Murder Most Foul
by C Paradee and Lois Cloarec Hart
Disclaimers - See Part 1 for disclaimers.
Exhausted from the previous night's excitement, Jaye slept uncharacteristically late and woke to the wonderful aroma of bacon and potent coffee. Smiling, she rolled onto her back and stretched luxuriously. Reflecting on the events of the last few days, she was mildly surprised that her overwhelming grief at her aunt's death had subsided to a dull ache.
Nailing her killer helped. So had the company of a certain green-eyed blonde. When they had returned from their interviews and shopping the previous day, the two women had spent the afternoon hiking over Delia's land and along the beach. The sustained activity had pulled Jaye's focus away from her sorrow for a while, and Lindsay's tales about her aunt served to further distract her.
The more time the photographer spent with her aunt's companion, the more she realized how well matched the pair had been. They were both sharp-witted, strong, insightful women. Neither was naïve about the ways of the world, but both had a rugged optimism about life in general.
In the evening, Lindsay and Jaye had poured a ritual glass of black rum, taken it out under the stars and toasted Delia's life. By the time the chill air drove them back inside to a warm hearth, Jaye's original rancor had faded entirely and she found herself genuinely enjoying the younger woman's company. The crackling fire was the perfect backdrop to Lindsay's stories as she regaled the photographer for hours on end.
Jaye could have sworn she had heard her aunt laughing delightedly at the young woman's astute but amiable dissection of Tucker's Way inhabitants and culture. Her affection for the locals was apparent, even as she related their quirks and antics. For all her stories though, Lindsay had said very little about her own past, other than that she came from Oregon, and her mother's death after a long illness had propelled her into the job with Delia. Even when Jaye had told her about her job as a crime-scene photographer and her relationship with Ronald, the younger woman hadn't reciprocated with any personal details.
Ronald! Damn. Jaye groaned inwardly, reluctantly tearing her mind from the pleasant memories of the previous night. For all her good intentions, she had forgotten to call her boyfriend again yesterday. Well, it's not like he bothered to call me, either. Sighing, she dismissed the petulant thought and rolled over to check the clock. Deciding he'd just be getting ready for work, she picked up the bedside phone.
When a woman's voice answered after a couple of rings, Jaye's first thought was that she'd misdialed, but then she heard Ronald's voice in the background.
"I told you not to answer the damned phone!"
"But Ronnie, you were in the shower." The woman's whine was cut off as Ronald came on the line.
Without a word, Jaye hung up the phone and stared at the receiver. When it rang, she knew he had used his Caller ID to identify her. When the jangling stopped abruptly, she guessed that Lindsay had picked up the kitchen extension. Her supposition was validated when a soft tap came at her door.
"Jaye? Are you awake? There's a gentleman calling for you."
"Tell him..." Jaye hesitated. What did she want to tell him? Well, nothing that Lindsay would probably want to repeat. "Tell him I'm not accepting his calls."
There was a brief silence and then a muted, "Um, okay. Breakfast is almost ready if you are."
Jaye grunted an acknowledgement, then pulled a pillow over her head to muffle an aggrieved yell.
"Told you he was a lowlife, J-mac. It's in the eyes. Always check the eyes."
Groaning, the tall woman tossed the pillow aside and eyed her aunt's ghost, perched comfortably at the foot of the bed. Scowling, she pushed herself upright and clasped her knees.
"Oh, don't give me that look. You couldn't care less that he's messing around with some bimbo. Your pride is just hurt, that's all."
Jaye let her head drop against her knees and considered her aunt's words. She had to admit Delia was right. Ronald's cheating wasn't exactly breaking her heart. If anything, she should be grateful to the anonymous woman for pushing her into a decision she'd been procrastinating over for many months. Her relationship with her now ex had been anemic at best. She had to search her mind to remember what she'd ever seen in him...and when she'd last seen it.
Refusing to give her smug relative the satisfaction however, she snapped, "I do so care." Then ignoring Delia's skeptical expression, she continued in a milder tone, "I wasn't sure if I'd see you again, now that we caught your killer."
A troubled look came over the weathered features, and Delia shook her head. Jaye was fascinated by the way the white waves of hair rippled just as they had in life. She almost stretched out her hand, before sad realization checked her movement.
"Something doesn't feel right, but I'm not sure what it is. I just get a sense of something left undone."
Jaye cocked her head curiously. "But we got the killer, Auntie D. Stu implicated Mary and Derek after we caught him red handed last night."
The ghost rubbed her forehead in frustration. "I know, and you two did well..."
"But?" Looking expectantly at her aunt, Jaye waited for further explanations. None came, and when she sought elucidation, Delia waved her off.
"Oh, it's probably nothing, J-mac. Why don't you go have breakfast? I happen to know that Lindsay is an excellent cook." With those words, she just vanished, and Jaye shook her head in bemusement. She wasn't sure she'd ever get used to her relative popping in and out so abruptly.
Making her way out to the kitchen, Jaye paused in the doorway, watching Lindsay work over the stove. The young woman's movements were deft and graceful as she divided a large omelet onto two plates, added bacon, hash browns and toast and turned to carry them to the table.
The tall woman was warmed by the smile that greeted her when Lindsay saw her. She'd half expected displeasure after she'd used the younger woman to convey the brush-off to Ronald.
"Coffee's ready. Why don't you pour a couple of mugs?"
They were halfway through the excellent breakfast before Lindsay remarked casually, "Want to tell me what happened this morning?"
Jaye glanced up sharply, but didn't see anything except uncritical curiosity in her companion's face. As she studied the clear green eyes, her aunt's word resounded in her ears.
It's in the eyes. Always check the eyes.
Lindsay's eyes were compassionate, intelligent and guileless. And given her unquestionable attractiveness, Jaye wondered again at the absence of romance in the young woman's life. Shaking off that line of thought with a touch of puzzlement, Jaye related the details of her abortive phone call to Ronald.
A small hand stretched across the table and covered her own.
"I'm so sorry."
The simple words crystallized things for Jaye. "I'm not. Auntie D was right. He is an idiot, and I'm better off without him."
Lindsay said discreetly, "He wasn't exactly one of her favourite people."
"That's putting it mildly," Jaye chuckled ruefully. "She thought he was all style, no substance, and a few bricks short of a full load to boot...She was right. But then, that's the story of my life." She sighed melodramatically, inwardly delighted when Lindsay laughed out loud.
"She did think your taste in men was..."
"Wretched, pathetic, unbelievably off-base?"
"Flawed." Lindsay gently corrected Jaye's helpful suggestions with a smile.
Jaye grinned. She suspected her salty-tongued relative had used somewhat more emphatic words, but she appreciated Lindsay's attempts to soften the well-merited assessment.
Finishing off the last of the fluffy omelet, she asked, "So what about you? Is your judgment any better than mine? Any rocky romances in your past?"
"Oh, you know," Lindsay said casually, "everyone has things they regret. My last relationship just sort of petered out when my mother got sick, and I haven't really been looking since."
"Mmm." Jaye wasn't surprised at the noncommittal answer. For someone who spoke easily and openly, the younger woman definitely had her off-limit areas.
"So what did you have on the agenda for today?" Lindsay asked, successfully moving them away from any potential awkwardness.
"I want to go through Auntie D's papers and get a grasp on any matters that need to be cleared up." Even as she answered, Jaye was conscious of an acute curiosity about the other woman. For reasons she wasn't entirely clear about, Lindsay fascinated her, and quite atypically, she wanted to know all there was to know about her companion.
Nodding her understanding, Lindsay began to clear the table, demurring when Jaye offered to help.
"Why don't you start with her desk? She always did her own paperwork, so I'm not sure what is where, but I assume you'll find her files in there." She hesitated, then added, "Would you mind driving me to the graveyard later? I'd like to..."
Her words trailed off, and Jaye regarded her affectionately. "Say good-bye?"
The younger woman just nodded and, head lowered, busied herself at the sink.
"Just let me know whenever you're ready to go," Jaye said softly before turning away to allow her new friend the privacy of her grief.
