Disclaimer: See Part 1
Eva stared at the hardwood floor, trying to arrange her thoughts into some semblance of order. Whatever reaction she had expected from Sigrid, it wasn't the one she had received. Her brain was in overdrive; frantically trying to put all the pieces together, only there were so few of them it was impossible to create a clear one. Frustrated she raked her fingers through her hair, trying to still the images that were flashing before her mind's eye.
“You look like you could use some more coffee,” Sigrid's voice penetrated the flow of thought that was still swelling in size. “I know I do.”
The pastor stood up and walked to the kitchen and Eva, too wired to sit still, jumped up and followed her. Leaning her hip against the kitchen counter, she watched the blonde turn on the stove top, so she could heat water and fill a two cup French press.
“I've got one of those as well,” Eva spoke.
“They make the best coffee,” Sigrid answered in a tired voice.
“They do,” Eva nodded.
Her words, spoken in a soft voice, were followed by a long silence, in which both women were lost in thought. No matter how many images, words and possible scenarios tumbled through Eva's brain, she constantly kept coming back to one particular one. It was a concerning thought she had not yet shared with the visibly upset pastor.
“Come on, Eve, you're the law enforcement officer here. Stop postponing the inevitable and take charge,” an angry voice in the back of her mind reminded her.
“You know I need to ask you for specifics,” she started and she saw Sigrid nod. The blonde had her back turned to her so she could keep an eye on the water kettle and the way she was holding her body told Eva the pastor was very tense.
“Alistair and Connor were partners,” Sigrid answered in a pain-filled voice. “They were very good friends of mine.” She took a deep breath and let out a shaky sigh. “I conducted their ceremony when they married,” she continued in a barely audible voice. “Two years ago, in Massachusetts.”
The water had started boiling and Sigrid carefully poured the steaming liquid into the French press. Immediately the comforting scent of coffee filled the air.
“What happened?” Eva asked in a quiet voice.
“A boating accident. They were sailing on Lake Winnipesaukee when they were hit by a speedboat. Alistair drowned and Connor was severely injured. He died a week later.” Sigrid took a deep breath and turned around so she could face the inspector. “A year after I married them I conducted their funerals.”
“I'm sorry,” Eva said, feeling guilty for having to put the pastor through relating her painful memories. And the worst thing was that she had two more names to inquire about.
“Devon Brown I knew through work, she was a Chaplain in a Boston hospital,” Sigrid continued. “She died in a car crash a little over two years ago. Drunk driver,” she added with a sigh. “And Melinda Jacobs was a good friend of mine who died of a massive heart attack. She was born with a weak heart and never expected to live as long as she did,” Sigrid's face showed a small smile. “She beat a lot of odds during her life.”
Sigrid poured coffee and a little milk in both of the coffee mugs and handed Eva her beverage. A pair of blue eyes looked at her quizzically.
“What I'm wondering is why those names were on a piece of paper in Michael Bell's wallet,” she said.
“I'm wondering the same thing,” Eva answered slowly.
“And what I'd really like to know is how you connected the names of my friends to me,” Sigrid asked, seeing Eva's eyes widen in surprise.
Eva did not try to avoid the questioning eyes that were determined to hold hers, eagerly searching for an answer. She had just met Sigrid Meyers and officially she could not erase her from her list of potential suspects yet, but still, the woman deserved an honest answer, especially if she had nothing to do with the murder on Michael Allen Bell.
“There were five names on the list,” Eva answered calmly, seeing the expression on Sigrid's face change from surprise to curiosity to astonishment.
“And my name is the fifth one on the list?” she asked and mentally Eva applauded the woman's keen intellect.
“It is,” the inspector admitted, taking a sip of coffee and welcoming the strong taste and rush of caffeine. For some reason, the distress and confusion the other woman was going through was painful to watch.
“What do you think that means? Does that mean my friends were murdered?” Sigrid wanted to know. Her voice was very soft, but controlled and Eva wouldn't be surprised if she was already anticipating the answer she'd be giving her.
“It could mean different things,” Eva avoided giving a direct answer, studying the pastor's reactions.
