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Copyright 2018 Katherine Olafson and Richard Koreen

Smashwords Edition

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of Katherine Olafson and Richard Koreen and may not be redistributed. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favourite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locales and incidents are either products of the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual settings, events or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover art, formatting, layout and design

by Richard Koreen

image sources:

cover - beach scene: 2344711

We sincerely thank Victor Penner, Val Perry, Dave LeBlanc and Paul LaMotte who advised us concerning medical, legal, and police procedural and cultural matters. Any errors in these disciplines that appear in this book are ours alone.

We are also indebted to our readers Diane Koreen, Jean Lyon, Brent Oliver, Sigrid Woltzen, Bill Martin, John Burstow, and Joanne Pettis who perused our formative work and gave excellent feedback.

This book is dedicated to our patient spouses, Diane and Brian

Chapter One : Winnipeg 1985

It's August and mowing his lawn is part of Mr Peterson's Saturday. The mower's muffled roar echoes along the street of suburban homes. His son Bobby sits on the steps, watching. At the corner, Jerald Anderson is proudly hosing off his new 1985 Chrysler LeBaron GTS. The Turner kids can be heard over the mower, hooting and yelling their way through a ball game on their front lawn. And across the street, Mrs Perkins stands with hands on hips, supervising life from her living room window. A Yellow Cab turns onto Oak Street and rolls to a stop. A shapely leg emerges and an attractive woman slowly exits. She adjusts her skirt, runs her fingers through her blonde hair and waits. The cabbie takes her suitcase out of the trunk and places it on the curb.

"Thank you."

"More than welcomeAlways a pleasure."

"And this is for you." She holds up a ten dollar tip.

Now that's a classy, gorgeous woman. "As I said, always a pleasure. Thank you." What a body.

She watches the cab drive away, then pulls her suitcase up the sidewalk, the clattering wheels more felt than heard over the lawnmower next door. She sees the postman walking up her neighbour's walk, sorting mail. She stops to look at one of her prized Morden Blush rose bushes, inhales the perfume, smiles and pulls off an offending leaf.

"Yoo-hoo, Sigga." Helen Gruber calls as she hurries across the street clutching a parcel.

Sigga Johnson waves to acknowledge she hears and continues to her front door. She turns the key in the lock, pushes the door open, and stands stalk still staring straight ahead. Her jaw drops. Oh my God, his socks! His socks! Jason's bloated body dangles from the second floor landing, his tongue protrudes and his eyes bulge grotesquely. His bowels have released and the stench is horrendous. Sigga remains focussed. His socks don't match.

Chattering all the way, Helen rushes up the sidewalk as Sigga Johnson collapses. Startled, Helen hesitates, stoops to look closer and the horrific odour assaults her. She looks into the house and steps back screaming, steadies herself, and runs back down the sidewalk into the arms of the postman.

Mr Peterson turns off his mower and runs to help. The postman passes the still screaming woman to him, then turns toward the collapsed woman in the doorway, takes in the scene and yells at Bobby, “Call 911, ambulance and police.”

Screaming! All eyes turn.

The Turner kids run indoors to get their mom. The screaming continues. Mrs Perkins is already at the Johnson's. Jerald has turned off his hose and is coiling it. Neighbours' doors are opening. They gather in a horseshoe around the Johnson sidewalk.

Helen yells for her son, "Lou."

He pushes to the front, takes his still sobbing mother from Mr Peterson and helps her back through the crowd onto the boulevard.

Minutes later the rescue ambulance and patrol car pull up simultaneously. The crowd presses as the emergency personnel head up the sidewalk.

A police constable asks, "Who called this in?"

The postman steps forward. "I did. In my opinion the man is dead."

"Who discovered the body?"

Clearing his throat the postman says, "I think the collapsed woman up there."

The constable faces the crowd. "Okay, if you will all wait here, another officer will take down your information."

The police detective car pulls up and the constable updates the two investigators.

At the head of the sidewalk one of the EMTs looks up and says, "Hey Boychuk. Pretty sure she's fainted. We'll take her to the ambulance."

The detective replies, "Let our photographer get pics of how she's lying there. Don't let anyone talk to her before one of us. Anyone know how long 'til the ME gets here?"

The EMT shrugs. "Could be fifteen minutes if we're lucky."

They step back and the police photographer records the scene.

Detective Boychuk steps around the EMT team at the front door. Taking out his handkerchief, he covers his mouth and nose and steps into the living room. God this stinks. Definitely hanged, could be suicide, or stagedchair, rope, all the pieces fit, maybe too well. He takes out a tape and measures how far the body's feet are off the floor, then walks up the stairs and examines the rope on the railing. He looks into a bedroom. Master by the look of it, unmade bed, towels, looks like someone had a shower. No sign of struggle.

Detective Smith comes up behind him. "More uniforms are here. I opened some windows. Looks pretty straightforward, right? I'll nose around a bit."

Shortly, he rejoins Detective Boychuk carrying an evidence bag. "Evan, empty valium prescription, looks like it's the missus'. Probably nothing. Strange though. Would you have a shower and bother dressing if you're gonna off yourself?"

A commotion downstairs indicates the coroner has arrived.

"Hi Doc," Detective Boychuk says as they walk down the stairs. The medical examiner mumbles something and the detectives grin. "We'll be right back, gonna check the basement."

Ten minutes later the detectives are back with the ME.

Detective Boychuk asks, "So wha'd'ya think, Doc?"

"Time of death at least 24 hours ago, likely late Thursday or early Friday. No sign of a struggle. No sign his hands or feet have been bound. No indications of foul play. You'll have my official report in a few days."

Detective Smith shows him the prescription bottle.

"Okay Brad. Will check for that."

"Thanks Doc."

Detective Boychuk turns to the photographer, indicates the morbid scene with a slow wave and asks, "You got enough pictures?" The police photographer nods. He looks at the EMT team and says, "It's okay to remove the body to the morgue."

He turns to his partner. "Brad, let's go see about the widow."

