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Dana turned on the closet light and sought on the upper shelves for the box she'd brought from her parent's house. She found it, shoved way to the back, and dislodged a spider web and a decade's worth of dust bunnies along with it. She waved a hand in front of her face and coughed as she sat down on the foot of the bed. She could still feel Gretchen in the air all around her, but forced herself to focus.
She opened the box and began digging through her memories. Trophies from high school softball games, photographs of a twelve-year-old tomboy glaring at the camera... she pushed all that aside and pulled out a handful of brightly-colored cards that were held together with a rubber band. They had warped into a C-shape, the outside edges faded while the inside curve remained the original color. She released the rubber band and folded the cards back and forth until they were semi-flat.
The first one was from her mother and father and still held a worn ten dollar bill. She laughed and pocketed the money before going through the next one. Halfway down was a simple green card with a bit of lace on the corners. Her heart skipped and she slowly opened it. A tiny picture fell into her lap, but she ignored it. "Happy Birthday, Dayne. Love, Lisa." She picked up the picture and stared at her first and, until recently, only real lover.
She was a tall redhead and Dana noticed for the first time that she seemed to veer towards the crimson side of the spectrum. Blondes, the occasional brunette, but hardly ever had a redhead crossed her path without ending up in her bed. Sofia and Regan were prime examples of that. In the photo, Lisa was squinting at the camera. She was sitting on a brick wall, one hand curled in her lap and the other cupped over her eyes.
Dana put the photo back in the card and put it into the box. "Bye, Lisa," she whispered.
She continued going through the stack of cards, flipping them open, reading the sentiment and then putting it aside. She was about to lose patience when she found the one she was looking for. "Happy birthday. Don't spend it all in one place. Grandpa Clark."
She assumed he was referring to whatever money he'd included, but that was one bill she hadn't missed. Grandpa Clark usually went a bit higher than ten bucks. She remembered one year he'd given her a fifty. After that, she was always nice to Grandpa Clark whenever he visited... even if he was a little creepy and even if he hit a little too hard for playing.
Dana returned everything to the box and replaced it in her closet. She tucked the card into her back pocket and hurried out of the apartment. The sooner she got this to Rucker, the sooner they could have closure on this whole stupid mess.
There was no cake at the police station this time. Apparently, just before Dana arrived, the deputy who'd towed her car had brought in someone for being drunk in public. The drunk had not taken kindly to his incarceration. When Dana walked in, Sheriff Rucker had an ice pack against his jaw and was kneeling next to the swinging door set into the counter. It had been knocked off one hinge and he was trying to see if it was salvageable. He looked up at the sound of the door and said, "Miss Purcell. Got the comparison for me?"
"Yeah... are you okay?"
"Oh, sure," he said. "Come on back. We gotta send it to a lab in Tacoma for the final say-so, but the deputy can give us an eighty percent answer right now. Randy!"
From the holding cells at the back of the building, something clattered mightily. There was a sound of something hitting the bars of the cell, a man barked, "That is your last warning, you hear me?!"
The deputy, Dana guessed he was Randy, came storming into the main room. His tie was askew and he was missing the top two buttons of his uniform shirt. He adjusted his tie as best he could, smoothed down his close-cropped black hair and said, "Can't I just shoot him next time, Cal?"
"Don't talk about shooting prisoners. We have a civilian present."
"Sorry, ma'am," Randy said.
Rucker retrieved the note, still in the Ziploc bag, and said, "Can you do an on-the-spot handwriting comparison for us?"
White took the note. "Do my best. Where's the comparison?"
Dana pulled the card out of her pocket and handed it over. White frowned at the two and said, "How much time passed between the writing?"
Dana winced; she hadn't considered that. "I... don't know for sure. Around thirty years."
"That'll make it a little tougher." He took a seat and picked up a spyglass that was sitting on the edge of his desk. He read both notes twice and then examined them under the little glass. He sat up and said, "They're the same."
Rucker said, "Are you sure?"
