Disclaimer: See Part 1
Charles Benoit looked at the screen in front of him and rubbed his tired eyes. He had not gotten a lot of sleep and suspected Eva had suffered the same fate, since he had found a few emails from her that she had written in the middle of the night.
“Good thing the pastor is driving,” he mumbled. “So, what do we have here?”
He had just received a report about the newspaper that was found on the bench in the church and his eyes scanned the concise, dry report. Before he could finish reading the last page, his phone rang and with a muttered curse he answered it.
“You beat me to it, again,” he complained. “You really should allow an old man his moments of glory, Eva. Besides, how come your Blackberry works on the road? Isn't service a little finicky?”
“Not in this city,” his partner answered, sticking to the agreement to not mention anything that could give away a clue as to where they were. “We're having a quick bite to eat at a gas station.”
“Anyone following you?”
“It doesn't look like it, but that doesn't mean a thing. We don't know if our murderer is only one person or more. I'd rather err on the side of caution. So, were you reading the report?”
“I was and truly hoped that, for a change, I could call you to tell you something you didn't know yet. I was hoping you were dozing in the car. Unless the pastor is a bad driver and you're suffering waves of anxiety and near-death experiences.”
“No, she's a good driver, actually,” Eva answered and Chuck could hear the smile in her voice. “I'll sleep later, when we're where we need to go. I'm sorry I can't follow this lead to Boston.”
“Does that mean you know this bar?” Chuck wanted to know.
“The ‘Dress ‘n Drag'? Yes, it's incredibly popular,” Eva answered. “Do you think the circled ad from the bar is something you want to follow up on right away?”
“What kind of bar is it?” Chuck wanted to know and he smiled when he heard Eva chuckle.
“Come on, partner, you're not that old! If you have to label it, it's a gay bar, although the general public is very mixed, just all gay-friendly. There's a drag show every Saturday night. It draws crowds from all over the place.” There was a brief silence. “I wonder if Michael Bell was a regular visitor.”
“He might have been, after all, he was wearing a dress.”
“Yes, he was, although that wasn't the normal, flamboyant drag queen style,” Eva mused. “It's possible someone wants us to think he frequented a place like the ‘Dress n Drag', just to point us in the wrong direction. Has his family been located yet?”
“He was an only child and his parents are both deceased. Apparently, he didn't have a lot of family. There is a cousin who works on an oil-drilling platform somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Sounds like a lonely existence,” Eva sighed. “Is there anything else? Something about friends? Work? The reason his apartment was totally cleared out?”
“I wish,” Chuck answered, scratching his skin. He hadn't taken the time to shave that morning and his face was becoming unbearably itchy. “His landlord had only met the guy once, when he just moved in, which was three years ago. He always paid his bills, never caused any trouble, didn't associate with any of his neighbors. The guy was a ghost, Eva.”
“There has to be something , somewhere,” was the frustrated answer.
“I'll leave it up to you to dig that up, while you're resting your foot,” Chuck decided. “You're better with all that internet snooping than I am. I'm too old and set in my ways. Hang in there, Eva. Let me know if there's anything new, alright? And make sure our pastor is taken care of.” He broke the connection and grinned, knowing that his last remark would have irked his partner. God, he was going to miss her after she left. Good thing his retirement was just a few months away. He would not have to break in a new partner, which was very fortunate, because compared to Eva Clemente nobody would be good enough.
‘Chez me' was only one of two local places to eat and was usually fairly busy around lunch time, even during the winter months. The owners, Claire and Bill Spencer, who had run the business after taking over from Bill's parents twenty years ago, had kept the place in the original style of the 50's, although modern conveniences like wireless internet access were present. Three elderly ladies, sitting in a corner near the front window were engrossed in something on the screen of a laptop.
“I don't understand,” Meg Jones muttered. “I thought everything and everybody could be noodled on this thing.”
“Googled, Meg, it's googled,” Betty Avery corrected her friend with a look over the rim of her glasses.
“Whatever,” Meg shrugged. “Noodled, googled, it's all the same to me. Anyway, where is the information we're looking for?”
“I'm not sure, ladies, but don't you think there's a reason Sigrid didn't tell us where she was going?” Grace Anderson, who went by Twitch, wondered, taking a sip from her coffee, while sending her friends an inquisitive look.
“Come on, Twitch. Don't be such a spoilsport. Something's up, something big and we need to know what.”
“Why?” Twitch asked reasonably.
“Because Sigrid is our friend. Her family is in Florida, so she needs our support,” Betty answered and Meg nodded.
“And looking up information about the Inspector helps, how?” Twitch wanted to know.
“It doesn't, but it would satisfy our curiosity,” Meg replied in all honesty, making Betty chuckle. “I say, all this worrying about private information on the internet is overrated. We can't even find a police person on it.”
“Maybe for good reason,” Twitch sighed. “I'm sure Eva Clemente wouldn't want every criminal she ever put behind bars to know where she lives. Anyway, maybe we're not doing it right.”