Outside, the uniforms have taped off the area and the now doubled crowd is contained on the boulevard. Detective Smith motions with both hands at the crowd and says, "You can all go home now. Nothing more to see here. The Emergency Medical Technicians will finish up. No questions at this time." No one moves. He shrugs his shoulders and joins Detective Boychuk heading over to the rescue ambulance.

Sigga Johnson is sitting in the back with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. As the detectives approach, one of the EMTs stops them. "You're not getting anything out of her now, guys. She's totally unresponsive."

Detective Boychuk sidesteps him and says, "I'm Detective Evan Boychuk and this is my partner Brad Smith. We have some questions for you, Mrs Johnson."

Sigga stares straight ahead.

Detective Boychuk tries again. "Mrs Johnson." He waves one hand in front of her face. He turns to Detective Smith and shrugs. "I guess we'll get her at the hospital later." He turns to the EMTs. "Okay guys, see you at Emergency. I don't want anyone talking to her until we get there."

The detectives pull in just behind them at the hospital. They spend a couple of hours cooling their heels waiting for permission to question Mrs Johnson. Finally, they post a uniform outside her door and promise to return in the morning.

The next morning they meet the doctor as he's leaving her room. "She's heavily sedated. You can probably get simple information, just don't ask her to think. Don't stay long guys, and take it slow and easy with her. Don't upset her."

The two detectives enter the room and approach the bed. Sigga is lying very still but her eyes are open. Her hair is pulled back in a pony tail and her face freshly cleaned. Her designer outfit has been replaced by a hospital gown.

She's still attractive. Amazing. "Mrs Johnson, I'm Detective Evan Boychuk and this is Detective Brad Smith. We're very sorry for your loss but we need a few questions answered."

Slowly, Sigga turns her head to look at the two men. She seems to have trouble focusing on them, but finally nods her head.

Detective Smith opens his notepad and Detective Boychuk asks, "That's good. We need your help. Has your husband seemed depressed lately?"

"Not really." Stopping for a moment, Sigga offers, "Well sort of hard to tell. He'swas not that happy a man."

"Was he having any trouble lately?"

"Not that I know." Again hesitating, she adds, "He really didn't share much with me."

"Is there anyone we can talk to, a close friend perhaps?"

"Jason didn't have any close friends."

"Did you have any children?"

"No, he didn't want any. He has a daughter, Bethany, from a previous marriage but they're estranged and I don't know how to get hold of her." Sigga closes her eyes and weakly says, "I never met Bethany. It wasn't allowed." Her forehead furrows.

The doctor steps in, and noticing that his patient is in some distress, stops the interview. "Okay fellows, that's enough for today."

The two detectives take the ME's report to the head of the Homicide Unit. Detective Boychuk starts, "Inspector Nolan, the coroner says 'suicide' in the Jason Johnson case. Time of death most likely late Thursday the 15th."

"Okay boys, close the case and move on."

Detective Boychuk looks at Smith who nods, encouraging him to continue. "Well, we aren't convinced yet that it's a suicide, Sir."

The Inspector looks at Boychuk and then at Smith. Detective Smith says, "Can't put my finger on it but we just wonder why a guy would shower and get dressed before he hangs himself. We found an empty Valium bottle but there was none in his system. We talked to some co-workers and it seems like the guy had a thing about medication, wouldn't take anyfinding the pill bottle just seemed fishy. We thought someone could have given it to him to make him easier to handle."

The Inspector sits back and folds his arms. He thinks a moment, then asks, "What about the widow?"

Detective Boychuk answers, "Well, she's about five foot four and weighs maybe a hundred twenty pounds. There is no way she lifted a six three, two hundred fifty pound man over that banister, or even onto the chair on the first floor. She can't have done it herself. We've also been tryin' to find the deceased's daughter Bethany, and haven't had any luck yet."

"Hmmm. Well. Okay, take another three days. Look into the wife's finances. Does she have a boyfriend? Check out her movements. And we will see. Everything points to suicide, guys. People have funny reasons for things. As for the shower, maybe the guy was a neat freak."

On their way back to their desks, Evan says, "Three days, not long. You arrange for a few constables to interview the neighbours, review their notes and we'll reinterview anyone interesting. I'll see what help I can get from forensics. They owe me a few. Plan on late nights for the rest of the week. Hope we pull this one out of the fire."

Three days fly by. On Friday morning Detective Boychuk meets his partner on the way to their car. "Brad. Got this in my box this morning. From Nolan. All it says is, 'It's the third day.' That's it. Our time's up and we don't have a hell of a lot."

"Well Evan, we've got the rest of today. I've gone through the constable notes from the neighbourhood interviews. Not too revealing. The only interesting comment was from Peterson, the neighbour on the north side. Said he once heard an argument between Jason and Sigga. But only once and the window slammed closed. He really didn't hear anything." Brad Smith rubs his forehead and continues, "Pretty straight forward really, Peterson says she's a nice lady, always polite but doesn't talk much."

Evan Boychuk nods and reads down the list of other interview comments,

"…nice, friendlyhusband's an idiota looker but never gave me the come-on if you know what I meankept herself to herselfcan't put my finger on it but she seemed afraid of her husbandhusband's a jackass" Evan pauses then continues, "Well, seems the other neighbours all agree with Peterson. The husband's an idiot and she's good looking and really nice. Useless. But we've got our interviews from the church and all the forensics. Did you know Nolan opened it as a murder to get us the extra time?"

Brad says, "Yeah, and now we owe him big. But I agree with you, there's something wrong here. If we can get more time I'm sure we'll find the key. Let's get our ducks in a row and lay it out once more for Nolan."

"You haven't a damn thing, boys. Let it go now. We've got that gang shooting at Sals. Right up your alley," the Inspector says.

