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Far down the mountain sirens wailed. I glanced at Quickwater, and our eyes locked. My lips trembled, but no words came.
Quickwater reached down and wiped blood from my cheek, then gently brushed the hair from my face. His eyes went deep into mine, acknowledging what we had just seen, the secret we shared. My chest heaved and tears burned my lids. I turned away, not wanting a witness to my frailty.
My gaze fell on a tiny portrait, encased in plastic and secured to the angel's pedestal. A solemn face stared out, separated by death and faded by years of rain and sun.
No, God. Please, no. Not Kit.
I looked down at the blood oozing through my fingers. Openly weeping, I applied more pressure, then closed my eyes and prayed.
"WHAT THE HELL DID YOU PLAN TO DO?" CHARBONNEAU ASKED.
"I didn't plan. I acted on instinct."
"You were unarmed."
"I was armed with righteous fury."
"Rarely wins against a semiautomatic."
A week had passed since the shoot-out at Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, and we'd been over it a dozen times. Charbonneau was in my lab, watching me prepare Savannah Osprey's bones for shipment.
DNA sequencing had come back positive, linking the Myrtle Beach skeleton to the remains from St-Basile-le-Grand. Kate Brophy had established that Savannah's mother was dead, but had located a maternal aunt. Burial would take place in North Carolina.
I felt melancholy each time I pictured that lonely, little ceremony. My satisfaction at finding and identifying Savannah was tempered by sadness over her life. She was so young and frail, hampered by physical disability, lonely, loathed by her father, abandoned in death by her mother. I wondered if there was anyone left who would care for her grave.
"Do you think Savannah chose to go to Myrtle Beach that day?" I asked, changing the subject.
"According to Crease the kid went willingly."
"Bad decision." I pictured the pale little waif and wondered what had led her to it.
"Yeah. A deadly decision."
I looked at Charbonneau, surprised at how closely his thought echoed mine. There had been so many fatal decisions. Gately and Martineau. Jocelyn Dion. George Dorsey. The Hells Angels responsible for the cemetery attack. And near-fatal decisions. Kit and Crease, both of whom had managed to survive.
A Hells Angels death squad had been sent from the States to blow away Crease because Jocelyn had fingered him as Cherokee Desjardins' killer. The Angels had intended to send a message that killing one of their own meant certain retribution, and had chosen a very public forum to deliver that message. The gunman assigned to Crease was to have escaped by cycle. The cycle did get away, but the shooter didn't. Ryan and Quickwater saw to that, though the public version would be different.
Unfamiliar with the local terrain, the shooters in the Jeep went off the mountain while speeding from police. The two in front were killed in the crash, the third hospitalized with multiple injuries. A routine check turned up a New York warrant for murder. The man was providing limited cooperation, preferring the non-death penalty attitude of our northern neighbors to the laws of his home state. His thinking was that a life sentence in Canada was preferable to a lethal injection in New York, even though the state hadn't executed anyone since 1963.
Six hours of surgery had pulled Crease through, but the reporter was still in intensive care. The story of his involvement was emerging piecemeal as his periods of lucidity lengthened.
Crease and Cherokee traveled with the Angels in the early eighties, the latter aspiring to brotherhood, the former a wanna-be academic charmed by the biker lifestyle. The two were drawn together by their shared Canadian roots.
According to Crease, he and Cherokee encountered Savannah Osprey on the Myrtle Beach run and invited her to ride along. Later, a party turned ugly and Savannah wanted to leave. Things got out of hand, the girl was strangled, and Cherokee hid the body in the woods.
"Has Crease admitted to a part in the murder?"
"He denies that, but admits to the return visit, when Cherokee decided to collect bones to decorate the clubhouse."
I glanced at Savannah's remains and experienced the same anger and repulsion I'd felt on seeing the photo Jocelyn had taken from Cherokee's apartment. I'd recognized the cranium instantly by the tiny burr hole in its side. The skull was mounted on a wall, the leg bones crossed below like the symbol on a pirate flag. Crease and Cherokee were posed below the macabre Jolly Roger, hands raised in a one-finger salute.
"Where was that snapshot taken?" Until then, I hadn't asked.
"At the Vipers' clubhouse in St-Basile. Crease and Cherokee went back to Myrtle Beach the winter after Savannah was killed. They checked out the body, found the skull and leg bones still under the tin, the rest skeletonized and scattered by animals. Thinking a human skull would be a hit with the brothers, they decided to haul the undamaged parts back to Quebec."
I was too disgusted to respond.
"Savannah's bones decorated the bar for several years before the Vipers, worried about heat from the police, buried them in the woods."
"Why so close to Gately and Martineau?"