"Thirty years may have gone by, but the guy was fully grown when he wrote them. His signature didn't change too much. Plus, you see the capital-D in 'do not' in the letter... and then the 'Don't' in the birthday card. These were written by the same guy."
Dana felt like she'd been punched in the stomach. She watched Rucker take the note and card. He sealed the card in an evidence bag, thanked Randy and turned to her. "You okay, Miss Purcell?"
She managed to nod.
"You said this was your grandfather. You should probably talk to your parents."
Dana scoffed and pushed her hair out of her face. "Yeah. Maybe it would be better coming from you."
Rucker glanced at Randy. "Well... to be perfectly honest, Miss Purcell, we have no reason to get involved."
Dana frowned. "What do you mean?"
"The murderer is dead. Maura Hunter had no family. All we can do is update the file and call it closed. I'm sorry, but it probably won't go further than that."
"You'll list Grandpa Clark as the murderer, though, right?"
"Right. And we'll give the newspapers a call, make sure they know the case is closed. Maybe it'll stop the perennial nuts coming in here trying to solve it." He realized what he'd said and turned to Dana. "No offense, Miss Purcell."
She shook her head and muttered, "None taken." She turned and headed for the door, offering a thank you over her shoulder.
"Miss Purcell. About the reward?"
Dana turned. "What reward?"
"The five thousand dollars. It's been held in trust at the bank for information that led to the solving of this case. We could have a check drawn up..."
"No," Dana said. "Can you... can you transfer it to another bank account?"
"Gretchen Cole. I'm... she probably has an account at Squire's Bank & Trust. If not... um... I don't know. I'll be in touch if she doesn't. Thank you."
Dana sat in front of her parent's white clapboard house and stared at the front porch. She had barely been inside since moving out for college. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed Gretchen's house. "Please, please, be there." She was about to hang up when Gretchen answered and gasped an out of breath hello into the receiver. "Gretchen!"
"I was thinking it would be you. Hi."
Dana closed her eyes and felt a tear slip free.
"Did you want to go ahead and meet up for dinner?"
"No," Dana managed. "I have to do something first. I... just... wanted to hear your voice before I did it."
"Are you okay?"
"Fine, honey. Hey, um... do you have an account at Squire's?"
She could almost hear Gretchen blink. "Yeah. Why?"
"No reason. Gretchen, honey... thanks."
Dana laughed. "I don't know. But thanks anyway."
"You're scaring me, Dana."
"I know. I'll tell you all about it tonight, okay?"
"Okay. I love you."
A fresh tear slid down her cheek. "Thank you again," she breathed. "Okay. I have to go. I love you, too. Bye." She hung up and faced the house. The front curtain fell back into place and she sighed. "Busted. It's now or never."
She opened the car door and started up the brick walkway. The front door opened when she was halfway there. A short man, just a few inches shorter than Dana, appeared and put his hands into his pockets. An attempt at casual, but it failed miserably due to the fact his hands were balled into fists. He wore a red sweater and a pair of bifocals, his gray hair ending higher on his forehead than she remembered. She stopped and faced him. "Dana."
"Allan," she said.
He clenched his jaw. "Something I can do for you?"
"Just listen. I know how hard that's been for you in the past, so I'll give you a second to get ready." She took a breath. "Sometime in the next week, your father's name will be linked to Maura Hunter's murder."
"The actress who died in the forties," she said. "Your father killed her."
Allan Adams shook his head. "Dana, this is a new low. Even for you."
"Keep your eye on the papers." She turned and started back towards her car.
"You'd drag your grandfather's name through the mud just because you're..."
"He's not my grandfather!" Dana shouted. She turned around and said, "I'm a Purcell. I will never be Dana Adams again. I didn't want this, Allan. But if he won't go down for Momma's murder, then maybe..."
Allan snapped, "Your grandfather had nothing to do with..."