“It could mean you think it's a hit list and that this Michael Bell killed four of my friends, was going after me, but I killed him first,” Sigrid rushed to say. “At least, that's what I would think if I were you,” she added, looking miserable.
“That's only one theory,” Eva drawled.
“I'm sure there are more and if you're able and willing to share them with me I'd be happy, especially if they don't involve me as a murderer,” Sigrid muttered, putting down her coffee mug and rubbing her face with both of her hands. “My friends died in accidents. Nobody ever mentioned foul play. What is happening here?”
“I'm not sure, not yet,” Eva answered truthfully. “But as of this morning, the deaths of Devon Brown, Alistair Harvey, Melinda Jacobs and Connor Laughlin are looked into and investigated as possible homicides.”
“You knew who they were and that they were dead before you even asked me about them didn't you?” Sigrid accused.
“I did and I'm sorry I had to put you through that, but I needed to hear your answers,” Eva replied outwardly calm. “Currently we have more questions than answers.”
“Am I on your list of suspects?” Sigrid asked bluntly.
Involuntarily, Eva smiled at the pastor's courage and directness and slowly shook her head.
“No, you're not.”
“Why not?” the blonde challenged.
“Because I think the list was planted in Michael Allen Bell's wallet. Someone wanted us to find it and put you on the list of suspects.”
Sigrid looked at Eva with horror and she inhaled deeply, clearly needing a few moments to regain her composure.
“This is getting better and better,” she finally grunted, rubbing her temples where she could feel a massive headache brewing. “What makes you think all that?”
“It's just a theory,” Eva explained. “Although this morning it became a little firmer.” She reached inside her pocket and put on a pair of latex gloves, handing Sigrid another pair to put on. Seeing the confusion on the pastor's face, Eva sent her a reassuring smile. “I need to take this to the lab and have it fingerprinted, but I'd like you to see this.”
Reaching back into her pocket she withdrew a small envelope. “This was in your mailbox when I took your paper out,” she said, handing the small, white envelope to Sigrid who took it with trembling, gloved fingers.
“S. A. Meyers, sinner,” it read on the front.
“This was in my mailbox?” Sigrid asked in disbelief. “And you have read it?”
“Considering the investigation we're in, I did,” Eva admitted. “I was pretty sure that the way it's addressed said something about what's inside.”
“How bad is it?” Sigrid asked wincing.
“It's pretty hurtful,” Eva warned.
After taking a deep breath, Sigrid reached inside the envelope and pulled out a folded piece of paper. She carefully opened it and her blue eyes grew wide when they took in the picture she was confronted with.
“That's me,” she whispered, leaning against the kitchen counter for support. “I was right, someone was there.”
Her eyes were glued to a picture that was taken inside the church, from the front, looking toward the doors, where, in the background, Sigrid could clearly see herself peeking into the sanctuary. In the front was the body of Michael Allen Bell, his eyes staring into nothingness, a trickle of blood on the side of his face. Underneath the picture was a bible quote: ‘Psalms, chapter 104, verse 35: 'But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.' The note ended with: “Murderer!”
Sigrid's hands shook when she quickly handed the note back to Eva. She turned around, gripping the edge of the counter with both hands, breathing deeply.
Eva gave her a few moments to collect herself, in the meantime keeping a close eye on the pastor.
“Why?” Sigrid's voice sounded hoarse and was filled with unshed tears.
“I wish I could answer that question,” Eva replied softly, reaching out a hand to put on the other woman's shoulder, but halfway there thinking the better of it. Her hand fell helplessly alongside her body.
“Do you have any enemies?”
“Define ‘enemies',” Sigrid's voice rasped. “I'm sure there are people out there who don't agree with me all the time, if ever, but would they do something like this? I can't think of anyone who would.” She turned around and shot Eva Clemente a tear-filled look. “I'm sure you already figured out what the common demeanor is between the friends on my list and me, besides the fact they were my friends?”
Eva slowly nodded.
“You're all gay,” she answered calmly.
“Yes,” Sigrid nodded, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, a gesture that made her look so much like a hurt, little girl it went straight through Eva's heart.
