See part 1 for disclaimers
It was dark when Sigrid finally made it home that day. She had tried to leave the office early, but a distressed phone call from one of her church members had changed that plan. Instead of going home, she headed to the local nursing home when the very elderly father of the church member had taken a turn for the worse and Sigrid had been asked to stay with the family at the patient's bedside, which she had done until the elderly gentleman had passed away. Now it was close to eight in the evening. To her surprise, Sigrid's stomach was rumbling and she realized she was hungry. The half-eaten chicken Panini had been a long time ago. During the last few hours, the murder in the church had been pushed into the back of her mind and Sigrid was grateful for that.
"First something to eat," she mumbled, driving her car into the garage. "Before I lose my appetite again."
The temperature in the garage was slightly above freezing and Sigrid shivered when she stepped out of the warm car, looking forward to the comfortable warmth of the woodstove. Of course she would have to get a fire going first.
Entering the kitchen, Sigrid tossed her car keys on the countertop and shrug off her coat, hanging it on the hook in the closet, near the door.
"Minnie, I'm home," she called out, while replacing her heavy boots with a pair of warm, soft slippers. "Minnie!"
There was a sound coming from the living room and Sigrid smiled knowingly. Heading for the source of it, she switched on the light and purposefully walked toward the couch. She was still smiling when she let herself fall down onto the soft pillows.
"You know, I wish I could teach you how to cook. Wouldn't that be great? I'd love to come home to a nice dinner. What do you think?"
A pair of yellow eyes looked up at her and Sigrid laughed softly, certain she had just seen an expression of disgust on her cat's face.
"Oh, come on, Minnie. I work all day. The least you can do is cook for me."
Minnie stretched and yawned, showing a pair of healthy looking incisors that reminded Sigrid of the cat's bigger cousin; the tiger. Slowly getting up, Minnie stretched again, before covering the small distance between herself and Sigrid. With a soft purr she climbed onto the pastor's lap, put her head on her thigh and rolled over, making it very clear she would love to have her belly rubbed.
"Hedonist," Sigrid muttered, but the friendly purr and the soft, warm fur was too tempting. With experienced fingers, Sigrid started to scratch her cat's belly and immediately Minnie's purr became incredibly loud.
"I'm sorry you've got such a rotten life," Sigrid chuckled. "But, even though I love the attention, yeah right, we both know it's you who loves the attention the most, I really need to make myself something to eat." Sigrid moved the cat off her lap, stood up from the couch and stretched, feeling the muscles in her lower back pull. That was where tension usually formed painful knots, but this time she knew no amount of stretching would help get rid of it. Her body was still so rigid with stress it would be near to impossible to relax for a while. During the day there had been distractions, but right now, being home by herself with only a cat for company, all the images she had been trying to ignore during the day, came rushing back in tidal waves. The one that kept playing over and over in her mind was the one of the dead man's body sliding off the bench after Sigrid had touched his shoulder, his mouth half open, as if he was about to say something and dried blood coating the side of his head.
"Are you sure you want to eat something?" Sigrid asked herself with a sigh. Her stomach felt like it was filled with wet cotton and she wasn't sure if food would actually follow the natural path of digestion.
"Tea. Mint, with honey," Sigrid decided as she walked to the kitchen.
From the corner of her eye she noticed the light of her answering machine was blinking and in passing she pressed the 'play' button.
"February twenty-third, nine fifteen am….."
Unconsciously tilting her head, Sigrid waited for the message, but all she heard was static, followed what sounded like a sigh. Then the connection was broken.
"If you want me to call you back, you need to leave a message," she mumbled, hitting the 'delete' button. Only then she noticed the answering machine displayed four more messages.
"Small town, news travels fast," Sigrid muttered, pressing 'play all'.
"February twenty-third, ten twenty-nine am…"
Again there was no message and Sigrid shrugged, leaning against the kitchen counter, waiting for the water to boil.
"February twenty-third, eleven sixteen am. Hi Sigrid this is Joan Collier, I heard about your…ordeal this morning. I'm sorry you have to go through that. Call me when you need to talk about it. I'll try to catch you sometime tomorrow. Take care."
Sigrid smiled. She liked Joan Collier, who owned the local hair-salon, but also knew that the woman always was on the lookout for news and Sigrid definitely had some of that to share, although it wasn't exactly clear to the pastor how much news she actually was allowed to share. It wasn't like Charles Benoit and Eva Clemente had told her to keep quiet about it, but somehow, deep down inside, Sigrid instinctively knew it was best not to share too much information yet. At least not until the police would have given her the green light to do so.