Detective Boychuk runs his fingers through his hair. "I have to admit we went through everything. The widow appears clean. No large sums of money missing. Her alibi checks out. She was in Minneapolis visiting a friend. She's inheriting a sizeable estate but everything looks normal. The widow has lots of women friends but no boyfriends. Her phone calls all check out. Her husband was definitely a loner. Can't find his daughter Bethany. There're many Bethany Johnsons but none are Jason's daughter. Mathews and Baxter Law are probating the will and say the daughter isn't in line to inherit anything. No problems with Jason Johnson's business or personal life that we can discover. But it came through loud and clear the guy was a bastard. Not one nice word for him from anyone we contacted."

Detective Smith adds, "One big dead end after another. The widow lunches a lot with friends and is active in her church. She even sits with other women at the service. No one had a bad word to say about her; generous, involved, always ready to lend a hand. Never been to a Lutheran church before but I went and nosed around." Smith chuckles. "Never seen anything like it, at one point everyone walks up and down the aisles, shaking hands and saying, 'Peace be with you'. Damnedest thing."

The Inspector laughs. "Yeah we do that in our church too. Good way to spread germs is all I can say. Well guys, I think we have to move on. To get you the extra three days I had to open this as a murder. Full forensics, the whole nine yards. You owe me big for this one. But I'm getting calls from upstairs. People want this done with. Sorry, suicide it is."

Sigga Johnson sits at her dressing table getting ready for church. Smiling, she finishes applying her makeup, takes a twenty dollar bill out of her purse and puts it in the offering envelope. From the bottom drawer she hefts out an antique keepsake box. The embossed leather lid is substantial, close to a half inch thick. God bless you Uncle Andrew Mason for this inheritance. Twenty thousand times. It has saved my life. She lifts the lid, admires her jewelry, then pushes hard on both hinges. There is an almost silent click. She lifts out the false bottom revealing four stacks of brand new hundred dollar bills. Folding five of them she places them under her bra strap. She replaces the tray of jewelry, feels the latch close and lowers the lid. Ten thousand dollar down payment over the last six months and now that the detectives have closed the case I can pay the remaining ten thousand. Everything is going according to plan. Except those damn socks, amazing no one noticed the socks! Hopefully that's the only glitch.

Humming to herself she puts on her coat. Before she leaves the house she checks her face, carefully adjusts her expression to one of sorrow and grief, and heads for church.

Pastor Friesen looks up from the pulpit, raises his hands and says, "The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." The congregation replies, "And also with you." Everyone moves into the aisles, shaking hands and repeating, "Peace be with you."

Sigga moves from person to person accepting condolences, nodding and shaking hands. A tall man approaches her. He is expensively dressed but his tie clashes violently with his jacket. Colour blind people need assistance dressing. Sigga smiles, slightly adjusts her bra strap and offers her hand.

Driving home, she takes a deep breath and sighs. It's donebut at what cost? She shakes her head. Okay, stop this. I'm safe, the torture's over, I'm free. She takes another deep breath, sits a bit straighter and chants, at first almost a whisper, then louder and louder, "Twelve years of emotional torture. I am free, finally free!”

Chapter Two : Chicago 1987

Sigga acknowledges each person with a smile and nods as she plops a scoop of mashed potatoes onto their plate. Mentally, she's composing a grocery list. Potatoes. I definitely need potatoes. Mayo. And raspberries for the book club dessert. Now where did I put that recipe?

She's not an uncaring person but after two years she has trained herself to detach. She can't help everyone so she just smiles and thinks about something else. The first few months serving food at the shelter had almost been her undoing, especially when there were young children with a parent. At least she hoped it was a parent. Now she performs her task and keeps her thoughts elsewhere. It's her defence against caring too much.

I think I put that recipe in the junk drawer. I probably needher mind drifts back to earlier that day, arriving in her car, parking behind another carin her mind she sees a teenage girl sobbing in the back seatthose must have been her parents in the front seatand that little boy beside her looked scared. I'm sure of that. She snaps back and chides herself. Why do I assume there's a problem? And if there is a problem, it's none of my business.

Tray after tray passes with mumbled thanks. Sigga smiles but her mind is occupied with the grocery list and the occupants of that car. A clear voice breaks through Sigga's defence. It's the type of voice not often heard here: a voice not yet broken by the loss of hope.

"Thank ya ma'am."

Sigga focuses on a woman nearly her own age but with flaming red hair. She has a row of studs up one ear and a ring through the bottom of her nose. She's neatly dressed, just not for a Chicago winter. The woman's face has a slight blue pallor and she's shivering. No wonder! Bare midriff, bare legs. She's dressed like a 20 something, she's gotta be over 30. Sigga smiles at the younger woman and asks, "Has anyone told you yet? We have winter jackets and things available, Miss."

"I'm Susie."

"Well Susie, you must be freezing. See that green door to your right? Just go over there after you eat and someone will help you out."

"Thanks, I'll check it out."

Sigga smiles and turns to the next person.

When her three hour shift is over Sigga bundles up against the harsh wind and pushes through the new-fallen snow to her car. Shivering in spite of her warm coat and scarf, she brushes off the windshield. I have to be a glutton for punishment. Moving from Winnipeg to Chicago, from the frying pan into the fire. Dumb. Once inside she laughs at herself while waiting for the heat to kick in. The windshield begins to clear and she sees that the same car is still in front of her. Peering out through an ever widening circle she tries to see into the back seat. She can just make out the hat of the young girl and maybe also the top of the little boy's head. Wow, three hours. Something's wrong, I just know it. What do I do? This is none of your business. Drive away. She puts the car in gear, checks for clearance and edges out of the parking space. She stops. Okay, I'm definitely feeling something's wrong. She pulls back in.

Sigga approaches on the passenger side and taps lightly. A startled woman turns towards her. She motions for her to roll down her window. The woman looks at the man behind the wheel. He nods and she slowly rolls it down.


"I'm sorry to bother you but I couldn't help noticing you've been parked here for quite some time. Do you need help?"

"No. I mean" Frantic, the woman turns to the man who leans over and says, "Yes, we do have a problem. We have nowhere to go and don't know what to do."

