Disclaimer: See Part 1
"Maybe you shouldn't be here when reinforcements arrive." Eva's voice sounded casual, but there was a worried look on her face when she glanced up at Sigrid.
"Because of the warrant," Eva said. She stepped closer to Sigrid and lowered her voice so Donny couldn't hear her. "You know that any police officer who runs into you will have to arrest you, right?"
Sigrid groaned in frustration. "I had temporarily forgotten about that," she said. "What do you suggest I do?"
"Make a run for it?" Eva smiled when Sigrid chuckled at her lame attempt to be funny. "Seriously, Sigrid, you know they'll have no choice, whether they like it or not."
"Then why don't you arrest me?"
"Me? I don't want to arrest you." Eva's eyes had grown wider and there was a shocked expression on her face.
"But you don't have a choice either, if you let me go you'll be in trouble. They could even accuse you of being my accomplice. Can you imagine that? Both of us in orange jumpsuits?" Sigrid noticed how Eva tensed and with a smile she started to rub soothing circles on her back. "Relax, I was just kidding."
"You do have a point though, especially if Chuck and I are right and somebody in our department is involved in all of this." Eva's eyes darkened and it was obvious she was more than a little angry. "We've been seen together, so everyone will assume that I know where you are. If I let you go, I'll be accused of helping you. If I arrest you, you'll be locked up pending the investigation, and whoever is dirty in the department, will most likely sabotage me." Her voice was tense and she frowned. "I have a feeling this case is way bigger than we could have ever anticipated. It's ugly and most likely will get worse."
"And I won't be much help in prison," Sigrid said. She sighed and rubbed her face. Reinforcements could arrive at any time now and she wasn't sure what to do. "Maybe, if I go through my files, I'll find what they're looking for. If I share that , I might be off the hook."
"I don't want to be a pessimist, but I'm afraid it won't be very helpful. Whatever information you have can be used against you. They can spin it in such a way that it seems you're involved in all of this, especially when someone in the department gains by having you as a suspect. And my worst fear is that you will not be safe in prison. When you're locked up, there'll be nowhere to run."
"Now you're scaring me."
"I'm sorry, that's not my intention. I just want to be honest."
"Having used my gun while being a so-called fugitive probably won't help my case either." Frustrated Sigrid kicked a pile of snow, sending it flying into the trees. "I don't want you to get into trouble just because of me, so maybe I should just stay here and see what happens. If they lock me up, I'll just have to trust you to get me out as soon as possible."
"I'm afraid it's not that simple. I wish it was, though. Sorting out the shooting that happened right here is going to be complicated enough, especially since I don't think Donny will be cooperating much. He shot the unknown guy, you shot him so there'll be a lot of paperwork. Ballistics will have to confirm which bullet came out of which gun. You and I know what happened because I was right here, but because there is an arrest warrant out for you, they might not just take my word for it."
"I can tell by the look on your face you have a plan. What are you suggesting?"
"Follow Donny's tracks back up to the road, but stay out of sight. Stay there until I pick you up, or have someone pick you up, someone I trust. I wish you could wait for me at your parents' cabin, but I'm pretty sure that those two guys are still there, the one we knocked off his snowmobile and the one who drove into a tree. They'll need some help as well, so I will send a crew that way." Eva lowered the hand that was pressing snow against her cheek, and dropped the pink tinged melting substance on the ground. "We'll go off the grid until we have this whole mess cleared up. The only person officially involved in this investigation I trust beside you, is Chuck."
"This disappearing act sounds insane, but somehow very appealing. I must admit spending time in jail is not something I'm looking forward to. So if I can avoid that particular experience, I will." Sigrid send Eva a small smile. "I have some good friends within the FBI, I'm pretty sure they'll help."
"Good, we're going to need all the help we can get. I might have to call in a few favors as well. But first things first." Eva looked at Donny who was still sitting in the same spot, with his back against the cold granite, supporting his injured arm. His eyes were closed and it was easy to believe he wasn't paying attention to his surroundings, but that would be a dangerous assumption to make. "Do you think he'll be okay?"
