Disclaimer: See Part 1
“What do you think, Chuck?” Eva asked, trying to ignore the cold that was slowly, but surely creeping through the layers of clothing she was wearing. With longing she thought about the fire in the woodstove. It would only take her a few minutes to walk back to Sigrid Meyers' house, where it was nice and warm. But she and Chuck had decided to follow the trail they had found just off the driveway leading to the pastor's house.
“It's obvious someone went through quite a bit of trouble to prevent us from following their actual footsteps. Of course, this attempt to wipe the trail is suspicious enough.”
“I doubt we'll find anything useable though,” Eva muttered, glancing aside at her partner and wishing she would have had the presence of mind to wear a thick woolen hat that was lined with fleece. Of course she'd first had to own one. Charles Benoit's wife had made him the hat and no matter how often his co-workers teased him, he was the one laughing, because he stayed nice and warm.
“Do you know where this trail leads to?” Charles Benoit asked, narrowing his eyes against the cold wind.
“I have no idea,” Eva shrugged, trying not to shiver. “We can ask the pastor. I bet she'd know.”
“Do you want to go back?”
“I'd love to,” Eva sighed. “I plan on following this trail, but I need to change into some warmer gear first. Frostbite is not high on my list of things I'd like to experience.”
Charles, who knew Eva had a bag of winter gear in her car nodded in approval.
“Are you going to get your long-johns on?” he teased.
“You bet,” Eva nodded with a grin, looking forward to slipping into her smart wool long underwear and undershirt.
“Good thing I'm already geared up like that,” Charles grinned, following the younger woman back toward the house. “While you get changed in a cold bathroom, I'll warm up in front of the fire.”
To Eva's delight the bathroom she used to change her clothes was not as cold as she had feared it would be. She quickly shed the clothes she was wearing to put on the protective, warm layers that would, hopefully, keep her from freezing. Fleece-lined pants followed suit and after she slid on two pairs of socks and a lightweight, insulating jacket that would be covered by her winter coat she felt ready to go back outside and brace the elements.
“It'll be spring, eventually,” Eva mumbled when leaving the bathroom.
“Although sometimes that seems like a dream,” she heard a soft voice behind her and quickly the police woman turned around.
“I'm sorry if I startled you,” Sigrid apologized with a weary smile. “I thought you might like something warm to drink before you head out into that arctic blast again,” she explained, holding up a cup of steaming coffee.
“Oh, you're a lifesaver,” Eva smiled, gingerly taking the cup out of the other woman's hands, careful not to spill any of the hot liquid. “This is just what the doctor ordered.”
While taking a sip of coffee she noticed the pensive look on Sigrid's face.
“You look like you're about to ask me something,” she stated softly.
Managing a smile, Sigrid nodded.
“What do you expect to find at the end of the trail?”
Eva did not immediately answer. She leaned against the wall, cradling the warm cup of coffee in her hands.
“I don't expect to find anything,” she answered after a few moments of silence. “But I hope I'll come across some clues, something…anything that helps me make sense of something that completely eludes me right now.”
“That's pretty cryptic,” Sigrid replied drily, which made Eva chuckle.
“I realize that and I'm sorry. It's hard to put into words what my intuition is trying to tell me. It's a…feeling, or a hunch.”
Sigrid nodded in understanding and with a sigh she raked her fingers through her hair. She looked tired and worried and Eva realized she wished she could wipe the sorrow off the pastor's face, if only to see a sparkle in her eyes.
“If I could tell you more, I would,” Eva added.
“Thank you,” Sigrid sighed. “For some strange reason I wish I could come along. Anything is better than to sit around and wondering why someone would hide around my house, or hurt my friends or me. I can't make any sense of it.” There was a quiver in her voice and Eva felt for the woman.
“I don't think it would be wise to come along,” she started slowly, deliberately choosing her words. “I don't know who or what Chuck and I will run into and…”
“You don't want me in the way,” Sigrid interrupted. “Don't worry, I understand. It's just that I am so frustrated about this.”
“Are your friends staying for a while?” Eva asked.
“Terry just arrived to plow the driveway, so I guess they'll be leaving soon,” Sigrid answered. “But that's okay. I have a lot of things to think about and am not very good company right now.”
“I could call in someone from the local police department to stay with you,” Eva offered.
“That's not necessary, thank you,” Sigrid responded politely. “You and Inspector Benoit are roaming around my property, so I hardly think someone would stick around for the two of you to ask them a lot of hard questions.” Sigrid opened a door and motioned Eva to follow her, which she silently did. They had entered a small office and the first thing Eva noticed were the bookshelves that lined two of the three walls. The fourth one was mostly window, overlooking the driveway.
“More books,” she smiled with appreciation.
“Oh, yeah,” Sigrid nodded. “I have books everywhere. It makes moving a lot of fun,” she added, making a face. “Here, I just remembered I have a map with all the trails around the house and in the area. It might be helpful.” She handed the Inspector a neatly folded map and Eva sent her a warm smile.
“Excellent,” she said unfolding the paper and looking at the map. “This is great. Thank you, Sigrid.”
Sigrid leaned in closer and pointed at an area at the map.
“If I was trying to get away from someone around here, I'd head this way,” she said, gently tapping the surface. “There's a brook there that is very rocky. Even in frozen conditions, hopping from rock to rock will make it possible to follow the brook to where it meets the road. There's a small bridge and an intersection of two roads. Across from the bridge, here,” Sigrid tapped another part of the map. “is a popular trail for snowmobiles.”
Eva studied the map quietly and slowly nodded.
“This is very helpful, thank you, Sigrid.”
“You're welcome,” the pastor answered softly, taking a step back. “Beware of the deep snowdrifts. If you stick to the right side of the stone wall, you'll be okay. There are steep slopes on the other side and the snow will hide those, so it could get a little treacherous. Be careful.”
“I will, thank you,” Eva smiled. “Don't open the door for anyone and if anything happens, anything at all, which includes strange phone calls, call me.”
“This is rural New Hampshire , Eva. The cell service is pretty patchy,” Sigrid smiled.
“Then call the police department here in town,” Eva decided. “Please,” she added after a brief silence.
“I will,” Sigrid promised, hoping she looked braver than she felt. The thought of the two police inspectors leaving, no doubt followed by her friends made her want to close the curtains in the living room, so she could shut out the world and feel safe.
Sigrid felt Eva's eyes on her and for a very brief moment she looked up.
“I promise” she emphasized, before letting out a sigh.
“If I'd ask your friends to stay, I know they would,” Eva added, feeling uncharacteristically tense.
“Absolutely, but there's no need,” Sigrid decided. “I can take care of myself and will be okay. I live in the woods and have never been afraid before. I refuse to start now”
“Chuck and I will be back as soon as we can,” Eva promised, tucking the map in one of the pockets of her jacket. She sent Sigrid a smile and followed the pastor back to the kitchen.
Soon after Charles Benoit and Eva Clemente had left, the lady volunteers followed, although reluctantly. Meg had promised her husband to be home in time, so he could use the four wheel drive to get to his doctor's appointment.
“Men,” Meg fussed, while getting into her coat. “It's not like he has to drive through the woods or anything. The hospital is right down the road.”
“Yeah, ten miles down the road” Betty chuckled. She gave Sigrid a quick hug.
“You can always stay with me, honey. You know that, don't you?”
“I do and I won't forget,” Sigrid promised. “But I'll be fine.”
“You don't look it,” Twitch mumbled.
