Part Four - Any given force is but one aspect of a mutual interaction between two bodies.
Grace took the Merrit Parkway straight to I-95 and ended up in Milford around two a.m. The two-hour trip allowed her excitement to build, and her mind wandered to what Dana might be willing to try. For Dana, the time built a dread from insecurities so deep that by the time they hit New Haven, she was ready to toss her cookies.
"Maybe you should drop me off at the marina," Dana suggested as they neared Exit 60.
"I'm not dropping you anywhere. You said we could talk, and that's what we're going to do."
Dana was silent.
Grace thought about her words and decided she was being selfish. She was used to being forceful in her work and most other aspects of her life--you don't get to be a doctor any other way. "If you want to be alone, I can respect that, but you should get your things and your dog."
"She's not my dog. I don't own her."
"Fine. We'll go to my place, you can grab your belongings and the dog that you travel with, and I'll take you back to the marina."
Dana knew she had disappointed her friend, but she was so consumed with fear, she didn't care.
They pulled into the gravel driveway. The crescent moon was in mid-sky, and ocean waves pounded the sand behind the house. Grace removed her glasses and slid them into the visor above her head. She turned to face Dana and grinned. "Let's go get your stuff," she said lightly and touched the taut thigh. She had seen the distant look in her friend's eyes. The meaning of the deep, long silence had hit her about halfway home. This woman was not ready for anything, and she really should take a breather herself; Beth was only one day in her past. She should never have kissed Rachel, but she had been feeling so good, so relieved, and Rachel was funny and cute and forward.
Grace sauntered toward the front door, putting her car keys into her coat pocket as she proceeded up the flagstone walkway. She heard the pounding of feet on grass, an "umph," and then the stirring of gravel. What she saw was Beth in black jeans and a dark sweatshirt, kneeling on Dana's back. Beth pulled the long arms behind her prisoner, forcing Dana's face into the cutting gravel. Grace ran over to the two women.
"Grace, get in the house!" Dana screamed into the gravel. Her head was pounding from a blow, and the right side of her face was aching from the hard pressure of the rocks. She felt like her eye was going to implode as a stone tried to leave its impression. Beth yanked hard, and Dana felt her right shoulder leave its socket.
"I want to know who the fuck you are," Beth hissed. She smelled of whiskey, a cheap well brand.
"I'm Bat Girl," Dana mumbled into the rocks.
Beth twisted Dana's wrist to look at the tattoo on the hand. "You're a piece of shit is what you are. Judging from your ID number and your age, I'd say you've been a shithead your whole life. You're a nobody, you're scum, and you shouldn't be walking around breathing my air or messing with my girlfriend."
"Ex-girlfriend," Doc managed with a strain. Another yank and out popped the other shoulder. She heard herself scream as the muscles spasmed and refused to release. My God, if childbirth feels like this, I am never having kids, Doc thought.
"Beth, stop it!" Grace screamed as she charged the larger woman. Using her powerful legs, she threw her whole body into Beth, knocking her sideways and off the downed woman. Beth had not removed her hold, and the jolt tore at Dana's arms. The nausea that had been building in the pit of her stomach let loose, and beer burned its way up her throat into her mouth. She spat the hot liquid into the rocks.
Grace and Beth were on their feet now, exchanging kicks and punches. Grace's eyes burned with tears of hot anger, which Beth took advantage of, and when she was wiping her eyes, Beth lunged forward and knocked her to the ground. She straddled Grace with her hips and pinned her hands beside her head.
"You like bad girls now, Grace?" She squeezed her wrists hard. Grace struggled and cried against the pain.
"Beth, stop it!" she begged.
Dana watched Grace fighting as she struggled against her own pain. Even the act of breathing sent her muscles into tighter spasms and new waves of heat and nausea. When she heard Grace cry out in pain and she could not do anything, she wanted to die. One last time she tried to roll to her feet, but darkness enveloped her as she passed out from the torture.
Rip had been waiting for this moment all day as she sat crouched beneath a yew, hidden from her prey. The wild turkey she had been stalking all day was finally settling down for sleep in a small stand of trees. She crept within pouncing distance and waited. Then when the bird's eyes finally closed, she leaped, paws first, landing on the bird's back. The weight of her powerful shoulders applied the crushing force that broke the bird's neck and caused its last gobble to be a scream of agony.