"He should be," Sigrid said. "The wound's a through and through, like the one he gave Chuck. He's hurting, but the cold is slowing the bleeding, which is a good thing."
"I'll keep an eye on them. Help should be here any moment, so you better get going."
"Take care of yourself, Eva. Stay safe."
"And you do to same." After a glance at Donny, Eva leaned in closer to Sigrid and gave her a quick kiss. "There'll be more of this later," she said with a smile.
"I'm counting on that, Inspector." Sigrid's voice was soft. "I really like those."
"I'm happy to hear that, because I have an unending supply."
"I'll see you soon." Sigrid turned around and followed Eva's tracks back to the boulder. She stepped around Donny, keeping a safe distance. Even though he was injured she knew he was also desperate and she didn't want to run the risk of him trying to grab her. Behind the granite boulder it was easy to pick up Donny's tracks and Sigrid focused on where to put her feet, all the while trying to push down a surge of worry and fear.
Eva didn't have to wait long, only fifteen minutes after Sigrid had left , she could hear voices calling out her name. To her immense relief, help came from the opposite direction Sigrid had taken. Unless there was a second group coming from the other side, Sigrid should remain hidden.
"Down here," she called out, her eyes never leaving Donny. He too had heard the voices and started to fidget. Eva would not put it past him to try and escape. "Don't even think about it, Donny," she said when he looked at her.
"I don't want to be locked up." The calm expression had left his face and he looked haggard, almost feverishly.
"You should've thought about that sooner," Eva said. She pointed at the still form sprawled across the path. "You killed him, just like that. You didn't even know him, Donny. That is cold blooded murder and something you are accountable for. So you will certainly go to jail, but maybe, if you cooperate and help us with this investigation, the prosecution might be willing to cut you a deal."
"I had to do God's will. Uncle Jeremy understands, he knows what I'm talking about." Donny rested his head against his granite backrest and closed his eyes. It was clear the conversation with Eva was over.
"Hello! Inspector Clemente, are you there? Hello?" The voices sounded very near and Eva felt a sense of relief. She was cold, in spite of her winter gear, she was tired, worried about Sigrid and Chuck, and apprehensive about the role her Captain played in the entire investigation. She wanted to be in a warm quiet room, with Sigrid at her side and a computer at her disposal. She needed time and space to figure things out, before it all became even more complicated. But first of all , she had to get Donny to a hospital, get help to the crashed snowmobilers, and get the man Donny shot to the coroner's office, so the medical examiner could have a look at him.
"I'm down here," she answered the anonymous voice, seeing the outline of people through the trees.
As soon as Eva stepped foot inside the small police station, she was surrounded by three enthusiastic elderly ladies. The amount of questions that were fired at her simultaneously was disorienting and Eva laughed and pressed her hands against her ears. "Give me a moment, please," she said not unfriendly. "I just want to peel off a few layers of clothes, before I melt in here." She unzipped her jacket, after which three pairs of hands started tugging on her sleeves.
"Where's Sigrid?" There was a look of worry when Betty glanced up at her.
"I'll tell you as soon as I can." Eva lowered her voice, aware of the other police officers in a room. "She's fine, that's all I can tell you right now."
Betty nodded in understanding and cast a look at Meg and Twitch. Eva could clearly see the warning in her eyes.
"I heard they send a snowplow to clear the road we were stranded on," Betty continued. "Officer Bradford told me they will also pull our car out of the ditch and tow it back here, if they can." She cast a look over her shoulder. "As a matter of fact, they should be here any moment. The insurance company is sending a rental car, so we can go home."
"That's great," Twitch said. "I can't wait to go home and have a hot shower, or even soak in the bathtub. Of course, I might never be able to get out of that thing again, but it still sounds good."
"I assume all three of you gave your statements already?" Eva smiled when all three women nodded vigorously. "So you're ready to go home?"
"Absolutely," Betty said. "Is there anything we can do for you, dear? I know you must be tired. Get you something to eat? Something to drink? Maybe some dry clothes?" She glanced at the group of police officers who were all clustered in one corner. Betty lowered her voice. "Pickup Sigrid, maybe?"