Leaving Lindsay to tidy up the kitchen, Jaye returned to her room to grab fresh clothes before she showered. Once cleaned up, she toured the exterior of the house to confirm her initial impression that Stu's arson attempt had done little real damage. Daylight showed that part of the woodpile had been destroyed and the adjacent wall was smoke damaged, but the integrity of the building itself hadn't been undermined. Satisfied, she made a mental note to clean up the affected area later, and made her way inside to the small den which had served as her aunt's office.
Seating herself on the creaking wooden swivel chair in front of the ancient roll top, Jaye smiled at a childhood memory of spinning circles in her aunt's chair until she was dizzy. She pushed off and spun once around in homage before settling in to examine her aunt's record keeping. Luckily, Delia had been a meticulous accountant, and all the household expenses and receipts were carefully filed. A large, old, brown ledger recorded each item through the years in progressively shakier script. The evidence of her aunt's increasing debilitation saddened the tall woman, but she knew, if asked, Delia would have dismissed any such sentiments. The older woman had enjoyed her life to the fullest, and even severe arthritis hadn't dampened that pleasure.
Looking for the tax records, Jaye pulled open a lower drawer and paused when she saw a metal lockbox inside. Wondering what her aunt had considered valuable enough to consign to lock and key, she pulled out the box and set it on the desk. The dull and dented metal spoke of its age, and although she couldn't see a key anywhere, the lock quickly yielded to persistent prying with a letter opener.
Seeing an assortment of ribbon bound letters and old photographs, Jaye shuffled through the contents curiously. Pulling a letter out at random, she saw it was addressed to her aunt at a Boston residence. Checking the postmark, she was surprised to see the letter was over forty years old.
Ignoring a twinge of conscience, Jaye pulled three sheets of brittle paper out of the envelope. Smoothing them open carefully, she scanned the pages. A smile spread over her face as she realized that she was reading a love letter.
"Why, Auntie D, you old dog! So you did have a checkered past after all." Jaye chuckled as one eyebrow shot up at a particularly provocative passage. Curious to see whom the mystery man was she flipped through the pages to the final passage.
My darling Delia, I know the world will never understand the love between us, and I pray that I may find the strength to stand firm and claim my place beside you. Know that whatever happens, I will always love you with everything that I am. Beloved, wait for me, for I will come to you.
Jaye's mouth dropped open and she stared at the signature, unquestionably a woman's elegant cursive. Delia's mystery lover was a woman! Stunned, she dropped the letter and fumbled for another. Pawing frantically through letter after letter, she realized that they were all from Patricia, and all proclaimed without equivocation, the romantic attachment between the two.
"Find everything that you were looking for?"
The casual question from the doorway caused Jaye to jerk and whirl about. "Did you know that my aunt was a lesbian?"
Lindsay flinched at the harsh accusatory tone, but nodded. "Yes, I did."
"I can't believe this!" Jaye threw the letter she'd been holding atop the pile on the desk. Standing, she paced angrily. "I bloody well can't believe this!"
Lindsay edged by her and gingerly picked up one of the letters. The soft smile that came over her face when she read the contents irrationally infuriated Jaye, and she snatched the papers out of the younger woman's hand. Shaking the crumpled letter in Lindsay's face, she snarled, "Is that why she thought you walked on water?"
Obviously shaken, Lindsay stood her ground. "We were never lovers, if that's what you mean."
Her quiet words calmed the angry woman slightly, and somewhat shamefaced, Jaye mumbled an apology. "Sorry. I didn't mean to accuse you." Still reeling, she blurted, "How did you know?"
Lindsay regarded her steadily, obviously considering what to say. Finally she said, "I found Delia's ad for a companion-assistant in The Rainbow's End." When Jaye stared at her blankly, she sighed and clarified, "It's a national gay magazine."
"Uh, so then you're..." Jaye stumbled over the words.
With a wry smile, Lindsay nodded. "Gay, yes."
Stunned at the unreasonable jealousy and sense of betrayal that swept over her, Jaye spun and stomped out of the room. Blindly she grabbed her jacket and keys from her bedroom and rushed out of the house. Driving in an emotional maelstrom, she found herself on the highway out of town heading north. Without a conscious decision, she'd taken the route leading her back to Toronto.
"Running away, Eeyore?"
Jaye started violently, then scowled at her aunt's ghost in the passenger seat.
Delia's voice was sad, but determined. "Can't do that."
Pointedly ignoring her aunt, Jaye focused fiercely on the road, pushing Henri well past the speed limit.
"Dolan's got a speed trap about ten miles up. You might want to slow down to a sane speed."
Jaye glared at Delia, who just shrugged. "I'm already dead, J-mac, but I'd hate to see you join me before your time."
Sucking in a deep breath, Jaye forced her foot to ease off the gas pedal.
"So what's got your knickers in a knot? The fact that I had a past, the fact that it was with a woman, or the fact that I never told you about it?"
Her aunt's voice was neutral, but the tall woman was stung by the implication of juvenile behaviour. Rather than answering directly, she asked, "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
Delia sighed heavily. "Because part of the conditions your father imposed for allowing me to stay in your life was that I never mention anything 'improper' in your presence, and my former life was most assuredly considered off-limits in his estimation."
Jaye considered that silently. It did explain a lot of things: her father's dislike of her aunt, his reluctance every summer to send her back to Tucker's Way, and his rigid insistence on her church attendance when she returned to Canada. "Okay," she admitted slowly, "I can see that, but why didn't you tell me after I'd grown up? He couldn't have kept us apart then."
"He had you for ten months of every year. I had you for two. I wasn't sure how much he'd indoctrinated you to his way of seeing things, and I didn't want to take the chance of alienating you, particularly as it was irrelevant to my life by then."
Sneaking a glance at her aunt, Jaye muttered, "I'm not prejudiced, you know."
"Could've fooled me by the way you were behaving back there."
Delia's sharp words stung. "I...I was just...I dunno, confused, I guess. I mean you told her, and you never told me." Jaye knew that she sounded plaintive, even to her own ears, and she ducked her head in embarrassment.
"Silly, old Eeyore." Her aunt's words were affectionate, even as they softly chided her. "Considering that Lindsay and I initially connected because we're both gay, doesn't it make sense that we knew these things about each other? It doesn't mean I loved you one bit less. Don't you know that you were the daughter I never had, especially after your mother died?"
Jaye squirmed a little in chagrin, trying for the first time to understand the source of her jealousy and anger. Was it truly that she was hurt because Delia had never told her, or did it have more to do with what she imagined Delia and Lindsay's relationship to be? "You two really weren't involved?"
"Lindsay and I?" Delia's surprise was evident. "Good heavens, no, child. She's just a baby, for crying out loud."
Not really. Jaye's wry thought was accompanied by a mental image of the young woman she'd abandoned in such haste, but she forced her mind out of that path at her aunt's pensive follow-up.
"I lost my heart long ago, J-mac, and I never took it back."
Before Jaye could ask the questions that were bubbling over in her mind, Delia changed the subject.
"Are you done running yet? 'Cause there's a young woman whose feelings you hurt pretty badly, and you've got an apology to make."
Jaye began to decelerate and pulled Henri over to the side of the road. Glancing at her aunt, she admitted, "Guess I do at that."
"Good." With that one terse word, Delia popped out and left Jaye shaking her head in exasperation. She had so many things she wanted to ask her aunt, but she obviously wasn't going to be afforded the opportunity right now.
Lindsay sat in the old wooden chair, her fingers resting on the lockbox and her mind a thousand miles away. The young woman was deeply shaken by the realization that such an extreme reaction from Delia's niece meant that her own burgeoning fascination with the woman was severely misplaced. She couldn't believe that anyone who had grown up with Delia's influence in her life could have turned out as a raging homophobe, but she didn't know what other interpretation to put on the woman's angry words and abrupt departure.