"February twenty-third, four twenty-two pm…"
For the third time that day someone had called her but had not left a message. It took about fifteen seconds for the connection to be severed and in the meantime Sigrid listened to what sounded like an intake of breath, a few seconds of dead silence, followed by a sigh. In the background she thought she could hear the ticking of a clock. Then the 'message' stopped.
After the day she just had, the messages, or lack thereof, made a cold shiver run down Sigrid's spine and her eyes nervously traveled between the two kitchen windows that, if it wasn't dark, showed a view of the woods. It was one of Sigrid's most favorite views, because she was often able to see deer and bear early in the morning. Once she had even been visited by a moose and her calf. Right now the windows were black, gaping holes, making Sigrid feel exposed and nervous.
"Get a grip, Meyers," Sigrid told herself. "Your imagination is running away with you. There's nothing out there but trees, some innocent animals and lots of snow. Relax."
After turning off the stove and pouring hot water in her favorite mug, Sigrid reached out to grab the honey jar, almost dropping it when the phone started ringing. With a pounding heart she slammed the glass jar on the kitchen counter, turned around and stepped toward the phone, hesitating for a few seconds before she picked it up.
"Hello," she answered, breathless.
"Sigrid Meyers?" a female voice sounded.
"This is Eva Clemente. I'm sorry to call you this late, but I'd like to know if it's possible to meet sometime in the morning?"
"Um…yes, of course," Sigrid stammered, taken off guard by the unexpected call. "What time do you have in mind?"
"Nine? At your…um..office?"
"Sure. I'll be there," Sigrid answered, puzzled by the call. But then, she'd never been part if any police investigation before, let alone a murder.
"Great, thank you. And again, I'm sorry to call you this late."
"That's okay, I just came home anyway. Inspector, did you try to
call me before?"
There was a brief silence.
"No, I didn't," Eva Clemente sounded a little surprised. "May I ask what made you think I might have?"
"Oh, it's just that, according to my answering machine, someone called me three times, without leaving a message. Of course I don't know if it was the same caller." Sigrid took a deep breath. "I guess they could have been local people checking up on me. News travels fast around here," she added with a nervous smile, knowing deep down inside that anyone local would have left her a message.
"Are the messages still on your machine?" Eva asked.
"Yes, they are."
"Would you, please, do me a favor? Don't delete them yet? I'd like to listen to them first."
"Oh, sure," Sigrid answered, wondering why the Inspector was interested in her messages that were no messages.
"I'll come to your house then. Nine o'clock," Eva Clemente decided.
"Okay," Sigrid nodded. "Do you need directions?"
"I have your address," was the polite answer. "I know how to get there. I'll see you in the morning."
"Yeah, I'll see you then," Sigrid responded absentmindedly, before breaking the connection.
"Of course you know how to get here," Sigrid sighed. "You're an Inspector, investigator, whatever. There's probably not a lot you haven't already learned about me."
Somehow that thought bothered her and with an annoyed gesture, Sigrid pulled open a kitchen drawer to retrieve a spoon. All she wanted was to have her tea, take a long, hot shower, go to bed and forget about dead bodies in church and an aloof police woman who thought she knew it all.
The house was built to enjoy the view. It was on top of a hill, its basement dug into the side of the mountain, which, from a distance, gave the impression the house was defying gravity, barely hanging on to the granite ledge it was situated on. Large windows and a wrap- around porch faced the forest-covered hills and the distant mountain ranges. A man-made pond at the bottom of the hill was now frozen solid, but during the summer months it was an attraction to the local wildlife and migrating birds. A strategically placed telescope on the porch would bring even the smallest creature up close to anyone willing to get up early enough to watch the forest wake for another day.
The moon reflected off the snow-covered hills, painting the house in a soft silvery light. The night-sky was clear and anyone bothering to look up would be treated to the spectacular sight of a velvet black sky covered with countless bright stars and planets. The milky-way was a clearly visible band of white light, seeming enormous although only a small fraction of it could be admired from the earth's surface.
Except for a light in the back, the house was covered in darkness. A Subaru Outback was parked in the driveway, clear of snow and ice, while one of the double garage doors was open.
In the brightly lit room, a computer screen cast a faint blue light on the face of the person sitting in front of it. A digital camera was connected to the laptop, zooming quietly when its images were transferred. Even though that process only took a few moments, fingers impatiently drummed on the desk's surface, waiting for the transfer to be complete.
As soon as the screen started to display images, the restless hand grabbed the mouse, while the index finger started to click its buttons. One particular image was quickly clicked and all of a sudden it was magnified until it filled the entire screen. A sharp intake of breath was followed by a soft chuckle.
"Well, well, look at that," a voice whispered. "What a nice surprise. I'm sure we can be very creative with this." Another chuckle. "It's all about being in the right place at the right time."