"Shut up!" she shouted. "Okay?! Just shut up! I just came from the goddamn police station! I just came from the police station where they used one of my *birthday cards* to prove Clark Adams threatened Maura Hunter. He had an affair with her and got her pregnant. He killed her!"
Allan was trying desperately to control his breathing. "If you're not a member of my family... then get off my property before I send you back to that police station."
"You can play blind all you want. It'll be in the papers. I'm glad I won't be there when you finally have to face reality." She turned on her heel and stormed back to her car. She heard the old man calling her from the steps, but she didn't turn. She kept her head bowed as she started the car and pulled away from the curb. A car horn blared as she cut off the driver and she waved an apology.
She checked the traffic before she pulled into the lane again. She broke the speed limit on the way to Gretchen's.
There were no lights on in the house. Gretchen was on the floor in front of the couch, Dana weeping in her arms. They'd been like that for three hours, missing the dinner reservation Gretchen made as a surprise. It didn't matter. She stroked Dana's hair and listened as the story came out.
They had been home alone, her and her mother. There was a storm. Dana was upstairs in bed, supposedly asleep. In truth, she was on her knees, hands pressed to the cold glass of her arched bedroom window, watching as lightning flashed all around the little island. The room was tiny, an add-on to the attic, and the roof sloped down dramatically over her bed. The bed would have to be moved before she saw another birthday, but she loved her cave. At least she did until that night.
Her grandfather, who was always nice until he started hitting, drove up in the driveway. Dana, worried that he would see her and swat her for not being in bed, hopped under the covers and squeezed her eyes shut. She heard him come in, heard her mother yell for him to get out. There were some loud noises - she'd spent a lot of dark nights trying to figure out what those noises had been - and then her mother screamed and the front door slammed open.
She jumped back to the window in time to see her mother, barefoot and wearing a robe, run to her car. Clark ran after her. The car pulled out of the driveway and Clark drove after her. Dana was left alone in the big, scary house as the sky rumbled above her.
"That night," Dana said, "Mom ran a stop sign. She wasn't wearing a seatbelt. The car sideswiped her... she died instantly." She sniffled and buried her face in Gretchen's shirt. "He must've been... nearly seventy when that happened. But he still terrified me. Terrified her, too."
Gretchen sniffled and kissed the top of Dana's head. "Why didn't you tell me before?"
"I guess I never really thought about it. Not like something that really happened. But today it all came rolling back." She found Gretchen's hand and squeezed it. "I don't think I could've done it without you. And... now that it's done, I feel like I've been hiding from my father all these years. I feel like I can finally... finally stop dreading him at the back of my mind."
Gretchen said, "And if you hadn't come into Funky Junk, if you hadn't taken me under your wing, if... do you think Mabel was right? That this play *is* cursed?"
"I hope not. Because if it is, we've broken the spell by closing Maura's case. And I don't want the spell to end." She lifted her head and kissed Gretchen. Gretchen threaded her fingers through Dana's hair and pulled her close. If the spell was broken, that just meant she'd have to hold on extra tight.
Dana rolled slightly and straddled Gretchen's leg. She sat up and said, "Everything in my life has come to a boil since I met you. My parents, the show..." She took Gretchen's hand and put it on her chest. She arched her back and bit her lip. "It's like I'm wrapping up my old life... so I can start a new life."
"Yeah?" Gretchen asked. She squeezed Dana's breast and bent down to kiss her collarbone. The now-familiar map of freckles glistened as she passed over them with her tongue. "I haven't thought about Funky Junk for days. I don't think I remember how much a stuffed whale costs."
Dana smiled. "That's probably not good for business."
"But the fact I *did* know before... the fact that all I did at night was think about what I had to do in the morning? That wasn't good for *me.* I stopped being me a long time ago. The first time... t-the first time someone made me undress when I didn't want to." She swallowed hard. "I like me, though. Or, at least, the me I've become."
"That was beautiful."
"I stole it from Barbara," Gretchen smiled.