"That building is a shelter. Why don't you come in and have something hot to drink and we'll see if we can point you in the right direction."

They look at each other and the woman says, "We have to do something, Eric. Maybe she can help us." The woman looks pleadingly at the man.

Eric hesitates, then says, "Okay kids, let's go with the lady and get a hot drink."

Sigga leads them into the shelter and indicates an empty table. "Maybe your daughter can come and help me carry the drinks." She smiles at the young girl and takes her arm.

"I'm Sigga. Who are you? And how old are you?"

"Lisa and I'm 15. But I'll be 16 in a couple of months."

"Well Lisa, let's get you and your brother some hot chocolate and some coffee for me and your parents. Okay?"

Sigga moves behind the counter and assembles the drinks. She hands the hot chocolate to Lisa and carefully carries three coffees back to the table.

"My name's Sigga." The parents blurt out, "Eric" "Kitty" at the same time. Everyone smiles and takes a sip. Sigga decides to be direct. "So tell me your problem."

Eric clears his throat and says, "I lost my job a year and a half ago. I couldn't find anything. The bills piled up. Our son Billy got sick with pneumonia and the hospital bills added to an already bad situation. We got evicted. Kitty's sister and her husband took us in but that was four months ago. Then they had to take in his mother and father because they were sick and couldn't look after themselves and" Eric shrugs. "We had to leave."

"Have you any other relatives or friends you might stay with?"

Eric and Kitty shake their heads. Eric pauses, then says, "I do have a brother in North Dakota but no way to get there. Our car would never make it. Bad tires, no gas."

Sigga takes another sip of her coffee and looks at the family. God, Lisa's pretty, was I ever that fresh? And Billy, such a kid, so young. What can I do? I could take them homebut the shelter has rulesbut it's only for a short whileSigga, you have to think of your own safety, you live aloneGod, the things that happen in sheltersit's no place for a 15 year old girl. She looks at Eric and says, "Well, let me go and talk to the shelter people and I'll see what we can set up for you."

Sigga goes into the back room but doesn't speak to anyone. I could take them home. It's only for a short while. But then how will things change for them. No, it has to be drastic. Sigga walks back and forth, thinking. She stops, completes an idea and heads back to the family.

"Eric, tell me about your brother. Can he help you? Will he help you?"

"I think so. He has a ranch outside Grand Forks. I'm pretty sure I can work for him. We haven't spoken for such a long timeand we argued about our father's willand, you know. But he is my brother."

"Good. Here is what we're going to do. I want you to follow me to a hotel a couple of blocks from here and I'm going to get you a room for two nights. You can call your brother and make arrangements with him to get you to North Dakota. Would that be all right?"

Eric takes Sigga's hand and says, "God bless you. How can we ever repay you?"

Kitty's eyes fill with tears, she stands and hugs Sigga. Sigga wraps her arms around Kitty and looks at Eric, shaking her head. "I don't want you to repay me. When you're on your feet you can help someone else. Okay?"

Eric's face looks a little less haggard and some light returns to his eyes. "Kids, put your coats on. We have to get going. We'll follow you Sigga. Thank you. Thank you." Eric slips on his coat and urges the family towards the door.

At the hotel, Sigga registers the family and hands the manager her credit card. "I'll be taking care of the bill. I expect them to charge their meals and make some long distance calls. If I'm wrong about any of this or you feel that they're taking advantage, please call me and I'll come right down. We'll talk every day. Okay?"

The manager nods his head and says, "You're either an angel or a lunaticI'm pulling for angel."

Once in their room, Sigga says goodbye to her new friends and tells Eric to charge their meals and phone to the hotel bill. She wishes them luck and leaves quickly.

It's still miserable out. She pulls her coat close as she runs to her car. She gets her brush and clears the windows. It's getting dark, but through the falling snow she catches some movement. It's Susie, the redheaded woman with the studs, hurrying down the opposite side of the street. Now properly clothed, Susie sports a green knitted hat over her bright hair. She turns the corner and is out of sight. Look after her Lord. I hope she has a warm place for the night. Sigga heads home dreaming about her fireplace, novel and cozy blanket.

Over the next few weeks at the shelter Sigga is dismayed as she watches Susie's appearance change. Her clothes are no longer clean and there's a band of a different colour showing at the part in her hair. Red, rough looking hands now hold the tray that is offered up for her daily meal. Struggling to keep her emotional distance, Sigga smiles. You know nothing about her. Stop making up her story. There is nothing you can do. You can't save everyone.

The following week Sigga pulls up at Marshall Fields. In their flyer she had seen a lovely cashmere sweater in the perfect shade of blue. She hopes it'll be an exact match for the plaid skirt she's planning to wear to the book club Christmas party. Once in the store she heads straight for Women's Wear. Her eye on the sweater, she bumps into a fellow shopper.

"Oh! I'm so sorry." She reaches out for the counter to steady herself, turns to see who she knocked into and gasps. "Susie, what happened to you?"

Panicking, Susie looks at her and turns to run away.

Sigga grabs her arm. "Susie, please. What's happened to your face?"

Susie slowly turns. One blackened eye is swollen shut. Purple and green bruising fades into a reddened scrape that reaches down one side of her face. Its bright red edge indicates infection has set in. One tear escapes the good eye and trickles down, unchecked. Unable to speak, she stands still and looks at Sigga.

Sigga is unsure what to do but decides to help. How, she has no idea.

A salesclerk comes from behind the counter and interrupts, "Is this woman bothering you Ma'am? They know they're not supposed to be here." The disdain shows on her perfectly made up face as she reaches for Susie's arm, but the odour emanating from the filthy jacket wrinkles her nose and her hand stops. Instead, she makes shooing motions.

"Excuse me." Sigga steps between Susie and the salesclerk. "This is a friend of mine." The woman hesitates, obviously doesn't believe Sigga, but realizes she has no option.

Sigga lowers her voice and says to Susie, "My name is Sigga. Let's go for some hot chocolate and we can talk."