"She's waiting near the road where you got stranded. I told her I'll pick her up myself, or send somebody I trust. I trust you. So, please, would you?"
"That's a no-brainer," Twitch said. "Sigrid's our friend and we love her like a daughter. Don't worry, she'll be in good hands."
"I know," Eva said. "Thank you. I don't know how long I'll be, a lot of things happened on the trail and I'm pretty sure they won't let me go until I have answered all their questions."
"We'll pick up your girl and take her to Betty's place," Meg said. "We'll make sure she's safe, warm and well fed."
"I can't thank you enough." Eva smiled and enveloped all three women in one hug. "How are the children?"
"We stayed with them until some social workers picked them up. They've taken them to the hospital, so we'll visit them later on today. Those poor kids, they're so scared." There were tears in Meg's eyes. "When we arrived here, we had to fight for them to let us see them. We had to argue like a politician, but they finally let us stay with them."
"It was that or end up in jail," Twitch said and there was a twinkle in her eyes.
Eva smiled. "I'm afraid to ask."
"Don't worry, dear. We'll tell you the story later," Betty promised.
The door behind them opened and a young man, dressed in a warm winter coat stepped inside. As soon as his eyes took in the small group of women, he stepped closer. "Elizabeth Avery?" he asked with a pleasant smile.
Betty took a step forward. "That's me. Are you our rescuer from the rental company?"
"That would be me, ma'am. I have your car waiting outside, warmed up and ready to go."
Betty turned to Eva and gave her a quick hug. "Any messages for Sigrid?" Her voice was soft, only audible to Eva.
"Tell her to get some rest and stay out of sight until I pick her up. And when you get your stuff out of my car, grab that Navy brief case, it has her laptop in it. I'm sure she'll find good use for it."
"I'll do that. Just hurry up here and join us soon." Betty patted Eva's shoulder, before turning around and following the young man from the rental company out of the door.
Eva took a deep breath and let it out slowly, willing her body and mind to relax. She knew the next few hours would be torturous. She'd rather be doing her own research, then answering questions. But she had to be patient, play the game because she knew her every move was being watched.
The brand-new Toyota 4Runner had no issues moving along the freshly plowed roads. It was solid and steady.
"We should have had this ride yesterday," Twitch said. "We might not have ended up in the ditch."
"And almost crushed by a tree," Meg added.
"I thought you said it was a branch, not a tree." Twitch chuckled and cast a look over her shoulder. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think you're trying to add some drama here, my friend."
"Branch or tree," Betty said. "It really doesn't matter, because the car is crushed, and Meg was almost too."
"If our children hear about our adventure, they would want to lock us up in a nursing home." Twitch shuddered. "Personally, I'd rather go to jail."
"Come on, Twitch, it's not that bad. Nursing homes are great for those who cannot take care of themselves anymore." Meg said.
"I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” Twitch said. "However, my children might disagree."
"We'll just not tell them," Betty said.
"That's right. And when our photos and names are all over the news because we have assisted in bringing down this child trafficking ring, there's no way any of our children can say we're not capable." The tone of Twitch's voice was so smug, Betty and Meg started laughing.
"Okay girls, Sigrid should be around here somewhere. Keep your eyes open."
"We will, but she doesn't know this car, so she'll probably stay out of sight. I know I would," Meg said.
"Good point. Let's roll down the windows and stop every few yards or so." Betty suggested. "We'll call out to her; she will recognize our voices, I'm sure." Betty pressed one of the buttons within reach and immediately all the windows rolled down. They were hit by a blast of cold air and shivered.
"Let's hope this doesn't take long," Twitch said. "The last thing I want is to become an icicle."
Meg snorted. "I'm sure you'll look great encased in ice. Besides, I've heard cold is good for one's skin tone."
"We'll see if it works," Twitch said with a laugh. "If they card me next time I buy a bottle of sherry, I will let you know."
"Sigrid," Betty called loud, not too loud. "It's us, we're here to pick you up."
"That's great, because I'm freezing."
