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Authors: Kathleen Hills

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BOOK: Hunter’s Dance
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Fratelli made a grab for the gun.

For a time there was no sound but Mrs. Morlen's soft sobbing.

“Hey, this is mine!” Fratelli sounded truly hurt. “You stole my thirty-eight!”

“He's a woman? Oh, come on!” Mia rose to her knees and slowly crawled to Esko as if approaching some new and fascinating species.

Thomson clutched the toes of his left foot in both hands. Blood welled between the dirt-caked fingers.

“You were the ma'am Bambi was talking to?”

“Shut up.”

“But you've got a beard.”

“Shut up, Missy!”

“Mia! I said it's
Mia.
Get that, and get that straight, M-I-A,
Mia!”

McIntire moved forward and faced Thomson. “Estella?”

Thomson sucked in his breath. “My sister. She died.”

Mia turned to McIntire. “How did Bambi know?”

A good drenching by a skunk could lead most anyone to shed her trousers on the spot. Bambi's penchant for surprising people with small animals in unexpected places and hanging around to observe the results seemed to have been his undoing.

“Later,” McIntire said. He turned back to the man—could this ragged and pathetic human really be a woman?—on the ground. “What happened to Estella?”

Esko Thomson released her grip on the injured foot and began undoing the buttons on her patched and faded plaid mackinaw. “Estella is dead,” she said. She struggled to her feet and let the jacket fall to the ground. The heavy cotton shirt underneath was clean, pressed, and showed no sign of wear. A whimper escaped Bonnie Morlen.

“Estella, is dead,” Esko said again. With jerky, prolonged motions, she slipped suspenders, strips cut from an inner tube, from her shoulders to dangle from her waist, removed the shirt and placed it carefully on the coat. She stood, shrunken and shivering, the blood from her hands smearing the grayed fabric of her wool union suit. “
Estella
,” she loosed a button from its hole, “
is
,” a safety pin thrown aside, “
dead
,” a button flew. “
Estella…is…dead
,” she continued the litany as, with agonizing slowness, she twisted open the buttons in a macabre strip tease.

McIntire felt a clutch at his throat and reached for Mia's hand. The underwear fell away, exposing the sunken and mutilated chest. With a bloodied finger, Esko traced a cross-shaped scar on the single small slack breast.

“Estella is dead,” she repeated. “No girl could live after what they did to her.”

XLVII

The side of her being which was turned toward the outside world would never do her inner person justice.

Myrtle Van Opelt's office was no bigger than a roomy closet. In fact, McIntire knew, it had been a closet in the days when this building was a hotel. The shelves for holding sheets and blankets were now stacked with a neat collection of books and brown file folders. It was also noisy, being located on the floor above Karvonens' store and wedged between the room that housed the telephone switchboard and Miss Van Opelt's courtroom. Unfortunately the courtroom was in use at the moment. Elsie Karvonen gave her piano lessons there on weekends. The strains of
Claire de Lune
floated through the thin walls. Not one of Elsie's more promising students, McIntire hoped.

Siobhan wore pale green and carried a bouquet of russet-colored chrysanthemums and autumn leaves. She fiddled with its ribbon, edgy, as if she hadn't had prior experience in the role. Her groom posed with one leg casually draped over the edge of the old teacher's desk, radiating his usual charm. Once again decked out in his brown serge suit, Melvin Fratelli seemed to accept his status as best man with good grace, although his congratulatory arm around Siobhan's shoulders had lingered a bit and been embellished by an extra squeeze.

“I've nothing borrowed and nothing blue, but thanks to Leonie, I have a genuine sixpence for my shoe, and it's giving me a blister.” Siobhan tapped her toe. “Where is that woman?”

“She's helping out down at the store,” McIntire said. “She'll be up in a minute.”

A creak sounded from the stairwell, followed by a thunk, a huff, and dead silence. The assembled party exchanged glances. Another creaking footfall, another landing of a cane, another gasp for breath, another pause. Like the interminable approach of an executioner, Justice Myrtle Van Opelt made her laborious way up the stairs.

Siobhan was turned away from the group, facing the darkening window. The nervous anticipation had faded and her reflection showed a mixture of sadness and resignation with a smattering of fear. McIntire suddenly felt the force of her loneliness. What else could be pushing her into this alliance with a man she hardly knew? Well, hadn't he done the same with Leonie? And he'd never had cause to regret it.

Justice Van Opelt's finger-waved head poked around the corner. “All ready then?” She aimed a menacing look in Jantzen's direction and waved the walking stick. He wisely leapt off the desk. Miss Van Opelt moved to stand before it.

“Bride!” The stick hit the floor. Siobhan leapt to attention. “Groom!” Another whack, and Jantzen obligingly took his place. “Witnesses!” Two lighter taps. Leonie and Fratelli stepped forward.

Miss Van Opelt glared them all into
nobody move a hair
and hobbled behind the desk. A few seconds of rummaging in a drawer produced a bible and a faded blue book,
Township Officers Guide
of the state of Michigan…1938 version. She consulted the index in the back and turned to the appropriate page.

“License, please!”

Rudy Jantzen produced the folded paper. Miss Van Opelt put it to her nose, moving her head from left to right as she scanned down the page. She acknowledged defeat with a grunt.

“Mr. Jantzen,” she said, “place your hand on the bible. Do you solemnly swear that you know of no legal impediment to your marriage to Miss,” the justice gave a sniff, “Mrs. Henry?”

Jantzen so swore.

“All right then.” Miss Van Opelt lifted the book to her face. “Marriage is a civil contract.” The ceremony was underway. “Mr. Jantzen, do you wish to be united in marriage to,” a cough, “Mrs. Henry?” He did. Mrs. Henry reciprocated, and within two minutes, by virtue of the laws of the state of Michigan, Justice Van Opelt pronounced the happy pair husband and wife.