She grabbed the limp prize delicately with her mouth, rearranged the feathers that were tickling the roof of her mouth, and began her trek down the road. Her tail was at full attention and curled to her back like a soldier's dress plume. She proudly displayed the turkey against her chest. As she bounded the corner at an easy ceremonial trot, she heard the scream of her travel mate and her travel mate's new friend in the distance. The bird fell from her mouth, forgotten as she charged into battle.
Her dog tags pounded against the powerful chest as her equally powerful legs swiftly carried her to the battlefield. Beth looked up just in time to see the white, bared fangs fly at her and connect with her shoulder. The teeth tore deeply into her flesh and held as Beth reeled out of the way, screaming. The dog tried to shake the large woman like a rat, tearing the punctures.
Meanwhile, Grace scrambled to her feet and watched as Beth curled her head into her body to protect her face and ears from the attack. The dog was grunting and growling as she attacked. No mercy, she thought, no mercy, and another bite, this time closer to the neck. Protect, protect.
Grace reached in and grasped the dog's harness to pull her away from a bloodied Beth. "Easy, girl, easy," she soothed, as the dog lunged and barked at her ex-girlfriend. Given the opening, Beth scrambled away, holding her shoulder.
"Get the fuck out of here, Beth!" Grace yelled angrily, "or I swear, I'll let her eat you alive." The dog growled menacingly on cue.
"You're such a bitch," Beth cried and then walked determinedly back to the main road, where she had left her car before staking out the cottage.
Grace led the dog by the harness into the house and closed her inside. Rip watched from the window, her dirty feet planted on the couch cushions, viewing the blonde woman as she returned to her shipmate.
Dana was lying face-down in the rocks, both of her arms at odd angles behind her shoulders, but her face was relaxed and emotionless. Grace used her hands to feel the dislocation of one shoulder. Using her knees on the woman's back, she yanked the arm sideways and slid the joint back into place. When she heard the solid pop, she moved to the other arm and repeated the process. These muscles were tighter, and it took three efforts before the bones fit again snugly. She rolled the woman onto her back and saw the deep, jagged tear on her forehead and cheek and a deep, purpling bruise already forming on her jaw. She gently stroked the face of her friend and spoke to her, trying to bring her to consciousness.
Dana moved toward the warmth and soothing sounds as she slowly came to. Her body ached and burned, and she was afraid to stir for fear of the sickening pain.
"We need to get into the house," she heard Grace say. Grace watched the eyes flicker open, then pale blue eyes the color of Alaskan glaciers stared back at her.
"I feel like shit," Dana mumbled through her dry mouth. She bolted upright when she remembered how she had come to be in such bad shape. She cringed from the pain but realized it was bearable. "Beth?"
"And you?" She reached to touch the blonde woman's cheek.
"Fine. I'm okay, really."
Dana removed her hand self-consciously as if it had gone there of its own accord. "Boy, you were one bad ass. Where'd you learn that?"
"Kick-Boxing 101, my freshman year."
"Three cheers for the liberal education system," Dana said, trying to get to her feet. Grace smiled as she helped her from a sitting position by wrapping her arms around the larger woman's waist and lifting.
All of the cushions had been dragged off the couch by the time they made it to the house. As soon as they opened the door, Rip was out and in pursuit of the bleeding cop.
"Oh, no!" Grace exclaimed, reaching for, but missing the dog's harness.
Doc looked around the front room and nervously bit her lip.
"Holy crap! Look what that dog did to my furniture."
Dana began to pick up the cushions with her aching arms and set them straight. Grace joined her. "There's slobber on everything. And blood too," Grace observed aloud. "Well, fuck, I'm really pissed now. Next time I see Beth, I'm gonna...gonna...."
"Let it go."
"What if she comes back?"
"I won't be here, and she wanted me." She placed the last cushion on the couch.
Grace covered her face and sat down. "I've had some messy breakups, but this one takes the cake."
Dana was bending over, picking up shredded newspapers from the floor. "That's what you get for liking bad girls," Doc said as she placed a hand on Grace's shoulder in passing.