“I asked the kid from the gas station,” Betty muttered. “You'd think he'd know.”
“Jeremy Brothers' youngest, Jake.”
“Cute boy,” Meg nodded. “Has he started shaving yet? He's got such a baby-face, but then, so has his dad.”
“We're straying from the mission,” Betty sighed. “Maybe we're spelling her name wrong,” she suggested.
“I think we spelled it right,” Meg muttered. “I think we didn't expect to get more than five million ticks after we put her name in that noodle…google thing.”
“Hits, Meg,” Twitch automatically corrected.
“Whatever,” Meg shrugged. “By the time we finish reading through all that information, my body will already have turned to dust. I love Sigrid, but I don't plan on spending my last years on this planet finding this Inspector woman. There must be another way.”
“Like, maybe something really old-fashioned like calling the NH Major Crime unit in Concord and asking for her?”
“That might not be such a bad idea,” both Betty and Twitch admitted. “I bet we can find their phone number somewhere in that cyberspace thing.”
The three friends turned their attention back to the laptop again, unaware of the figure in the parked car across the road in the parking lot of the local grocery store, who had displayed more than normal interest in the actions of the friends.
Eva stared at the road in front of her. She was grateful for the lack of snow and ice, because it had allowed them to make good time. Soon they would pull into the roadside service plaza of Kennebunk where they would switch cars again. She suspected they were not being followed and tried not to feel foolish for being too careful.
“Are you tired?” she asked Sigrid, whose hands were still holding the steering wheel in a firm grip, although Eva had noticed the pastor had started blinking her eyes more and more.
“A little” Sigrid admitted with a small sigh. “I didn't get much sleep last night.”
“That doesn't surprise me,” Eva replied, having not slept at all. “Do you want a bit of a rest?”
“I'd like to be tough and say I'll be fine, but I really could use a bit of a rest. If I could only close my eyes for fifteen minutes or so, I know I'd feel a lot better.”
“Then we'll do that,” Eva promised.
“Are you sure?” Sigrid asked, risking a quick glance aside.
“I'm sure,” Eva smiled. “Do you see that dark-green SUV about four cars behind you?”
“I do,” Sigrid nodded, casting a look in the rearview mirror. “Is that one of your co-workers?”
“Benjamin Toussaint,” Eva replied. “He'll keep an eye on us until we arrive at our destination. He'll keep watch.”
“Has he been there all the time?” Sigrid wanted to know.
“No, only since Portsmouth. From Concord to Portsmouth it was Anne Wiskowski,” Eva explained. “She was driving a red Honda Civic.”
“I feel pretty stupid for not noticing them,” Sigrid muttered, after another look in the mirror. “You'd think that after yesterday I'd be more aware of my surroundings.”
“You're tired, Sigrid” Eva answered quietly. “So am I. That's why they're there.”
“But how did you know? You're not even driving.”
Eva held up her Blackberry, sending Sigrid a small grin.
“Cheater,” the pastor accused, but she was smiling.
“By the way, your friends are trying to track me down,” Eva said with a small smile. Deep down inside she had to give Sigrid's elderly friends credit for their protectiveness toward their young pastor.
“Did your Blackberry tell you that?” Sigrid wanted to know, relieved to see that the Kennebunk service plaza was only two miles away.
“It did,” Eva nodded. “With a little help from Chuck. What do you think? Should I call them?”
“I'm not sure if it's worry or curiosity. I told them this morning I couldn't say where I was going, only that I had to leave for a little while and that you knew about it.” Sigrid glanced at Eva and there was a small twinkle in her eyes. “I didn't want them to think I'm running from the law.”
“Good thinking,” Eva commented drily. “Maybe they're checking your story?”
“And you think I watch too many police shows,” Sigrid quipped, making Eva chuckle. “Am I allowed out of the car? I really could use a bathroom break and some coffee.”
“You're allowed,” Eva answered, looking forward to getting out of the car and stretching her body that was sore and stiff. Her ankle was still very painful and she was afraid she would have to relent and use the crutches that were in the back of the car. Sigrid had not asked Eva if she wanted to bring them, she had silently tossed them in the car, shooting the police woman a challenging look, which Eva had not responded to. Deep down inside she was laughing because the pastor was proving to be pretty feisty.
“Is it okay if I call Betty and the girls?” Sigrid asked after a brief silence, steering Eva's car off the Interstate, into a large parking area that was fairly deserted. “Thanks,” she said when she saw Eva nod.
According to the Inspector's instructions , she parked next to a car that was identical to the one she was driving and with a sigh she turned off the engine. She unbuckled the seatbelt and shot the police woman a questioning look.
“Do you want to use the crutches I tossed in the back?”
“I really don't want to, but I guess I should,” Eva relented with something that closely resembled a scowl.