“I just need some sleep,” Sigrid sighed, rubbing her dry and itchy eyes. “I'll take a nap and tonight I'll go to bed early. How's that?”
“Sound good to me,” Betty nodded. “I'll call you later, just to check up on you, honey.”
“That's fine, Betty, thank you,” Sigrid answered. Part of her was not looking forward to being alone, while another part longed for the quiet and solitude that she knew would bring her peace.
She waved her friends goodbye and as soon as their car disappeared around a bend in the driveway, Sigrid closed the door, making sure to lock it. Leaning her head against the cold glass of the window she became acutely beware of a pounding headache.
“As if I needed that,” she muttered, walking to the bathroom where she kept Tylenol and Advil. “If I could only sleep a few hours, my head would be clearer and I'm sure I'd feel a lot better,” she told her reflection in the mirror. She quickly swallowed a couple of Advil and let her thoughts stray. She wondered if Eva Clemente and her partner had found any clues yet. Even though the idea that, for some reason, somebody was out to hurt her was very disturbing, Sigrid forced herself to consider the possibility. What if Eva was right? And if she was, who wanted to hurt her? As far as Sigrid knew she did not have any enemies or no scorned lovers from the past. There was no one in her church she could think of. It was a small, very liberal church and Sigrid knew she wasn't its only gay member.
Slowly walking back to the living room, Sigrid tried to think of any unpleasant discussions she had ever had, but she couldn't think of any. From the moment she had moved to the small, New Hampshire town she had felt welcomed and accepted as she was. Even the non-members did not seem to have a problem with her.
“I don't get it,” she muttered, sinking into a chair that faced the window. Her eyes traveled to tree line, searching for anything that seemed out of the ordinary. Eva had not seen any tracks or footsteps and Sigrid was relieved the snow still formed a pristine blanket and its only disturbances were the wave-like shapes that were created by the wind. “I just don't get it.”
“I don't know how you are doing, youngster, but certain parts of my body feel like they're flirting with frostbite,” Chuck Benoit muttered, glancing at Eva Clemente, who was carefully searching the icy surface of the road they were standing on. She and Chuck had followed the destroyed tracks until they reached the road, where ice and packed snow littered with tire and snowmobile tracks made it impossible to follow the only lead they had.
“He, or she, must have parked here somewhere,” Eva finally answered her partner. “And right now they're laughing. Hard,” she added with a grim expression on her face. “Because we look like a bunch of idiots.”
“Hey! Speak for yourself,” Chuck answered. It was meant as a joke, but his face was so cold he could hardly pronounce the words so they were audible.
“I don't like it when the bad guys make fun of me, Chuck,” Eva sighed, casting a look at her older partner. In spite of his warm clothes and comfortable, knitted hat he looked very cold and Eva mentally slapped herself. Chuck was close to retirement and not as young and fit as he used to be or as she was. Sometimes she forgot that and Chuck would not remind her. He'd rather freeze to death.
“Let's go back,” she suggested. “I'm starting to get cold. I swear, this wind could blow straight through rocks.”
“Oh, that makes me feel better,” was the muttered answer and Eva smiled, deciding she would take her partner out to lunch at a local place she knew. They had a woodstove that she knew was burning hot. It was something to look forward to. Sometimes, the only thing that made it bearable to be out in the cold was the promise of getting warm again in front of a fire.
“Wouldn't it be better to follow the road?” Chuck asked when Eva started back on the trail they had just left. “Or do you think you might pick up a clue or two we missed on the way down?”
Eva grinned and shrugged her shoulders.
“You know me, Chuck. I'm an optimist.”
“So am I,” he answered. “But one with a lot of experience, so, if you don't mind, I'll follow the road. I bet it's a lot quicker.”
“Do you want to race?” Eva chuckled.
“Against you? Never,” Chuck smiled. “But I'll meet you at the pastor's place in about twenty minutes. I'll see if I can pick up some leads alongside this road.”
“Be careful,” Eva couldn't help but saying.
“Of course,” Chuck promised. “I'll be retiring in a few months and you know I hate missing parties.”
Eva waved at her partner and headed back to the tracks that would lead her back through the forest, to Sigrid Meyer's house. Although she and Chuck had found nothing that even remotely resembled a clue, she still had a nagging feeling in the back of her mind that told her she missed something. A track back up the hill toward the house would tell her if that feeling was right.
Sigrid had just put another log into the woodstove and wondered if she would be able to take a nap. Her anxiety level was still very high, she could tell by the tell-tale sign of her heart rate that seemed to be a lot faster than usual, which the amounts of caffeine she had consumed did not help. She was tempted to call her mother, for the simple reason that talking to her always made her feel better, but she was afraid her mother would become so worried, she would take the first flight north. Ann Marie Meyers could easily read her daughter, even through the phone.
“Forget that,” Sigrid muttered. “But I'd better send her an email, before she wonders why she hasn't heard from me in days.” She suppressed a yawn and reluctantly headed toward the hallway and the small office at the front of the house. She was very conscious of the fact that, as soon as she turned her back to the windows in the living room, she felt like she was being watched. A shiver ran down her spine and Sigrid took a deep breath, ignoring the urge to run out of the room. As soon as she entered the hallway the feeling dissipated, but her heart was still beating wildly.
“I'm going insane, Minnie,” she said to the cat who had followed her out of the room. A sorrowful meow was the answer.
After she sank down in her office chair, Sigrid turned on her computer and waited for it to boot up, something that usually did not take long, since her parents had given her a state-of-the-art laptop that was very fast. Their ulterior motive had been regular updates from their daughter, which Sigrid was well aware of. Her parents had not liked the idea of their daughter moving to New Hampshire . They tried to visit her at least every three months and regularly sent her a ticket to come and visit them at home, in Florida . Those gifts were always welcome to Sigrid, especially during the long winter months.
“Oh, look, Minnie, I'm popular today,” Sigrid said when her inbox popped up. There were three messages from her mother, one from her brother and two from her sister. The first message she clicked on was the one from Erick, her brother. She laughed when she read his message about their mother trying to convince him to come home for the summer. Erick was the youngest of the three Meyers children and was in graduate school in California . He loved his family, but had a very busy life and not always time to visit his parents when his mother wanted him to, which ideally was every month, as he complained to Sigrid.
“Been there, done that, brother,” she chuckled, moving to her sister's message.
Kirsten was three years older than Sigrid and lived in Florida , close to her parents, which was a good thing, because she was married and the mother of a one year old. She had once told her sister her parents would never have forgiven her had she moved out of state with their grandchild.
Sigrid's eyes scanned the email and she smiled while reading about her little nephew, but when she started reading the next topic, she frowned.
“A package delivered at your house, addressed to me?” she wondered, immediately feeling a nervous ball settle in the pit of her stomach. After everything that had happened during the last day, a message like that made her nervous. That feeling grew stronger when her mother's email also mentioned the fact that a package had come in the mail, but, just like he sister Kirsten had done, Ann Marie Meyers had re-addressed it and send it to New Hampshire .
“It will be there tomorrow or the day after,” she wrote.
“That could be today and I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to that,” Sigrid muttered, nervously rubbing the bridge of her nose. She hit ‘reply' and started typing a message back to her mother, knowing from experience that if she would not answer her soon, Ann Marie Meyers would surely call within the next few hours.
“And no matter how much I love you, mom, I'm looking forward to a nice, long nap,” Sigrid mumbled after hitting the ‘send' button.