"Where are you going?"
"To take a hot shower." She twisted her neck until she heard a solid pop. "My back is killing me."
"Can I help?"
"Actually, I meant with a back rub, that kind of thing, not the shower. Geez, you must think I'm a total floozy."
"You are a flirt but too smart to be a floozy," Dana stated.
"And you're playing hard to get."
"I'm not playing," Dana said seriously.
"Maybe you should play."
Dana's retort was shut down by the sudden tightness in her throat as she looked the woman's body over from toes to nose. She had been thinking about her for the past month, dreaming of that body, and wondering what it would be like to become familiar with it.
Grace began to laugh. "Go take your shower," she said, gently nudging her in the right direction.
The doctor poured herself a straight vodka with a twist of lime and sipped it as she listened to WHCN the Classic Rock Station. Bob Seger was singing about his gawky teenaged years for the hundred billionth time. Grace thought about those years. Hers hadn't been so gawky, they'd been pretty exciting, and she had been, wow, had she been sexual.
Doc eased herself down in the chair next to Grace, her hair damp and combed back from her face, a white, sleeveless T-shirt and blue cotton shorts covering her. She had found the Band-Aids and had applied a few to the cuts on her face.
"You should put ice on that," Grace said, pointing to her cheek and then getting up for the freezer.
Dana caught her arm, wincing at the pain the movement caused. "You go take a shower. I'll take care of the ice."
While Grace was bathing, Doc was medicating herself with three Ibuprofen and a couple of Tylenol. Using the sink sponge and some liquid laundry soap, she scrubbed the couch cushions to remove the dirt, blood, and slobber. She could not do much with the puncture marks and flipped over the cushions to hide the worst tears. She had scrubbed them and removed most of the stains when she heard the familiar bark of her friend approaching the house. Grace was finally re-emerging from her bath, dressed in a short blue terry robe.
"Guess who's home?" Doc said as she opened the door. In walked the regal beast with a dead turkey. With what seemed to Grace like a flourish, the dog dropped the dead bird at Dana's feet. A stray feather floated up and then drifted down to the carpet in the middle of the room.
"Don't give it to me, you silly mutt. You didn't rip up my couch cushions."
"There's a dead bird on my three-thousand-dollar rug."
"Yes, I do believe it is dead," Doc said as she picked up the carcass. She held it out to the doctor by its feet. "Want to give it mouth-to-mouth?"
"Yuk, get that thing away from me," she squawked, waving her hands.
"You should have it for dinner tomorrow," Dana said. "Good dog." She patted the hound on the head.
"What?" She took the bird to the kitchen and began to pluck out the feathers, dropping them in a paper sack. "I thought you were a country girl."
"You don't know how long it's been dead."
Dana sniffed the carcass. "Two hours at the most. Think of it as similar to eating an albatross. It tastes good with a little basil and red pepper."
"Albatross? Who the hell eats albatross?"
"Rip and I, when we run out of food and the fish aren't biting. It beats eating out of garbage cans, doesn't it, girl?" she said to the dog, who was licking her chops watching the preparation. "Do you mind feeding her?" Dana asked.
Grace dumped food into the dog's dish and poured water into the other bowl. Dana could not help noticing how her robe fell open and revealed her breasts or how the bottom rose up for a peek of her upper thighs.
It took her five minutes to pluck the bird, clean out the guts, and chop up the parts most people do not know their food once had. She put the dead bird in a bowl in the refrigerator and washed up the knife and cutting board.
"Do you have to work today?" she asked, as she washed the counter down.
"Work? What day is today?"
Doc looked at her watch. "It's 3:45 a.m. Monday. We should get some sleep. I'll take the couch again."
"No, the couch is wet. You come sleep in the bed."
"I--I--" Dana stuttered.
"I think I can, I think I can," Grace teased. "Come on, be brave," she said, taking the strong, callused hand in her smaller, softer one.
As soon as they entered the room, Grace removed her robe and slipped into her pajamas. Dana had turned away, her face burning and heart pounding.
"Dana," she said seriously.
"Yeah," she answered into the wall.
"We're only going to sleep."
"Uh-huh,"she said without turning around.
"So come lie down."
"Do you have clothes on?"