“Just think of it this way; if someone tries to attack us you can whack them with it,” Sigrid suggested while getting out of the car.
“I'd just shoot them. Much easier,” Eva replied, opening the door to get out and missing the amused grin that crossed Sigrid's face. Without protest she accepted the crutches Sigrid handed her and in spite of her reluctance to use the aid to walk she sent Sigrid an appreciative smile.
“I can't help feeling I'm living a story right now,” Sigrid remarked when they walked across the parking lot towards the doors that would lead them into a large hall with several fast-food places and a Starbuck's. She opened the door for Eva and gestured the police woman to go inside, which the police woman did, but not after her eyes swept the parking lot.
“No unwanted followers?” Sigrid wanted to know.
“Not as far as I can tell,” Eva answered and she sounded relieved. She knew from experience it only took one mad person with crazy ideas to do something drastic like a drive-by shooting. Even though she knew the likelihood that she and Eva were being followed was very small, walking across the parking lot had made her feel vulnerable. She couldn't help wondering how she would protect Sigrid and herself being in the open like that, walking with the help of crutches.
As soon as they had stepped inside the building, Sigrid pointed to the left and Eva nodded. A bathroom break was a good idea.
“Wait for me,” she told Sigrid, before the pastor disappeared in a stall. She thought she heard her mutter: “Yes, mom,” and shook her head. Sigrid had been a good sport, she had to admit that. But then, how could she not be while her life might be in danger and it was Eva's assignment to keep her safe? Eva felt that, every now and then, to the police woman's amusement the pastor's rebellious streak surfaced. She couldn't blame the woman. Within a few hours her life had been turned upside down, forcing her even to leave her home and friends. Eva wondered if she would have taken it as well as Sigrid appeared to do. Probably not.
When she exited the stall and walked toward the row of sinks, Sigrid was already waiting for her. She was leaning against the wall with her hands stuffed inside her pockets, eying Eva with a pensive expression. Eva pumped some soap into the palm of her hand and started washing her hands. A look in the mirror showed her Sigrid was still studying her and she was just about to ask her what the pastor was thinking, when a woman walked into the restroom. Upon seeing Eva and Sigrid she halted. She only looked at the women for a very brief moment, but for Eva it was enough to move her body between the stranger and Sigrid and to notice there was room to move to the left, out of the immediate line of fire. The strange woman however gave them a curt nod and disappeared into a stall in the far corner. Only when the door had closed behind her, Eva noticed her wet, soapy hand had automatically moved to the gun she was wearing in a shoulder holster, underneath her jacket. Exhaling slowly, she withdrew her hand and reached out for a towel.
“Are you alright?” she asked Sigrid, noticing the pastor had turned a little paler than the worry and lack of sleep had already left her.
“It's…I saw that,” Sigrid breathed. “You were reaching for your gun and it…I…,” the pastor swallowed hard and moistened suddenly dry lips.
“Let's get out of here,” Eva suggested, grabbing her crutches from the spot where they were leaning against the wall. “We can talk over some coffee.”
Sigrid nodded and walked out in front of Eva, who was keenly aware of the fact that the strange woman had not left the stall yet.
“Let's get some coffee,” she told Sigrid as soon as they entered the food court. Silently they headed to a Starbuck's in the corner, where they ordered a large latte. Eva paid, waving Sigrid's objections away with a shrug and a smile and the pastor carried their hot beverages to a small table closest to the exit, where she sat down and waited for Eva to join her. The police woman was quietly talking into her phone, while her eyes were focused on the woman from the restroom, who had just walked out of the building.
“What did just happen?” Sigrid asked softly, when Eva sat in front of her, reaching out for her coffee.
“I asked Ben to track that woman' license plate,” Eva explained, sipping her coffee and immediately pulling a face because it was so hot it almost burnt her tongue.
“Why?” Sigrid asked.
“Gut feeling,” was the calm answer. “The way she looked at you when she walked into the restroom was a little suspicious.”
“So you were about to pull your gun,” the pastor stated with a small quiver in her voice.
“I was,” Eva admitted. “I can't take risks, Sigrid. We don't know who you're running from. Not yet anyway.”
Sigrid nodded and Eva was glad to see some of her color had returned to her face. She quietly sipped her coffee and it was clear to the police woman she was processing all the information and events.
“What if she just thought I'm cute and she wanted my phone number?” Sigrid asked, chuckling when Eva looked at her with wide eyes. “Relax, I'm just kidding,” she added with a soft laugh. “Although, I would be bummed if you'd get between me and a cute woman, just because you're carrying a gun,” she teased.
“Oh, ha, ha,” Eva shook her head, but she was smiling. “Is it your habit to pick up strangers?” she asked and Sigrid, who was just taking a sip, almost choked on her coffee.
“Oh, God, no!” she coughed, quickly putting down her cup. She coughed again and shot Eva an accusing look. She wiped her eyes and cleared her throat, letting out a laugh.