She was just about to answer her sister's email as well, when a muffled sound reached her ears. Sigrid frowned and unconsciously tilted her head, listening intently. The sound had reminded her of something heavy falling in the snow and with lightning speed her brain went through all the possibilities. She came up empty-handed, making a concerted effort not to think about any of the scenarios that would increase her heart rate even more.
Sigrid thought about the cell phone in her pocket, knowing she would not be able to use it, since the only place in the house she could get a strong enough signal was the kitchen. Her eyes traveled to the cordless phone on her desk and she remembered her promise to Eva Clemente; if anything would happen, she would either call Eva, or the local police department. Sigrid hesitated, not eager to make a fool of herself, but then she heard the sound again and she quickly reached out to grab the phone.
Eva plowed back through the snow that, at times, almost reached her hips. Those were the drifts Sigrid had warned her about, treacherous and hard to get through. Eva knew it would make more sense to try and go around them, but for the last few minutes she had felt an urgency to get back to Sigrid Meyer's house as fast as she could. She had pulled out her cell phone, wanting to give the other woman a call, but there had been no signal. The only thing left to do was move faster, which she was trying hard to do.
“I hope you're right and took the shorter route, Chuck,” she muttered through clenched teeth, desperately trying to hold her balance when her foot slid of a rock, hit the invisible root of a tree and went down a hole. “Damn,” she cursed, feeling a hot stab of pain in her ankle. Eva felt herself sink deeper in the snow and she quickly reached out to grab a low hanging branch of a nearby tree. While hanging on to the tree she was able to regain her balance and she slowly pulled her, now throbbing ankle out of the hole, experimentally moving it in different directions to see how it would hold up. No matter what direction she moved into, it hurt and she knew she had, at least, sprained her ankle.
“Good job, Clemente,” she scolded, wincing when another hot stab of pain shot through her foot. The hurt ankle would slow her down but Eva was not going to give up. With gritted teeth she loosened the shoelaces of her boot, grabbed a handful of snow and stuffed it inside. The cold substance would keep the swelling down and hopefully numb her sore ankle enough for her to make it back to the house.
With determination and anger written all over her face, Eva continued her uphill walk, leaning against tree trunks and large granite boulders for support. The pain in her foot had done nothing to suppress the uneasiness she felt inside and the rush of adrenaline the feeling brought with it enabled her to quicken her pace, even though she knew that later that day she would sincerely regret that.
Sigrid sat quietly inside the closet in the office, something the police dispatcher had told her to do and her heart was beating so fast and so loud, it drowned out any other noise in the house. While she had been on the phone with the local police department, she had heard the sound of breaking glass and when she had mentioned that, the dispatcher, a young woman Sigrid new from Church, had ordered her to go into hiding.
“Are you still there?” she heard a voice close to her ear.
“Yes, not going anywhere,” Sigrid breathed.
“Hang in there, they'll be there in a few minutes,” the dispatcher said, both to her own comfort and that of the pastor. “You don't happen to have a gun, do you?”
Sigrid almost burst out in a nervous giggle and pressed her hand to her mouth.
“No,” she whispered. “I don't like guns.”
“Anything else you'd be able to use as a weapon. You know, just in case,” the voice hesitated.
“If you're trying to make me feel better, I've got to tell you it's not working,” Sigrid muttered. “There's nothing in this closet I can use as a weapon, unless there's something I can do with a fleece blanket and mittens I don't know about.”
There was a brief silence and the voice said: “What kind of mittens?”
In spite of the situation, Sigrid almost burst out laughing. The conversation with the dispatcher was just too outrageous. Just when she was about to make a reply, she heard a soft rustling sound that seemed to come from only a few feet away. Afraid to breathe, Sigrid pressed against the back of the closet, trying to blend in with the wall, acutely aware of her pounding heart and the need to take a deep, cleansing breath, something she was afraid to do. Suddenly a loud voice almost made her jump and as far as Sigrid could tell, it was coming from the driveway.
“Stay where you are,” the voice boomed and unconsciously Sigrid dove even deeper into the corner of the closet.
There was a brief silence and then the thud of heavy footsteps running through her house, followed by the crashing noise of breaking wood and glass. Sigrid thought it was coming from the living room and she held her breath, waiting for what would come next.
“Goodgodsonofagun,” the deep voice boomed and to her intense relief Sigrid recognized it as Charles Benoit's. Her ears also picked up the sound of police sirens rapidly approaching and with a sigh of relief she pressed the phone closer to her ear.
“I think they're here,” she croaked, feeling completely out of breath.
“They are,” the voice answered. “Stay where you are though, until they actually come in to get you. I've told them where you are. Just hang on a few more minutes.”
“I will,” Sigrid replied, moistening her dry lips. Her heart was still pounding in her chest, her hands were clammy and her mouth felt parched. The voice of Charles Benoit though had soothed some of her nerves and Sigrid started longing for her escape out of the closet, it was pretty cramped and after a while the lack of space had become almost suffocating.
“Sigrid?” Charles Benoit's voice sounded like he was just on the other side of the wall, in the hallway behind her. “Pastor Meyers?”
“Sigrid will do, Inspector, please,” Sigrid answered, opening the door of the closet. She took a deep breath and stepped into the small office, freezing in horror when her eyes fell on an object in the middle of the floor.
The moment Eva Clemente staggered out of the forest, into Sigrid Meyers' driveway she was almost tackled by a tall, burly police officer.
“Hold on, Jack,” a voice called from the front door. “That's Inspector Clemente.” Peter Elders turned away from the door and frowned when he saw Eva limp. “Help her up the stairs, Jack, please,” he spoke, half expecting her to decline the gesture, but to his surprise she simply nodded her thanks and grabbed the police officer's arm.
“Did she call you?” Eva called out, aware of the nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“What happened?” Peter Elders asked.
“Ploughed through a snow drift and slipped off a rock,” Eva grimaced. “Not the smartest thing I've ever done. What happened?”
“You're lucky,” the burly officer spoke. “You could have easily broken your leg.”
“I guess that's true,” Eva muttered, impatient to find out what was going on. “What happened?”
“The pastor called us because someone was breaking into her house.”
“Was there?” Eva asked sharply. “Is she alright?”
“She's a little shaken up, which is understandable, but she's in one piece,” Peter Elders answered, grabbing Eva's arm to help her up the last two steps.
“Someone broke into her house?” Eva asked, forgetting the pain in her ankle, until she accidently put her weight on it. “Ouch! Damn,” she hissed between clenched teeth.
“You might want to get that looked at,” Peter remarked, supporting Eva until she had regained her balance. “And what happened to your face?” he asked eyeing an angry scratch just above Eva's right eyebrow.
“Later. I need to speak to Chuck first. He is here, isn't he?”
“Yeah, he beat us to it, almost ran into the guy.”
“The guy jumped through the backdoor, glass and all and disappeared. Had a snowmobile waiting at the tree line.”
“We've a couple of guys on the trail, but I doubt it will get us anywhere. Unless he dropped a few huge clues on the way out.”
“Eva! Are you alright? What happened?” Charles Benoit grabbed her arm and led her to a chair.
“I was stupid,” she sighed. “What have you got?”
“Not much,” Charles answered with obvious disgust. “Whatever he planned on doing, I disturbed him and he ran off.”
“My assumption,” Charles shrugged. “He was built like a linebacker and dressed in some heavy duty gear. I spotted him when he appeared from the hallway, but I didn't see a face,” he added when he saw the expression on Eva's face. “He was wearing a ski mask.”
“He must have double-backed, or something,” Eva said, feeling utterly stupid. “He played me for the fool I am.”
“Us,” Charles corrected her. “And yes, I share your sentiment.”