Shaking hands had tidied up the mess Jaye left, carefully folding letters back into their envelopes and organizing them by postmark dates before stacking them back into the metal box. Part of her mind noted that the most recent postmarks were only weeks old, but she was too disturbed to follow up on the thought.
"I'm an idiot."
It was Lindsay's turn to spin slowly at the words and regard the chagrined woman standing in the doorway. Silently she watched the tall figure squirm under her steady gaze.
"I shouldn't have run out, and I apologize. I never meant to...I mean, I'm not...I just wasn't expecting that," she nodded at the lockbox, "and I overreacted. I really am sorry, Lindsay."
It wasn't a polished apology, but as far as Lindsay could tell, it was genuine. The young woman nodded neutrally. "All right." Having been burned once, she was determined to maintain enough distance not to let it happen again. When she didn't say anything more, Jaye sidled into the room and gingerly took a chair beside the desk.
"So, um, are you okay?"
Lindsay shrugged. "Why wouldn't I be? It's not like I've never dealt with bigotry before."
It was a well-aimed shot, and she could actually see Jaye flinch at the blunt words. Instead of making her feel better however, she simply felt tired and drained.
"I'm not..." Jaye stopped and sighed. "Look, I understand why you'd think that, but it really wasn't that Auntie D was involved with a woman, it was that I didn't know anything about that part of her life. I mean, she obviously cherished this woman enough to have kept her letters all these years, yet she never said one thing about her to me."
"I know. She explained that."
Lindsay stared in surprise. "She explained that?"
"Oh shit!" Jaye had a distinct deer in the headlights look. "I mean, I guessed that...that my dad probably censored what she could tell me."
Frowning, the younger woman accepted the ad-lib, but she didn't miss how nervously Jaye was avoiding her eyes. Finding no reasonable explanation other than perhaps remorse over her abrupt departure and angry words, Lindsay allowed the matter to drop.
"So what've you got there?" Jaye nodded her head at the old photographs under Lindsay's hand that she hadn't gotten around to replacing in the lock box.
"I'm not sure. Pictures of Delia and this Patricia, I guess. I haven't really looked through them." Fanning the photographs across the desktop, Lindsay looked closer at them, smiling when she saw a young Delia with a tall, slender blonde woman in most of the photos. Many of the pictures were taken in outdoor locales: picnicking, in a boat, at a fair; but the most striking one had been taken in a garden gazebo.
The blonde woman was leaning against one of the upright wooden columns. The light of an afternoon sun illuminated her face and shone off her pale hair. The expression on her face left no doubt that she was enchanted with the photographer, as the camera had caught her eyes soft with love and her lips parted as if waiting for the kiss she knew would soon come.
Staring at the photo, Lindsay murmured, "I know this woman."
"You do?" Jaye gently took the picture from her grasp and examined it. "She certainly was beautiful, but then Auntie D was pretty good looking herself."
Lindsay focused on the picture now in Jaye's long fingers, trying to clear her mind and picture the woman as she might look now. Suddenly, as if a fog lifted, the pieces fell into place.
"Oh my God, she was here!" Excitedly, Lindsay tapped the picture. "She was right here in this house not four months ago!"
"Patricia was here?" Jaye's surprise was evident. "When? What happened? What did Delia say?"
Controversy forgotten, Lindsay turned to the other woman eagerly. "It was at the beginning of the summer. I remember, because we were concerned about a late frost affecting the seedlings in the garden. We were out looking them over when a big car pulled up out front. We weren't expecting anyone, so both of us were curious. We went out to greet our visitors, and a man in his thirties and an older woman got out. For a moment, I thought Delia was having a dizzy spell because she kind of swayed. I put an arm around her, but she shook me off and walked up to the pair. It was obvious that she and the woman knew each other. They greeted each other stiffly, but with familiarity."
Jaye had been following the narrative avidly, leaning forward until her knees were almost touching Lindsay's. "So was it Patricia?"
Lindsay nodded. "Uh huh. And the man was her son, Gareth." She curled up her lip in distaste and Jaye chuckled.
"Not one of your favourite people I take it?"
"He was a jerk. He monopolized the conversation through the whole visit, couldn't stop talking about his political ambitions and the fact that he had his whole career plotted out, and that powerful backers were already talking about his future in the Oval Office."
"But what did Delia and Patricia say to each other?"
"Not a lot. Like I said, Gareth pretty much monopolized the whole conversation. I could tell Delia was irritated because he cut her off every time she tried to talk to his mother, and he was terribly condescending to both women."
Lindsay gave a wry grin. "Me he treated like the hired help." She closed her eyes, trying to recall details of that late spring day. "You know, when they left, I asked Delia who Patricia was. I remember her looking very sad as she told me, "An old friend." Then she went to her bedroom and didn't come back out until the next day."
"Wow. So Patricia came back into her life after all these years," Jaye mused out loud. "I wonder if they stayed in touch after that."
Lindsay's eyes widened, and she turned to the letters she had stacked back in the lockbox. Shuffling through the envelopes, she extracted a handful. "These are postmarked from this summer. They must have started writing after that visit."
She handed the letters to the other woman, who hesitated before carefully opening the earliest one and reading it. Lindsay was surprised to see tears gather in blue eyes as Jaye perused the pages.
The tall woman looked up at her and gestured with the letter. "Patricia was apologizing for not being strong enough, for allowing her parents to force her into a marriage rather than running away with my aunt as Delia begged her to all those years ago. She says she'd never stopped loving her, and finally had to see her again. She asks forgiveness if she's upset Delia's life, but prays that they can be friends again."
Lindsay found her own eyes suspiciously moist as she thought about her friend losing her beloved and retreating to Tucker's Way for the rest of her life. "Do you think they might have gotten back together again?"
"Well, she says in here that her husband died four years ago, so there wouldn't have been any impediment to it."
"Except for Gareth." Lindsay felt a sour taste in her mouth at the memory of the obnoxious, overweening politician. "I doubt he'd react happily to the thought of his mother coming out and living openly with her female lover."
The same thought struck both women at the same time.
"You don't think..."
"Gareth?" they chimed together.
"But last night, Stu implicated Mary and Derek," Lindsay protested unconvincingly.
Jaye shook her head. "Yeah, but Stu had reason to hate both of them, so I'm not sure we can accept him at his word."
"So where do we go from here?"
The tall woman thoughtfully tapped the return address on the envelope she held. "Well, we know where Patricia lives." Her blue eyes troubled, she continued. "We really should let her know about Delia's death if she hasn't heard, and maybe talking to her will give us some indication if Gareth was even aware of the connection between his mother and my aunt."
Lindsay nodded absently. Something was niggling at the back of her mind, something related to the neat stack of letters in the lockbox. Suddenly the picture came into focus. "There's another one!"
Jaye glanced up from the second recent letter she'd begun reading. "Huh? Another what?"
Excitedly the younger woman explained. "Another letter! The day Delia died, we picked up the mail as we headed into town. I remember her taking an envelope out of the stack and slipping it into her purse with a curious little smile. I just assumed it was something she wanted to read later in private, but I'll bet you anything it was a letter from Patricia!"
Blue eyes crackled with excitement. "I'll bet you're right! Do you know where it is now?"
"If Delia never took it out of her purse, then it must be with her personal effects. Did they turn those over to you at the funeral home?"
Jaye shook her head. "It's more likely they've got them locked up as evidence."
"Then let's go sweet talk our way into the evidence room." Lindsay noted the raised eyebrow that got her. "What? You don't think we can sweet talk the sheriff?"
"I'd think we'd have a better chance sweet talking a mongoose out of his snake dinner," Jaye muttered as she tossed the envelopes back onto the desk and rose to follow her companion.
Hearing Delia's old maxim from her niece's mouth somehow gave Lindsay a tentative reassurance that they would be able to work together despite the earlier hitch. But as she led the way out of the room, she couldn't repress a tiny sigh for unborn dreams.
"Good, only Dolan's car is here. We'd never get anything out of Webster."
Jaye nodded in agreement. "I can't believe this town keeps electing him."