“This note makes me think we should focus on the religious circles you're in,” Eva said, patting the pocket where she had stored the small envelope.
“The church I work for is open-minded; everyone is welcome, from every walk of life. There are a lot of gay people who are members of my church. It's hard to believe one of our members would be able to do all this without having projected some of the hate and bigotry before. I'd like to believe I would have noticed that.” Sigrid let out a soft, humorless laugh. “Besides, this is New England, The Episcopal church here in New Hampshire has the very first openly gay bishop.”
“Who had to wear a bullet proof vest during his consecration,” Eva added.
“You're pretty up-to-date,” Sigrid replied with a sigh.
“I was there,” Eva shrugged. “I was part of the security detail that day.”
Sigrid nodded slowly and stared at the contents of her mug, without really seeing the coffee. The image in her mind was that of Michael Bell's staring eyes, without expression or light; broken eyes and blood. Involuntarily she shivered and Eva, who noticed looked at the blonde with genuine concern.
“Why don't we go back into the living room, so you can sit down,” she suggested.
“Don't worry, I won't faint,” Sigrid replied, but she did push away from the countertop and walked back toward her recliner in front of the woodstove. When Eva silently took a seat as well, Sigrid shot her a quizzical look.
“What happens now?”
“I'll call Charles Benoit, since he's my partner in this investigation and will ask him to join us. I'd like to hear his opinion first and then we'll come up with a plan. In the meantime I'd like to hear those voice mail messages from yesterday.”
“The messages that weren't messages,” Sigrid nodded. “I have to admit that, after everything that happened yesterday, it did spook me a little, although I still believe it might have been someone from town who just didn't want to leave a message.”
“Is that what you believe or what you'd like to believe?” Eva asked in a friendly voice.
“It's what I'd like to believe,” Sigrid admitted. “Right now I feel like my whole world is upside down and I don't know what to make of all the things that are going on. I'm even starting to think that someone interfered with plowing my driveway.”
Eva sat a little straighter in her chair and looked at Sigrid with sharp eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“I called Terry to ask him if he was alright, since he never plowed my driveway this morning. He said he'd got a message yesterday that I'd cancelled, because I wasn't feeling well and didn't plan on going anywhere. The message said I'd call him when I'd feel better.” Sigrid let out a nervous laugh. “Until a few minutes ago I thought that was just a case of mistaken identity, but now I'm not so sure anymore.”
Eva's green eyes had turned a few shades darker and unexpectedly she jumped out of the chair and walked toward the picture window that overlooked part of the backyard and the woods behind it. Everything was covered in a layer of snow that was at least three feet deep. It was a beautiful view, but that wasn't what the inspector was interested in. Her eyes scanned the surface of the snow, searching for anything that seemed out of the ordinary.
“Do you have a lot of wildlife here?” she asked, all of a sudden sounding all business.
“The usual,” Sigrid answered. “Moose, deer, bear and every now and then, when I'm lucky, I catch a glimpse of a bobcat.” Sigrid slowly got up as well and joined Eva by the window. “Rumor is there might even be a mountain lion roaming around. I've never seen it, but my neighbor claims he has.”
“What are you looking for?” she asked, deep down inside already knowing the answer and not liking it one bit.
“Tracks,” Eva answered. “Made by humans.”
“Because….?” Sigrid inquired, feeling her heart rate increase and her mouth go dry. “Because someone might be…?” Sigrid didn't finish her sentence, but when Eva glanced aside it was easy to see the fear in the other woman's eyes.
“I'm not sure,” Eva tried to reassure her. “But I'd like to find out.” She turned away from the window and pulled a cell phone from her pocket, quickly checking to see how many bars the display showed. Cell service in New Hampshire wasn't a given and was often very much ‘no service' depending on the area one was in. It wasn't unusual for people only to find a signal in part of their house. Eva was glad to see she had full service and she flipped open her phone and quickly dialed Charles Benoit's number.
“Chuck, hi, it's me,” she greeted her partner. “Listen, I don't want to go into details while on the phone, but I'm at Sigrid Meyers' house and I think you'd better come here.”