“How did he get in?”
“Basement. He broke one of the windows and simply climbed in.”
“And then he ran into you?”
“Not immediately,” Charles shook his head. “He made it upstairs and…”
“Did he try to…?”
“I don't know what the plan was, Eva. Sigrid had heard the breaking glass, called the local police department and hid in a closet in her office.”
“So she never saw him?”
“No, she didn't. But he was in the room with her.” Charles put a hand on Eva's shoulder and felt the tension in her body.
“How do you know that?”
“I'd like to show you something. Can you walk?”
Eva grimaced and got on her feet.
“I made it back here, I can make it to the room next door,” she stated bravely, but she didn't fool her partner. Charles had known her a long time and could tell when Eva was in serious pain.
“Come on,” Charles encouraged, extending a hand which Eva grabbed with gratitude.
“Where's Sigrid?” she asked, not having seen the pastor in the kitchen or hallway.
“Freshening up in the bathroom,” Charles replied in a soft voice. “The combination of stress and…this,” he gestured toward the entrance to the office, “was a little too much for her.”
Mentally bracing herself, Eva stepped into the small office, immediately seeing what her partner was referring to. She sucked in a breath, feeling a wave of hot anger flow through her body with such intensity it drove away the pain in her ankle until the throbbing was only a distant memory. Without taking her eyes off the object that was dropped in the middle of the floor, Eva slowly circled around it, taking in every detail of it.
“Did anyone touch it?”
“No, not yet, we've been taking pictures,” Chuck answered, tapping the camera he was holding. “What do you think?”
Eva sucked in her bottom lip and slowly crouched down to get a closer look.
“It looks like real blood,” she answered softly. Her eyes were troubled when she studied what at first glance looked like a tangled mess of twigs, rope and feathers. “A pigeon,” she continued after a heavy silence. “It looks like its…its head is gone and it looks like it's body is just…torn open,” she finished. Eva leaned closer and tried to detach herself emotionally from the shredded bird in front of her. “It looks like he made a sort of a table and tied the bird to that.”
“An altar,” Sigrid Meyers' voice sounded from the doorway. Eva looked up in a pair of pained, blue eyes set in a pale face. “Crude, yes, but that's what it looks like.”
“A sacrifice?” Eva asked quietly. “Does it refer to anything in…in religion?” she asked awkwardly.
“It reminds me of something in the bible, in the book of Leviticus,” Sigrid swallowed hard and leaned against the wall behind her, grateful for its sturdy strength that was helping her to remain standing. Eva noticed the other woman's struggle to keep her composure and slowly got back to her feet, stepping closer to the pastor and gently taking her elbow.
“You look like you need to sit down,” she urged.
“No, that would be you,” Sigrid answered. “You're limping and your face has a cut that's bleeding. What happened?”
“Why don't both of you sit down somewhere?” Chuck interrupted, pointing to the living room. “I'll finish taking the pictures here and will join you after I'm done.” He raised a hand when Eva opened her mouth to protest. “No, Eva, go. Please. This room is not big enough for both of us to run around in and look for clues. I'll do my thing here and then come and talk to you.”
Eva, who felt the throbbing pain in her ankle return reluctantly nodded and followed Sigrid out of the room, toward the living room, where she sank down in the same chair she had favored that morning. In spite of everything she had to smile at herself for being such a creature of habit.
“Let me look at your foot,” Sigrid suggested, kneeling in front of Eva and ignoring the activity around her. There were two police officers who were studying the splintered door and glass, hoping to find some fabric or better yet, skin or hair to give them a clue as to whom had jumped through it. Outside, another officer was taking pictures of the tracks in the snow, careful not to disturb any of them. He was standing knee-deep in the cold, white stuff.
Eva glanced at the bent head in front of her and the worried look in her eyes deepened.
“You don't have to do that,” she responded in a soft voice.
“Yes, I do,” Sigrid argued with a small smile. “I am a trained EMT and have seen my share of foot injuries. Do you need help taking off your boot?”
For a brief moment Eva stared at the other woman who shot her a questioning look.
“An EMT?” Eva echoed, immediately regretting her response. The last thing she wanted Sigrid to think was that she was as stupid as she sounded.
“I still work per diem,” Sigrid explained. “Usually a few days and nights a month, just to keep my skills up.”
“Good for you,” Eva mumbled, wincing when the pastor carefully slid the leather boot off her foot. “I have a feeling I won't be able to get back into it,” Eva spoke through clenched teeth, feeling Sigrid's warm hands gently peeling off her wet sock that had small chunks of snow stuck to it.
“I think you're right,” Sigrid nodded, skeptically eying the swollen ankle. “This needs some ice. Lots of it.”
“Why don't I just stick my foot in a snow bank?” Eva suggested with a hint of frustration in her voice.
“That would probably have the same effect, but it wouldn't be very comfortable,” Sigrid smiled. “Just sit here, put your foot on this stool,” she suggested pulling a low, padded bench closer. “I'll get a cold pack, something to clean that cut in your face and something warm to drink.” Sigrid got back to her feet and abruptly halted, all of a sudden feeling incredibly insecure. “Although I guess tea will have to wait until they give me my kitchen back again,” she added with a small sigh.
“Let me get some ice for your foot and then I'll tell you,” Sigrid promised, sending the other woman a small smile before heading into the kitchen. She was back within a minute, with a frozen gel pack wrapped in a towel. Carefully she draped the cold pack across Eva's foot and handed her a damp washcloth she could use to clean the cut above her eyebrow, before sitting down on the floor, resting her back against the couch.
“Thank you,” the police woman spoke, silently hoping the cold would quickly numb the pain. Her eyes rested on the blonde who had her arms wrapped around her pulled up legs, resting her cheek on one of her knees. In Eva's eyes she looked incredibly young and vulnerable. She was aware of a brief flash of anger that surged through her system when realizing someone had managed to break into the pastor's house, right under her, Eva Clemente's nose, scaring the living daylights out of the younger woman.
“I was in my office, checking my email,” Sigrid started her story, unaware of the turmoil behind Eva's green eyes “I heard a sound I thought was something heavy falling on top of the snow and at first didn't think much about it.” Sigrid paused and glanced up at Eva, who had the washcloth pressed against her forehead, but whose posture showed she was listening intently. ‘You know the sound of snow sliding off the roof?” Eva nodded, but remained silent. “Anyway, I thought that's what it was,” Sigrid sighed. “But then, a few seconds later, I heard it again and this time it sounded like it came from the basement. I…it was pretty scary, so I wanted to call…you, but realized you probably wouldn't have a cell signal in the woods, so I called the police department instead.”
“Good thinking,” Eva complimented, which earned her a watery smile.
“That's what you told me to do. I told the dispatcher what was going on and she told me to try and hide somewhere, if I wasn't able to get out of the house. At that time I thought I heard someone coming up the stairs, so I was afraid to leave the office and I knew trying to get out through the window was going to be pretty noisy.” Sigrid sighed and raked her fingers through her hair. “Besides, I wasn't wearing any shoes,” she added with the ghost of a smile. “Hiding in the closet was my only option, so that's what I did, while the dispatcher kept telling me not to hang up. I'm not sure how long I was in there, but all of a sudden I heard a voice call out and then running footsteps and the crashing noise of someone jumping through my living room sliding doors,” Sigrid's voice was soft, but Eva was still able to detect a barely audible tremor. “When I finally came out of the closet, pun not intended,” she added with a wry chuckle, “I stood fate-to-face with the…with what was left in the room.”