"Yes, dear," she replied, slipping under the covers.
Dana breathed a sigh of relief and disappointment. She approached and then climbed onto the bed on top of the covers.
"I hate that," Grace grumbled, yanking the quilt over herself. "I can't move when you do that. Now get underneath."
Doc pulled her knees up and slipped her legs under the sheets. She was lying on her back--it hurt too much to sleep on her side--contemplating whether or not Grace expected her to kiss her. Grace rolled over to look at her and immediately noticed the fact that Dana was barely breathing.
"You aren't just nervous, you're really scared," she observed quietly.
"I cannot remember ever being in the same bed with another person."
"Not even as a kid, when you had a bad dream or thought you heard something go bump in the night?"
That made Grace kind of sad, and she did not know what to say, so she lay on her back and stared at the ceiling too. "What did you do when you were scared, I mean as a kid?"
Silence. "What would you have liked to do?"
Silence. Dana could not answer but turned her head to look at the green eyes staring back at her. Grace gently touched her arm, causing Dana to jump, but Grace did not pull her hand away. She felt the trembling in the other body, much like the first evening when they had met, and watched the ice-blue eyes look at her with alarm. "Go to sleep," she whispered to her friend as she let the exhaustion pull her into her own deep sleep.
It took Dana a little longer before she could relax and drift off, and for a few hours it was fitful. When Grace stumbled out of bed to get ready for work, Dana finally fell into a deep sleep. She would have tried to get up with Grace and have her drop her at the marina, but she was too sore to move.
It was almost noontime. Grace was eating lunch in the cafeteria of the Yale-New Haven Medical Center when Beth approached her. She had her arm in a sling and dark circles around her eyes. Grace put down her forkful of pasta salad, unable to believe that the Milford cop had the nerve to approach her. Beth held her good hand out, offering peace.
"I only want to talk to you, I swear."
"I have nothing to say to you."
"I'm sorry about what happened last night." She was on the verge of tears. She went down on her knees next to the peeved doctor. "I've never done anything like that before, Gracie." The tears started to flow.
All she needed was a scene like this in front of her co-workers and patients. "Let's go for a walk," Grace said to remove them from the eyes that were beginning to pry. They sat on a park bench outside in the grassy municipal area across from the Emergency Room entrance of the hospital. Beth had used the time walking together to recompose herself.
"How is your shoulder?" Grace asked.
"I'm out of work for a few days."
"You're right. I deserved it." She shifted to look at Grace. "It will give me time to get control of myself."
"That's a good idea, because you were acting crazy last night. You really scared me."
"I would never hurt you, Gracie," she said, fidgeting with her hands. "I was worried about you, hanging out with someone like that, and when you didn't come home, I thought maybe something terrible had happened. I mean, that woman is a murderer. I thought maybe she was the one...being around at the same time as the woman was killed and all."
"She's not the killer."
"How do you know that, Gracie?"
"Because I was with her the night of the murder."
Oooh, that stung. Beth reined in her hurt and angry jealousy. "All night?" she managed to get out.
"Well, still, I did some research on your friend today," she pulled out a disk and handed it to her, "based on her ID number. She's a real piece of work, and she's sick, Grace." She let her words sink in. "I'm begging you, stay away from her."
"Beth, if this is some kind of ploy...."
Beth brought out her trump card from her brown leather coat pocket. It was a small computer CD-ROM in a plastic case. She held it toward Grace between her index and middle finger. "Look at this disk. You should know who you've been sleeping with."
Grace refused to take it, even though she was intrigued. Dana was such a mystery, but she hoped to unravel those secrets through Dana, not some impersonal data file.
"We are not sleeping together," Grace said, knowing that it hurt Beth to think she was with anyone else. It was not Beth's fault that she did not love her or that the relationship had not worked, and hurting anyone outright was not Grace's goal. "What about the bloody clothes? Have you gotten a hit on that yet? Maybe that can rule out your fear that I'm hanging around with a killer."
"I wish I could rule that out, but we haven't received the results. They do know that the DNA from the trash bag is an exact match to some skin they recovered from under the dead woman's fingernails. We're hoping for the Feds to get lucky and match it to one of their records. If there is one, we should know any day now." Grace did not hear the last part of her statement.