Jantzen planted a kiss on his bride's lips, a bit too long to be seemly. Siobhan kept her eyes on her former teacher throughout the operation. McIntire stepped up to confer his congratulations.

“Hold your horses. We need to make this legal.” The justice looked from McIntire to her curved-back chair. He sprang forward to pull it out and accepted custody of the cane as she seated herself. Once more she bent to the desk drawer, this time coming forth with a fountain pen and a bottle of black ink. She spread the marriage certificate before her, scratched in some pertinent information, and beckoned to the witnesses. The shift in places necessary to bring Leonie and Fratelli to the fore separated Siobhan from her new husband, leaving him stranded by the window while she was backed against the closed door. Her case of nerves seemed to have vanished completely. She smiled and watched as Leonie signed her name with a flourish and passed the pen to Melvin Fratelli.

The detective bent over the paper, “Siobhan and Rudy,” he mused. “I don't know. Somehow that doesn't sound quite…Mr. and Mrs. Rudy Jantzen…Siobhan Jantzen.…”

What the hell was he up to?

Fratelli turned to the groom. “It doesn't have quite the right ring to it. Maybe you should have gone by ‘Rudolph Stevens,' or how about ‘James Rudolph'?”

Jantzen edged toward his new wife. Siobhan's smile froze and she pressed her back into the door.

Fratelli stepped into Jantzen's path and pulled a folded card from his breast pocket. “Rudolph Jantzen, Rudolph Stevens, James Rudolph, James Stevens, James Edwards, Elwyn Peake….” He looked up.
“Elwyn Peake?

Jantzen shrugged.

“…Elwyn Peake, and, last but hardly least, Stephen Jones
,
as an officer of the government of the United States, I'm placing you under arrest.”

Siobhan placed her bridal bouquet on the desk. She opened her shoulder bag and drew out a set of handcuffs. “Good work, Agent Fratelli.”

“You did okay yourself, Agent Henry.”

The groom obediently extended his hands. Siobhan shook her head. “Over here.” She secured him neatly to a mangle left from linen closet days.

Fratelli turned to a scowling Justice of the Peace. “Miss Van Opelt, if I may use your telephone, there's a U.S. Marshal in Marquette waiting to give this man a ride to Detroit. Maybe the county can put him up tonight in their honeymoon suite.”

“Don't have a phone. You'll have to go down to the store.”

Fratelli went out.

McIntire looked at the disappearing back. “He's FBI?”

“Spooky, ain't it?” Siobhan shook her head.

“You, too?”

Siobhan touched his arm. “I'm sorry, John, and you, Leonie. I'd have told you if I could. We've been after this guy for three years. He's married seven women, and believe me, none of them lived happy ever after. Two of them didn't live at all.”

“My fee is fifteen dollars.” Miss Van Opelt picked up her cane. “For a marriage, fifteen dollars.”

Siobhan picked up the certificate and ripped it into minuscule pieces. She made as if to toss the shreds into the air confetti style, glanced at the justice and deposited them in the waste basket.

“It's still fifteen dollars.”

McIntire handed over a pair of bills. “Call it a wedding gift.”

Justice Van Opelt inspected the bills, folded them, and slipped them into her apron pocket. “Take your criminal,” she said, “and leave my office.”

Leonie sidled up next to her husband and spoke low. “I've a little wedding gift for you, too.”

“Right here?”

“Shut your eyes, and open your hand.”

“Right here?”

McIntire held out his hand, but under the circumstances decided to keep his eyes wide open. Into his palm, Leonie placed a fifteen-amp fuse.

“There's more where that came from.”

“Better hang on to it, Leonie,” he said. “Siobhan probably has to give that car back. She may not be leaving quite so soon after all.”

Melvin Fratelli returned, looking as exasperated as any man who'd tried to make a telephone call of a sensitive nature on Flambeau County lines. The sight of the tethered Jantzen restored his composure. He unlatched the cuff from the mangle and snapped it onto his own wrist.

He offered his other hand, but no apology, to McIntire. He asked, “You've done government work?”

“Translating,” McIntire told him.

“How'd you like to do some more?”

“More translating?”

“No.”

“Spying on my Finn neighbors for Joe McCarthy?”

Fratelli smiled. “You make it sound so sleazy.”

McIntire had no opportunity to respond. Myrtle Van Opelt unceremoniously herded them to the door. As they obediently trooped out, she brought her stick up to McIntire's chest.

“Johnny,” she demanded, “what's going to happen to that woman now?” In anyone else, McIntire would have read the look in her eyes as concern, maybe even compassion.

“The marriage wasn't legal, Miss Van Opelt,” he told her. “Siobhan's a government agent. I suppose she'll go to work on another case.” He couldn't help adding, “Not around here, I'm sure.”

The look Myrtle Van Opelt aimed at Siobhan's retreating back was neither concern nor compassion. “Esko Thomson,” she stated.

“Oh,” McIntire said. “I imagine he—excuse me,
she
—will spend the rest of her life in prison. That alleged woman trailed an eighteen-year-old boy like he was an animal, waited in the weeds and threw a spear into his back. She committed cold-blooded, premeditated murder, and walked around wearing her victim's clothing.”

Justice Van Opelt tapped the cane lightly on her former student's chest. “A woman's not always an easy thing to be,” she said. “It would have been impossible for Esko. Tortured and mutilated and thrown on her own when she was still a child. She had nothing. Except a tough and creative mind. As a man she managed to survive. She had a lonely and isolated life, but she had a life. And your precious eighteen-year-old boy would have destroyed it.” The next tap was not so light. “I call it self-defense.”

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BOOK: Hunter’s Dance
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