“Can you tell me about the symbolism?” Eva asked, her eyes glued to the troubled ones of the woman on the floor.
“The Old Testament is full of laws and regulations. A lot of it is about atonement for sins through sacrifice. I'm not exactly sure about the chapter, but I'm pretty sure that somewhere in the book of Leviticus the sacrifice of a dove, or pigeon, is described. The bird needs to be torn open by its wings, without severing it and then burnt on the wood on the altar.”
“The pigeon's head was gone” Eva spoke calmly, seeing Sigrid flinch.
“The head of the bird needs to be wrung off and the blood drained. The crop also needs to be removed,” Sigrid explained in a tired voice.
“It wasn't there,” Eva said with a frown. “At least, not that I could see.”
“It's not,” Sigrid sighed, glancing up with tired eyes. “But right now I have a pretty good idea where the missing parts are.”
It took a few hours before the police officers who had swarmed her house had finally left. Sigrid knew all of them personally and had been touched by their concern for her. Their town was a small, sleepy one, except in the summer when it was swarmed with tourists visiting the lakes and hiking trails. Crime was fairly uncommon and thus a shock for everyone, including the local police.
After Charles Benoit had closed the door when the last office was leaving, he walked back into the living room and sat down on the couch. He eyed the two women who were quiet and seemed deep in thought. The cut in Eva's face was cleaned and covered with a bandage and the police woman was staring at the ice pack on her foot. Only because Charles knew her so well, he could tell that, mentally, she was miles away. Sigrid sat on the floor, using the couch as a back rest, with her forehead resting on her pulled up knees and he could not tell if her eyes were open or closed.
“How are the two of you doing?” Charles finally asked.
Sigrid slowly raised her head and glanced up at the elderly man. She looked tired and her eyes were dull, with dark circles underneath them.
“I've felt better,” she answered listlessly and Charles nodded in understanding.
“What about you, Eva?”
“I can't believe I sprained my ankle,” she answered with what resembled a frustrated growl.
“I can't believe you didn't break a leg,” Charles responded dryly. “That was treacherous terrain.”
Eva mumbled something incoherent and her partner suppressed a smile. There was one thing that could get Eva Clemente in a foul mood real quick; if she thought she had done something stupid. Always very understanding of others it was amazing how little forgiving she was when it came to herself.
“Sigrid has told me more about the present in her office,” Eva began, changing the subject. “It looks like a sacrifice for atonement.”
“Biblical?” Charles asked with interest.
Sigrid nodded and in a soft voice she told the inspector what she had told Eva. When she mentioned the missing head and crop, he frowned and softly muttered under his breath when Sigrid told him she expected the packages from her sister and mother to contain the rest of the pigeon. Letting out a deep sigh, the pastor raked her fingers through her hair and leaned her head back against the couch.
“But why?” she wondered. “Why would he send something gruesome like that to my family, addressed to me? He should have known they'd send it on.”
Sigrid noticed the look Charles and Eva exchanged and her eyes traveled between them, trying to read the expression on their faces.
“Why?” she insisted.
“It's possible he wants to send you a message,” Eva answered slowly, carefully choosing her words.
“I believe he already did by breaking into my house and leaving me a nice note in my mailbox this morning. Oh, and let's not forget the dead body he left in my church. That was a pretty clear message. I think that…oh, my god,” Sigrid turned even paler than she already was and her eyes looked huge when she looked up at Eva. “He's telling me he knows where to find my family,” she whispered in horror
“I'm afraid that's the message,” Eva nodded with brutal honesty, which earned her a roll of Charles' eyes. She shrugged almost imperceptibly; Sigrid's life could be in danger and the pastor needed to realize that. The visit of the perpetrator had completely changed the situation from a potentially dangerous situation to an actual dangerous one. That they did not have a clear motive or a suspect worried her to no end. The fact that she sprained her ankle and would not be able to do any fieldwork made everything so much worse.
“But what does he want?” Eva heard Sigrid say in a voice that was heavy with despair. “He's only been making threats. What does he want from me?”
“I wish we knew,” Charles replied, string at Eva with a thoughtful look. The police woman could tell by the look in his eyes that he was thinking about something she would not like. At all. She opened her mouth to say something to him, but before she could do so, Charles raised a hand and sent her a small smile.
“How are your parents doing, Eva?” he asked with an innocent smile.
A pair of green eyes stared at him in disbelief, and then slightly narrowed when realization set in.
“Oh, no,” Eva shook her head. “No, no, no, no.”
“Eva,” Charles started, but he was immediately interrupted.
“No, Chuck. Absolutely not.”
“You know it's a great idea. Can you come up with something better?”
“I'm not leaving! I can do desk duty and follow up on tons of leads, no need to…”
“You can do that while being with your family and the pastor will be safer.”
The last remark caught Sigrid's attention and she shot Charles Benoit a confused look.
“Excuse me?” she asked politely
Charles sighed and leaned back into soft cushions of the couch. He feared he needed to do some serious convincing before his plan would be accepted.
“Eva, please, hear me out. Your ankle is sprained and I'm by far no medical person, but it looks like you won't even be able to get your foot back in your boot. Ergo, you will not be able to do any fieldwork any time soon. I'm sorry,” he added in a soft voice. “But I know where you're from and it seems like such a better choice to hang out while your ankle heals. Besides,” he added with a small smile. “You'll get paid to hang out with your family.”
Eva scowled and stared at her ankle for a few moments, completely disgusted with herself for getting injured like that. Charles was right, deep down inside she acknowledged that, though it was hard to admit it out loud, especially because doing so made her feel like such a loser. The murderer of Michael Bell could easily be the same person who had broken into Sigrid's house and left the silent, but threatening message. They had no clue about his motives or identity and Eva would not be able to chase any physical leads. It definitely made her cranky and she fought the urge to snap at her partner; it was not Charles' fault and his suggestion was reasonable. Eva knew she would give in, the question was; would the pastor? Taking a deep breath she turned to the woman sitting on the floor and tried hard to look confident when she was confronted with a pair of blazing blue eyes.
“I can't leave here,” was the first thing Sigrid uttered with a determined look on her face. If the situation had not been so serious and if her ankle had not been throbbing the way it did, Eva might have smiled at the stubborn look on the pastor's face. Sigrid Meyers seemed by no means a helpless woman and Eva appreciated that. Her instincts though, honed by years of police work told her the young woman could be in danger and just the thought of someone hurting the young pastor gave Eva enough incentive to mentally square her shoulders and do her best to convince Sigrid she could not stay in her house. Charles had known that would be her response. She shot him a quick look and he winked at her. The old fox.
“Sigrid, please listen to what I have to say first and then make a decision. Alright?”
“I don't think I want to hear what you have to say,” Sigrid muttered in all honesty and Eva suppressed a smile.
“I realize that, believe me. But just a few hours ago, someone broke into your house and we have sufficient evidence to belief his intentions are bad. You could be in danger.”
“Do you really think so?” Sigrid asked in a soft voice.
“Yes, I do,” Eva nodded, shifting the icepack on her foot and trying not to wince when those movements made a sharp pain shoot through her foot, all the way up to her knee. “What Charles wants is for you and me to go to…” a small movement of Charles' hand made her pause. Damn, he was right. The unwanted visitor could have left a listening device. The local police had not checked for that, because they didn't have the right equipment. “Charles wants us to leave. You're not safe here and he…we think it's best to get you out of harm's way. Your local police force does not have the manpower to keep an eye on you around the clock. I know a place where we can go where I can do all the research I need to do and Charles can follow whatever lead I find. My ankle will be able to heal and you will be safe.”