"Doesn't matter." Dana pulled off her t-shirt and leaned down. "I've been acting my whole life. I don't want to act anymore. At least, not when I'm not onstage." She pushed her hand under the waistband of her pants and touched herself. "I want to be myself."
Gretchen bent her head and kissed Dana's nipple. She rolled her tongue across it, suckled it gently. Dana moaned and slid her fingernails across Gretchen's back. Gretchen shuddered and moved to the other nipple. "I love you, Dana," she whispered.
"Talk to me," Dana breathed.
Dana put her forehead against Gretchen's and exhaled. Her breath smelled like the beer she'd downed before telling her story, her lips were wet with countless passes of her tongue. "I... w-want to hear your voice when I come. Talk to me..."
Gretchen turned her head and found Dana's ear. "I want you. I love you." She thought back to the story, to the tiny little girl shuddering in her bed while a thunderstorm raged overhead. She brushed her tongue against Dana's ear and said, "Dana, you're safe with me."
Dana sobbed and pressed her face against Gretchen's neck. Her body trembled, her hand working furiously inside her pants. She trembled as she came and pressed her lips to Gretchen's neck. She moved her mouth to Gretchen's face and kissed her closed eyelids. Gretchen moved her hands to the small of Dana's back and whispered, "I've never talked dirty before. Was that okay?"
"Yes," Dana whispered. "That was perfect, baby."
"Just... for future reference? Wh-what would you have said?" Dana pulled back and looked into Gretchen's eyes. "If I'd asked you to talk dirty to me?"
Dana smiled. "Unbutton your pants." Gretchen did as she was told. Dana pushed her hand down, past her panties, and slid closer. She put her face next to Gretchen's ear and whispered. "I want to be inside of you... I want to touch you, make you come, make you scream..." As she spoke, her fingers danced along Gretchen's panties. Like ballerinas on a stage, like leaves blown across a pond, she gave the lightest of touches without going too far.
"I want my tongue on you," Dana said, her breath washing across Gretchen's flesh. "I want to taste you, want to suck your clit. I want you on top of me, all over me, inside of me. Gretchen..."
Gretchen arched her hips and, when she fell to earth again, brought her legs up. She hooked her ankles behind Dana's back and shuddered violently. "I'm coming."
Dana kissed her lips and pressed two fingers against her. Gretchen came with a whimper and again pressed her forehead to Dana's. The sweat made her slip to one side, but Dana used to her free hand to keep her head steady. They kissed, more tongue and passion as the heat rose from Gretchen's body in waves.
Dana eased Gretchen to the floor and stretched out on top of her. They kissed and caressed, pushing clothes out of the way to massage naked flesh. Dana took Gretchen's nipple in her mouth and sucked playfully. When they were breathing normally and the sweat had mostly dried, Gretchen brushed her fingers across Dana's cheek and said, "You stopped crying."
"Yeah," Dana chuckled. "Imagine that." She kissed the hollow of Gretchen's throat and pushed herself up. "Do you want to go to bed?"
Gretchen ran her fingers up the inside of Dana's arm. "Why? We have lots of other rooms to christen." She looked around and said, "Well... one, anyway."
Dana laughed out loud. "Were you this wild before I met you?"
"I didn't exist before I met you," Gretchen said.
Dana's smile faded and she touched Gretchen's face. "That may be the sweetest thing anyone's ever said to me."
Gretchen blushed. "Get used to it. Now... the other room I mentioned..."
The next morning, the weekly issue of the Squire's Isle *Register* landed on Gretchen's front porch. She wrapped herself in the blanket to retrieve it and brought it back to the bedroom with the breakfast she'd fixed. She and Dana sat in bed and searched until they found the feature article. "Decades-old murder mystery solved," Gretchen said. "Squire's Isle Sheriff Cal Rucker reported yesterday that the sixty-year-old unsolved murder of Maura Hunter had finally been put to rest. 'According to newly-received evidence,' the sheriff said, 'we have come to the conclusion that Miss Hunter was murdered by Clark Adams. A note that was in Miss Hunter's possession pointed to an affair with Mr. Adams.' Unfortunately, as Adams is now deceased and Miss Hunter has no other family, no legal action can be taken at this time.'"