"That's only because no one else wants the job. I think once Dolan gets a little more experience, Bill is going to have a fight on his hands to stay in office."
Pulling open the door and gesturing for Lindsay to precede her, Jaye commented cryptically, "Can't happen soon enough."
Lindsay smiled at her tall companion, taking pleasure when Jaye's scowl morphed into an answering smile. Realizing she'd faltered in her resolution to maintain a safe distance, she shook off the feeling and stepped up her pace down the hallway toward the sheriff's office.
Dolan spotted the two women coming down the hall and rose from his seat behind the desk. Crossing the office, he wrapped his arms around Lindsay.
"I knew you didn't do it." Smiling widely, he released her. "You should've seen Bill's face when he told me to go haul in Derek and Mary."
Jaye interrupted abruptly. "Did he arrest them?" She ignored the curious look on Lindsay's face, knowing her tone of voice had been harsh.
"Nope. Told 'em not to leave town, though. He said he couldn't arrest them on Stu's testimony alone."
Lindsay turned her attention to Dolan. "He didn't have any trouble arresting me on circumstantial evidence."
"I know, but you know how he is. He's afraid to make any wrong moves because Mary is a councilwoman and Derek has money behind him. I sat in when they were questioned, and they both said Stu was lying and must have found out about their affair. It was funny when Bill told 'em it wasn't exactly a secret around town."
Jaye snorted. "Mary knew damn well it wasn't any secret. She was proud of her latest conquest."
Dolan nodded. "So what brings you both here? Not that I'm not glad to see you," he amended hastily.
Lindsay's face became pensive. "Could we see Delia's personal effects? Everything was confiscated for evidence." When Dolan started to interrupt, Lindsay asked softly, "Just her purse. Jaye never got to say goodbye."
Running a hand through his hair, Dolan said, "You know I ain't supposed to let no one touch the evidence."
Blue and green eyes solemnly met his gaze. Jaye promised, "We won't take anything. I just want to see her things."
Dolan sighed audibly. "Oh, okay. But don't take too long. I want you both gone before Bill gets back."
"Don't worry. We'll be quick." Lindsay smiled and added, "Thanks, Dolan."
Grabbing the keys from the desk drawer, the deputy said, "Aw, you're welcome."
The three walked into the evidence room, and Dolan went to a shelf marked with the case number assigned to Delia's murder. He removed the purse, visible in the clear plastic bag in which it was sealed, then carefully recorded his initials next to each item that had been catalogued when the purse was admitted as evidence. Carrying the entire bag over to a desk, he set it down gently in front of the women.
Dolan gestured to the box of surgical gloves on the table. "Make sure you put those on before you touch anything. When you're done, just pick up that phone and dial one. I'll come back and check it in."
Lindsay blanched as she stared at the red stained envelope in the evidence bag. She'd forgotten the letter had fallen from Delia's purse in the library and her mind began playing a cinemascope of gruesome pictures: Delia sprawled on the floor...the blood running from her head contrasting with the unnatural white complexion of her face. So still, unmoving. Like an observer in a gory horror show, Lindsay saw herself fall to her knees next to Delia and scream for help. She began CPR. There was blood everywhere. Delia just needed a doctor. She would be okay. She couldn't die.
Tears began running down her face, yet her vision remained inward, glued to the montage of horrific images in her mind, totally oblivious to her surroundings.
"Lindsay?" Jaye shifted uncomfortably, and raised her voice slightly. "Hey, Lindsay?" She walked around her companion until she was facing her, then laid a hand on the smaller woman's shoulder, her relief apparent when Lindsay raised damp eyes to meet her concerned blue ones.
"I'm sorry. I just... The blood. The memory...it's still so vivid."
Jaye instinctively pulled Lindsay close, hugging her and murmuring, "I'm sorry. I should've come alone." Suddenly stiffening, she patted Lindsay's back awkwardly, and then released her. "How about if you go wait in Dolan's office. I'll tell you what the letter says."
Lindsay shook her head, grateful for the offer, but needing to see the letter.
My darling Delia,
I've missed you so much and long to be with you. I broke the news of our planned reunion to Gareth and we had a big row about it. I had really hoped it would go better, but he is so afraid of a scandal. Sometimes I wonder if he's too ambitious for his own good.
It's hard to believe that my own son accused me of undermining his political career and informed me that I owed him the respectability of being a normal mother. He knows so little about love. I can't help wondering if that's my fault, for I never loved his father. Maybe, somehow, Gareth sensed that. He ranted and raved for over an hour, bombarding me with every possible argument that might make me feel guilty about my feelings for you.
When I explained to him that I was committed to renewing our relationship, he stormed out of the house and hasn't been back all afternoon. I knew he would be upset, but I didn't expect such a vile explosion.
I love my son and I want to give him a little more time to get used to the idea. I ask for your understanding that we proceed slowly. You've waited so patiently for me for so many years, beloved, that I hate to ask you to wait just a little longer. I was afraid before, bowing to my parents' wishes, and I did us both an injustice. No one will ever stand in our way again.
Gareth just returned and I suspect it will not be a pleasant evening, but I will weather it because any anguish is worth knowing that we'll soon be permanently reunited. I do so long for that day. Just remembering the feel of your arms around me and the magic of our connection gives me the strength to do what I must. Soon, darling, we will be waking together, sharing the sunrise and toasting the sunset.
I leave you with this promise Look for me by moonlight, watch for me by moonlight, I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.
My dearest love, you carry my heart in your hands. I love you today, yesterday and forever,
"What a fucker!"
Lindsay covered her mouth to keep a snicker from escaping. She totally agreed, but hadn't expected the emphatic, albeit off-color, explosion from her normally disciplined companion.
"Well, he is!"
Lindsay nodded. " You won't get any argument from me!"
Jaye folded up the paper, put it in the envelope and began shoving it into her pocket. Lindsay laid a hand on her arm. "What are you doing? We can't take that. Dolan will get in trouble."
"If I leave this here, anyone could see it."
Resigned green eyes met Jaye's gaze evenly. "Do you really think Delia would care?"
Jaye glanced at the envelope, and then ruefully looked up. "Well, she might..."
Soft laughter, audible only to one of the room's inhabitant's tinkled across the room. "What's the matter, J-mac? Afraid someone might think it's hereditary?"
Lindsay stopped pulling off her gloves and looked at Jaye, startled. "What's wrong?"
Her face crimson, Jaye muttered, "Nothing." She shoved the envelope into the evidence bag, removing her gloves as Lindsay called Dolan. Once the deputy arrived, Jaye stalked out of the room followed by her bewildered companion.
Jaye began a silent diatribe directed at Delia, hoping her aunt could hear her thoughts. What are you trying to do? Lindsay's going to think I'm crazy or something. I wish you wouldn't pop in like that. At least let me see you first.
Delia appeared next to her window, moving evenly with the car. "Sorry dear, but I couldn't resist. My body didn't have time to catch up with my mouth." Shrewdly, she added, "Besides what do you care what Lindsay thinks? You'll be out of here at the first opportunity."
Jaye opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it. She did intend to leave once they got to the bottom of things. What she didn't understand was why she wasn't looking forward to it.
Lindsay was watching Jaye curiously. "We should let Patricia know that Delia's dead."
"I know. Boston's four hours from here. You want to head down there today or wait until tomorrow?"
"Why don't we go today? If we're lucky, we'll be able to talk to Gareth, too. He's a real jerk and given his ego, he has more motive than anyone else for wanting Delia dead."
"Sounds good to me."
Lindsay reached into her purse and pulled out the address she had copied down before leaving the evidence room.
Jaye glanced over at her companion, smiling, before returning her eyes to the road. There was something about the blonde that she found increasingly appealing. Or more like a lot of something's. Lindsay was genuinely warm and outgoing, but beneath her normally sunny demeanor, there was a sharp mind that missed little.
The raven-haired woman's thoughts ventured back to the evidence room. She carefully examined what she'd refused to think about then - how good it felt when Lindsay's body was pressed against her own. She'd quickly relinquished the embrace because her physical reaction to the contact had startled her. Jaye was pulled from her reverie by the sound of Lindsay's voice.
