. Isabella was very pleased. She would write her relatives in the old country and brag.
But first, they had to punish Robbie. She was a very evil woman. Robbie had killed her father and then somehow had framed Mrs. Alexandria for the murder! She had been rude to Isabella too, not letting her run her fan club and embarrassing her by twisting the truth when she, Isabella, had taken her story to the police about the grave. Isabella felt Mrs. Alexandria's plan to scare Robbie very badly was a good one. It was a light punishment for all she had done but if the police would not help, then, it was about all they could do. She felt she was helping Mrs. Alexandria get some justice when the police had failed. Also, she would get revenge for Robbie Williams embarrassing her.
When they had finished here today, Robbie would always be looking over her shoulder, waiting for the next time just as poor Mrs. Alexandria must now live watching always for the police. It was fair justice. Already, Mrs. Alexandria had said, Robbie had hired a bodyguard! So perhaps her cousin Pennon had not died in vain.
"Are you sure you can drive one of these things?" Alexandria said, cutting into Isabella's thoughts.
"Yes, Mrs. Alexandria. My uncle owed a small fishing company on Lake Erie. In the summer, I would often stay with my uncle's family to earn pocket money."
"Yes, yes," cut in the tall woman impatiently. "Now remember what I told you. You must go very fast and go very close to the boat called "Tubby" to swamp it. This is a very good boat. You can get very close and then yank the wheel around at the last minute to swerve away."
"I will not disappoint you, Mrs. Alexandria," stated Isabella, unaware that her speech was slurred. Her head was starting to ache and her stomach was very upset. She was not looking forward to going out in the boat but she would not disappoint her new boss. Her mother, God rest her soul, would be so proud of her when Isabella was head of Alexandria's household. Her mother never was more than Cook's helper.
"I know you won't," smiled Alexandria.
"Are you sure you are alright, Alberta?" Robbie asked again, as she sat on the edge of the dock with her legs holding "Tubby's" gunnels to the side of the dock. Ryan was already aboard, sitting on the sole with her back against the bulkhead as she coiled the sheets.
"I'm fine," mumbled the scientist through stiff jaws. "You go have a good race and don't worry. I'll be walking up and down the shoreline to see if I can spot her."
"Well, don't take her on. You already look like you lost a fight with a kangaroo," grumbled Robbie, trying to express her concern for the woman who had somehow become part of her life however unwanted at first.
"Better me than you," countered Alberta teasingly. "At least I know how to fight and not just act like I can!"
"Mom kicked the shit out of the convict that attacked Aunt Janet," defended Ryan. She liked Alberta but Robbie was her Mom and she was one cool lady!
Alberta eyes darted to Robbie's. A message of pain and understanding traveled between them. Robbie reached over and patted Alberta's hand. "Be careful," she said, slipping into the sailboat.
"You too," responded Alberta, giving the dory a push out with her foot.
Alexandria put her sun glasses on and lowered the brim of her hat farther over her eyes as she watched Isabella awkwardly maneuver the speed boat out to the lake. Her reflexes would be as slow as her thought process by now, Alexandria knew. And just to be sure of success, Alexandria had filed through the steering cable so that it was only held by a few strands. When Isabella yanked the wheel to avoid a collision with Robbie's sailboat, the cable would snap and the boat would continue on its deadly coarse. When they fished out Isabella's body, they would find that she had been drinking and taking drugs. No doubt to get enough courage to kill Robbie Williams. It was just so beautiful!
Alexandria turned her back and walked away casually. It wouldn't do to be too close to the accident. She had thought at first that Isabella was going to be annoyingly stupid. The woman had argued that she did not want to help Alexandria because she wanted no part of murder. Would not that make her the same villain as Robbie? She had not known when she had recommended her cousin for the job that Alexandria had meant to hurt the children!
But Alexandria had assured Isabella that she had only meant to scare Robbie and her lover. And that she had planned all along to give the children back. It was just a game of cat and mouse to scare Robbie, she had convinced Isabella. Alexandria had carefully explained, to the disenchanted fan, how they would come here and plan a series of mishaps to scare Robbie. It would be their harmless but effective revenge. The slow and revengeful Isabella, had fallen right into Alexandria's plans!
Alexandria smiled. She had never been fond of her children. Robbie had been an accident and the others simply to keep Philly happy. She had particularly hated Robbie. Every time she looked at her oldest daughter, she was reminded that she could have done better than the clumsy and boring Phillip Williams. A giant in business, he might have been, but his dick and his talents as a lover had been pathetically small.
Alberta almost missed her. She had been looking for Isabella Selo among the crowds on the beach. It was only in glancing up that she noted the lone figure walking down the dock by the boat rentals. It was the movement that registered in her mind first. The figure moved like a cat, like Robbie. Then the hair and the shape of the long, strong body registered. If it wasn't Robbie, then it was Alexandria! Alberta cursed and pushed through the crowds to try and get closer to the figure that had left the dock and was now milling with the festival crowds.