Eva Clemente paced her small kitchen, waiting for the water on the stove to boil so she could make herself a fresh cup of coffee. The grounds were already scooped into the glass carafe of the French press and the tantalizing aroma of freshly ground coffee had filled the air, making Eva impatient for the water to be hot enough.
A long time ago Eva had resigned to the fact that she was addicted to caffeine. But then, she reasoned, there were worse things one could be depending on. The effect of the other things she saw daily always reminded her of the fact that her life could have turned out to be so much different.
With a small frown Eva turned off the stove and picked up the
kettle, pouring the steaming water into the waiting glass. She
breathed deeply, enjoying the way the warm, coffee- scented air
filled her lungs and for a brief moment she smiled, looking forward
to sink into her favorite, overstuffed chair, alone in the silence
with only her thoughts as company.
"You're such a loner," the words her sister had once spoken echoed through her mind and unconsciously Eva shrugged. Leah had not meant it in a bad way, but nonetheless, the words had stung. Leah had married her high school sweetheart and at the age of thirty-three, she had four happy, active children and a husband who still adored her. Leah was the centre of her family and enjoyed every minute of it. And she lived close to her parents.
"That reminds me, I've got to call Mom," Eva muttered to herself as she sank in a big recliner, carefully sipping on her hot coffee. Her eyes traveled to the cell phone on the table and silently she promised herself and her mother she'd call as soon as she would have finished her beverage. In the meantime, Eva's thoughts already drifted back to the events of the day. Staring into the distance, she visited the small church again, investigated the dead body of a murdered man, dressed in women's clothes, found the wallet that had been buried in snow and met Sigrid Meyers.
Eva frowned and concentrated on the details her memory was providing her with. She remembered the cold air in the church, the way the body of the victim had slumped to the side and slowly she let her mind wander, curious to see what it would come up with. Sometimes it reminded her of things she had seen and heard, but that had never registered on a conscious level. In her mind's eye, she studied the clothes the victim had been wearing underneath his thick, down coat. The dress had been black, the fabric soft and shimmering. A dress a woman would wear to a special occasion, like a wedding, a concert or some kind of art exhibition. It certainly wasn't a regular, going out for dinner kind of dress. The first thing that came to her mind was that the murder victim had been a cross-dresser, but then, Eva knew that the obvious was not always the right answer. Besides, the dress had not exactly been as flamboyant as usually was the case during a cross-dressing show. It was Eva's habit to approach problems in a rational, logical way, looking at it from all possible angles. Jumping to conclusions wasn't one of her habits, which had earned her the reputation of being thorough and, even if it took her a while, to get to the bottom of things. It was what had made her a great addition to the police force.
Eva's eyes narrowed and she sipped her coffee. She had not realized it before, but there had been a small tear on the side of the dress and she made a mental to note to check that in the morning to see if her memory was right. Although there had not appeared to be any signs of a fight in the church, that didn't mean there couldn't have been a altercation before the victim, before Michael Allen Bell, she corrected herself soundlessly, was murdered. Shot.
Eva sighed and shook her head. Even though she had witnessed enough results of violent crimes, she would never get used to the idea that there were people who were actually able to inflict that kind of pain and suffering on others. Sometimes, the worst memories, safely tucked away during the day, followed her into the night and invaded her dreams, until she woke up, soaked in sweat, with a heart that was beating wildly. It wasn't something she talked about with anyone. Not even her family. She refused to transfer the ugly images in her head into the ones of the people she loved. It was something she had been doing for years now and so far she had managed, even though, deep down inside, Eva knew it was a very lonely existence not to be able to share that part of herself with anyone else. It was like living two separate lives.
Eva's thoughts traveled back to the moment she and Charles had knocked on the door of Michael Allen Bell's apartment. The building, once painted a soft blue, had showed very clear signs of aging. The paint on the siding was peeling. Some of the doors were severely damaged, as if they had been kicked in and never repaired. The windows on both sides of Michael Allen Bell's front door were dark and covered in cobwebs. They gave the impression they had not been washed for a very long time. Eva had tried to catch a glimpse of what was inside, but drawn curtains had made that impossible.
The landlord had opened the door for them and had politely stepped aside when they had entered, his voice guiding them to the light switch. Charles had found it and the moment he flipped it, the room had been awash with bright light.
Whatever they had expected, it was not an apartment that was completely devoid of any piece of furniture. With a mixture of surprise and keen interest, Eva had noticed that the only thing in the room was an old carpet that had once been a light grey, but the original color only showed in those places where furniture had been removed.
When Charles Benoit had motioned the landlord to come in, the man had been astounded. He showed so much surprise, that both Eva and Charles decided his response was genuine. Someone had cleared out Michael Allen Bell's apartment. Completely. And according to the landlord it had been done recently. And in secret.