"Are you okay? You've been really quiet."
Jaye shrugged. "I'm fine. Just thinking. How about you?"
Lindsay smiled shyly. "I'm better. Thanks."
Quirking a half smile, Jaye switched on the radio. Determined to banish her troubling thoughts, she began singing along with the tune on the radio. A short time later, Lindsay joined in.
Jaye and Lindsay pulled into the driveway of a large stone house, the front yard bordered with well-groomed, evenly shorn hedges. A large two-car garage matching the design of the house was set further down the driveway.
Getting out of the car, Lindsay remarked, "This is some place."
Jaye glanced over at Lindsay. "Yeah, but it's too formal looking for me. I like my aunt's place better."
"So do I. This house doesn't have the personality that Delia's place does."
Nodding in agreement, Jaye pressed the doorbell.
An aristocratic, slender, mature woman wearing an open-necked white silk blouse and dark blue pants answered the door immediately. Her shoulder length hair was predominantly blonde, although there was a healthy mixture of gray. She was an attractive woman with fine boned facial features, dominated by large hazel eyes.
"May I help you?" A puzzled expression covered the woman's face. "I've met you. Aren't you Delia's companion?" Her gaze turned to Jaye. "And you must be Jaye. There are pictures of you all over her house."
Lindsay smiled warmly, and Jaye confirmed, "Right on both counts."
"Please, come in." She looked past the women eagerly. "Is Delia with you?"
The two younger women glanced at each other. Lindsay said quietly, "Why don't you sit down. I'm afraid we have some bad news."
Instantly alarmed, Patricia reached out a trembling hand. "Is she sick? Where is she? I'll get packed. I need to go to her."
Lindsay laid a comforting hand on Patricia's arm and steered her toward the couch visible in the adjoining room. "Come on. Let's go sit down."
Patricia's face paled, but she offered no resistance.
Once the three women were seated, Lindsay glanced over at Jaye, who nodded her approval as she settled uncomfortably into a chair opposite the two blondes.
Taking a deep breath, Lindsay said, "Delia was killed last week."
The older woman's face lost its remaining color. "No. Please tell me this is a joke. She can't be dead. Not now. Not when we were so close."
Lindsay reached for one of Patricia's hands. "I'm so sorry. We didn't know or we'd have come sooner. We just found your letters today."
Jaye gazed at the two women, not sure what to do or say. Tears were tracking down Patricia's face. Spotting a Kleenex box, she retrieved it and carried it over to the heartbroken woman, who was now wracked by silent sobs.
"Why? Why now? I never got to say goodbye. I loved her so much."
Sitting down next to Patricia, Jaye said softly, "She loved you, too."
She looked up to find surprised green eyes regarding her, before they turned back to Patricia. Jaye stood up and walked back to the chair in which she'd been sitting. Returning her gaze to the two women, she saw the shimmering figure of her aunt sitting in the place on the couch she had just vacated.
Delia was looking at Patricia, her features soft with love and her eyes overflowing with boundless devotion, apparent even across the room.
Jaye was overwhelmed by the intense emotion emanating from her aunt's ghost. The empathy she'd held at arm's length since learning of Delia's long-ago lover began to burgeon, flooding her with awareness. These two women shared a very special love for one another. How could that be wrong? She remembered her disdain when one of her friends had talked about soul mates, dismissing it as a non-existent romantic notion.
She'd been wrong. Her disdain and cynicism had grown out of a personal history devoid of meaningful relationships and replete with casual encounters with superficial men. Jaye felt the burdensome yoke of bigotry she'd unwittingly absorbed from her father slip away in the face of the unearthly scene unfolding in front of her. This wasn't wrong. One thing she'd heard was true. Love truly was blind. Love came from the heart, without regard to the physical manifestation of the human being. Love was love, and knew no boundaries.
She could hear her aunt speaking softly in Patricia's ear and wondered if the distraught woman could hear Delia even as she felt like an eavesdropper. Jaye wistfully wondered what it would feel like to have someone look at her that way and whisper sweet words into her ears.
Patricia's tears began to slow and she stood up, Delia's ghostly form joining her. "Excuse me just a minute."
When she left, Lindsay said, "I feel so bad. I wish there were something I could say to make her feel better."
"I know. It's going to take time."
"Do you still think it's wrong?"
Jaye met Lindsay's eyes squarely. "No, I don't." It was uplifting to see the pleased surprise in the green ones gazing at her.
Patricia returned a short time later carrying a tray with a teapot and three cups. After pouring them each a cup of tea, she walked over to a bookcase and pulled open a lower drawer. Rummaging to the bottom of the items in the drawer, she removed a worn photo album and carried it back to the couch.
"I met your aunt when we were both young and so full of love and life. Delia used to tease me all the time about taking so many pictures, but I'm very glad I did. We loved each other so much, and I know that's hard for some people to understand."
Patricia glanced up from the album, finding only kindness and concern in the two sets of eyes gazing at her. "Would you like to see some pictures?"
Jaye and Lindsay answered in concert, "We'd love to," sharing a grin at the unified answer.
The time passed quickly, with Patricia delighting her guests with tales of some of her and Delia's escapades and adventures. She sadly related her decision to bow to her parents' wishes and marry Gareth Edwards, Sr., but it was apparent to her visitors that her love for Delia had never faltered.
The three women looked up as a car door slammed, and Patricia hurriedly closed the album, replacing it in the drawer only seconds before Gareth walked into the living room.
Lindsay stared at the ruggedly handsome man standing in the entranceway, noting that her initial impression had been correct. His whole demeanor was arrogant and overbearing. He was wearing a dark blue, tailor made suit, designed to emphasize his fit, muscular body.
Gareth was just short of six feet and stood tall, using his formidable presence to make a memorable entrance. He walked into the room exuding confidence, a fixed smile on his face, taking the time to make eye contact with each individual.
Lindsay met his eyes and the artificially bright smile faded, momentary shock apparent in his eyes before the smile reappeared. Had she not been watching him so intently, Lindsay knew she'd never have seen the brief faltering.
Patricia spoke, breaking the short silence. "Gareth, you remember Lindsay, don't you? She was Delia's assistant." When her son nodded, she continued, "This is Jaye, Delia's niece."
Gareth greeted each woman, subjecting both to the prodigious charm and charisma that had been the hallmark of his legal career.
Taking a deep breath, the older woman added, "They came to tell me Delia was murdered last week. Some suspects have been questioned, but charges haven't been filed yet."
He walked over and hugged his mother. "Mother, I'm so sorry. I know she was an old friend."
Lindsay had to bite her tongue. His eyes had shown no warmth and his words had been devoid of any sincerity, making it obvious he was indifferent to the revelation. Gareth's coldness reinforced his position as the number one suspect on her list.
She glanced at Jaye, noting the scowl. They were definitely on the same sheet of music regarding Patricia's son.
Gareth led his mother over to the couch, insisting she sit down. "I think it would be best if you left now. My mother's suffered a terrible shock, and she needs to rest."
"No. It's over four hours to Tucker's Way." She turned her attention to Jaye and Lindsay. "Please stay here tonight as my guests."
The entreaty in her eyes was clearly visible to both women. Jaye spoke. "We'd love to. Thank you."
Gareth interrupted. "I would think you'd have the decency to see that my mother needs some rest."
"Gareth! This is my house and I want them to stay. Don't listen to him. He's just overly protective."
Jaye glanced from Gareth's tightly clenched fists to his rigid features, watching as he visibly forced himself to relax and took a seat beside his mother.
"Are you all right, Mother? Is there anything I can do?"
"I'm okay." Patricia shook her head sadly, her expressive eyes filling with tears again. "I just need time..."
"A change of subject might be in order. It's not good to dwell on the dead," Gareth interjected smoothly. Ignoring the visitors, he focused exclusively on his mother. "I went to court on the Falstead case today. I eviscerated the fool's lawyer until even the jurors were shaking their heads. I can't believe he thought he could compete with me in a courtroom." Smiling smugly, Gareth continued, "Of course it was no competition."