Betty almost yelled at the unexpected voice outside her window, but she quickly regained her composure. "Hop in, sweetie," she said unlocking the door.
Sigrid slid in the back of the car next to Meg and moaned softly. "It's nice and warm in here, no matter what you say , Twitch, cause I've heard that." She grinned. "Try to stay warm spending hours hiding around here, waiting for a ride." With a shiver , she grabbed the seat belt and buckled up."Where'd you get the car, Betty?"
"The insurance company sent me a rental."
"They heard what happened with the other car, and decided to give her something that will not get lost in the snow," Twitch joked.
Sigrid leaned back in the comfortable seat and closed her eyes, feeling relaxed for first time in hours. Even though she had been dressed in full winter gear, staying out of sight had required her to stay still, and it had not taken long for her to get cold. "Is Eva all right?" Her voice sounded tired and her eyes were still closed.
"She's fine, honey," Meg said giving her a friendly pat. "She'll join us as soon as she gets the chance."
"She asked me to tell you to get some rest and stay out of sight," Betty said, glancing at her in the rearview mirror.
"Did she tell all of you what's going on? With me, I mean?"
"She didn't have to. We've heard plenty at the police station, even before Eva got there," Twitch said. "Some moron has issued an arrest warrant for you. They must be out of their minds."
Sigrid shook her head. "No, it's worse than that, they are desperate."
After having been grilled for hours, Eva felt her patience wane. She was tired, hungry and worried about Sigrid. She did understand why she was treated with skepticism; after all, Sigrid, who had been in her company for days, had suddenly gone missing after an arrest warrant was issued for her. She had told the same story over and over again and was getting tired of it. The last time she had talked to anybody had been more than fifteen minutes ago and with a quick glance at the door she pulled out her blackberry to check for messages. It was the first time since she had come back from the trail she was actually able to pull out her phone. The amount of messages waiting for her was astounding. Most of them came from Charles, but there were also quite a few from her Captain. She would read those later. Right now, the less she knew, the better it was.
Expertly, Eva scrolled down the list of contacts in her phone until she reached a particular one. After she selected it, she quickly typed in a few words, hit the send button and turned off her phone. She slid it back into her pocket, leaned against the uncomfortable backrest of the chair she was sitting in, and waited.
It was long past midnight when Eva finally parked her car in front of Betty's house. All the lights were off except for the one at the entrance. Eva was grateful for that, because the last thing she needed was stumbling around in the dark. She took a few minutes to just sit in the car and look around, her senses alert. She had not been exaggerating when she had told Sigrid there were only a few people she trusted. Even though she didn't think anybody but herself and the Three Musketeers knew where Sigrid was, she did not want to take any chances. That's why, after she had briefly visited Chuck at the hospital, she had taken I-89 South to Concord, only to leave the interstate after about ten miles, to take the back roads going back North. She made sure nobody was following her. The idea that her Captain somehow was involved had made her instantly paranoid. With Chuck in the hospital, she had lost her trusted partner and simply knew that things would become very difficult very soon.
Eva's hand went to her holster when she noticed the front door was slowly opening. Only when she recognized Betty, she relaxed and opened the door to get out of the car. While walking toward the house, she intently looked around and listened for anything that seemed out of the ordinary. But all was quiet.
"I'm so glad you finally made it," Betty whispered. "It's been a long day, please, come in."
As soon as Eva stepped into the house, the door behind her was closed and locked. With a smile Betty turned to her and gave her a quick hug.
"Are you hungry?"
Eva managed a weak smile and shook her head. "Not really, I had something to eat in the hospital. Besides, chewing is a little painful right now." She touched her swollen cheek that showed some impressive bruising. The cut had been cleaned up and bandaged, but the skin around it was dark purple. "Is Sigrid okay?"