Robbie and Ryan tacked around and came up to the starting buoy just as the gun went off. Robbie pulled the sheet tighter, bringing the sail in closer to the wind. The little craft heeled over and Ryan shifted to sit on the gunnel and hike over the side to keep the boat from having a knockdown.
They shot forward, the water rushing past the hull of their little craft and the wind cracking off the edge of the mainsail. Ryan looked over at her mother with a big grin pasted on her face. Robbie smiled back, her eyes sparkling with excitement. She looked over her shoulder. Ableton had dropped back to third as another boat owned by a summer person had passed him to the windward side and stolen the air from his sails. She grinned and looked back at Ryan. Her daughter gave her the thumbs up.
They came up to the first buoy and cut in close, letting the boom fly across at the last moment. Tubby shuddered, then lifted as the wind filled the sail once more, and took off. Ryan held onto a safety line and now actually stood on the side of the hull, using her body weight as a counter balance to the strong winds they were picking up farther off the shore. She laughed with glee and Robbie, at the rudder, watched the streamers on the mast stays to judge the direction of the wind to get the maximum hull speed from their little craft.
As they crossed the finish line an hour later, they were a good fifty meters ahead of Ableton, who had made a valiant effort to make up the distance between them on the last stretch. Robbie waved to Janet and Reb as they shot past the judges' launch. Looking back at her family, it was Ryan's warning cry that snapped Robbie's head around to see the lifted bow of a fiberglass speed boat bearing down on them. Perhaps the pilot couldn't see them, Robbie reasoned, and tried her best in the last few seconds to tack clear. Robbie launched herself forward at Ryan as the hull of the speed boat smashed down on the stern section of Tubby.
Janet had watched in horror as the speed boat had come across the bow of the judges' launch and smashed, with a crack that shook the windows of the cabin behind her, into the small sailboat where Robbie and Ryan sat.
The settling water revealed a debris field of bits of white fiberglass and jagged bits of red plywood. There were no bodies to be seen. She stood dumbly, holding on to Reb, vaguely aware of the pilot giving orders to lower the life-raft.
Alberta moved closer as she followed Alexandria out across a green towards a car park on the other side. "Alexandria?"
The woman ahead stopped and pivoted around gracefully. She smiled but the truer emotion in her eyes was hidden behind dark sunglasses. "Now, let's see if I can get this straight. You are my daughter's slut's lover aren't you?"
Alberta curled her lip in contempt. "I'm Doctor Pateas. I'm also an R.C.M.P. Inspector. And you, Mrs. Williams, are under arrest."
The ex-dancer laughed. "Really! Dear me, it is just like the movies. Did my bastard daughter write the script?"
Alberta's eyes turned thoughtful. "Tell me, Mrs. Williams, did you ever know my father, Georgeos Pateas?"
The thin lips parted briefly in surprise. For a minute, a pocket of silence isolated them from the far off noise of the beach crowd and the traffic passing by on the other side of the park. "It is such a small ugly little world, isn't it?" Alexandria responded at last, as she took off her sunglasses and slipped them in the summer bag she had over her shoulder. When the hand pulled back out, a small, snub-nosed revolver was in her hand.
"Why don't we take a ride and you can tell me all about your father," Alexander suggested in a cold, quiet voice.
Alberta tried not to show her surprise. Stupid, Alberta! How did you manage to get yourself in this situation?! "I don't think so, Mrs. Williams. I think instead you should come with me. You are under arrest you know."
The older woman laughed thinly. "You have your father's panache, I'll give you that! It is a shame that I'm going to have to hurt you in order to be sure that you don't inform the police I am in the country.
Alberta watched Alexandra's gun hand closely. "I don't...
A loud crash and screams made Alberta turn her eyes towards the beach. From the corner of her eye, she saw Alexandria raise the gun and reacted before she even thought. She dived to the right and kicked up and out with her left leg. A searing pain gave evidence to the bullet that screwed its way through the epidermis layers of her left thigh.
Alberta's kick had knocked the shot off target but Alexandria still held onto the weapon. The scientist landed heavily on her side and struggled to get back up to her feet. Alexandria held the gun on her, now looking desperate and angry.
"You stupid bitch!" the woman hissed, raising the gun once more. Alberta's hand moved in a flash and Alexandria gave a surprised little gasp. The gun slipped from her fingers as the woman crumbled to the ground. The handle of a knife stuck out of her chest.
Alberta felt dizzy, partly due to the shook of losing blood but mostly at the realization that she had just taken a life. She looked around. No one was paying any attention to them. The crowds were some distance away, milling around and looking out at the lake. Something had happened, Alberta knew; she just hoped it didn't involve Robbie.
A man walked across the grass heading for the parking lot. "Excuse me , Sir," called Alberta, as she sunk to the ground, "could you get the police and tell them there is an officer down."
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