"So you won?"
Lindsay shook her head imperceptibly. She could see that Patricia didn't really care about some case Gareth was working on right now.
"Indeed. This is the last time he'll ever accuse one of my clients of breaking environmental laws."
"But you said your client was guilty," Patricia said, "I thought you were just going to get a reduced fine for him."
"He is guilty. So? Why bother with a reduced fine when you can win? I knew I had the jury eating out of my hand. Why not give my client his money's worth. A reduced fine was only the plan if I was burdened with a jury of environmentalists."
Jaye glowered at Gareth. Lindsay stood up, wanting to divert Jaye's attention from the contemptible idiot sitting on the couch.
"Excuse me. I need to use the restroom."
"Of course. It's up the stairs on the right side of the hallway about half way down."
Lindsay smiled at Patricia. "Thanks. I'll be right back." She shot Jaye a look, and inwardly sighed with relief when she saw some of the anger fade from the crystal blue eyes.
An hour later, Patricia stood up. "I'm going to start preparing dinner."
The younger women joined her. Jaye asked, "How about letting us help?"
Seeing the indecision in her eyes, Lindsay raised her eyebrows in entreaty.
"Thank you. I'd like that."
Lindsay joined Jaye in a sigh of relief. Listening to Gareth for the past hour had been monotonous and boring.
Once dinner was finished, Patricia suggested with gentle firmness, "Gareth, why don't you go home now? I'm sure you're tired after your long day."
Gareth frowned and protested, "But I thought I'd help you entertain our company."
"You have and thank you, but I want to get our guests settled in and retire early."
"Well, okay. You be sure to call me in the morning. I'm worried about you."
"I will, honey. I'm doing okay." Patricia hugged Gareth and ushered him out the door.
Turning back to her guests, she said, "Now we can talk."
Jaye leaned back in her chair, approaching exhaustion from the long hours of talking. Lindsay had already retired for the night but, sensing that her aunt's lover still needed to talk, Jaye had stayed up with their hostess. Now, however, she noted that the older woman had drifted off into her own thoughts, and she remained quiet, allowing Patricia the comfort of her memories.
Tired blue eyes shifted to her aunt's ghost. Delia had been a constant presence since Gareth's departure, hovering close to Patricia as if to offer ethereal solace. The spirit raised her eyes and met Jaye's, sorrow mixed with a curious contentment in the wise, old gaze. The younger woman couldn't help wondering if Delia's shade would remain at Patricia's side for whatever years the elegant woman had left.
"I almost feel like she's here...like I can still feel her love surrounding me."
Patricia's wistful remark startled Jaye out of her torpor and without thinking, she blurted, "She is. She's sitting right beside you."
Hazel eyes had widened in shock and Jaye's immediate instinct was to quickly recant, but Delia's nod and half-smile encouraged her.
"My aunt. Well, her spirit anyway...she's sitting beside you and has been all evening."
"You can see her?" Patricia's voice was a mixture of skepticism and desperate hope.
Jaye nodded. "I've been able to since the day of her funeral. I almost had a coronary when she first showed up, but she was so pissed off at being murdered when she had big plans for her life, that she insisted I find out who did it. She knew Lindsay had been wrongly accused and wasn't about to sit still for that kind of injustice."
Patricia laughed. "That's sounds like my Dee." She turned to stare at the spot to which Jaye had gestured. Sadly she reported, "I can't see her."
"Tell her to close her eyes, J-mac. Tell her to clear her mind and just let herself feel."
Obediently, Jaye repeated her aunt's words, watching as Patricia followed the instructions, an expression of wary hope on her aristocratic features.
Delia raised both hands, cupping her lover's face and smoothing her thumbs over the lines around her eyes and mouth. Bending forward, she touched her lips to Patricia's, lingering as if tasting a long-ago sweetness.
Hazel eyes flew open. "I felt her! I really felt her!"
Jaye laughed, delighted that her aunt had gotten through.
Patricia turned eagerly to the younger woman. "Can I talk to her?"
"I'm not sure. I mean, she can hear what you say, but I'm not sure if you'll be able to hear her replies. Give it a try. I'll translate if necessary."
The elegant woman turned back to face the unseen wraith. "Dee...darling, I'm so sorry. If only I hadn't delayed. Maybe if I'd been with you..."
"No, Patty. You might have gotten hurt, and I couldn't have borne that."
Jaye had never heard such tenderness in her aunt's voice, not even when Delia had comforted her after numerous childhood scrapes. She felt like a voyeur, but when it became clear that Patricia still couldn't hear her lover's words, she repeated them.
A strangled half-sob met her recitation. "Only Dee ever called me Patty. I never let anyone else get away with that nickname." Tears spilled down her cheeks, but her eyes were luminous with joy. "Oh God, she's really here. Please tell her how much I miss her and how dearly I love her."
Jaye's vision was unaccountably misty. "She knows. She can hear you." She cocked her head as she listened to her aunt. "She says she always knew, even after you left. She never for a moment doubted your love, and she never blamed you."
Patricia wept bitterly now. "My father..."
Deciding discretion was in order, Jaye decided not to convey the oath that burst from Delia's lips at the mention of the man who had destroyed the young lovers' dreams. Instead she frowned at her aunt, silently urging her to let the past go and focus on the despairing woman beside her. She was pleased with Delia's next words.
"My aunt asks if you remember the time of your Uncle Hannibal's annual July 4th barbeque."
Sobs slowed, and a tiny smile curled Patricia's lips.
"She wants to know if they ever figured out who sabotaged your cousin's rowboat."
Jaye was startled to hear Patricia giggle and watched as Delia grinned too. She frowned in puzzlement, wondering what memory was amusing the two lovers.
Noting her confusion, Patricia explained.
"My cousin, Charles, was an obnoxious snob, and he had his sights set on a wealthy young socialite. Dee and I knew the girl, and she was a pretty decent sort. We didn't want her to get stuck with Charles for life when all he was after was her money and position, so we set out to ensure that she saw the real Charles before she was swept away by his smarmy charm. We knew Charles would take Lillian out on the pond during Uncle Hannibal's picnic, because that was his standard approach to courting. The night before, Dee and I snuck out and loosened a couple of the boards in the boat. He only got about ten feet off the dock before the water started pouring in. Not only did he make an utter ass of himself squawking like a terrified child, he abandoned Lillian in the sinking boat and scurried back to shore like the proverbial rat. Well, needless to say, by the time she made it back to land, soaked to the skin and livid about his desertion, there was no danger that she'd ever consider Charles as suitable husband material."
Through gales of laughter, Delia managed to gasp, "Charles suspected us, but he was never able to prove anything, and Patty and I alibied each other."
Jaye joined in the laughter, feeling vaguely sorry for the would-be Romeo. She suspected he hadn't stood much of a chance against these two.
"So who was the brain behind that operation?" Jaye asked, when the hilarity subsided a bit.
The answer in unison reminded Jaye of her and Lindsay, and even as she chuckled at the lovers playfully blaming each other for long-ago mischief, she couldn't help being distracted. As she absently continued conveying Delia's words, inwardly approving of how her aunt had lifted Patricia's spirits, her traitorous thoughts cast Lindsay and herself in the older women's shoes. She found herself musing on what they would do in the same position, if her father forbade such a relationship. Startled at her train of thought, Jaye forced herself to set it aside and concentrate on her role as relater.
With memories and loving words exchanged between Delia and Patricia, another hour passed before Jaye finally called a halt. Yawning widely, she apologized. "I'm sorry, I can't keep my eyes open any more. I'm going to have to say goodnight."
Patricia stood as Jaye did, and surprised the younger woman with a fervent, grateful hug.
"Thank you. You have no idea what a gift you've given me tonight. I can never repay you."
"No need to. I was glad to help." Jaye smiled, then glanced over to where her aunt still sat.
"Goodnight, J-mac. You're a good girl, and I'm damned lucky to have you as my niece."