“But I can't just pack up and leave,” Sigrid protested. “I appreciate the fact that you want to keep me safe, but I have a life here and my work. I can't just leave like that.”
“What do you do when you go on vacation?” Eva asked quietly.
“Jim Farrow, he is a retired pastor who takes over when I'm gone or sick. He lives about twenty miles north from here.”
“Does he need a lot of time to come and…take over?” Eva wanted to know.
“Not usually,” Sigrid muttered. “But it would be courteous to give him a couple of days.”
“I agree, under normal circumstances,” Charles spoke. “Do you think he might be willing to be here tomorrow morning?”
“I guess I could try,” Sigrid sighed. “But what about my cat? I usually bring Minnie to ‘Whiskers ‘n Paws'. It's a pet place,” she explained when she saw Eva's raised eyebrows.
“Can you bring her there now also?” Eva tried, knowing that a simple ‘yes' would probably not be forthcoming.
“They're closed in February,” Sigrid said.
“Take your cat with you,” Charles suggested with a smile. The young pastor reminded him of one of his daughters and he knew there wasn't a lot he could refuse her. She was too cute. A dark look from Eva almost made him chuckle. It was obvious his partner had caught on and was not happy with it.
“Is that okay?” Sigrid asked Eva with such genuine hope in her eyes Eva Clemente felt her resistance melt. She, too, was wrapped around Chuck's daughter's little finger.
“Yes, that would be fine,” Eva sighed, sending the pastor a small smile. “There are pets where we're going, but I'm sure your cat will be fine.”
“Where are you planning to take me?” Sigrid wanted to know.
“Somewhere safe,” Eva answered.
“That sounds really patronizing,” Sigrid snapped, feeling her anxiety rise to uncomfortable levels. “I'm not a four year old, Inspector.”
Eva's eyes widened at Sigrid's outburst and she cast a look at Charles, who smiled at her and gave her an encouraging nod. Eva suspected he had way too much fun at her expense.
“I will tell you exactly where I plan on taking you, but I can't just now,” the police woman started to explain. “Your house has not been swept for bugs, listening devices,” she added, immediately seeing understanding dawn in Sigrid's eyes.
“Oh, I see,” was the response and Eva let out a breath she didn't know she had been holding. She was grateful for Sigrid's understanding, because the last thing she wanted was fighting with the pastor.
“I'm sorry, Eva,” Sigrid continued. “I shouldn't have snapped at you.”
“You're under a lot of stress,” Eva replied with a small smile. “Don't worry about it.”
“So, what happens now?”
“You'll have the rest of the day to arrange for Jim Farrow to take over your work from you, to pack and prepare like you usually do when you go on vacation.”
“But I don't know how long I'll be gone,” Sigrid sighed, pushing a strand of hair away from her forehead.
“No, that's something we don't know,” Eva nodded, pleased with Sigrid's surrender to the situation. “Hopefully, it won't be long.”
“Damn you all to hell,” a male voice spoke, while carefully cleaning his face and hands with a washcloth. He had been lucky, because he only had a few scratches and they hardly bled. It would have been a bad thing to leave drops of blood in the pastor's house. He had no intention of jumping through the French doors the way he had done, but when he had heard the voice of the person entering the kitchen, he had panicked.
“Thank, God for adrenaline,” he grumbled, angry at the police and Sigrid Meyers for disturbing his plans. He had it all planned out so beautifully and now he had to make changes, which took time if he wanted to do it right. At least she had received the letter he had put in her mailbox and the message he had left on the floor in her office. He knew she had been hiding in the closet, he could feel it. But then that damn policeman had walked in, messing up his plans. Maybe he should deal with him also. Maybe he could kill two birds with one stone.
He giggled at the pun and reached out to grab a clean towel, so he could dry his face. He was happy to see there was only a small cut in his chin. People would think he had cut himself shaving, so that would be good. He did not want to come up with some insane explanation of his injuries. He wanted to focus on Sigrid Meyers. He had worked on it long enough and his time was near. He knew it.
The fire in the woodstove was burning bright, spreading wonderful warmth that enveloped the body like a hug. The glow of the dancing flames painted the two occupants of the room in soft hues of orange. Sigrid was stretched out on the couch, a book in her lap and a glass of red wine in her hand. While taking small sips, her eyes took in the figure of Eva Clemente, who was sitting in the recliner, one icepack covered foot on the stool in front of her and a laptop on her knees. Her face was a picture of concentration while her eyes scanned whatever was on the monitor. If Sigrid had to describe the woman with one word, it would have been ‘focus'. The pastor suspected it was a good trait to have for a police investigator and she silently wondered if the woman was always that intense. She sure was serious. But then, they were in a serious situation.
Involuntarily, Sigrid's eyes traveled to the large windows and the French doors that were sealed with layers of thick plastic to keep the cold out. Charles Benoit had promised Sigrid he would make sure to personally supervise its repair. The insurance agent was scheduled to stop by in the morning and after that Sigrid and Eva would leave. They had not discussed their destination, but Eva had pulled up a map on her computer and pointed to a small coastal town in Maine , so the pastor at least knew where she would be going. She had nodded in understanding, trying to picture Eva Clemente as a child, growing up in Maine . It had not been very hard to do, because Sigrid had the impression the police woman liked the outdoors. Besides, she remembered how Eva had looked at the painting in her office the previous day and she had seen the longing in those interesting green eyes.
“Interesting?” Sigrid frowned, shaking her head. Eva Clemente was gifted with a beautiful bronze skin and dark, curly hair that she kept fairly short. Her eyes stood out against the color of her skin and Sigrid couldn't help wondering about the woman's ancestors. Judging by her name and looks, she had to be a combination of different ethnicities. Maybe she would ask her about it some time.
Sigrid sighed and tried to turn her attention back to her book. She had read the same page three times already and she still didn't know what the story was about. Making a face, she closed the book and put it on the table. Sipping her wine she stared into the flames, wondering who was out to harm her. It was as if her thoughts went around in loops, always starting with the ‘who' question and ending with wondering what tomorrow would bring, how freaked out Eva's family would be, if she and the police woman could spend five hours in a car without running out of things to say.
Sigrid cast another look through the window, but all she saw was darkness. She tried not to think of who or what could be out there, but it was hard to ignore her vivid imagination.
“You keep looking at the windows,” Eva's voice broke the silence and Sigrid almost jumped in surprise. She was tempted to ask the police woman how she knew, but decided against it. Eva Clemente was an investigator. She probably used senses Sigrid had never heard about.
“I can't help wondering what is out there” Sigrid confessed. “It's amazing how my perception of things have changed just within the last day or so. I never bought curtains for those windows because I love the open feel of it, but now it makes me nervous,” she sighed, shaking her head at her own fears.
“That's not unusual, seeing what you've been through,” Eva answered.
“But I'm usually not scared like that,” Sigrid replied, wondering why it was important to her to tell Eva she was made out of tougher material.
“I assume there is not usually someone who threatens you, send you scary messages and leaves a dead body in your church either,” Eva smiled, glancing at Sigrid over her laptop.
“No, not really,” Sigrid admitted with a nervous laugh. “I wonder when things will go back to normal again.”
“Depends on what is normal,” Eva answered and for a moment Sigrid thought she saw a twinkle in the police woman's eyes.