"The proximity of the graves was coincidental. Gately and Martineau were strictly business. Back in '87 the Angels wanted a bar that Gately owned. That was their way of getting it. Martineau was a friend of Gately's, and had taken a shot at an Angel who was hassling Gately about the bar."
"If Crease is innocent of the Osprey murder, why was he so desperate to get that picture?"
"He figured that with the bones becoming front-page news, his past might come out and his career would be over."
"So he killed Cherokee for it."
"We haven't worked that out, but we will. And the blood on the thing is gonna put him away for the rest of his worthless life."
"He'll deny any link to that photo, and your sole eyewitness won't be testifying."
Jocelyn had arrived at the Montreal General DOA.
"Then the dandruff will nail him."
"What if the DNA is inconclusive?"
"It won't matter. He's dirty and he'll give it up."
So we believed, for another nine hours.
At the hospital the blinds were drawn, the room filled with slatted sunlight. Kit was staring at a talk show, the sound turned completely down, while Harry flipped through a fashion magazine. Though he'd been moved from intensive care four days earlier, his face was still white, and his eyes looked as though they'd been underbrushed with violet paint. His chest was bandaged, and an IV needle ran into a vein in his left arm.
He brightened when he saw me.
"How's it going?" I rubbed the back of his arm.
"I brought more flowers," I chirped, holding out the selection I'd grabbed at the hospital florist. "The Spring Daisies Bouquet. Guaranteed to freshen the most sagging spirit."
"Pretty soon we're going to need some kind of permit with all the photosynthesis going on in here."
Wriggling to sit higher, he reached for the orange juice on his tray, winced and pulled back.
"Let me help with that."
I handed him the glass, and he settled into his pillows, closing his lips around the straw.
"How's the breathing?"
"O.K." He rested the glass on his chest.
The bullet intended for Crease had caught Kit at a high angle. It fractured two ribs, nicked a lung, and exited through muscle. A complete recovery was expected.
"Have they busted these sons of bitches yet?"
I turned to my sister. She sat in a corner chair, her long legs braided like a Chinese contortionist's.
"The getaway cycle got away. The guy who survived the Jeep crash has been charged with attempted murder, among other things. He's cooperating with the police."
"Tempe, if I get my h-"
"Harry, do you think you could ask the nurse for another vase?"
"I get it. Time for an auntie-nephie chat. I'll scoot for a nicotine hit." She gathered her purse, kissed her son on the top of the head, and stepped into the corridor, leaving behind a trail of Cristalle.
Perching on the side of the bed, I squeezed Kit's hand. It felt cool and pliant.
"It's a drag, Aunt Tempe. Every five minutes some nurse sticks me with a needle or shoves a thermometer up my butt. And we're not talking 'Hot Lips' Houlihan here. These women feed on small furry things."
"And they're saying I have to stay another two or three days."
"The doctors want to be sure that lung won't collapse again."
He hesitated, then, "What was the count?"
"In addition to you and Crease, two family members were wounded, and three Heathens and Rock Machine bikers were killed. Of the attackers, one got away, one was killed, two died in a crash, and one was captured. It was a bloodbath the likes of which has seldom been seen in Canada."
He dropped his eyes and picked at the blanket with his free hand.
"How's he doing?"
"He'll make it. But he's about to be charged with the Cherokee Desjardins murder."
"I know Lyle didn't kill that guy. He couldn't."
"He tried to sacrifice you to protect himself."
Kit said nothing.
"And he was using you to get information."
"He may have done that, but he would never murder anyone."
I pictured the skull and crossbones, but said nothing to contradict him.
"Why did he bring you to that funeral?"
"He didn't want to, but I was crazy to see the bikes. I told him I'd go on my own if he didn't take me. Hell, except for going to that cycle shop, Lyle didn't even hang around with those guys. When we went there he tried to look cool, but I could tell nobody really knew him."
I remembered my conversation with Charbonneau, and our initial suspicion that Crease had been a double agent. In retrospect the idea seemed ludicrous. It was ironic, however, that my worry for Kit had been based on fear of his involvement with bikers. I should have worried about Lyle Crease.
Kit worked a thread loose with his finger.
"Look, Aunt Tempe, I'm sorry for all the grief I've caused you."
He swallowed, doubled back on his finger with the thread.
"The Preacher and those other guys are losers who can't even get it together to buy their own wheels."
I'd already learned this from Claudel, but let him go on.
"I let you think they were big-ass bikers to make myself look cool. Instead I almost got you killed."
"Kit, who was the man outside my condo?"
"I really, honestly don't know. He was probably some goof just passing by." A grin teased the corners of his mouth. "Maybe he was applying for a job at the place that cut your hair."
I gently punched his good shoulder. This time I believed him.
"Hey, careful with the rough stuff. I'm an invalid."
He took a sip of juice and handed me the glass.