Her aunt's gruff approval warmed Jaye, and she bade the lovers' goodnight. On her way to the stairs, she detoured through the dining room. Patricia had insisted that they leave the dishes, saying that the housekeeper would clear them away in the morning and that they had more important things to do. That suited Jaye perfectly as she carefully wrapped Gareth's wine glass in a linen napkin and carried it upstairs to her room. Carefully stowing it in her overnight bag, she wearily stripped off her clothes and threw on an oversized t-shirt.
She had opened the bedroom door on her way to the washroom when she heard Delia's voice from behind her. Turning, she saw her aunt perched on her bed. Without any preliminaries, the ghost said, "I want you to leave off this investigation, J-mac. It doesn't matter who killed me. What's done is done, and some day, whoever did it will have to answer to the ultimate justice."
Momentarily speechless, Jaye stared at her aunt, before bursting out, "Not bloody likely! We're right on the verge of solving this thing, and you know it!"
"Don't know anything of the kind, Eeyore." Delia's stern voice echoed in the large bedroom.
"Like hell you don't! We both know Gareth had the strongest motive, and Lindsay and I are going to prove opportunity tomorrow."
Delia stood abruptly, all the earlier gentleness gone from her sharp eyes. "Jaye Andrea MacLaren...I said let it drop!"
Jaye used every bit of her nearly six feet to tower over her aunt as she snapped, "I will not. There's no way on God's green earth that I'm going to let that miserable bastard get away with killing my favourite aunt."
The ghost shook her head in exasperation, even as her gaze softened slightly. "You don't understand..."
"I do understand." Jaye's voice had dropped in volume too. "You're willing to let Gareth get away with it, because you don't want to hurt Patricia. I understand that, Auntie D, but..."
"No buts. That's the only thing that matters to me, J-mac. She's suffered so much pain in her life that I can't bear for her to hurt anymore, particularly because of me. Can't you understand? Nothing else matters to me."
"I do understand," Jaye insisted, her new awareness of the vital, powerful love between the older women foremost in her mind. "That doesn't mean I'm willing to let a murderer get off scot free."
"Damn it, girl! If you don't leave it alone, I'm going to haunt you forever. I'll do it, you know," Delia threatened.
Jaye laughed outright, half-chagrined at the thought and half-hopeful that her aunt would stay around. She just hoped that talking to an invisible shade for the next four or five decades wouldn't eventually land her in the loony bin.
Delia stamped her foot, but it lost any impact when it didn't even disturb the thick carpet. Abandoning her first approach, she resorted to pleading. "Please, J-mac, please. Won't you do this for me? It's the last thing I'll ever ask of you. If you love me..."
Groaning, Jaye rolled her eyes and hung her head, helpless against the unprecedented pleas. Her aunt had rarely asked her for anything, except to investigate her death, and she couldn't bear the thought of disappointing her. Exhausted to the point of being unable to think straight, she said simply, "Let me sleep on it, Auntie, all right?"
Delia bit her lip, then nodded. "All right. Go to sleep, girl. We'll talk in the morning."
As her aunt's ghost faded, Jaye turned wearily to the door, only to stop short at the sight of a sleep tousled Lindsay staring at her from the doorway.
"Oh shit! Uh, what are you...I mean, what did you...?"
Lindsay cocked her golden head and regarded her with bemusement. "I heard yelling, so I came to see what was going on, only to find you having a very intense conversation with thin air. Care to explain?"
Jaye groaned, stumbling to the bed where she flung herself down and covered her eyes with an arm. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you." She felt the mattress dip as Lindsay sat on the edge of the bed.
Lying quietly, Jaye processed the simple words, wondering if Lindsay could possibly believe her. She finally uncovered her eyes and peered up at patient green eyes. Suddenly the need to take this young woman into her confidence outweighed any fears of being ridiculed.
"I was arguing with Delia's ghost over whether or not we should pursue the murderer any further. She doesn't want Patricia hurt if we nail Gareth for the killing."
Lindsay nodded slowly, obviously chewing over her words. "So...you're telling me, you can see and talk to Delia."
Wryly, Jaye thought she should at least be grateful that her companion hadn't run screaming out of the room. She rolled onto her stomach and buried her head in her arms, too tired to do more than let the truth hang there, waiting for Lindsay's evaluation.
"How long have you been able to communicate with Delia?"
"She came to me after the funeral. She was angry that you'd been unjustly imprisoned, and she wanted me to find the real murderer."
There was a long silence, and Jaye almost drifted off before she felt a hand gently rubbing her back. She held still, enjoying the soft touch even as she wondered if Lindsay was conscious of what she was doing.
"So what are we going to do? Should we back off on Gareth?"
Unseen, Jaye's eyebrow shot up. She rolled over again, coming to rest pressed up against Lindsay's thigh. "Just like that. You believe me?"
The blonde smiled. "Well, you hardly seem like the sort to see things that aren't there, and it does explain some things that have happened. Delia and I occasionally talked about the occult, and we both thought there was more to the world than the eye could see. She told me once that she thought she could feel the presence of her twin, your mother, especially when you were spending the summers with her."
Jaye gaped at her companion. "Well, I'll be damned."
Lindsay laughed out loud. "I hope not, but in the meantime, what do we do about Gareth?"
Stunned at how readily she'd been believed, Jaye shook off her weariness to explain the evening's events with Patricia and the gist of the argument with Delia. By the time she was done, both women were sitting cross-legged on the bed, facing each other, with their knees touching. Jaye tried desperately not to be distracted by the feel of warm, smooth flesh against her own, but found herself hoping that this would be a lengthy conversation. When her eyes strayed to the shadowed thighs under Lindsay's stretched nightshirt, she had to forcibly wrench her attention back to her companion's words.
Apparently oblivious to Jaye's dilemma, Lindsay tapped her finger on the tall woman's knee as she reviewed their case against Gareth.
"We know that Gareth had a powerful motive, but so far, we don't have any evidence to support our suspicions. Just because we dislike the jerk, we can't automatically assume that he's the one."
"No, but I may have the smoking gun," Jaye said with satisfaction, gleeful when that caused Lindsay to squeeze her knee excitedly.
"You do? What?"
"I've got Gareth's wine glass with his prints on it. I know that the killer escaped out the library window, because Dolan and I both found footprints and smears of blood. Odds are that Gareth panicked and wasn't thinking clearly, which could well mean that he left fingerprints when he went out the window. All we need to do is turn the glass over to Dolan and explain our theory."
"Hmm, that's good, but I think we should see what else we could find to buttress our arguments. Gareth is a prestigious man and they're going to want a solid case to indict him."
Jaye nodded her agreement, then hesitated. "That presumes that we're going to go forward with this against Delia's wishes."
The two women were silent as they pondered their options. Troubled green eyes met worried blue, as Lindsay spoke softly.
"I think we have to, Jaye. Think of what Gareth was saying tonight. He has his eyes set on the Oval Office eventually. I get the feeling he has some pretty powerful backing to get there, too. Do we really want him as the leader of the free world?"
Jaye shuddered at the thought, very glad that she was Canadian but knowing that whoever was in the White House affected every country in the world, including her own. "God, no!"
"Then we have to stop him now. We simply can't let him get away with this, no matter how much it hurts his mother."
Lindsay's words were urgent and persuasive. Jaye couldn't deny their truth, but the distressing thought of hurting that lovely woman, not to mention incurring her aunt's wrath, was hard to bear.
She murmured sadly, "If only you could've seen them together tonight." She raised anguished eyes to meet Lindsay's compassionate gaze. "They truly loved each other. I don't think I've ever seen the like...at least not in my life."
A moment of crystal clarity passed between the two women: a fragile moment of unspoken dreams, of a future bright with possibilities, yet fraught with pitfalls; of joy untold for those with the courage to seize it, yet too ephemeral for the fearful to grasp.
Jaye only realized she'd been holding her breath when she saw Lindsay suck in a deep draught of air and jerk her head as if shaking off a prolonged fugue.