“I know, normal is a loaded statement,” the pastor admitted with a shrug. “But to me, normal is enjoying my interactions with the people in this town, trying to support them when they go through tough times, share in their joy and find contentment and peace in sharing common spiritual ground.” Sigrid paused and took a deep breath. “I wonder if I can ever stand in front of the church again and feel one hundred percent comfortable.”
“Why wouldn't you?” Eva wanted to know, somehow touched by the distress that showed in the other woman's eyes.
“Because I feel that the person who…who killed someone in my church and broke into my house his morning could very well be part of the church I work for.”
Eva slowly closed her laptop, but kept it on her knees, her hands resting on top of the shiny black surface.
“What makes you think that?” she asked.
“I don't know,” Sigrid answered with a sigh. “It's just a feeling I have. This…this person has connected people from my past to me, people who were very dear to me. People who are now dead, something he might have had a hand in. He knows where I work. He knows where I live. He probably knows what time I go to work on Mondays so he stuck around after killing this poor man to make sure I was there and would find the body. I wonder why he didn't kill me as well yesterday. It's obvious he had the opportunity.”
“Do you really want an answer to that?” Eva asked softly, feeling for the distressed woman and wishing she could help ease her mind.
“No…yes…I don't know,” Sigrid answered with a half-sob. There were tears in her eyes when she looked at Eva. “Do you think he is enjoying the game, is that it? Does he thrive on my fear?”
“It's hard to tell,” Eva answered, choosing her words carefully. “He might enjoy the game, I don't know. Another possibility is that it was not according to his plan to…to…harm you yesterday.” Eva took time to reposition her leg and gather her thoughts. “Sigrid, if this person has delusional ideas, it's a possibility he is mentally ill. He could be very compulsive, which means it's possible he has a set timeline that he needs to stick to. His religious referrals might indicate that he feels he's on a mission, given to him by a higher power. He will have to obey that higher power, including the timeline set for his actions. By moving you out of here and out of town, we will aggravate him tremendously. Hopefully enough for him to make a mistake so we can find out who he is and take him off the streets.”
“Your theory sounds really scary,” Sigrid said with a watery smile. The hand that was holding the wineglass trembled slightly.
“It is scary,” Eva admitted. “But we have to consider all possibilities and this is one of them. In fact, we're doing background checks on all male members of your church right now.”
“You are?” Sigrid breathed, not knowing whether she should be angry or relieved. “How did…oh, Betty gave you a member list, didn't she?”
“She was very helpful,” Eva nodded. “So were the other two ladies.”
“I'm sure they were,” Sigrid sighed with a small smile. “They love it when something happens here. If they can be in the thick of it, it's even better.” She glanced up, noticing that Eva was looking at her with a mixture of curiosity and concern. For some very strange reason it made her feel a little better. The situation she was in was nerve wrecking, but at least she wasn't alone.
“Are you ever scared?” Sigrid asked after a brief, comfortable silence.
“Yes, I am. Often,” Eva answered in all honesty.
“You are?” Sigrid seemed surprised and Eva sent her a small smile. “I mean, I know fear is something we all face, but somehow I…”
“Somehow you thought I'd deny being scared,” Eva interrupted dryly. “Because I'm a cop and carry a gun.” She laughed when she saw the expression of guilt on Sigrid's face, the first genuine laugh the pastor had heard from her. It was a nice laugh, she decided; it was warm and somehow made her smile.
“So now you're going to tell me I've watched too many police shows on television?” Sigrid wondered.
“Have you?” Eva quipped, enjoying the direction their conversation had taken.
“Not too many,” Sigrid drawled.
“What is your favorite show?” Eva wanted to know, but before Sigrid could answer she raised her hand. “No, wait. Let me guess.” Her eyes slightly narrowed when she stared at the pastor as if she could see straight through her. It was quiet for a long time and Sigrid patiently waited, sipping her wine and studying Eva who was still staring at her.
“I think that would be Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” Eva finally said. “Am I right?”
“And you know this because you're a really good cop or because you've seen the DVD's on the shelf behind you?” Sigrid asked with a chuckle.
“Busted,” Eva sighed, leaning back in her chair and laughing softly.
“The acting was pretty good,” the pastor admitted. “So is your memory. You must have an eye for detail.”
“That's experience,” Eva answered. “I always try to make use of all my senses when I visit a crime scene.”
“So, when are you scared?” Sigrid asked, taking a sip of wine.
“Like I said, lots of times. When I enter a house, knowing someone might be in there, waiting to take a shot at me, I'm scared. When I chase a suspect in a car, which I've done a few times, I'm scared on different levels; I'm scared for me, but also for other people on the road, because they don't know what's going on and could get hit by an idiot in a car at any time. Whenever children are involved, I'm scared.” Eva paused and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “When I have to go to tell parents their child, a minor, has been involved in a crime, I get scared also,” she admitted. “I've experienced some very nasty reactions.”
“You don't do those things alone, do you?” Sigrid asked with a worried frown.
“Oh, no,” Eva shook her head. “I always have someone with me and sometimes we have even more back-up, just in case.”
“Do any of the things you see on a regular basis ever give you nightmares?” It was a personal question, Sigrid realized that as soon as the words had left her mouth, but they were out now and she was genuinely interested in the police woman's answer.
Eva cast down her eyes and Sigrid could tell she had hit a nerve. The police woman bit her lower lip and was clearly uncomfortable with the question. Mentally, Sigrid slapped herself.
“I'm sorry, that was too personal. I shouldn't have asked that, I…”
“Yes, they do,” Eva spoke in a soft voice. “I have nightmares. It's one of the reasons I decided to do something else. I'll be teaching at the police academy, starting next month. I might still be pulled into a case or two, but I'll mainly be teaching.”
“Is that something you're looking forward to?”
Eva smiled and nodded.
“Actually, yes, I'm looking forward to that. I like teaching.” Eva paused and glanced at Sigrid, who was curled up on the couch, sipping her wine. She still looked very young, but there was a depth to her that only years could have given her. She wondered how old Sigrid was. It was something she could easily look up in one of the files Charles had emailed her, but Eva decided against that. It would be more of a challenge to get to know the pastor better without that advantage.
“Is this part of your job? Making people open up and tell you things?” Eva asked curiously.
“I'm not sure,” Sigrid laughed, amused by Eva's question. “People confess things to me on a regular basis, which never ceases to surprise me. Our denomination might be a Christian one, but we don't practice confession and absolution. I feel it's not up to me to forgive someone their perceived sins. Still, I think part of it comes with the job, because sometimes all people need and want is a listening ear and no judgments.”
“And you provide that,” Eva concluded.
“I try to,” Sigrid nodded.
“And how do you keep from being sucked dry? I mean, it sounds like you pour a lot of yourself into it. Isn't that draining?”
“Sometimes it is,” Sigrid confessed. “That's why I love my little house here, where I can retreat, be quiet and just be me. And if I had a really bad day and need to get rid of some pent up frustration I chop wood, go for a run or play one of those kick-butt video games in which I am the heroine who saves the world.”
Eva couldn't help but laughing. She recognized some of what the pastor was telling her and admired her for her honesty.
“Does that surprise you?” Sigrid wanted to know.
“Yes and no,” Eva admitted. “You have to forgive my ignorance when it comes to…to…clergy. I must have had some preconceived ideas of my own, because in my mind they are old men in long robes, who live in an overstuffed house, with a maid who comes daily to cook for them, while they visit people and drink wine.”
Sigrid raised her glass and sent Eva a playful wink.
“You've got the wine part right.”
“I guess I exaggerated, but it has a kernel of truth in it. I confess to having had a prejudice there. I apologize. I know better now.”