Susie hesitates. Her face shows a contrast of longing and fear. Taking a deep breath, she says, "Yeah. Please. I'd like that.”

Chapter Three : Susie’s Story

In the diner Sigga scans the room and chooses a booth towards the back. Ignoring the stares she steers Susie into the bench facing the back wall. Can't blame people for staring. Just look at her. What in the world happened?

Sigga orders hot chocolate, adds the special of the day for Susie and a bowl of soup for herself. Settling back she gives Susie a chance to collect herself and then says, "Now tell me what happened to you."

Susie takes a deep breath and her story spills out in one long stream. "Couple nights ago I got the bums rush at the shelter. No beds left. So I walked and walked. Finally I found some guys around a fire. I thought they wouldn't mind if I stood and got warm, but they were drinking. A fight started, shoving and yelling. I backed away but one guy saw me and I guess got mad and grabbed me. He was nasty. Put his stinking face up close and snarled, 'Think you're too good for us?' His breath smelled like shit.

"The other three stopped fighting and joined in. I pulled away but a guy shoved me. I fell. I tried crawling but they grabbed my legs and dragged me. My face got all scraped up along the cement. I got one leg free and kicked. I must'a hit something and they dropped the other leg. I jumped and ran. But he caught me against a building, shoved me back, slammed my face. I guess he hit my eye. I was all woozy. He started pawing me and that's when my adrenalin kicked in I guess. I kneed him in the balls and must have connected, he doubled over. I ran like hell."

Sigga takes her hand. Tears trickle from Susie's good eye. Sigga digs out some tissue. "Here. Wipe your eyes. Let's eat and talk about what we can do to keep you safe."

Susie nods and takes a greedy gulp of her drink. Sigga watches. The poor girl is starving and more than likely malnourished. Her cuts are definitely infected. Okay Lord, I am putting this in your hands. Show me what to do.

The food arrives and Sigga gently questions Susie about her life. Between bites she discovers that Susie is thirty-two and an orphan. Her parents were killed in a car accident when she was ten years old. She was placed in foster care, but no placement was long term and by eighteen Susie was out of care and on the street with nothing. With a little luck she found a dish washing job where the owner let her live in a room above the restaurant. It was miserable but it kept her off the street. She was promoted to waitress and this is where her luck fizzled out. She caught the eye of a customer, a young man about her age who promised her the moon. She quit her job and left with him.

Susie becomes agitated at this point, so Sigga tries to change the subject. "Would you like some pie Susie?" Susie nods and Sigga motions the waitress over and orders a piece of apple.

"I'm not judging you. Relax. Did something happen with this fellow that you can't talk about?"

Susie nods.

Sigga waits, then pushes for a little more. "Don't worry. You won't upset me, just tell me what happened. Maybe I can help if I know what happened."

Susie looks into space. How can I tell her this? Finally she sits back and looks at Sigga. "Okay. Something terrible happened. Two years ago I witnessed a murder and I ran. Now this guy is after me." She lets out her breath and breathes in again. "I saw him do it and now he wants me dead. I ran and ran. I ran all the way here to Chicago. I've been here living in the shelters. Even getting beat up in an alley is better than dying, right?"

Sigga has stopped breathing. She reaches out automatically to reassure Susie. All the while her mind is racing. Breathe woman. This girl is in real danger. And who are you to judge? Lord? Now's the time to jump in.

Susie has started to cry again. She starts to put on her coat and Sigga stops her. "No, sit back, everything's okay. Here's the pie. We'll keep talking." Sigga thanks the waitress and watches Susie pick at the pie.

Sigga can see how deeply she's upset and wonders what to do. But I don't have to decide right now. I'll take Susie home and let her have a bath and a good night's sleep and then we'll think it all out tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow things will be clearer.

"Susie, please come to my place for the night. You need a bath and a good night's sleep. Things will be clearer in the morning. We can make a plan."

Susie stares at Sigga. Dumbfounded, she says, "You'd do that? Oh my God, you would do that?"

Sigga nods and says, "Let's get out of here. I live about ten minutes away in Lincoln Park. You'll see, things'll be clearer after a good night's sleep."

In just over ten minutes they pull into Sigga's townhouse garage. Sigga shepherds her into the ground floor guest room. Susie stops and blinks. "This is the prettiest room I've ever seen." She gazes around. Tiny pink rosebuds on white wallpaper, soft gray carpet and the bed, oh the bed, all white, piled with pillows and the softest yellow throw. She looks at Sigga and tries to speak, "I can't" Tears well up.

"Yes you can. Come on now. I'm going to run a bath." Sigga opens a door and steps into the bathroom, still talking, "Take off those clothes and I'll see what I can find for you to wear. There're lots of towels here." Sigga pours some flowery bath salts into the water and the sweet aroma flows through the room. She turns to Susie who is still standing in the doorway, unable to move. Smiling, Sigga goes over and gently pulls her towards the bath. "It's okay. Don't think about anything. Just think about this wonderful hot bath. Don't look ahead, just stay in the moment."

"It's all so beautiful, like a dream. Am I really here? Are you sure? Oh my goodness."

Sigga helps her take off her coat all the while murmuring encouragements, "Relax. It's okay. Come get into your bath."

Once she sees Susie start to undress she says, "I'll be back in a little while with pyjamas. Just soak as long as you want. Take your time." Sigga leaves and closes the door.

Susie takes off her clothes and climbs into the tub, easing herself into the water with a sigh. The warmth stings her frigid limbs. She sinks into the bubbles and starts to cry from sheer joy, leans back and lies there until the stinging stops and her breath is smooth, easy. She takes the soap and starts to wash. She shampoos her hair, then lies back and closes her eyes, clean, relaxed, warm.

Upstairs Sigga finds some flannelette pyjamas and a sweater for her guest. She goes into the kitchen and puts the kettle on while hunting down some antiseptic ointment. She makes a cup of tea for Susie and heads downstairs but turns back when she thinks about all the crying Susie has been doing. The poor girl will have a terrible headache. Taking a bottle of aspirin down she adds it to the tray.