“I guess I deserved that, for teasing you,” she said. “And to answer your question: no, I don't pick up strangers.”
“I thought I'd ask, just in case. I'd hate to pull a gun on someone who's just checking you out,” the police woman shrugged, but there was a twinkle in her eyes and Sigrid laughed, grateful for the light banter. It helped her keep the anxiety at bay.
“Well, just in case, I'll be very careful. So, how far do we still have to go?”
“About two hours, or so,” Eva answered, eying her Blackberry as if she wanted it to ring.
“Are…is your family okay with me being there?” Sigrid asked, suddenly feeling a little insecure. “I mean, I hardly think you do this often, taking people home because they might be in danger.”
“First time,” Eva nodded. “And my family is very accepting. They won't ask any questions, because they trust me for having a reason for what I do.”
“It sounds like you have a good relationship with your parents,” Sigrid remarked.
“I do,” Eva answered with a smile that turned her eyes a lighter shade of green. It was the first time Sigrid had seen her face light up like that and the pastor couldn't help admiring how it softened the usual serious features.
“Do you have any siblings?” Sigrid wanted to keep the conversation going, not just to see that smile again, but also because it gave her some sense of normalcy, to sit down, have coffee and chat with someone.
“I have two brothers and two sisters,” Eva answered, smiling when she saw Sigrid's eyes widen. “I'm the youngest one.”
“Do they all live near?” Sigrid wanted to know, feeling slightly nervous. For some strange reason she felt intimidated enough by meeting Eva's parents, but meeting four siblings as well would make it even worse. She usually didn't shy away from meeting new people, but this time it was different. She was on the run and still felt really silly about it and she was not supposed to tell anyone the real reason for coming to Maine, including the Clemente family.
“I'm the only one who lives far away from home,” Eva said with a sigh. “It's never been a problem for me, but my mother makes sure I'll never forget how hard it is to not have me there.” The Inspector made a face and let out a soft laugh. “I guess I'm the black sheep of the family.”
“Are you the only one in law enforcement?”
“No, one of my brothers, Felix, is with the local police department, the other one, Leon is a fisherman, like my dad. He's also a sculptor, but it's hard to make a living doing that, so he helps dad on the boat. His wife, Connie, works at the local library.”
“What about your sisters?” Sigrid asked, wondering if any of Eva's siblings would be like the Inspector. She hoped they would.
“Leah is the oldest. She's married to David Fisher and has four kids, three girls and a baby boy, who is worshipped by his sisters. The poor kid will grow up with four mothers.” Eva chuckled. “Anyway, Leah is a stay-at-home-mom. My other sister, Iris, is less than two years older than I am. She's married to her college sweetheart, Jesse Holbrooke, and they have two year old twins; a boy and a girl. Iris used to be a full-time art teacher, but resigned when the twins were born. Now she teaches a few workshops during the summer, while Jesse practices law.” Eva cast a look at Sigrid's face and suppressed a smile. It was obvious the pastor was slightly intimidated by the amount of family members she was going to meet.
“You'll be fine,” she tried to reassure the pastor. “They will all accept the fact that you're there, no questions asked.”
“It makes for a lot of people,” Sigrid sighed, pushing her hair back from her forehead, a gesture Eva had already come to know as one of tension. “Do your brothers have children?
“Leon and Connie have a boy and Felix has two boys and a girl.”
“What's his wife's name?”
“Lisa,” Eva answered softly. “She died a few years ago, killed by a drunken driver.”
“Oh, Eva, I'm so sorry,” Sigrid responded, reaching out and briefly covering the Inspector's hand with her own in a spontaneous gesture of comfort. “That must have been incredibly hard.”
“It was and still is,” Eva nodded, watching Sigrid's warm hand leave hers. “The children were in the car with her and especially little Maura was badly injured. She made it though, which was a miracle.”
“Poor baby,” Sigrid whispered.
There was a brief silence and just as Eva was about to speak again, her phone started ringing. She cast a look at the display and quickly answered the call.
“Took you long enough,” she greeted the person on the other side drily. Sigrid watched the expression on the police woman's face change from impatience, to surprise to confusion and finally keen interest. “Very interesting, Ben,” she said. “Can you send that to me in a file? Sure. Thanks a lot. Good work.”
“What is it?” Sigrid asked as soon as Eva put her phone back on the table.
“Not here,” Eva answered quietly. “We'll talk in the car.”
Sigrid nodded slowly and felt reality settle back on her shoulders; its weight suddenly almost too much to bear.
“Are you alright?” Eva asked with concern.
“Yes. No. Oh, I don't know,” Sigrid answered with a sigh. “For a few moments I was able to forget why I'm here. All of a sudden I remember,” she ended with a watery smile. “I guess it's time to move on? No nap?”
“I'm sorry. I really am,” Eva spoke and Sigrid could tell the Inspector meant it.