"I can't believe that," Dana said. She pushed her toast through her runny eggs. "No one gets punished. Grandpa Clark doesn't get punished for either of the women he murdered."
Gretchen frowned. "I'm... getting the reward?"
Dana looked and saw a mention at the bottom of the ad. "Oh. The sheriff asked me about that and I told him to put it in your bank account."
"It feels kind of... creepy. Taking money for it. I mean, it's your family."
"It's my genetics," Dana said. "Take the money. You deserve it."
Gretchen stroked Dana's face and said, "Thank you."
"Buy me something pretty and we'll call it even."
Gretchen snickered and took a bite of her bacon.
The mood at the theatre was somber to say the least. Owen gathered the cast on-stage and said, "I assume everyone saw the newspaper this morning? We premiere tomorrow night... and now we have this. Do you know what *this* is?" He held up the paper, folded to the article. His face broke out in a grin. "Free publicity. Free... fucking publicity, ladies and gentlemen. People will see this, they will talk about it and they will *remember* it. And everyone who has ever seen this play will want to see it again. Everyone who has considered seeing this play will see it again. And tourists... who come to the island and hear a real-live ghost story? They will want to see it." He slapped the newspaper down. "We will be playing to sold-out crowds. So!
"This is the last dress rehearsal." He began to pace. "This is, as they say, your last chance to do it right. We will run through the play, start to finish--"
"Except for the last line," the cast said as one.
He grinned. "Thank you, my superstitious monkeys. Yes, we will skip the last line, which is the recorded singing. During the course of the show, either myself or Miss Colby will be stopping to make adjustments. Feel free to ad-lib, but not too much. If you have an idea, best to get it out of the way now instead of tomorrow night. Do we have any questions?"
He waited and then snapped his fingers. "Excellent! Everyone, to your places. Mr. Harp, I expect you know your cue to ring by now. Let's get this show underway!"
Dana and Gretchen walked backstage together and took a seat on the floor. There was a large wooden cabinet next to them, blocking them from the rest of the backstage area. Dana sat with her back to the wall and folded her arms and legs around Gretchen. She kissed the back of Gretchen's neck, through the wig, and drew her fingers up Gretchen's arms.
On stage, the lights came up and there was the sound of a doorbell. "Wait five more seconds!" Owen called. Gabriel carried his newspaper towards the armchair and the doorbell rang again. "Better!" Owen called.
"Who could that be?" Gabriel asked. He glanced at Sofia, who was knitting in her chair. He walked to the door and answered it.
Donald Harp stood in a uniform that looked like the Good Humor Man. He held out a yellow piece of paper with a stiff arm. "I have a telegram for a Miss Bianca Sutherland."
"It's Bianca McNeal now," Gabriel said. "I'll take it." He took the paper and fished in his pocket for a dollar bill.
"It's the 1930s," Owen said. "Give him change!"
Gabriel fumbled slightly and returned the paper money to his pocket. He found some change and handed it to the boy. "Thanks," Harp said.
Gabriel closed the door and carried the telegram to Sofia. "It's from your hometown." He put a hand on her shoulder and Sofia looked up. "Darling. Apparently, your mother had passed away..."
Sofia visibly started and turned in her chair. The knitting needles fell to the stage with a clatter. Sofia winced and looked towards the audience. "Keep it!" Owen said. "It's jarring. I like it. Works for the scene. Continue!"
Gretchen leaned back into Dana's arms and glanced towards the catwalk. She gasped. "Honey."
Dana followed Gretchen's finger. Maura was standing on the catwalk, crouched down and leaning against the safety bar. She was looking down at the stage. Dana pressed her lips to Gretchen's ear and whispered, "I guess she's not so easy to get rid of after all."
To be continued in Chapter Eighteen
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