Downstairs she puts the tray on the nightstand and raps gently on the bathroom door. Getting no answer she calls, "Susie, are you done?" No response. Sigga opens the door and peeks in. Susie is fast asleep in the bubbles. She looks sweet. Shame, but I have to wake her. She goes over and softly calls Susie's name. Startled, Susie sits up and tries to get out of the tub.

"Oh dear, no. It's just me." Sigga puts her hand on her shoulder.

Susie orients herself and sinks back in. "I guess I fell asleep."

"You're exhausted. I just want to put some ointment on your cuts. I brought some pjs for you. Dry off and come into the bedroom. Then you can go to bed and sleep all you want. Okay?"

"Why're you helping me? I'm nobody."

"Of course you're someone. Someone who needs some help and I'm just the one to give it to you. I may not know how you're feeling but I've been given help in my life. Now it's my turn to help you. So come on. I'll see you in the bedroom."

Sigga pulls some pillows off the bed, turns down the comforter and switches on the bedside lamp. She draws the blinds, turns off the overhead light and sits down to wait.

Susie opens the bathroom door and peeks out, then slowly approaches the bed and climbs in. Sigga pulls the covers over Susie's legs and sits beside her, puts ointment on a swab and starts gently coating the infected scrapes. "Not much I can do with that eye. We'll just watch it and make sure it heals properly."

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Sigga stands and points to the tray. "Here's some hot tea. Now I want you to sleep as long as you can. Don't worry about tomorrow, just sleep. We'll work something out. No more thinking, just sleeping, okay?"

Sigga leaves and closes the door. Yes, somehow, someway we will work something out.

Chapter Four : Susie Tells All

Through early spring leaves, April sunshine dapples the sidewalk. Sigga and Susie saunter down Michigan Avenue dressed in bright spring colours. They smile at passersby.

Sigga stops Susie at a store window. "Look at that yellow A-line Susie. I think it would look spectacular on you. Isn't it gorgeous?" Susie smiles and nods. "Maybe for me, but it'd work even better for you." Sigga breathes deeply and looks up into the fresh green leaves. What a perfect day.

Susie is transformed. The nose ring and ear studs are gone. Her hair is dyed honey blonde, not unlike Sigga's own shade. Her scrapes and bruises are healed and the remaining marks artfully covered with makeup.

Sigga feels like pinching herself. I'm happy. Right here, right now, I'm the happiest I've been for years. Susie's friendship is the best thing that's ever happened for me. I hope she likes my surprise.

"Oh Susie, look at those shoes." They stand side by side admiring the sandals in a perfect shade of pink. Sigga puts her arm through Susie's and says, "Aren't they darling? What a perfect day."

Susie smiles and nods. "It's amazing what a little sun…"

A rumbling roar fills the street. Susie stiffens. Sigga sees Susie's reflection in the window. My God, that's terror! "Honey, what's wrong?"

Susie can't move, she's unable to speak. The noise moves past and Sigga looks behind. Two motorcycles slowly roll towards the next intersection. She slips her arm around Susie and asks, "Okay, what's wrong? Was it the motorcycles? Or just the noise?"

"Are they gone?"

"Yes they've turned the cornerso it's the motorcycles?"

Susie nods. Sigga takes her arm again and says, "Let's go to lunch now. You can tell me all about it, okay?"

"Can we go in that direction?" indicating the direction away from the motorcycles.

"Of course. I was taking you to Sears Tower but we can go back to that café. Is that okay?"

Susie turns but stays close to the buildings as she walks. Oh my God, breathe! One step at a timebreathe. Can't spoil Sigga's day. I can do this. She's been so good. Get off this damn street. Okay, a restaurant.

At the table Sigga tries to get her to talk. "Okay, now what's going on?"

The waitress brings the menus and water. Susie looks around the dining room, squirms and fingers the menu. Her mouth opens, closes, she looks around and picks up her water glass. Then she takes a deep breath and puts on a smile. "The noise just startled me and I was right back to a few months ago when everything was danger of some description. Now don't let my foolishness spoil our day. What were you so excited about?"

Okay, I'm not buying that. We'll talk later. Smiling, she takes an envelope out of her purse and lays it on the table. "Susie, I've become very fond of you these last months and want to thank you for your company and friendship. You have become like a sister to me."

Susie touches Sigga's hand. "Sigga, I should be thankin' you. I'd probably be dead by now if you hadn't taken me in and given me, like everything. I'll never have money to repay you. I don't know how I can repay you. Somehow I…"

Sigga jumps in. "Oh my dear, I don't want any repayment! Now don't even talk about it. Now, I had my lawyer buy you an identity." Sigga opens up the envelope and passes a card over to her.

Susie's mouth gapes and she picks up the card. It's a social security card with the name Susan Marie Mason stamped on it in black letters. "Oh my God. Really?"

Sigga continues, "Mason was my maiden name. I want you to have it. I want you to become my sister. I hope you will. I understand if it's too much."

Susie pushes the card back to Sigga. "Oh I can't. There are things you don't know. I can put you in real danger. No! No I won't!"

"It's okay. I want you to be my sister. Whatever you're talking about we can deal with. I guess I'm kind of adopting you."

Susie looks down at the card and remains silent for a moment. "Sigga, we have to go home. Is that all right? I've a story to tell. Before we go any further there are things you need to know."

"All right Dear. Of course we can go home but I assure you there is nothing you can tell me that would change my mind."

"We'll see," Susie says as she stands to leave.

Susie paces back and forth across the living room carpet as she talks, "If I'd known…oh God…you don't know these peopleI can't put you in dangerI have to leaveI don't want to leaveif only…"

Sigga stands up and envelops Susie in her arms. "Susie, sit down. Catch your breath. Start from the beginning."

Susie sinks into the sofa and turns, looking despondent. "I've been lyin' from the start, I'm such a shit. I don't think 'shit' even gets it. More like 'hopeless shit' maybe. After that attack in the lane all I could think of was maybe just ending it all. And then you came. An angel. I thought it'd be okay. You're from a different world."