Eva put her empty coffee cup on the table and stretched her body, enjoying the way she could feel her muscles pull. With both hands she rubbed her cheeks and then buried her fingers in her thick, dark hair.
"So, we have a dead man in a dress. A dress with a tear in it, if I'm correct. An empty apartment. A wallet with a list of names and phone numbers," she spoke out loud, something she often did when she was alone, because it helped her concentrate better. "One of the names is Sigrid Meyers who claims she did not recognize the victim. She is a pastor. How did her name get on that list?" Eva's green eyes narrowed and her fingers drummed on the leather armrest of the chair. A thought was surfacing and she slowly nodded. "What if…?" She didn't finish her sentence. With a small frown she stared into the distance, past the sand-colored wall of her living room. Random thoughts were bubbling up, like water in a well and Eva welcomed the familiar tingle of anticipation, knowing it would give her material to explore.
Too wired to sit still any longer, Eva jumped up and walked to a small desk in the corner of the room. She flipped open and powered up her laptop and quickly punched in some codes and passwords that would give her access to a secured site. Without taking her eyes off the screen, she used her leg to pull up a chair and, while typing, she sat down, fully absorbed in the information that was appearing on the screen.
It was still dark outside when Sigrid Meyers stepped out of the shower. The air in the bathroom was warm and damp, but the pastor still shivered when her bare feet touched the floor. Outside, the wind was howling, creating a wind chill of negative twenty degrees Fahrenheit. It made Sigrid grateful for her double-paned windows. She usually didn't mind the long New England winters, except when the days were cold and windy, because then it was so much harder to stay warm.
"I wish I could stay home in front of the woodstove," she muttered while she vigorously dried her skin until it was red and glowing. "Maybe I'll be able to leave early today, come home and take a nap."
Using a dry corner of her towel, Sigrid wiped the fog off the mirror, grimacing when she noticed the utter disarray of her hair. "Attractive," she mumbled. "Especially with those nice, dark circles underneath my eyes."
The night had been very long and devoid of any sleep. Every time Sigrid managed to doze off she woke with a start. No matter what she tried, she could not shake the image of the dead person in the front row of her church. Although in her profession she had seen her share of people who had passed away, this had been the first time she actually had seen the victim of a murder. It had her left thoroughly shaken.
"You'll have to get over it, girlfriend," she told the reflection in the mirror. "Maybe today will be a better day. Or not," she added with a sigh. "Maybe the good inspector will tell me they have figured out who did what and arrested the perpetrator. Wouldn't that be nice?"
Wrapped in a light blue, fluffy towel and shaking her head over her own naiveté, Sigrid darted out of the bathroom, across the cold hallway, into a slightly warmer bedroom. Her house was heated through oil and even though she had the capability of heating every single room in it, Sigrid choose only to use the oil sparingly, because it was expensive and hard to afford on the salary the small church was able to pay her. The woodstove in the living room was able to heat the entire house, but in the morning the fire had usually died down to ashes, or, if she was lucky, a few glowing embers she could use to start another one, which she always did, before leaving the house. Having gone through the nightmare of frozen pipes once had been enough for Sigrid. The stove did a good job of keeping the house warm enough to prevent that from happening again. Besides, after investing a good amount of her paycheck in a brand new, high tech thermostat, Sigrid knew that if the house would become too cold, the heater would kick in.
The pastor quickly pulled on a pair of heavy, black jeans and a white long sleeved t-shirt underneath a powder-blue fleece sweater. On her feet she put a pair of black smart-wool socks, before slipping into warm, fleece slippers. She quickly left the bedroom to throw another piece of wood in the woodstove, smiling when she was met with happily dancing flames.
"I love the woodstove," she said, giving Minnie, who was stretched out in front of the fire a quick scratch underneath her chin. The cat purred in answer and Sigrid laughed.
"Hedonist," she accused the feline, who looked at her as if saying: "And your problem with that is what?"
"Yes, I know, I'm jealous," Sigrid continued her monologue. "I wish I could just lay there with some coffee and a good book. I'm dying to read Nevada Barr's 13 ½." Only after the words had left her mouth, Sigrid realized what she had said and involuntarily she shivered.
"That's wrong somehow," she muttered. "Wanting to read a murder mystery after what happened." A cold shiver ran down her spine and involuntarily Sigrid cast a look through one of the large living room windows. The sky was slowly turning into a light grey, signaling the beginning of daybreak. In the light that fell through the double paned glass, Sigrid could see clouds of snow being blown through the air. When the wind was that fierce, the snow was effortlessly lifted up, twirled around and either taken to wherever the invisible force would take it, or dumped in a relatively quiet corner of the porch.