"And if it is your friend, we'll know for sure. As long as she's been in the system, they must have her in the FBI Genetic Index."
"Are you saying the blood matched some skin found on the woman's body?"
Beth absorbed Grace's body language as well as her words. The strawberry blonde was shocked, for some reason.
"That's exactly what I'm saying. Why?"
"No reason." Grace tried to recover. "What time did the woman die?"
Beth saw the doubt and smiled inwardly. "The radiation and base forensic analysis point to an attack and quick death around eleven-thirty, give or take half an hour"
"Eleven-thirty," Grace repeated as she thought aloud. She was becoming confused about that night. What time had she left the bar?
Beth began slowly, scooting a little closer to the bewildered doctor. "Gracie, if you think there is any chance that she could be the killer, tell me. I'll protect you."
"I have to get back to work." Grace suddenly stood and walked away.
Beth jogged after her. "Please take this, Grace." She held out the disc. Grace took the case and shoved it into her white lab coat. "Is she still at your place?" Beth asked as they approached the street to cross.
"Yes," Grace replied absently as she wove between the few cars, more on her mind than avoiding being struck by a Beamer.
Beth smiled as she watched the petite figure move across the asphalt and disappear into the hospital.
Grace had to wait until late afternoon to visit the desktop unit in the doctors' lounge. A bus carrying a group of senior citizens had been hit by a station wagon full of high school kids. It was the worst thing she could have had to deal with medically.
The disc that Beth had given her contained Dana Papadopolis' life from the abandonment by her mother, the suicide of her father, and the official report by the Connecticut Child Care Agency of Ruth Cannata's refusal to take her daughter in after Dmitri Papadopolis' death. The murder one conviction and all the killings in York penitentiary were described in detail. It also included the reports from the sporadic sessions with the prison psychologist who had labeled Dana as a manic-depressive psychotic after a single meeting. It was noted on several occasions that she had become violent when administered medication for said mental affliction. Each murder was accompanied by a scene of the body, the method of murder, and the subsequent psychiatric evaluations and punishments. Then she saw something that shocked her. The name "Ruel Gundy" jumped out at her in a bloody description of a triple murder, one of the victims a prison guard. She barely noted the brief description of Dana's own injuries and brief stay at Yale. In 2016 Dana had been paroled under the seldom-used Kennedy Act, and that was the end of the record.
Grace was shaking by the time she finished with the records. Dana had not told her about all of the other killings, and Gundy was the person Rachel had mentioned. If Grace were to say she did not have her doubts about Dana, she would be lying to herself. But Rachel had a certain affinity for the convict, and she seemed a good judge of character, right? Shit, she was thinking a convicted drug dealer was a good judge of character. And that manic-depressive psychotic thing? Dana did not seem to be that, and she would have known if Doc was medicating to control it. Dana was reserved, quiet, maybe had a tendency to resort to violence when pushed, although she had not struck anyone, not even Beth.
And Beth was, of course, always capable of a good mind fuck--she had done it before. Maybe that was what was going on here.
Grace entered the house silently, her heart pounding against her chest. Doc was sitting at the table answering her e-mail when she opened the door. The smell of tomatoes and basil filled the house.
"Hi," Doc said with a half-smile as the tired, stressed-out woman approached. "You didn't call, so I figured it would be okay if I made spaghetti for dinner. I didn't think you wanted the turkey, so Rip and I had it for lunch."
Grace went into her room without saying a word and put her black doctors' bag away in the closet. Then she walked over to the dining table and tossed the disc case at the dark-haired woman.
"What's this?" she asked, wincing as she reached to pick up the disc.
"It's your life story," she said coldly.
The warm, fuzzy feeling that Doc had experienced immediately when the little blonde had walked through the door vanished. "Where did you get it?"
Grace stood in the middle of the room, her crossed arms woven across her chest. "Does that matter?"