“It's okay. I'm sure I'll be able to drive into a reasonable straight line for another two hours or so. The coffee sure helps.”
“Let's grab something to eat,” Eva said, pushing back her chair and standing up.
“Don't worry about me, I'm not hungry,” Sigrid answered.
“You need to eat,” Eva insisted. “Let's grab some sandwiches. You can nibble on that while you drive,” she suggested.
Less than ten minutes later they were back on the road, heading north in a silver-colored Toyota RAV with Maine license plates that had been left for them by a fellow police officer. Their luggage was stored in the trunk. It had been Eva's theory that switching cars would be easier if they would park the car they had driven to the service plaza next to one that was identical. Anyone following them would most likely keep an eye on both cars, to make sure they'd follow the right one. In the meantime, Eva and Sigrid would leave the building through the other exit and get in a different car. Benjamin Toussaint would wait until a few more cars had left the parking area and follow them from a distance.
The first few minutes back on the road were spent in silence. Nervously, Sigrid kept checking the rearview mirror, not really knowing what she expected to see, but she let out a sigh of relief when, in the distance she noticed a dark-green SUV.
“Do you think it worked?” she asked Eva, obediently accepting half of an oatmeal-raisin cookie that Eva had bought.
“I'm not sure we were being followed in the first place, but yeah, if we were, this might have thrown them off,” Eva replied.
“So, what was that phone call about, or can't you tell?”
“I can and I will,” Eva answered with a small smile.”I had that license plate checked and surprise number one is that it wasn't easy to do,” Eva explained. “Usually we enter the number in the database and the information pops up. Ben had to do some digging, but finally traced ownership of the car to Boston.” Eva slowly exhaled and glanced aside, noticing that Sigrid had her eyes on the road and both hands firmly on the steering wheel. “The owner of the car is Senator Richards.”
“From Massachusetts?” Sigrid asked, seeing Eva nod. “I thought Senator Richards was a man?”
“He is,” Eva replied.
“So, was that his…wife?” Sigrid wanted to know.
“I had a feeling that would be the answer,” Sigrid sighed, casting a quick glance sideways at Eva, who was staring at the road ahead with a pensive expression. “So, what does this woman in the senator's car have to do with us?”
“I don't know yet,” Eva answered calmly. “But when she walked into the bathroom she recognized you and she was surprised to see you.”
“But I'd never seen that woman before,” Sigrid objected.
“And that's exactly what I don't like about this,” Eva explained, twirling her blackberry between her fingers. “With everything that has happened during the last few days I'm not willing to take any chances.” The policewoman was silent for a few moments. “Have you ever had that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that there is something you need to remember and you can't?” Seeing Sigrid nod, Eva continued. “There's something about this woman I know, but I can't remember.”
“Then maybe it's you she recognized?”
“I doubt it,” Eva replied with a sigh. “She looked at you, not me.”
As soon as she had left the service plaza at Kennebunk she had driven too fast, she knew that, but her anxiety level had grown by the second. Every moment she expected to see a police cruiser in her mirror, with flashing lights, forcing her to stop. It had not happened though and with relief she had taken the next exit off the highway.
The dark woman in the bathroom had looked straight at her and she was sure she had seen her hand move toward her jacket, most likely toward her gun. Running into the pastor and her most likely police protector had not been her plan. But what a lucky coincidence, because now she could tell them the woman was in Maine. Thirty-five thousand square miles to hide, but at least it was a start.
“Wonderful,” she sighed, flipping open her phone and impatiently punching in a number.
“Guess who I ran into,” was the first thing she said when the phone was answered.
What followed was a long silence in which she nervously bit her lip.
A long silence.
“Maine. At the service plaza near Kennebunkport.”
“That is good news, very good, indeed. Did you talk to her?”
“No, I didn't. I ran into her and some policewoman, at least that's what I think she is, in the bathroom. I'm afraid I was so surprised to see her I stared at her a little too long. The damn police woman started to reach for her gun”
“Do you think she recognized you?”
“No, it didn't seem like it. Besides, my face is not very well-known.”
“Not yet, anyway,” was the answer and she could hear the chuckle. “Are you still near them?”
“Are you nuts? Of course not! That police woman could easily have pulled a gun on me. Do you think I want to be shot?”
“For what? Looking at somebody?” was the snorted reply. “Last time I checked this was a free country.”
“With a lot of guns and a lot of ill-tempered people,” she replied wryly.
“Well, it definitely is worth looking into, though. Are you heading back this way?”
“I am now.”
“Good. I'll see you in a few hours.”
Sigrid rapidly blinked her eyes that felt dry from sleep. The road in front of her seemed never-ending and she was so tired she could cry. The last hour or so Eva had been very quiet and every time Sigrid cast a quick look aside, the Inspector was staring out of the window with a brooding expression on her face. The only time she spoke was when she gave the blonde driving directions.