“I hope so,” Sigrid chuckled. “I'd hate to be compared to an old man.”
“You're not. Really,” Eva was quick to admit, which earned her a smile.
For a very brief moment they smiled at each other and all of a sudden Sigrid decided the long drive to Maine might not be as boring as she had expected. Eva was proving herself to be good company, which was an enormous relief, especially since they would be in close proximity for an undetermined amount of time.
“So, what is the plan for tomorrow?”
“I'd anticipated that question. Come here and I'll show you,” Eva said, flipping open her laptop. Sigrid obediently stood up and knelt next to Eva's recliner. The police woman' finger pointed at a part of the screen where Sigrid could read the plan for the next day.
“Charles is aware of that?” she asked softly. The previous ten minutes of conversation with Eva had managed to temporarily chase away all the fear and anxiety from her mind, but now reality came rushing back with such ferocity Sigrid felt almost breathless.
“He and I emailed back and forth, so, yes, he's aware,” Eva answered. She shot Sigrid a sideway glance. “Are you alright?”
“I'd like to say I am, but I'd be lying,” the pastor admitted with an audible quiver in her voice. “It feels like I'm dreaming. All of a sudden my life is turned upside down and things are not what I thought they were. It's all very confusing and frightening.” She raked her fingers through her hair and slowly shook her head. “I'm waiting to wake up from all of this.”
“I'm sorry,” Eva said and she meant it. “If I could fix all this, I would have done it already and put the bad guy behind bars. I'm afraid it's not that simple.” She looked at Sigrid and from this close, the pastor could see tiny golden flecks in the other woman's eyes. “All I can promise you is to do my best to keep you out of harm's way.”
Sigrid slowly nodded, trying not to look at the windows that only showed the darkness outside, that, at the moment, she felt was filled with evil.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
It had not been part of the plan, but he simply could not help himself, he had to go and look, if only to convince himself she had done what he had expected to. It wasn't time yet, although it was close. Soon he would execute the grand finale of the plan he was chosen for. It was something he had sacrificed everything for, but it would be so worth it.
“The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining,” he whispered while he carefully made his way around a fallen tree. A few more steps and he would be able to see the house. “The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining,” he repeated over and over again. “The darkness is…” Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks. Through the trees he could see the light in the living room was on.
“No,” he whispered. “She can't be. She can't be. That wasn't the plan. She was supposed to leave. The light….darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. There's light, but it can't be. It's wrong, all wrong. It's the wrong light,” he muttered, frantically searching his backpack for his binoculars. As he raised them to his eyes, he saw Sigrid stand up from a crouched position near the recliner. She emptied her glass of wine, which made him wince in disgust. She walked to the kitchen, her cat running out in front of her, but before she entered, she cast a look over her shoulder and he could see her lips move. He frowned and moves his binoculars to the left. It took all he had not to let out an angry yell when he noticed the pastor had company.
“It's that police woman,” he whispered. “She's there. What now? What now? The darkness is passing…” he started to recite again, rocking back and forth, with his arms wrapped around his middle. “She's not part of the plan, she's not. What now? What now?”
In spite of the freezing cold temperature, he stood there, up to his middle in snow, rocking back and forth, until he finally calmed down.
“I have to go and think. Look it up. Yes, I'll look it up. The answer is there for those who seek the truth. I'll find it. I'll find it.”
He turned around and for a brief moment the feint moonlight reflected off the snow, illuminating the hair peeking out from under his hat, the dark eyes and soft, clean-shaven skin of his face. The only thing that marred the almost female features was a small cut in his chin.
The weather was calm and there were no snowstorms or any kind of precipitation in the forecast when Sigrid drove Eva's car down to Concord , where the police woman's division was stationed. According to Eva she had to run in and quickly grab some ‘stuff' from work, as she called it and then needed to stop by her house to pack a few of her personal belongings before they headed to Maine.
She made Sigrid come into her office with her, ‘just in case' and true to her word, it only took her a few minutes to gather the things they needed, before they headed out again and continued on to Eva's house.
“Come on in,” Eva invited, getting out of the car and limping to her front door. She had been offered a pair of crutches but had politely, yet determinately declined. It was bad enough she had sprained her ankle. Using crutches would be adding insult to injury.
“Cute house,” Sigrid complimented, taking in the small cabin that was situated at the end of a dirt road in a suburb of Concord , the capital of New Hampshire .
“Thanks,” Eva replied, absent-mindedly. “It's nice and quiet here, but still very close to the city, which comes in handy when I'm called in at some ungo…some inconvenient time.”
“I's okay to say ungodly, Eva,” Sigrid chuckled. “I've heard worse, trust me, and used it myself, believe it or not. I might be a pastor, but I'm not a saint.”
“That's good to know,” Eva smiled before exiting the car. “Turn off the engine and come in. It might take a few minutes.” The police woman groaned when her injured foot touched the ground. When she saw that Sigrid wanted to say something she made a face and quickly limped to the small porch in front of the house. It was snow and ice free, which was a good thing, because the last thing Eva knew she needed, was to slip and fall. Again.
“Come in,” she gestured to the pastor who had followed her up the few steps. “Have a seat and make yourself at home. I shouldn't be long,” Eva promised, disappearing into the hallway that led to one of the two bedrooms.
Sigrid nodded, curiously looking around the living room. She slowly walked to a cozy looking chair and took a seat, taking in her surroundings with a small smile. The way the room was decorated fit Eva, Sigrid decided. It looked very functional, without being clinical. The floor was polished hardwood, covered with a colorful rug in the sitting area. There was a sleek looking computer on small desk in the corner, a couple of bookcases, a couch, chair and coffee table. There was no clutter, which Sigrid had not expected.
“I bet you're hardly ever home,” she mumbled, eying the books on the shelf. With appreciation she noticed a few books she liked as well and she made a mental note to remember that, just in case they ran out of things to talk about on their drive up to Maine .
Sigrid's eyes traveled to the only picture on the wall. It was a black-and-white photo of waves pounding a rocky coast under a dark sky. It was a very dramatic shot, conveying a wild beauty that drew the viewer into the picture. Even though its first impression was one of darkness, Sigrid couldn't help but admiring the composition and the raw power it exuded.
“A friend took that one, years ago,” a voice suddenly sounded behind her, startling Sigrid out of her thoughts.
“It's beautiful in a sort of wild way,” Sigrid replied, slowly turning to the police woman. She immediately noticed that Eva had changed into a pair of faded blue jeans and a thick, woolen sweater. She was carrying a duffel bag and had a backpack slug over her shoulder.
“That was fast,” Sigrid noticed and Eva nodded.
“I usually have a bag ready to go. It's an occupational hazard to be called out to all corners of the state on the weirdest days and times,' she explained. “That part of the job I will not miss,” she smiled. Before Sigrid could ask what parts of her job she would miss, Eva shouldered her bag and gestured to the door.
“Shall we go?”
“Do I have a choice?” Sigrid half-joked. Even though she had started to feel a little more comfortable around Eva Clemente, she still had a hard time accepting she had to leave her home and her life because someone was trying to hurt her.
“The available options are not in your favor,” Eva answered softly, but honestly. “I'm very sorry about that,” and Sigrid could tell she meant it.
“I am too,” the pastor sighed. “Alright, let's go, Inspector. I guess it could have been worse.” When Eva cast a questioning glance over her shoulder, Sigrid shrugged. “I could have been tossed into a witness protection program.”
“You watch too many police movies,” Eva replied drily and Sigrid chuckled.
To be continued….
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