"Sweet Beth, I bet. Well, well, well. Now you know all about me. Isn't that quaint." She opened the box and inserted the disc into her drive. "I've never read it myself. It would be nice to know what everyone else does." She feigned a coolness she did not feel. As she flipped from one document to the next, she felt her life click by, the life she had tried to deny, or better put, lock away from her consciousness. This was the way the world viewed her, now how Grace viewed her. There were no mentions of the rapes by the guards during her first year. No mentions of the rapes by the inmates either because Dana would not go to the doctor unless she was sent unconscious. Her eyes were dark when she looked up at Grace. The honeymoon was over. She ejected the disc and tossed it back to the doctor.
"You want me to leave, right?" she stated more than asked, and began to shut down her computer, then placed it in a bag.
"Beth told me the strangest thing today. Would you like to hear it?"
"The blood found on the shirt in the garbage can, your blood, is an identical match to trace tissue found on the dead woman's body."
"W-what?" Doc stammered.
"So now they're running the mapping of both DNA samples through the FBI database. Beth told me that if you were the one, they would know for sure sometime today. Isn't that ironic. You're a suspect, they have your DNA, but the map won't match your DNA, now will it?"
Doc looked up at her. "I didn't kill that lady."
Angry tears were running silently down Grace's cheeks. "You tell me how your DNA ended up under that woman's nails."
"I don't know!" Doc yelled as the walls of the cottage began to close in on her. She knew exactly where this was leading, and it was a place she dreaded going. She looked back down at her computer case and zipped it. "If you want to ask me something, Grace, just ask," she said sarcastically, feeling foolish for trusting, for forgetting that who she was mattered to people.
Grace felt just as foolish and scared. "Where did you go before I picked you up that night?"
Doc looked at her with pale, sad eyes. She stood without answering. Grace instinctively backed away from her, and that made Doc feel like the most hideous creature alive. She gathered her belongings in silence.
"If it was you, you can tell me. You can get help.
"If?" Doc whispered the word again. The hurt was so close to the surface she wanted to scream and release it. "I did not kill that woman," she said quietly, more to herself than to Grace.
"I'm supposed to believe that, after reading about all of your blood matches. God, Dana, you killed fourteen people. You never told me about them."
"Come on, Grace, do you think it's something I'm proud of?" She grabbed her clothes duffel and shoved a few stray garments into it.
"The doctors say you don't even feel remorse."
"That's because I don't," Dana growled. "I hated every one of those fucking people."
She opened the front door and whistled for her shipmate. But by the time her eyes left Grace and took in her surroundings, it was too late. Rip was locked away in a police cruiser, three blue-and-white cars lining the dirt road. She took a quick glance back at Grace when she realized what the doctor had done. A second later she was thrown face-down on the flagstone walkway, her shoulders once more yanked and bound behind her back. Grace had seen the look of utter desolation on the woman's face as she turned to her and knew then that she had made a mistake, no matter what the DNA said. She ran to the doorway but was held back by Beth. "Dana!" she yelled in panic.
Dana was yanked to her feet by her arms, her back and shoulders screaming in pain. Doc looked into the steel-gray eyes of Charlie, Beth's partner, and resisted the urge to spit. The last thing she saw was Grace staring at her as she was dragged away like a rabid animal.
The day only grew worse because, for the first time in three years, Dana found herself back in a jail cell, the last place she ever wanted to be. And then the old familiar feeling of despair sat beside her and wrapped its strong arms tightly around her, so much stronger this time because she had had a taste of freedom. Now she had nothing.
It was not until mid-morning, Tuesday, that she was recuffed and dragged from her cell to an interrogation room. She stared at the floor, trying to hide her fears somewhere deep in her mind.
Beth was standing in the corner of the room, in uniform, without her sling, watching the interrogation play out, as two detectives, most likely her friends, set to work on their prisoner.
They grilled her about her activities before and after that Saturday night that she met Grace and the woman lost her life. Dana refused to answer or look at them. They wanted to know where she lived and who her parole officer was.
She could not understand why they did not read her the Miranda, or charge her, or take a sample of her skin or blood. Surely they would think to do that when Grace told them what she had done to her DNA records. Surely they would...unless Grace believed her and had not told them about the trip to New Jersey.
"Where is the dog?" Doc spoke for the first time, looking defiantly at Beth.
"She's dead," Beth said cruelly.
Doc looked at the floor quickly to hide her reaction. Never let the enemy see your vulnerability. "I want to be charged or set free."