“Good grief, woman, would you like me to drive?” Grace Anderson, also known as Twitch exclaimed when Meg Jones barely managed to steer her car out of a skid.
“Don't even think about it,” Betty Avery's voice sounded from the backseat. “If you get a cramp in your right leg we all end up in the ditch. There's a reason your doctor told you it's not a good idea to drive.”
“What do doctors know?” Twitch muttered and Meg let out a nervous chuckle.
“I'm starting to believe checking up on our beloved pastor might not have been such a wonderful idea,” Meg sighed, wondering if her eyes were getting tired from peering through the clouds of snow the wind was blowing up all around them or if she needed to see her optometrist some time soon. “Where the heck is her driveway?”
“I'm sure it's where it's always been,” Twitch replied dryly. “The wind might have moved the entrance,” she added jokingly. “I have to say though, Meg, I'm glad you defied your husband and brought this gas guzzling four wheel drive monster. Without it we wouldn't have gotten as far as we are now.”
“There!” Betty suddenly exclaimed, startling Meg who almost steered her car into a snow bank.
“Betty,” she hissed annoyed, but when she saw where her friend was pointing to she let out a relieved sigh. “There it is. Good eyes, Betty.”
“Is this thing going to make it up to the house?” Twitch wondered aloud.
“You bet,” Meg answered with determination. “Buckle your seatbelts, Ladies and thank you for choosing Meg Jones' Wild Winter Wonderland Adventure Tours.”
“I hope you're not expecting a tip,” Twitch sighed, making sure to check her safety belt. A quick look over her shoulder showed her Betty was doing the same thing and she nervously bit her lip. “My granddaughter is going to have my hide when she finds out what we've been up to.”
“Isn't that wonderful?” Betty asked with a grin. “Between the three of us we've lived more than two-hundred and ten years and right now we're acting like teenagers. I love it!” she added with a laugh.
“Do you girls remember that movie, ‘'Fried Green Tomatoes?” Meg wanted to know. “Good,” she continued when, from the corner of her eye she saw Twitch nod. “Here goes: Towanda!” she yelled, steering her car up the driveway and feeling it labor to pull the vehicle through at least five inches of snow.
“So, what do we do now?” Sigrid wanted to know after she finished drinking her coffee in silence.
“We'll wait until Chuck gets here,” Eva answered. “I'm sure I can ask you a lot of questions, but I'd prefer it if you'd only have to answer them once. Chuck and I have the habit of asking a lot of the same questions,” Eva added with a small smile.
“Have you been partners long?” Sigrid wanted to know, appreciating the distraction and the opportunity to get to know a little more about the Inspector who seemed so aloof.
“Five years next month,” Eva answered with a small sigh. “Saying that aloud makes me realize time has just flown by. I…” the Inspector paused, tilting her head in a gesture of intent listening. “It sounds like there's a car coming up your driveway.”
Sigrid felt her body tense and immediately gave herself a mental scolding. There was no reason to be so jumpy and even if there was, she refused to show fear. Whatever was going on could be resolved quickly. At least, that's what she hoped for. Deep down inside she knew she was fooling herself though. Just the thought that friends might have fallen victim to an extreme zealot made her stomach churn to the point she was glad she had not eaten breakfast that morning. The cold lump inside of her belly would most likely reject any sort of company.
“Just stay here,” Eva suggested, seeing the expression on the pastor's face. “I'll check it out.”
Before Sigrid could protest, Eva had already left the kitchen and was peering through the small window in the door through which she could see part of the driveway. When she saw the car and its occupants she felt her body relax, although her brain immediately started working on the puzzle that was their unexpected presence. At the beginning of her career she would have wondered what harm elderly ladies could do, but more than ten years as a police officer had taught her that idea was a misconception. She had seen her share of damage done by the ‘elderly and frail'.
“It's the ladies from your church,” Eva called over her shoulder, waiting for the three women to exit the car. It appeared they were in a heated debate and Eva did not want to open the door and let the cold air in longer than necessary.