"Nice weather for a walk, Minnie," Sigrid sighed, deciding to pick up the newspaper when she would leave, later that morning. Even though her driveway wasn't much longer than fifty, maybe sixty yards, bracing the cold wind and blowing snow was not something Sigrid had in mind. The paper could wait.
Instead, the pastor walked to the kitchen to make herself a fresh cup of coffee and something to eat. Breakfast was her favorite meal of the day and Sigrid was not opposed to getting up a little earlier to enjoy a good cup of coffee and a hearty meal.
This morning though, she didn't have much of an appetite. The experience of the previous day coupled with the knowledge that, within a few hours a police officer would be paying her a visit, made her stomach feel a little queasy. She had no idea what Eva Clemente wanted from her. The woman had told her she wanted to meet her, but never really explained why.
Leaning against the kitchen counter, Sigrid stared at the open door that led to the living room. Through it she could see the orange glow of the woodstove and the happy cat that was stretched out in front of it. Usually that sight made her smile, but somehow her brain did not register what her eyes were seeing. Her thoughts were focused on the murder that had taken place inside her church and the reason why a police officer wanted to meet with her early in the morning.
Maybe they had found something, Sigrid thought, turning to one of the kitchen cabinets to get her favorite ceramic mug. It was handmade, round and glazed in a sea green color that always reminded Sigrid of her grandmother's eyes. She poured in the freshly brewed coffee, added some milk and slowly walked back into the living room. Careful not to spill the hot beverage, she sat down on the floor in front of the stove, absorbing its comforting heat, pondering all the things the police could have found or discovered. Sigrid's thoughts tentatively turned back to the details of the previous day. Eva Clemente had walked her through those memories step-by-step, but that had been different; she had not been alone. The different police officers from the forensic lab had been milling about and Eva had been there also, patiently waiting for Sigrid to relay what she could remember, looking at her with calm, understanding eyes.
Sigrid closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths, trying to relax her body and mind as she often did during yoga training. Aware of the tension in her body, she put down the coffee mug, grabbed a pillow from the couch and stretched out next to Minnie in front of the fire. After wiggling for a few seconds she found a comfortable position and again she started her deep breathing exercises, hoping the warmth of the fire would help her relax. It did. With a small smile Sigrid felt the tension slowly drain out of her shoulders, her lower back and her legs.
"Now," she mumbled. "Where was I?"
Eva Clemente's hands were gripping the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles were white and the tips of her fingers slowly started to go numb. She tried to wiggle them, but was determined to keep her hands exactly where they were. It wasn't snowing, but to Eva that was just a matter of meteorological semantics; technically, it wasn't snowing, but visibility was still very bad, because of the blowing snow, violently picked up and tossed across the roads. Eva didn't mind winter, although she liked the summer months the best, but driving in icy conditions when the visibility was close to nothing, wasn't her idea of having fun. Without taking her eyes off the road, she tried to loosen her shoulders that were becoming painfully stiff.
"It should be here somewhere," Eva muttered to herself, peering through the white, swirling cloud in front of her. "I hope I didn't miss it."
All of a sudden a dark form appeared in front of her car and in reaction, Eva slammed the brakes, immediately feeling the tires skid on the slippery surface.
"Shit," she hissed through clenched teeth, feeling her car slide toward the side of the road. She wasn't going fast and the worst thing that could happen was getting stuck in a snow bank, but Eva was determined to not let that happen. All her concentration was focused on keeping her car and herself in one piece, so she didn't have the opportunity to see what it was that had loomed in front of her, in the middle of the road.
Eva could feel her heart pound inside her chest and she let out a shuddering breath when her Subaru Outback gently slid against a snow bank, halting its sideways motion with a soft thud.
"What the…?" Eva leaned forward to get a better look and narrowed her eyes, trying to make sense of the unexpected road block. But there was nothing. Investigating for a living required some level of curiosity and it only took Eva a mere two seconds to unbuckle her seatbelt and open the door, eager to find out what had made her slam the brakes. As soon as she stepped out of the car she could feel the ice cold wind brutally assaulting the unprotected skin of her face.
Eva reached inside the car and pulled out a thick, woolen, red and white striped scarf. Her sister had made it for her for her birthday, more as a joke than a serious gift, but Eva loved it and during the winter she always had it in the car with her. Wrapping the fabric around her neck and face until only her eyes were visible, she stepped onto the slippery road, heading to where something had crossed it.
In moments, the back of her jean-clad legs were cold and Eva knew that it would be a poor choice to stay out in the elements longer than necessary. A wind chill of negative 20 could only be braced while wearing proper gear. Peering at the road that was covered in both fresh and old snow and patches of thick, sand-covered ice, Eva's eyes immediately found the fresh tracks of a snowmobile.