“Take a right at the next light,” Eva spoke in a soft voice and Sigrid nodded. Normally, she would have enjoyed the ride through Maine with its quaint little villages, forests, salt marshes and rugged coastline, but at present the only thing she cared about was getting to their destination in one piece. She could not remember a time she had been so tired. Physically and emotionally, she was completely drained and all she wanted was to find a reasonable soft spot somewhere where she could lay down and close her burning eyes.
“We're almost there,” Eva's soft voice interrupted Sigrid's thoughts. “Twenty minutes.”
“This road is a dead-end,” Sigrid replied with a frown.
“There's an old fisherman's house and a dock,” Eva explained. “We'll leave the car there.”
“And take a boat?” Sigrid asked in a tired voice.
“Just to make sure to shake off anyone who's on our tail,” Eva explained while pointing at a small area for Sigrid to park the car. The spot was invisible from the road and if Eva had not been with her, Sigrid would have felt intimidated by the isolation the area provided.
“I sure hope you have a yacht waiting,” Sigrid sighed, opening the door and immediately feeling the cold wind bite her skin.
“I'm sorry, no yacht, just a lobster boat,” Eva apologized. “My brother Leon is here to pick us up.” Eva sent Sigrid a tired smile. “For what it's worth, I think you did a great job today. Thank you for driving and getting us here in one piece. I know you're exhausted.”
“Thank you and yes, I don't think I've ever felt this tired before.”
“Let's go then. This is going to be the last leg of the journey, I promise.”
Sigrid opened the trunk and started lifting her duffel bag, when all of a sudden a large hand gently pushed hers aside and grabbed the bag. Another hand grabbed Eva's and when Sigrid's tired eyes looked up it was in a male copy of Eva Clemente's features.
“You must be Leon,” she said with a tired smile.
“The one and only,” he answered, flashing her a boyish smile. “I man my sister's personal water taxi. Follow me, ladies, we'll take care of introductions and pleasantries later. Let's get out of this cold wind first.”
“Thanks, Leon,” Sigrid sighed, grateful that from now on she had only to make sure she would put one foot in front of the other and not fall in the cold water. She could leave the driving up to someone else.
With long legs Leon walked down the dock, jumped on board, stowed the bags and was back on the dock again before Eva and Sigrid were halfway. He gallantly offered Sigrid his hand and helped her on board, doing the same thing for his sister. But as soon as Eva was standing on the deck, he wrapped his arms around her to give her a warm hug.
“It's good to see you, Eva. You look beat.”
“I am,” Eva smiled, playfully ruffling her brother's hair before kissing his cheek. “Thanks for doing this.”
“Anytime,” Leon smiled. “Get inside, girls, it's warmer than up here.”
“Let's get out of the wind,” Eva suggested, pointing to a small door that lead to a cabin. Sigrid nodded and followed the police woman into a small cabin with a tiny galley, miniature stove and a table with two benches. While walking she leaned against the wall for support, not used to the gently rocking surface underneath her feet. She gratefully sank down on the bench, happy to be out of the wind.
“Are you alright?” Eva asked, casting a look at the pale face of the woman who was sitting across from her.
“Just tired,” Sigrid mumbled, rubbing her sore, burning eyes.
“Hang in there, in less than thirty minutes we'll be home. We'll just have to go around the point.” She cast Sigrid a worried look. “The bay is a little choppy right now. Will you be okay?”
“Now she asks me if I get seasick,” Sigrid sighed with a tired chuckle. “I honestly don't know, Eva. I have never tried my sea legs before. But if I get sick, I'll let you know.”
“There's a window right behind you,” Eva deadpanned and Sigrid smiled.
“I'll keep that in mind. How is your foot?”
“Okay,” Eva shrugged, not at all willing to admit the throbbing in her ankle was painful enough for her to think longingly about an icepack to put on it.
“Liar,” Sigrid mumbled, which earned her a tired smile. She closed her eyes and put her head on her arms that were resting on the table. She only wanted to close them for a moment, to ease the burning, but the next thing she knew was a hand gently shaking her shoulder, waking her from slumber.
“We're here, Sigrid,” Eva's voice sounded soft and tired.
Slowly, Sigrid lofted her head, feeling incredibly groggy.
“I guess I fell asleep,” she croaked, moistening dry lips. “Wow, I'm sorry about that.”
“Don't be,” Eva shook her head. “You're tired. You only need to wake up long enough to walk down the dock, across the yard and into the house. There's a bed waiting for you.”
“Oh, a bed,” Sigrid groaned. “Sounds like heaven.”
“You should know,” Eva couldn't help saying and Sigrid let out a tired chuckle.
“Sorry, that just slipped out,” Eva apologized.
“No problem, it was funny,” Sigrid replied, handing Eva her crutches.
The women entered the deck where Leon welcomed them with a warm smile. He helped them both off the boat, before grabbing their bags and following them down the dock.