The detectives shifted uncomfortably. The DNA match had turned up Dana Papadopolis as having only a seventy-five percent possibility of being the perpetrator.
"And if you are charging me, I want a lawyer here before you ask me another fucking question." She had learned a few things from her fellow inmates about making mistakes with the cops.
One of the detectives looked over at Beth. Doc did not miss the subtle exchange. The two men left the room, leaving Doc with her new nemesis. Beth slithered behind the handcuffed woman and shoved the chair hard, forcing Doc to give her her attention. "I want you to be aware that you are a suspect, Papadopolis, and I want you to remember that." Her face was inches away, and her breath stank of cigarettes. "And I'm watching you closely."
Doc barked at her, making her jerk her head backwards. Doc half-smiled. "Bite me, Miss Piggy."
For that, Beth punched her in the mouth and then laughed as Doc spat out blood from her torn gums. She yanked Doc to her feet and out of the room to the desk sergeant. Both women were surprised to see Grace standing in the lobby arguing about due process, freedom of information, and all of the other legal half-truths. Beth dragged Dana over to an unoccupied sergeant and mumbled instructions about releasing her. The sergeant slid her an envelope with her watch and cash, and her boat key, still on its hand-woven tether. Beth unlocked the cuffs and gave her a shove toward the outer sanctum.
"Any time you want to confess, I'll be here waiting."
Doc refused to look back at her and concentrated on Grace, who had a look of relief and trepidation. When she reached her, she stopped, breathed deeply a few times, and looked back at Beth. She was so full of disbelief that Grace might possibly still believe in her, that she did not care about what had happened before. She was utterly speechless, afraid to ask if it was true, if Grace did believe she was innocent. Acting on the urge to flee, she impetuously grabbed the hand of the smaller woman and led her out of the brown stone building as fast as she could walk.
"Where's your car?" she asked urgently.
"Over here." Grace pulled her in the opposite direction.
"They killed Rip," Grace said angrily as she spotted the Jeep and pulled her to the car.
"No, Dana, I picked her up from the pound this morning. She's in the Jeep." Surely enough, Dana could see the black figure sleeping in the back as she approached. When she turned toward the smaller woman, Grace saw her eyes filling with tears.
She wrapped her arms around Dana and pulled her closer. "Dana, I'm so sorry. Please forgive me. I was so confused and scared, and when Beth told me about the DNA match, I freaked out. But when I worked out when we were together, I knew there was no way...and I know you couldn't do that. The others were different, right? There was a reason you hated them?" She was crying. "I'm so sorry."
Dana placed an awkward hand on the soft cheek to wipe away the falling tears. A sympathetic smile took hold of her face as she tried to comfort and understand. "If I had read something like that about you, I would have been freaked out too. But that's not everything, Grace, and that's not my DNA on that woman, I promise you."
Doc breathed in deeply and sighed heavily. "But I did kill those people in York."
Grace nodded knowingly.
"I've done other things too, Grace, that I'm ashamed of, that are not in that report."
Grace swallowed and nodded again.
"It means everything in the world that you believe me."
Grace sniffled as she smiled. She squeezed, hugged her hard, and then released the ex-con. Then she sighed, missing the warmth, and wrapped her arms around herself as the wind whipped at them. Reaching up, she wiped away the blood from Dana's lips. "You're always getting beat up."
Dana's body ached as if it were one big sprain. "Did you bring my things?"
"No, they're at my place. I didn't know if I would even get to see you." She unlocked the door for Dana, who climbed in gingerly.
"Grace, I think it would be best for you if I left." Dana spoke calmly once Grace had climbed into the vehicle and closed the door.
Grace ignored Dana's remark. "Don't let Beth scare you into running away from me. It's what she wants."
Dana sat back into the bucket seat. "I want to know how somebody as nice as you ever hooked up with her."
"She pulled me over for speeding. I went to court to contest it, and she was there to defend it." She started the engine. "They never show for that either. God, I was so pissed, and she looked so smug as the judge gave me a three-hundred-fifty-dollar ticket. Why I agreed to have a drink with her I'll never know."
"Must have been the uniform. Chicks like you like that."
Grace smiled and pulled out of the parking lot. "Shut up."