“Really?” Sigrid's surprised voice sounded from behind her.
“I take it's an unplanned visit?”
“Yes, it is actually. I guess they want to make sure I'm alright. What are they doing?” Sigrid asked. She had joined Eva at the door and looked through the window. “Oh, arguing about something,” she sighed, but there was a smile in her voice. “Those three always find something to disagree about. In the meantime they've been friends since high school.”
“Their discussions might not be too heated then,” Eva nodded.
“Apparently not,” Sigrid agreed, opening the door when the three friends exited the car. They slowly made their way across the snow covered path. Betty and Grace were walking arm in arm, while Meg walked closely behind them, ready to lend a supporting hand whenever needed.
The body next to her shifted and Sigrid reached out a hand to stop Eva from going outside.
“For some reason they object to being helped,” she explained. “Trust me, I've taken my share of scolding for trying to help the ‘little old ladies'. It's not easy, because I have visions of all three of them slipping and ending up in a heap of broken hips. It hasn't happened yet and they've assured me time and time again that will never be the case, but still, I get a little nervous around them sometimes.”
“No kidding,” Eva muttered, stepping away from the door to let the three friends enter.
“Good morning, sweetie,” Meg Jones greeted Sigrid with warmth, giving her a quick hug and a peck on the cheek. “Your driveway is a horror.”
“But we love the four wheel drive,” Betty piped in with a cheerful laugh. “Without it we would have been stuck somewhere halfway down the driveway. Or in the ditch,” she added with a chuckle.
“Dead and frozen,” Grace nodded with a grin.
“Here, honey, some breakfast for you. After yesterday we thought you deserved a treat and…” Meg who had thrust a bag from the local bakery into Sigrid's hands fell silent when she noticed Eva Clemente, who had stepped into a darker corner when she had moved away from the door.
“Oh, good morning Inspector,” she said. “I'm sorry, I hadn't noticed you before. I guess it's your car then that's parked behind Sigrid's.”
“Is that what you ladies were arguing about?” Sigrid smiled.
“Sort of,” Betty answered with a nod. “We were trying to reach a consensus on whether Twitch had seen a moose, a deer or a man. Personally, I…”
“Where?” Eva suddenly interrupted, stepping forward with eyes that were completely focused on Betty Avery and Grace Anderson.
“Well, um…about a couple of hundred yards back toward the road, on the left hand side,” Betty answered, a little taken aback by Eva's response. “It was a dark shadow and Meg didn't see it. I only saw it from the corner of my eyes and couldn't tell what it was.”
“It looked like something that walks on two legs,” Grace huffed. “A genuine biped. And before someone asks, no, it wasn't a Bigfoot.”
Grace's words send a chill down Sigrid's spine and when her eyes met Eva's she could read the tension in the other woman's gaze. The Inspector seemed ready to bolt out of the door, but then her body relaxed and Sigrid let out a relieved sigh. For a moment it had seemed Eva Clemente would run outside to investigate Grace's statement, leaving Sigrid with the three elderly ladies. The pastor was surprised by her own reaction. During all the years she had lived by herself she had never been afraid. Of course her name had never before been found on what looked like a hit-list either. A heavy pressure behind her eyes announced another headache in the making and Sigrid rubbed her forehead.
“Sigrid, honey, let's close the door and go inside,” Meg Jones suggested, noticing the pastor's pale skin and the dark circles underneath her eyes. “Have you eaten anything yet today?”
When she shook her head, Sigrid was herded back through her kitchen into the living room.
“Sit down, while I make you a cup of tea and warm up one of those sticky buns we bought. I know it probably makes me sound like your mother, but you need to eat something. So do you,” Meg added, casting a stern glance in Eva's direction.
Before she could protest, Sigrid was seated on her own couch, near the fire, while Betty and Meg were rummaging around in her kitchen.
“Well, it's good to see the girls still know how to take control,” Grace muttered while she carefully sank down in one of Sigrid's dining room chairs. “Excuse me for being so up front, young lady, but you look like you didn't sleep at all last night.”
“Thanks, Grace,” Sigrid answered with a sigh. “And you're right, I barely did.”