“Wasn't there supposed to be a cat coming with you as well?” he asked, casting a look at his sister who was navigating a few uneven wooden boards on her crutches.
“The cat's coming later,” she answered. “We changed cars a couple of times and that would have been difficult with a cat to worry about. One of my coworkers will drop her off in the next couple of days.”
“Okay, good,” Leon nodded. “I'd hate to think about the poor thing being alone.”
“You are your mother's son,” Eva grinned, casting a look at Sigrid who sent Leon a grateful smile.
“We can't all be heartless, like you,” Leon teased.
Eva stopped dead in her tracks and turned around so she could look at him.
“You're lucky I'm on crutches.”
“I know,” Leon nodded with a big grin. “If you hadn't been I'd be in the water right now.”
“As long as you remember that,” Eva growled, but there was a twinkle in her eyes. “And for the record; I am not heartless.”
“Just realistic,” Leon nodded. “After poor Sigrid here has had a good sleep, I'll tell her a few of your realistic encounters with some of the local critters.”
“Somehow I should have expected that,” Eva sighed, continuing her walk. She stepped off the dock, closely followed by Sigrid who had her coat wrapped tightly around her body, trying to fend off the cold wind and followed a path that was leading up to a white house with dark green shutters and a large, wrap-around porch, its wood faded to a dull grey. A few colorful buoys were hanging off the railing and underneath the porch some lobster cages were stacked.
Sigrid's tired eyes took in the surroundings and suddenly she understood why Eva had arranged for them to be picked up by boat. Tall trees in the front shielded the house from view, so no-one would have been able to see them enter, unless they had been on the water and Sigrid had not seen any other boat.
She was so deep in thought, she had not noticed that Eva had stopped and only a quick hand on her shoulder prevented her from plowing into the other woman.
“God, I'm sorry,” she apologized, grabbing Eva's arm. “Are you alright?”
“I'm fine,” Eva frowned. “You look like you're asleep on your feet.”
“Almost,” Sigrid mumbled, pushing a strand of hair from her forehead.
“You can crawl into bed in a few minutes, I promise,” Eva smiled, withdrawing her hand from Sigrid's shoulder, but not after she had given it an encouraging squeeze. “Come on, we'll take the door into the kitchen and…”
Eva could not finish her sentence, because the kitchen door was opened and a tall, slender woman appeared. Her hair that used to be red was streaked with white and her friendly, round face was sprinkled with freckles.
“Eva,” she exclaimed, folding the Inspector into a hug. “Oh, honey, it's so good to see you. What did you do to your foot?”
“Hi, mom,” Eva replied, slowly extracting herself from the warm embrace. “Just sprained my ankle, that's all.”
“Did you have it looked at?” Agnes Clemente asked with a worried frown.
“Sigrid looked at it, she's an EMT,” Eva explained, quickly taking the opportunity to change the subject. “Mom, this is Sigrid Meyers,” she introduced the sleepy-eyed blonde.
“Hello, Sigrid, it's nice to meet you,” Agnes smiled warmly. “Please, come in, it's nice and warm inside.” She gently grabbed hold of the pastor and led her inside the house. Sigrid let out a happy sigh when she felt the warm air inside the kitchen touch the cold skin of her face.
“Thank you, Mrs. Clemente,” Sigrid smiled.
“Please, call me Agnes,” Eva's mother replied. “Here, let me take your coat. Would you like something to eat or drink? Eva?”
Agnes Clemente turned to her daughter who was shrugging off her own coat, dropping it in her brother's extended hand.
“Not for me, mom, all I want is a shower and then a nap. A long one,” she added with a sigh. “What about you Sigrid?”
“Bed, definitely,” the blonde answered, suppressing a yawn.
“The off to bed it is, with both of you. We'll talk and visit later. Eva, show Sigrid where she can find towels and such. I put you up in the backroom.”
“Thanks, mom,” Eva leaned in and kissed her mother on the cheek, patted her brother's head and gestured Sigrid to follow her, which the blonde did after an apologizing smile to her hostess.
“It's alright, dear,” Agnes responded to the silent apology. “We understand. Have a good sleep.”
“Thank you,” Sigrid smiled, following Eva out of the kitchen, into a hallway. The Inspector silently crossed the hallway and started climbing a set of steep stairs, using the railing to pull herself up. Sigrid had no eyes for the upstairs hallway, with its many doors and the gorgeous view out over the bay. All she could think of was to crawl into bed, any bed, close her eyes and go to sleep. Automatically following Eva, she entered a room, barely noticing the two double beds, desk, bookcases and open door to a bathroom.
“Pick a bed,” Eva said with a tired smile.
“Oh, I don't care,” Sigrid sighed. “I just want to brush my teeth and crawl in.”
“Go for it,” Eva replied, grabbing the bag that Leon had carried upstairs for her and reaching for her laptop. “I'll check in with Chuck first.”