"From the beginning, Susie."

Susie takes a deep breath and starts. "That guy that found me in the diner was a biker. He was so nice. And he was, with me. But the Rumble Riot are awful. He owned me so it wasn't too bad for me. At first I felt I finally had a family, ugly, but a family. I was finally included in something. But each week I got another shock. They're criminals, don't care about nothing. Drugs, alcohol, sex, tortureonce a guy ratted to the cops and they killed his whole family, parents, brotherthey're a horror. But as long as I had Teddy I felt safe. I didn't like the life but there's no escape. I begged over and over, 'Teddy let's leave'. He'd just laugh. 'You don't know what they do to quitters. No, Babe, this is our life now. Relax.'

"One guy left - on the run for weeks - they caught him and dragged him back. Six of them held him down and took steel brushes to the Rumble Riot tattoo on his back. I can still hear the screaming. I wake up and still hear it. I don't know what happened to him, never saw him again. I had learned by that time, ask no questions.

"One night Teddy didn't come back from a raid. I was told he bought it. For several days they let me alone but at the next Friday night blowout, everyone was full'a booze and I was claimed by another biker. 'Weasel' was misspelled on his arm, so it became his name. I'm not gonna talk 'bout the beating or rape. I tried to not cooperate but learned to shut up and do as I was told. Weezil was a brute. He just took what he wanted. He didn't care how I felt. I was his now. I was too afraid to run."

"Susie I'm so sorry. But what happened? You obviously ran away?"

"Okay this is where it gets awful. They made me part of a murder."

"Oh my God."

"Someone took the stash of cash I'd been slowly collecting. I really wanted to run. Weezil never said nothin' but I lived in terror. I didn't know if Weezil had taken it or someone else. Didn't know if they had squealed. Just knew somethin' would happen.

"So this Sunday Weezil showed me a picture of a guy and dropped me in town. He said find him and tell him you have information on a murder Rumble Riot did. I was to tell him that I could show him where the body's buried. He told me to take him to this place outside of town where we'd had a huge blowout. I was to make sure he was alone and he had to go right now and not to wait or anything. If he wouldn't go alone I was to make a run for it. Someone was watching me so I was not to do nothin' funny.

"I didn't have any options here. The only thing I thought was maybe, just maybe, I could find some way to get away. I found the guy fast. He was in the bar of the hotel he was staying at. I must've done it right, he didn't argue at all. We got in his car and drove out to the place. He tried to talk to me all the way but I just clammed up. He finally shook his head and just drove.

"There was a full moon that night and it was easy to find our way through the trees. I pointed to a spot under a tree and said, 'There.' The poor guy walked over and leaned down to look at the earth and two bikers jumped him. They tied him to the tree. Weezil came up behind me and said, 'Hold this.' He put a knife in my hand and gave me his jacket. He said, 'Don't move or say nothing.' I watched while they took turns beating the stuffing out of this guy. It was awful. The moon just kept shining, his blood glistening in the light. They hit him so many times on the face and head it looked like one of his eyes was hanging out on his cheek." Susie stops, her eyes open wide and fill with tears, but she goes on. "I wanted to hurl but I didn't dare move. I thought they might kill me next. I stepped back as Weezil approached and took the knife from my hand. But he didn't hit me, just turned and walked up to what was left of this guy and drove the knife through his heart. I watched as Weezil walked towards me wiping the blood off on his jeans."

Susie takes a deep breath. "He said, 'See this, Girlie?' and he shoved the knife at me. 'Guess whose fingerprints are on this knife eh?' I looked at the gloved hand holding the knife. Oh my God, my fingerprints!

"Weezil put the knife in a bag, laughed and then spat at me. 'Think you can run away from me? Well not anymore, Honey. You just killed a Fed. Feeling lucky?' I thought, A Fed? Oh my God, I've killed a cop. I puked."

Susie swallows and continues her story. "Only friend I had was a kid, maybe twelve years old. Name was Axel but everyone called him Ax. What the hell's a kid doing there. We'd hide and I'd hug him when it got really ugly. That night the horror began in earnest. I wasn't able to hide with Ax. I was passed around the group. Thankfully I blacked out. In the morning I dragged myself to the bathroom. I was barely able to climb into the shower. The hot water hit my bruises and cuts. I decided I would survive or die trying."

Sigga stands and starts to pace. Anger fills her face. Susie starts to cry. "Oh Sigga, I'm so sorry. I'll leave. I can't put you in danger. The Riot are looking for me, and the Feds are on my trail."

Sigga sits beside her. "Shhh, I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at those bastards. I'm going to make sure they never find you. So don't talk foolishly. You're not going anywhere. We are!"

FBI : The Federal Bureau of Investigation

FBI Albuquerque Division

Dec 18, 1987

Press Release:

Seeking Information on the Pecos River Murder (al85-2995)

Community Outreach Specialist Geraldo Grande (505) 525-4490 ext 6721

If you have any information relevant to the Pecos River Murder that occurred in 1985, please e-mail us at

Here is a summary of the murder:

Monday, September 30, 1985, the U.S. Park Service discovered the severely beaten remains of FBI Special Agent Reinhardt Manor, tied to a tree in a clearing beside the Pecos River, past the end of Rabbit Hill Road east of Loving, New Mexico.

The Violent Crimes Unit of the FBI Albuquerque Division responded and investigated. A detailed picture of events surrounding the murder has been created but links to the perpetrators need to be corroborated.

Special Agent Manor was at the time investigating the involvement of members of the Rumble Riot motorcycle gang in a murder. There are strong indications that the same gang may be involved in his murder.

Special Agent Manor was staying at the Central Hotel in Loving. A security camera video shows a woman being dropped off by a Rumble Riot biker Saturday, September 28 at 7:35. The special agent left the hotel with the woman at 8:00 that evening.