“Did the Inspector here keep you up?” Grace asked bluntly, ignoring Sigrid's wide eyes and Eva Clemente's amused ones.
“I only arrived a little while ago, Mrs. Anderson,” Eva answered politely, skillfully drawing the attention away from Sigrid. “There are still a few things that need to be discussed.”
“Mrs. Anderson was my mother-in-law, bless her heart,” Grace answered with a chuckle. “Please, call me Grace or Twitch. And I didn't mean it the way it sounded. Having said that, I'd better keep quiet before I say anything else that's taken the wrong way.”
“Could you tell me what it was you saw a few minutes ago?” Eva asked. “What makes you absolutely sure it was a person you saw?”
“I've seen moose, deer and bears all my life. This was a person and God only knows what he, or she is doing out there in the cold. If it's snowmobiling they're completely nuts.” Grace took a deep breath before continuing. “Anyway, how do I know it wasn't an animal? Because I saw glasses and I've never seen a bear wear those.”
“What kind of glasses?” Eva asked.
“Probably the ones they wear while skiing, those big, dark ones,” Grace answered. “And this idiot was wearing something like camouflage, because they were almost perfectly blended in with the trees and rocks.”
“It would have been perfect had it not been for something red sticking out of a pocket. My guess is a handkerchief, or something. Bears don't carry those around either,” Grace added with determination.
“As soon as Chuck is here I'll go look for tracks,” Eva told Sigrid, who shot her a quizzical look.
“What's going on, Sigrid?” Grace asked with genuine concern in her voice.
“I wish I knew,” the pastor mumbled, running he fingers through her hair. “Inspector Benoit is on his way here also.” Sigrid cast a look at Eva who, almost imperceptibly shook her head. “But I'm sure Inspector Clemente wouldn't appreciate me discussing what we talked about this morning”
“Secrets, secrets,” Betty muttered as she walked into the room, but there was a smile on her face when she handed Sigrid a plate with a pecan-cinnamon roll. “Eat this. Your tea is in the making. So is yours, Inspector,” she added, handing Eva a plate with the same kind of treat. The Inspector mumbled her thanks while she, all of a sudden realized she was hungry. The sweet smell of cinnamon and nuts made her mouth water. Not able to resist, she took a bite and hummed in delight when an explosion of sweetness hit her palate.
“Oh, this is good, thank you,” she said, sending Betty a smile.
“And there's more, if you're interested,” the elderly lady responded. “You kids can easily eat a lot of that stuff without packing on the pounds,” she added with a sigh of regret, patting her plump hips.
“I wouldn't say that,” Sigrid responded from the couch.
“Me neither,” Eva commented. “It's not like I'm still twenty.”
“Then, how old are you, dear?” Betty asked with a wink.
“Oh, very smart, Betty,” Sigrid chuckled, glancing at Eva who had just taken a healthy bite out of her bun and was not able to comment. “Beware of those three ladies, Insp…Eva,” she warned. “They have a way of gathering information that would make Sherlock Holmes look like an amateur.”
“You should know,” Meg Jones commented, carrying in a tray with mugs of steaming tea. “You've been the victim of our inquiries on more than one occasion.”
“At least they were painless,” Grace replied. “It's not like we're members of the Spanish inquisition.”
“We're more subtle than that,” Betty spoke with a chuckle.
“That's what's so scary,” Sigrid mumbled, aware of Eva's smothered chuckle. She smiled, realizing it was nice to see the aloof Inspector actually possessed a sense of humor. During their first encounter Eva Clemente had been all business, something that had made Sigrid a little nervous at times. Even though she herself knew she was not in any way, shape or form involved in the death of the stranger in her church, it had been somewhat nerve wrecking to feel the need to prove that fact.
“I hear a car,” Betty spoke, looking at the police woman who immediately sprung to her feet and walked toward the kitchen.
“That must be Charles,” Eva commented, letting out a sigh of relief when she recognized her partner's car. She would never admit it, but the presence of the three elderly ladies had made her a little uncomfortable. Their zest for life and adventure was charming, but their curiosity was unnerving, especially because they seemed to possess the capability of making her feel like she was made of glass: transparent and fragile.