Betty smiled and nodded. She took Eva by the armed and guided her toward the hallway. "She's finally asleep, the poor child," Betty whispered. "She was exhausted and very worried about you. But after she had a nice hot shower, something to eat and a drink I slipped her, she finally settled down." Betty stopped in front of the door and opened it without making a noise. "This is my guest room and you'll find anything you need. The bathroom is stocked with plenty of toiletries, there are clean towels and I found you a pair of sweats and T-shirts that should fit you. They belong to my grandson and he is about as tall as you are." Betty cast a look at the queen sized bed and smiled. "She's fast asleep, so get in there, get comfortable and snuggle up with her. I want the two of you to get some rest, so don't feel you have to get up early. Get up when you're ready."
"I don't know how to thank you, Betty."
"You don't have to," Betty said. "Sigrid is my friend, and you are now , too. Besides, this is all an adventure and I have a feeling it's not over yet. Good night, Eva." She gave Eva's arm a friendly squeeze, before leaving.
Eva stepped into the room and quietly closed the door behind her. The sight of Sigrid asleep in the bed was the most beautiful thing she had seen all day and her body craved to lie down next to her, snuggle up and sleep. But the day had been long and she felt grimy, so she decided to take a quick shower first. She tiptoed to the adjoining bathroom, grateful that Betty had left on the little night light. Eva shed her clothes and hopped into the shower. The warm water felt divine and she could already feel her body relax. Even though it was tempting, she didn't linger. All she really wanted was to sleep. While she was drying herself with a large soft towel her ears picked up a noise coming from the bedroom.
"Eva? Is that you?" Sigrid sounded very drowsy and Eva smiled.
"Yes, it's me. I'll be right out."
Apparently Sigrid had a different idea, because when Eva had barely finished toweling dry her legs, she appeared in front of her. Startled, she almost dropped the towel. "Hi," she said, smiling at the effort it took Sigrid to keep her eyes open.
"Hi," Sigrid said, while stepping closer and wrapping her arms around Eva.
Eva returned the hug and buried her face in Sigrid's hair. She breathed in the scent of the shampoo she just used herself. It smelled of flowers and reminded Eva of the summer. She tightened her grip on the woman in her arms and let out a sigh of contentment. It felt so good, but she knew it would even be better lying down. "Why don't you crawl back into bed? I'll join you in a minute."
Sigrid stirred and pressed a kiss against the skin just above Eva's breast. "You're naked," she said raising her head and looking up. "Totally naked and absolutely gorgeous and I am too tired to do something about it."
Eva smiled, pulled Sigrid closer and dropped a kiss on top of her head. "You'll get your chance, don't worry. Now, go back to bed, I want to snuggle and sleep."
"Snuggle and sleep," Sigrid repeated. "Right now that sounds heavenly."
"You should know," Eva said with a smile while pulling a T-shirt over her head.
"I heard that," Sigrid, who was on the way back to the bed, said. She crawled back under the covers, regarding Eva with sleepy eyes. "I think Betty drugged me," she said slurring her words.
Eva slid in the bed beside her and gathered her in her arms, pulling her close. "She told me she slipped you a drink."
"I figured something was up when I told her the hot chocolate tasted very sweet. I wonder what she put in it," Sigrid mumbled.
"We'll ask her in the morning." Eva took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Her body immediately relaxed into Sigrid's embrace. A hand cautiously touched her cheek, stroking the skin with light fingertips.
"How sore is it?"
"Not too bad. Just laying down in a warm bed, with you, makes everything so much better. These past two days have worn me out."
"Where are the children? Are they okay?"
"They're in the hospital and are well taken care of. They are safe."
"Good." Sigrid raised her head and softly kissed Eva's lips. "I managed to track down Morgan's sister. She'll be on her way here first thing in the morning."
Eva smiled. "That's great news. You sure move fast, Agent."
Sigrid wiggled and pressed herself a little closer. "Not really. If I was a fast mover, I would've had my way with you while you were naked in the bathroom."
"You're way too tired for that," Eva said with a chuckle. "And I have to admit I am too."
"Bummer." Sigrid's voice was barely audible and Eva smiled knowing that she'd be asleep in a few seconds. She was right; Sigrid's breathing evened out and became deeper.The weight of Sigrid's body against her own made Eva feel even more relaxed; like she was boneless. Enjoying the feel she let herself drift off and was asleep in minutes.
Continued in Part 17
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