"What an idiot," she muttered, shaking her head about so much irresponsibility. Had she driven a little faster she could easily have collided with the thing, seriously injuring the driver.
"What were they doing out in this weather anyway?" Eva wondered, walking to the side of the road where the snowmobile had disappeared to. It was hidden from plain view, but when she walked a little closer, Eva saw a narrow track that lead into the woods. It didn't seem well groomed, but it was easy to see it was used regularly.
Still shaking her head in disbelief over so much stupidity, she quickly walked back to her car, hoping her four-wheel drive wouldn't have a problem getting back on the road again. It didn't, although it was slow going and within a few minutes, Eva's car was continuing its cautious journey through the snow. The inspector knew she would see the turn into Sigrid Meyer's driveway at any time now, but everything remained covered in white. The snowplows had been out that morning, she could tell by the fresh scraped snow on the side of the road in areas where the wind had not covered it yet with a layer of windblown snow. Still, the pastor's driveway was still not in sight. When Eva reached a fork in the road she knew she had gone too far. With a sigh of frustration she turned her vehicle around and headed back from where she had come, wondering why she had missed the driveway.
The answer to that question became clear when her eyes fell on a modest sign that was half-covered with snow. '…yers.' it read and to make sure, Eva got out of the car again to clear the sign.
"Meyers," she nodded, frowning when she turned to look at the driveway, or, at least, that part of the driveway that was visible. Only the stakes on the side of the road were an indication of where the road ended and the woods began. Obviously, Sigrid Meyers' driveway had not been plowed.
Next to the sign with the name on it was a dark green box for the newspaper. It had not been picked up yet and Eva grabbed the plastic bag with the paper in it, so she could take it up to the house.
"What's wrong with those people?" Eva muttered, quickly stepping back into her car and closing the door. "Snowmobiling in a blizzard, not plowing their driveways."
All of a sudden she was struck by a thought and leaning back into the comfort of her heated seat, Eva wondered if the person on the snowmobile had been the woman she was on her way to see. Maybe the pastor was a hard-core snow enthusiast who loved going out in bad weather, just for the thrill of it. Somehow though, that had not been the impression Sigrid Meyers had made on her and Eva shook her head.
"No, I bet that wasn't her," she decided, before steering her car onto the unplowed driveway. For the umpteenth time that morning, Eva Clemente was grateful for her four-wheel drive.
It was warm and cozy and very, very comfortable, even though something heavy was pressing on her chest. Her body was so relaxed, it almost felt weightless; she was floating through warm air that surrounded her completely and had no intention to leave her little cocoon. But around the edges of her subconscious a persistent and insistent sound had started to intrude the peaceful atmosphere. With a small frown Sigrid stirred, reluctant to open her eyes. Her mind was foggy with sleep and her arms and legs heavy with relaxation. It took a while for her brain to make sense of what she was hearing, but when it finally did, she immediately shot upright, launching the cat that had been asleep on her chest into midair and groggily watching Minnie land on all fours, before the cat shot her a look of utter disgust, turned around and walked off.
"Sorry, Minnie," Sigrid muttered, scrambling to her feet. "Crud, I must have fallen asleep. How embarrassing is that?"
Again, there was a forceful knock on the door and Sigrid sprung into action.
"I'm coming," she called out, quickly walking through the living room, raking her fingers through her hair and hoping she didn't look like something the cat had dragged in.
"I'm sorry," Sigrid spoke, while opening the door. "I guess I fell asleep again and..," she paused in mid-sentence and stared passed Eva Clemente. "It's not plowed," she said, puzzled.
"I noticed," was Eva's dry response.
"How odd," Sigrid frowned. "Terry is always so punctual. Even when he thinks he might be late he calls." Sigrid's eyes took in the snow covered car in front of her house and she grimaced.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I had no idea. Please, come in."
She stepped aside to let the other woman in and firmly closed the door behind them.
"It looks brutal out there," she said with a shiver, slowly but surely feeling the heat of the woodstove leave her body and severely regretting that.
"It is," Eva nodded, handing Sigrid her plastic wrapped newspaper, which she accepted with a grateful smile. "Still, I almost ran into someone on a snowmobile."
"You did?" Sigrid asked, putting the paper on the kitchen counter and gesturing for Eva to take off her coat, which she then took and neatly hung in the closet. "That sounds irresponsible in this weather."
"Do you know anyone who lives around here who'd be that irresponsible, or adventurous, depending on how you look at it?"