“Stay put. And don't open the door, unless it's for Chuck or me,” she ordered, putting her plate with the half-eating sticky bun on the table. She hurried through the kitchen, grabbed her coat and within a few seconds she was outside, leaving the other four women behind in a cloud of silence.
Sigrid was very aware of three pairs of eyes that looked at her with different levels of curiosity and she smiled weakly.
One look at Eva Clemente's face told Charles Benoit enough. His partner's eyes were a few shades darker than usual and there was a subtle tension in her face. He could tell by the way she clenched her jaws her stress level had been raised a few notches since the last time he had seen her.
“Do we need reinforcements?” he asked.
“I'm not sure,” she answered, heading down the driveway. “I'll make up my mind if someone starts shooting at us,” she joked, hearing Charles snort next to her.
“What are we looking for?”
“Someone who was standing a little off the road, wearing camouflage and ski glasses.”
“How long ago?” Charles wanted to know.
“About fifteen, maybe twenty minutes,” Eva answered while her eyes scanned the trees that lined the driveway.
“That sounds pretty suspicious,” Charles admitted, reaching underneath his coat to unclip his sidearm, having seen Eva doing the same thing.
“It is,” Eva nodded. “Especially since I almost ran into a snowmobile on my way up here. It crossed the road where, according to the pastor, there should be no trail.”
“I wish I knew,” Eva sighed, feeling how the icy cold wind was doing a good job of turning her lips numb. “I only saw him, or her, for a split second when they crossed the road right in front of me. It made me end up against a snow bank.”
Halfway down the driveway, Eva slowed her pace and her eyes scanned the right side of the road, looking for anything out of the ordinary. The road was lined with snow banks, pushed up by the plow during the long winter. The bottom of the bank was chunky and hard because of the ice, but the top was soft, thanks to the layer of fresh snow that had fallen. Nowhere on the right side of the driveway could she see footsteps or any other disturbance. The wind was still blowing fiercely and the sound of bare branches slamming against each other and neighboring tree trunks added to her feeling of discomfort.
“Nothing?” Charles asked after a long silence, his voice muffled by the thick, woolen scarf he was wearing.
“There,” Eva pointed with a gloved hand.
Without hesitation she stepped over the low wall of snow and ice, followed by Charles, who was very careful not to slip and fall. When Eva stepped aside he saw what she had found. A small area underneath a big red maple tree was trampled and it was obvious someone had been standing there. A track leading away from the tree was carefully wiped clean with what seemed an object with a flat surface. All footprints had been wiped out.
Silently, Eva pulled a small digital camera out of her pocket. She had to take off her gloves to use it and she winced when the cold metal hit the bare skin of her hands. She quickly made a few images and shot her partner a look that was a mixture of worry and irritation.
“It seems like someone has something to hide,” she finally spoke, her voice low and almost inaudible, drowned out by the wind that was pounding them with what felt like icy blows. Eva's fingers were already stiff and she quickly slid the camera back in her pocket, glad to be able to put her gloves back on.
“I guess you're right,” Charles nodded, turning his cold face away from the freezing air. “Who else would go through the trouble of erasing his trail?”
“I don't know,” was the police woman's answer. “But I'm sure as hell going to find out.”
“Tell us, honey, what's going on?” Betty Avery asked Sigrid as soon as Eva Clemente had securely closed the door behind herself.
“Yes, Sigrid, all of this is making me nervous,” Grace added with a sigh. “What are you involved in?”
Sigrid raked her fingers through her hair, casting a look out the window that overlooked the land behind her house. The familiar view had not changed, but it felt different to her anyway. What if Eva's concerns were justified? The idea that someone could have been watching her from underneath the cover of trees wasn't something she had ever considered possible. But now she wasn't so sure anymore and that insecurity was feeling like a chunk of ice in the pit of her stomach.
“Sigrid?” Grace repeated.
“Oh, sorry,” the pastor mumbled, slowly turning away from the window.