"Um...uh, what about a compromise?" Jaye suggested, trying to reorient herself. "What if we gather whatever information we can while we're here in Boston, and leave the decision about what to do with it until we're back in Tucker's Way?"
"Yeah...uh, that sounds good," Lindsay agreed, as she fussed with her nightshirt and edged towards the side of the bed. "Well, I'll let you get some sleep now. Talk to you in the morning."
She left hastily, closing the door behind her. Jaye stared after her, wondering what had just happened, and certain that no matter how tired she was, sleep would be elusive tonight.
Jaye bit her lip as her eyes drifted around the hotel room. Despite the two queen-sized beds, she couldn't help wondering if it wouldn't have been wiser to get two rooms...not that she'd argued when Lindsay had suggested getting one to save on expenses.
They had parted from Patricia that morning, leaving her with promises to stay in touch and the impression that they were heading directly back to Tucker's Way. Instead, they'd found a hotel and taken up temporary residence. One phone call had confirmed that Gareth was in court all day, and now Jaye was waiting for Lindsay so they could pay a call on their prime suspect's legal firm.
Her companion had gone out an hour ago, citing the need to look appropriate for their visit. Jaye had passed the interval trying to read the complimentary newspaper and flipping aimlessly through TV channels. She'd attempted to discipline her thoughts and focus on their mission, but her mind kept returning to that single revelatory moment the previous evening. She was torn between trying to pin down exactly what she was feeling toward Lindsay, and half-hoping, half-fearing that Lindsay was feeling the same way.
There was no way to tell from the young blonde woman's demeanor. She'd been friendly since they'd met for breakfast at Patricia's, but nothing more. Or was there... Jaye had glanced up unexpectedly at one point to find puzzled green eyes focused intently on her, but Lindsay had immediately averted her gaze and struck up a conversation with their hostess.
Hearing the sound of someone at the door, Jaye looked up expectantly, her eyes widening as she saw the woman who entered, carrying a large shopping bag. Lindsay was now outfitted in a smart, tailored, expensive-looking dark gray suit. A form-fitting jacket with a cream, silk, cowl-necked blouse underneath complemented a slightly flared, knee-length skirt. Matching pumps, earrings and clutch purse completed the outfit.
"You like?" Lindsay asked, twirling to give the full effect of the outfit, then setting the bag down.
"Well, yeah...but why the costume?" Jaye felt slightly dazed by the contrast between the serious young business professional that stood in front of her and the casual companion of the past few days.
Lindsay sat carefully on the straight chair nearest the window, crossing her legs primly at the ankles. "Camouflage. When I get to Gareth's office, I don't want his secretary to see me as anything out of the ordinary, just another busy professional blending in with the endless stream of people through her boss' office."
Jaye mulled that over, then clicked to Lindsay's choice of pronoun. "Hey! What do you mean when you go to Gareth's?"
The blonde chuckled. "I was wondering when you'd pick up on that." Getting serious, she leaned forward, fixing her gaze on her companion. "Jaye, I'm not trying to cut you out, but you have to admit that between the two of us, I'm far less intimidating. I think I can get his secretary to open up much more easily, not to mention that she's far more likely to remember and report a gorgeous black-haired, blue-eyed Amazon to her boss. If I go in, I'm just one more anonymous, potential client. I hardly stand out in a crowd."
Jaye couldn't help a smile at the spontaneously complimentary adjective, but had to bite her lip to keep from protesting that Lindsay would so stand out in any crowd. Aware that she was somewhat biased, she had to concede that her friend was right, particularly about her superior ability to get people to open up. Reluctantly she nodded.
"All right, I guess you have a point. What's your plan?"
Lindsay stood and paced in front of Jaye. "Well, we need to determine Gareth's movements on the day Delia was murdered, so I thought I'd come across as piqued because he stood me up that day for a business luncheon, and not entirely sure that I'm willing to rebook, especially with so much money at stake in the deal I was to propose to him. If I work it right, with just the right mix of irritation and snootiness, his secretary will offer excuses and apologies in an effort to keep her boss out of trouble, and hopefully, whatever she says will give us the information we need."
"Sounds good. While you're playing Nancy Drew, I'm going to find a Net access and track down a picture of Gareth in the newspaper archives. From what he was saying last night, I have a hunch it won't be difficult to find pictures of him in the society pages. Once we have that, we can show it around Tucker's Way and see if anyone spotted him last week."
Beaming, Lindsay impulsively threw her arms around Jaye and hugged her enthusiastically. "That's excellent! Between witnesses to place him in Tucker's Way on the right day, a strong motive, and fingerprints to place him at the murder scene, this should provide a solid case against him."
Blue eyes widened in pleasant shock as Jaye absorbed the feeling of Lindsay's warm body against hers. Far too soon for her, the younger woman abruptly released her grasp and stepped back, a blush coloring her fair skin.
"Um, well, I should really get going to Gareth's office. Shall we meet back here around noon?" Lindsay's head was lowered as her fingers played nervously with her purse.
Gently Jaye reached out and tipped her chin up, looking deep into chagrined green eyes. She held those eyes for a long moment, resisting mightily the urge to reassure her companion with a kiss. Instead she simply said, "Thank you." Then, smiling, she withdrew her hand and wished the blonde luck.
She watched Lindsay hasten from the room, exhilarated by the sensations coursing through her body and wistful that neither of them yet had the confidence to pursue what was developing so rapidly between them. The tall woman sighed. Could it be that this was a case of foxhole lust? Had the circumstances and the manner in which they'd been thrown together simply engendered a temporary attraction between them?
Even as her mind posed the questions, her heart rejected that theory. Jaye had occasionally gone straight from a gruesome crime scene shoot to the nearest bar, looking for anyone to remind her for a few hours that she was alive. But this...this feeling that Lindsay so effortlessly aroused was unprecedented in the photographer's experience. Even as she longed for time to explore this, Jaye couldn't help wondering if she would have the courage to take the first step.
God knows after the way you reacted to finding out about Auntie D and Patricia, she's not going to initiate anything! What I wouldn't give to have those few moments back to do over.
With that vexing thought in mind, Jaye turned to get ready for her detective excursion, only to see a grave-eyed Delia leaning against the window sill, the sunlight apparent through her form. The tall woman groaned inwardly, knowing that the confrontation was going to come sooner than she'd hoped. Steeling herself, she met her aunt's eyes squarely.
"We can't. You know we can't. Remember when I was eight, and you tanned my behind for not stopping Tommy Fessler from picking on that Campbell kid?"
"I remember. Hughie Campbell was a born target for bullies like Tommy Fessler, too slow to understand meanness and too sweet to stand up for himself."
"And you told me that story about the man who wouldn't stand up for the Jews when the Nazis came for them because he wasn't Jewish, then not standing up for the Gypsies or the Catholics or the Gays because he wasn't any of them; and when they came for him, there was no one left to stand up for him?"
Delia smiled wanly. "Or words to that effect." She sighed heavily. "I know what you're saying, J-mac, but it's going to kill her to find out that her son is a murderer."
Somberly, Jaye agreed. "And I'd give anything if it weren't so, but you hammered those ideals into my head at an early age...to stand up for what's right, no matter what; and to protect those who can't protect themselves. Auntie D, we can't just let him get away with this. He's already proven himself an immoral, opportunistic bastard. Who knows how many innocents he'll hurt on his climb to the top of the political ladder, and God knows what he'd do with all that power once he was there."
Reluctantly, the words sounding as if they'd been literally dragged out of her, Delia conceded. "All right. You do what you have to do. All I ask is that you go to her when it's time and stand by her side. Will you do that for your old aunt, J-mac?"
Jaye nodded solemnly. "I give you my word. We'll make sure we're with her when they arrest Gareth."
It was only after Delia has disappeared that Jaye realized she'd spoken for Lindsay too. Musing about how natural that had felt, she retrieved her wallet from the bedside table and left the room, intent on finding one more piece of the puzzle that would nail Gareth Edwards.
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