"No, not really," Sigrid shook her head. "Besides, everyone in this area knows that the old track is not in use anymore. Nobody could be bothered to maintain it, so they let it go. It's a little weird someone was on there. Dangerous, too," she added. "Please, have a seat in the living room. It's nice and warm in front of the fire. If you don't mind, I'll call Terry, my plow guy and see if he's okay. Would you like some coffee?" Sigrid added, watching how the other woman took a seat in the rocking chair close to the woodstove.
"I'd love some coffee," Eva answered with a small smile. "Thank you."
"I'll be right back," Sigrid replied.
Eva nodded and watched the blonde woman leave for the kitchen. Curiously she looked around the living room, taking in the two floor-to-ceiling bookcases that were overflowing, the thick cream-colored rug on the hardwood floor, the small flat-screen TV in the corner and the pictures on the wall. Eva's eyes scanned the backs of some of the books and took in the titles. The collection was eclectic, to say the least. The pastor had books ranging from the history of religion, every kind of religion, really, to cooking, gardening, the joy of keeping chickens, Harry Potter and murder mysteries.
Eva realized she was surprised, which caused her to be slightly annoyed with herself. Just because Sigrid Meyers was a pastor, didn't mean she wasn't a regular person, who liked to read all the things other people did also.
In the background, Sigrid's voice rose in surprise, Eva could tell, but she couldn't make out the words.
The inspector's eyes traveled to the bottom of one of the bookcases, where Sigrid Meyers kept her DVD's. She couldn't suppress a smile when she discovered some movies she had enjoyed watching with her nieces and nephews.
"The pastor's into Disney," she chuckled to herself, relaxing a little more. Until that moment, Eva had not realized she had been a little nervous. Growing up with parents who attended church every week, had left her slightly guilty for not continuing that tradition and she had been a little apprehensive in having to deal with a member of the clergy. But Sigrid Meyer's collection of books and DVD's showed her the woman was not all about religion.
Settling into the rocking chair a little more comfortably, Eva stretched her legs out in front of her, enjoying the warmth from the woodstove and stared at one of the pictures on the wall. It was a painting of a rocky coast, with a white lighthouse in the far distance. A female figure was standing on the rocks, shading her eyes with one hand, staring into the distance.
It was a nice painting and Eva leaned forward a little in order to be able to read the signature in the right hand corner. It was tiny and she couldn't really make out the name.
"My sister painted that one," a light voice sounded from the kitchen entrance.
A little startled, Eva looked up, seeing Sigrid leaning against the doorpost, her hands stuffed inside the pockets of her jeans. The light behind her in the kitchen, made her hair look a little blonder and with the still present remnants of sleep on her face, she looked very young and vulnerable.
"I like it," Eva smiled, gesturing at the painting. "My guess is that it was painted somewhere in Maine."
"Your guess is a good one," Sigrid nodded. "My sister lived there for a while, just south of Bar Harbor, to be precise." The expression on her face was a mixture of sadness and pride and Eva knew the painting had a story to it.
With a barely audible sigh Sigrid's eyes left the painting and focused on the inspector instead.
"How do you take your coffee?" she asked.
"With just a bit of milk," Eva answered. "Thank you."
Sigrid send her a small smile, turned and disappeared back into the kitchen, to reappear a few minutes later with two steaming mugs of coffee.
Eva breathed in the scent of freshly brewed coffee and she shot Sigrid a grateful look.
"I'm afraid I'm a coffee addict," she confessed, carefully taking a sip.
"That makes two of us," Sigrid chuckled. "It's one of my many vices." When she saw the curious interest in the green eyes across from her, she laughed. "Nothing illegal, inspector, I assure you."
"That's good to know," Eva smiled, feeling herself relax even more. Maybe this interview wouldn't be as nerve wracking as she had imagined.
"So, Inspector Clemente, what can I do for you?" Sigrid asked after a brief silence in which both women sipped their coffee.
"There are a few things I'd like to discuss with you," Eva started in a soft voice. "This is a very small town and murders don't happen here very often. In fact, if the records are correct, this is the first one since 1832, when farmer Jones found a travelling salesman in bed with his wife and proceeded to wring his neck. Quite literally," Eva said dryly, which made Sigrid chuckle.
"I don't think I can blame farmer Jones," the blonde spoke, seeing the surprise in the inspector's eyes. "What?" she asked. "I might be a pastor, but that doesn't make me inhuman," Sigrid sighed. "Of course, wringing the salesman's neck probably wasn't the best choice, but still, he might have had a bad temper." She glanced over at Eva who clearly was trying to figure out whether Sigrid was joking or not.
"I'm sure God forgave him," the blonde continued with a twinkle in her eyes.
"Are you teasing me?" Eva dared to ask after a brief silence and Sigrid laughed softly.
"I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. You look like you can't make up your mind about me. It's okay, inspector," she quickly said when Eva was about to reply. "I do get that reaction a lot, believe me. It's okay."