We need your assistance in identifying the woman who was dropped off in the parking lot by the Rumble Riot biker and then likely travelled with the special agent to the clearing where he was murdered. Identification of this person of interest is central to moving this investigation forward.

We have posted several security camera, computer-aged and lifestyle-altered versions of her image at Please look and think. Do you know of this woman? Have you seen her?

12/18/87 press release

Chapter Five : The Alamo

Susie's hair blows wildly.

Sigga laughs. "Do you want that scarf now?"

"Maybe, can't see a thing," Susie calls above the rushing wind.

"Okay, I'll pull over after this turn."

Sigga's new convertible smoothly hugs the Texas back road. A little way down she brings the BMW to a stop.

"Let's stop here and get our bearings." Sigga opens the door and steps out onto the gravel shoulder. "Oh look there's a spot to sit. Perfect." She reaches in, grabs the road map from her purse and makes her way over to the trunk of a huge fallen oak tree. She sits down and waits for Susie to find her scarf.

Looking around, she muses. This really is not how I imagined Texas. Rock Hudson in Giant, it was miles and miles of beige nothing. Cows and dirt, nothing. These rolling hills and bushes, nice. This July heat may take a little getting used to, maybe it'll cool down in fall. Sigga pauses and frowns. I'm happy. Actually happy. An image of Jason's body dangling from the landing sours her thoughts. I don't deserve to be happy.

Susie sits down beside her, toys with her scarf and says, "I think I'm ready for the air conditioning now." She looks up at the sun now high in the sky. "It was pleasant this morning but the heat is starting to get to me. Do you mind?"

"Not at all, Dear. It's time to start thinking about lunch. According to the map we're about a half hour from New Braunfels."

The air is still. They remain on the tree trunk, enjoying the comfort of the shade. Sigga breaks the silence, "I liked Fredericksburg. Did you?"


Sigga laughs. "Not a resounding recommendation."

Susie smiles. "Well, I liked it. ButI don't know, it just didn't feel right. I can't explain it."

"Not a problem. We have all the time in the world. I'm kind of enjoying just driving." She looks down again at the map. "It's only another half hour from New Braunfels to San Antonio."

Susie laughs. "I picked up a brochure at the motel this morning, some place called Boerne. They have caves. I kinda like that name. I think it's pronounced 'born' like in 'born again'. Kinda like me, right?"

"Let me see." Sigga counts the miles along the route and says, "Just under an hour from New Braunfels. It's a little out of the way but Boerne is only a half an hour from San Antonio where I think we'll stay tonight."

"Sounds good."

"Want to head there after lunch?"

"Yeah. Lunch at New Braunfels, then on to Boerne."

"Well, get that scarf on and we can be on our way."

"The best beef tenderloin sandwich I've ever had," Sigga says as she reaches for her napkin. "How's your chicken, Susie?"

"Yeah, delicious," Susie mumbles as she swallows. "Nice restaurant. I don't think we've had a bad meal anywhere."

"I like New Braunfels. A little bigger than I thought at first. What'd the sign say as we came in? Forty thousand? I sort of thought we might find a smaller place. Somewhere we can park the car and walk everywhere. What do you think?"

"I'm with you on that one. It'd be good to move somewhere we can feel we belong, know your neighbours kinda thing, right?"

Sigga nods. "Exactly."

"I really am looking forward to seeing this Boerne, call me crazy but I have a good feeling about it."

The waitress corrects Susie as she gives them the bill. "It's pronounced 'Bernie'."

A disappointed Susie sighs. "Ah, not born?"

"Nope." And she saunters off.

Sigga says, "It's our next stop. Don't get your hopes up too high. We've seen a lot of little towns now and they sure look basic. We need restaurants and shopping, or at least I do."

Susie picks up the brochure for Boerne and says, "Oh well, it's population is 12,000 and they have a Walmart."

"Well, if they have a Walmart." Sigga laughs.

Sigga parks the car under a broad tree on what looks like the main street in Boerne, Texas. The two ladies sit there quietly looking around. Smiling they turn to each other and both speak at once, "This looks like it!" Laughing, they get out of the car and walk arm in arm down the street, admiring the little shops and restaurants.

"Oh Sigga, I love it. Didn't you love those old homes we drove by on the way?"

"Yes I did. And I saw at least three 'for sale' signs. We should find a hotel and start investigating, right?"

"Yes, let's, please." They hug each other and Sigga giggles. Startled, Sigga covers her mouth and looks at Susie. Susie laughs and says, "I've never heard you giggle. You giggled!"

"My goodness, I did giggle, didn't I. You've made me so happy, happier than I deserve to be."

"What crap is that? I've never met anyone that deserves happiness more than you."

Sigga looks at the ground and shakes her head knowing she cannot discuss it. "Let's go and try that cute B&B back there."

Halloween finds the two friends standing in front of their new home directing the movers as they unload the truck.

"Twenty-seven, that goes in the kitchen."

"Seventeen, that one goes in the third bedroom. Sigga, what about that box?"

Sigga checks her list. "Laundry room in the basement. There's a door in the kitchen, mind the stairs, they're narrow."

The ladies smile at each other, enjoying every minute. By three in the afternoon the movers have been paid, both their bedrooms set up and the dining room organized. Sigga and Susie stand in the kitchen disposing of one box after another.

"Isn't this fun Sigga?"

Sigga laughs. "Well, it's fun watching you."

Susie hugs herself and says, "This house is gorgeous and I can't believe it's my new home. Why don't you go and have a nice soak in that great tub in your bathroom? I don't mind finishing this. I'd love to finish this. Really I would."

"No I can't let you do that."

"Yes you can." Susie turns Sigga towards the door and gently pushes her out. "I want you to. Go."

Sigga laughs. "Well, if you insist. I ache places I didn't know I had muscles."

Alone in the kitchen Susie stands looking out the window into the back yard. How did I get so lucky? I can't believe this, all of this. A new home, a new life and a new me. And I have Sigga, my sister Sigga. I never believed in God before but there must be a God or this is just a lot of magic. I think I'm going to believe there's a God.

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