Sigrid nodded while yawning, grabbed her toiletries and a shirt to sleep in and disappeared into the bathroom. In the meantime, Eva had booted up her laptop and was logging into the secured website that contained her email. Her eyes scanned the subject lines of the various emails. Nothing seemed to be too urgent, but before going to sleep for a while she wanted to read an update from Chuck.
“Wow, that was fast,” she mumbled when she read what Chuck had found out about the death of some of Sigrid's friends. She quickly read the report and was relieved to find out that Melinda Jacobs, Sigrid's friend had died of a congenital heart defect. There had been no traces of toxins in her system, or any signs of violence. No foul play. Devon Brown, the other friend had been hit by a car while crossing a road in dark, rainy conditions. Those conditions, combined with a motorist who had consumed a little too much alcohol and whose reflexes were slower than usual had led to the accident. The driver had been an elderly man, who had passed away six months after the accident.
Eva rubbed her tired eyes and closed the laptop. There was so much pain and sadness out in the world. And so much of it was brought on by bad decisions. Her eyes traveled to a familiar photo on the wall. Her family knew about tragedies like that. It had caused wounds that would never completely heal.
Eva looked up when Sigrid entered the bedroom, clad in an oversized t-shirt that almost reached her knees. A pair of tired blue eyes looked her way and Eva smiled.
“Crawl in and go to sleep,” she encouraged the pastor. “I'll have a shower and will do the same.”
“I'd be happy to,” Sigrid sighed. “Thanks, Eva.”
Sigrid pulled back the heavy quilt that was covering the bed, crawled between the clean, cool sheets, let out a sigh of contentment and, to Eva's amusement she was asleep in seconds. Curled up on her side, fast asleep, Sigrid Meyers looked so incredibly young it made Eva shake her head in amazement.
“There are people who'd be willing to pay a lot of money to be able to look like that,” she muttered, slowly getting up from the edge of the bed. Stretching to her full five foot nine, Eva felt the tired muscles in her back pull and she winced, realizing a hot shower would be good, painful ankle or not. She grabbed a clean shirt, knowing she would find anything else she'd need in the bathroom and headed for the shower.
“Okay, we're obviously not getting anywhere with this,” Meg Jones said with a frustrated groan, while putting down the phone. “Charles Benoit is a very charming man, but he refused to tell me where Sigrid went or how to reach the Inspector.”
“He's just doing his job, I suppose,” Betty mumbled, staring at the cup of tea that was sitting in front of her. The three of them were in Betty's kitchen, trying to figure out what exactly was going on.
“She's on the run, our Sigrid, that's clear,” Twitch concluded. “What we don't know is if the Inspector is with her, or if the Inspector is chasing after her.”
“With her,” both Betty and Meg said at the same time.
“Something happened yesterday that made the Inspector take our pastor away from here and I bet it's for her own protection,” Betty said with conviction.
“If that's the case then maybe we should focus on why,” Twitch suggested. “Let's assume Sigrid had to leave, because she's not safe here, or something. The Inspector is with her, so she's in good hands.” Twitch waited a moment, wanting to be sure she had the full attention of her friends. “What we could do, as her friends who want to help, is to find out why she left. What happened? Who is threatening her and why?”
“That's all very noble of you, Twitch,” Meg Jones replied with a sigh, “but we're not the police. Don't you think they'd be trying to figure out these things as well?”
“Of course, but they can do only so much,” Twitch stated. “Besides, girls, our police force never deals with anything like this. And with all due respect, I don't believe they have the appropriate skills to get the facts on the table. No, it's up to us,” she said, grabbing her purse and pulling out a notepad and pencil. “Let's make a list of people we need to talk to and things we need to investigate.”
“Twitch, I'd hate to bring this to you, but we're not Charlie's Angels.”
“I know that,” Twitch laughed. “They had the looks, but we have the brains.” She leaned across the table and unconsciously lowered her voice. “Listen, we can do this, I know we can. All we have to do is ask the right people the right questions. And we'll make a list, so we can be selective.”
“You're nuts,” Betty responded, but she didn't sound convinced. “How can we compete with all those young people and all that technology they're using?”
“Simple, we have more experience and more wits. We're ‘old people' and most of the town folk know and respect us. Let's use that in our advantage.”
“Abuse is more like it,” Meg couldn't help responding, but Twitch' idea started to sound appealing. “But, if we can help Sigrid in any way, I think we should.” She took a deep breath and nodded. “I'm in.”
“I guess I'm too,” Betty sighed. “Someone will have to keep an eye on you two old fools.”
“I knew you'd see it my way,” Twitch said with a wide grin. “Now, let's make that list and then get ready.”
“Get ready for what?”
“To visit the pastor's house.”
“But Twitch, she isn't home and…wouldn't that…are you suggesting we'd break in?” Meg gasped.
“No, we visit,” Twitch send her friends a smug smile. “I know where she keeps the spare key.”
To be continued in part 6
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