"It's just that…," Eva sighed and raked her fingers through her thick, dark hair. "All clergy I've ever met were…"
"Old," Sigrid provided helpfully.
"Well, that too," Eva nodded. "But they were so…serious and…official." That last sentence was spoken so carefully Sigrid laughed out loud.
"It's alright, I'm not laughing at you, inspector. I…"
"Eva," Sigrid nodded. "I'm not laughing at you. But you have no idea how many people are surprised when they find out what I do for a living. It's funny, really. Sometimes I think there would be less amazement if I'd tell them I race cars for a living."
"I think it's safer to be a pastor," Eva responded with a smile.
"Until yesterday morning I would have believed that, too," Sigrid sighed, pushing her hair away from her forehead. "Now I'm not that certain anymore."
Eva nodded and sipped her coffee, while her eyes took in the woman who was sitting in the recliner opposite from her. The light-blue sweater she was wearing set off the blue in her eyes. To Eva, Sigrid looked very North European, but during her years on the police force she had learned never to assume things. The twinkle had left the pastor's eyes that were now clouded with worry.
"It must have been a very frightening experience for you to have found a murder victim in your church," Eva spoke and there was genuine warmth and understanding in her voice. She clearly remembered the first time she had seen a person whose life had been taken by violence. It hadn't been pretty and the image had haunted her dreams for a long time.
Sigrid nodded and pressed the warm coffee mug against her cheek.
"It was," she admitted. "It's…I don't think it would have made a difference if I'd walked into the…the…victim somewhere else. It would have been just as horrible, but what really gets to me is the fact that I thought he was alive when I came in that morning. I can't help thinking that, if I'd gone over to him right away, he might not have died."
"But he would have," Eva calmly spoke. "He was dead before you entered the church that morning, Sigrid. The medical examiner estimates the time of death to be between midnight and about four in the morning." She paused for a moment. "The cause of death was a bullet through the head, which would have killed him immediately," she added softly, noticing Sigrid's wince. "I apologize if that sounds crude."
"It's the truth, though," Sigrid spoke. "Do you…Have you any idea who he…is…was?"
"Actually, we were able to identify him," Eva nodded. "That is one of the reasons I wanted to talk with you this morning. Does the name Michael Allen Bell sound familiar?"
Eva's eyes studied Sigrid and she wasn't disappointed when the expression on the pastor's face was one of genuine denial.
"I don't know anyone by that name," she answered. "Was that…?"
"That's the victim," Eva nodded, leaning back in the rocking chair.
"That doesn't mean I'd never met him," Sigrid continued. "I just don't recognize the name, so I don't believe he's a local."
Eva reached into her pocket and withdrew a copy of the driver's license picture. Without speaking she handed it to Sigrid, who took it and looked at it for a long time. Again, Eva studied the expressions on the other woman's face. Sigrid frowned in concentration while focusing on the picture and after a long silence she let out a sigh.
"No, he doesn't look familiar at all," she spoke, sounding almost apologetically. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be," Eva replied, putting the picture back in her pocket and shooting the pastor a quick smile.
"There are a few more names I'd like to run by you, if that's okay?"
"Sure," Sigrid nodded.
"Do any of the following names ring a bell?" Eva took a deep breath, her eyes focused on Sigrid's face. "Devon Brown, Alistair Harvey, Melinda Jacobs and Connor Laughlin."
Sigrid's face had turned pale after the first two names, but when Eva had mentioned all four of them, she was as white as a ghost. A nervous tingle made itself known in the pit of Eva's stomach and all of her senses were on high alert. It was clear the names were familiar and now she had to wait for a reaction. Would Sigrid Meyers tell her the truth?
"Where…how…where did you get those names?" Sigrid finally asked and there was an audible tremble in her voice.
"I'll tell you in a moment," Eva promised, not unfriendly. "First I'd like you to answer my question. Does any of these names sound familiar?"
"All of them do," was the answer. Sigrid took a deep breath and looked Eva square in the eyes. The inspector was surprised to see a shadow of anger in the clear blue.
"Where did you get those names and why are you asking me if they are familiar?"
"They were written on a piece of paper we found in Michael Allen Bell's wallet," Eva explained, putting her empty coffee mug on the low table beside her.
"They were?" the look on Sigrid's face was one of astonishment and Eva saw the anger slowly dissipate, leaving confusion on its wake.
"Yes, they were," Eva nodded. "Can you tell me who these people are?"
"Were," Sigrid answered softly.
A pair of pained blue eyes looked up at her and the expression in them made Eva realize her investigation was about to become a little more complicated.
"Were," Sigrid repeated. "Those four people you just mentioned? They're all dead."
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