“Something strange is going on,” Meg decided. “I saw the look that police woman gave you and I understand she doesn't want you to talk about it, but we are your friends and would do anything we can to help you.”
“I understand that, Meg,” Sigrid managed a small smile. “But I need to honor her request. I'll ask her when she comes back in if there's anything I can share with the three of you.”
“That's okay, sweetie,” Betty chimed in, sending Meg a warning look. “It's obvious the Inspector is worried about something and we should know better than to pressure you into telling us what's going on.” Betty raised a hand in a gesture to silence Meg, who was about to speak again. “We can get the scoop later, Meg.”
Sigrid was aware of Grace's frown and Meg's scowl, but to their credit the other women listened to Betty and the inquiries Sigrid had expected did not come.
“Maybe it's better if we'd leave,” Grace suggested with some hesitance.
“Let's wait until those two investigators are back,” Meg answered. “I'd hate to run over them on my way down.”
“Wait until Terry has plowed,” Sigrid sighed. “He should be here soon.”
“I meant to ask you,” Betty turned to Sigrid and looked at her with a worried frown. “Why wasn't your driveway plowed? Is Terry alright?”
“Yes, he is,” Sigrid answered with a small smile she hoped was reassuring. “It was a mix up. He thought I canceled him.”
“He did?” Grace softy snorted. “I've always wondered about that boy, but then there was no better snow plower than his grandfather. I guess it's hard to live up to that standard.”
“I hardly think it's Terry's fault,” Sigrid defended the young man. “He has always done a great job.”
“Unless…'” Betty suddenly sat straight up in her chair and looked at her friends with barely hidden excitement. “Maybe it was a set-up.”
“What on earth are you talking about, woman?” Grace frowned. “I say, Betty, you're watching way too many police movies. The most excitement this little town has ever had was when Doctor Swann was kicked by Davy Bentsen's horse just after he delivered Davy's son. And that's more than forty years ago.”
“Actually, in 1832 farmer Jones killed a traveling salesman for sleeping with his wife,” Sigrid corrected with a small smile.
Grace who was an authority on local history stared at the pastor with a mixture of admiration and annoyance.
“You're right,” she said after a brief silence. “How could I have forgotten that incident? I must be getting old. How did you know that?” she asked Sigrid with a sigh.
“Eva told me,” the younger woman confessed. “I wouldn't have known otherwise.”
“Is she a history buff?” Grace asked eagerly.
“Oh, no, look what you've done,” Meg Jones groaned, rolling her eyes at her friend's enthusiasm. “Now we won't be able to shut her up anymore. Once Grace starts about the history of this area, it'll be night before she's done.”
“I think it's cute the two of you are on a first name basis,” Betty said unexpectedly, effectively steering the conversation away from history. Grace looked at her with open mouth and Meg started laughing. Betty shrugged her shoulders and sent Sigrid a wink.
“Let's not go there lest we embarrass our dear friend here,” Meg laughed, reaching out a hand and giving Sigrid's knee a friendly pat. “So, tell us, is there any information you can share? For example, are you safe here, in your own house?”
“Why shouldn't I be?” Sigrid answered, avoiding the older woman's eyes.
“That's a good question,” Meg nodded with a sigh. “I'm curious to hear the answer to that.”
“Maybe we should ask the Inspectors about that,” Betty suggested, shooting Sigrid a worried look. “You can stay with me, sweetie,” she immediately added.”There's no reason for you to be all alone here in the woods. I'd be scared, too.”
Sigrid was about to deny she was afraid, but before the words could actually be formed into sound they died on her lips. If she was honest with herself, she had to admit the fear that had settled in the pit of her stomach was still there. No matter how hard she tried to ignore it, the nagging feeling was very present. Eva Clemente had stayed calm and collected, but Sigrid had seen the occasional frown while they talked and the fact that the police woman had found it necessary to call her partner, told Sigrid more than she really wanted to know.
“You might want to rethink getting a gun,” Twitch helpfully provided, which earned her a glare from her friends.
“No, no guns,” Sigrid shook her head and her voice sounded determined.
To be continued….
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