"How do you work with all those nurses with a fetish like that, Doctor?"
Grace blushed. "A fetish." She chuckled. "You don't have a uniform."
It was Dana's chance to blush. "No, now you're into women with tattoos."
"Is that an offer?"
Silence. Dana should have learned by now not to flirt with this woman, especially if she was not ready to pay the consequences. She turned to the sleeping dog and patted her head. "Did they give her something?"
"A tranquilizer to calm her down. After she saw them taking you in, she went ballistic. She tore up the back seat of the squad car. I guess we're lucky they didn't shoot her, but with animal rights laws now, we lucked out. But don't worry; I called my sister, Joy, and she says Rip should be up and about in a day or two."
"Your sister?" She turned to Grace. "Oh, right, the Dr. Wilson the veterinarian. Thanks for taking care of her."
"After what she did to Beth the other night to save me, I would give her my life. She's a great dog."
"You did well the other night too."
"Yeah, right." She turned away from the road for a second to look at Dana. "You look like you haven't slept in weeks."
"I had a little trouble with the cell last night."
"Missed being next to me?"
"I didn't sleep much that night either, I'm afraid."
"Oh," she said dejectedly. She had slept like a rock.
"You snore really loud."
"Is that why you couldn't sleep?" she asked hopefully.
"Yeah." It was partly true.
"Do you want to try it again, if I sleep on my side?" Dana looked at her nervously. "We will take this really slow, I promise," she added reassuringly.
"I can't stay at the house right now."
"I think we should both--"
"No, we're in this together."
"This could ruin you, Grace."
"Just shut up and let me help. God, you always have to go it alone. You're really starting to piss me off. I've already put in for two weeks' personal leave until we can get this mess straightened out. Okay?"
Dana's mouth hung open from shock. "I need to get away before your psycho girlfriend makes me a paraplege."
"So, if you don't want to stay at the house, where are we going to go?"
"I thought we could go sailing."
Grace had known this was a possibility and had hoped otherwise but had entertained the idea. She was of a generation where many were taught to fear the ocean, witnesses to its awesome destructive powers. "Sailing it is," she said confidently. I have never been sailing, or on the ocean, for that matter, she thought nervously.
They were pulling onto her dirt road. Dana checked on Rip, who was still breathing soundly. "Let's get you packed."
"What should I bring?" she asked as she tried her keypad to unlock the door. She failed, as usual. Dana looked around the yard despite the fact that it was daylight.
Grace tried the door again but got a flashing error.
Dana rolled her eyes and punched in a series of numbers that clicked the door open.
"Hey, that's not my code."
Dana opened the door and held it for her with a slight arm flourish and a cocky grin. "I know."
"But how...? Don't tell me, something you learned in prison."
"Yeah, Rachel wrote the program used by all the nano chips in these devices. It's a back door she put into the language."
"Shit, I feel safe."
"You should never rely on a thing like this to feel safe," Doc said seriously as she closed the door behind them.
"What makes you feel safe?"
"Nothing." Dana hunted up her computer and duffel.
"So what should I bring?"
"Clothes, a toothbrush. We'll stop and get some groceries."
"A bathing suit?"
"Unless you swim nude."
"Do you?" Grace wiggled her eyebrows.
"Just get your stuff so we can hit the waves."
"Will it be hot or cold?" she yelled from her room as she went through her drawers.
"We're going south."
"I guess that means hot," she mumbled to herself. Not a really good communicator. "Anything dressy?" she asked hopefully.
Dana was standing in the doorway watching her bustle about. "You can bring a dress, but I don't guarantee anything."
Grace went to her closet and picked out the perfect tropical dress and zipped it into a suit bag, then pumps and nylons and a black garter. "Almost there," she said as she disappeared into the bathroom and filled her travel case.
Dana moved over to the liquor cabinet and grabbed a bottle of Captain Morgan and a bottle of Sauza tequila.
"Here I am," Grace said, holding her luggage and beaming broadly. "Food, we need food."
Dana closed the door behind them. "You can drop me at the dingy and go shopping while I bring the boat around to the main dock. I'll gas up and fill the water tank."
Grace's face scrunched up into a childlike joy. Then a thought. "You do have life vests?"
"Of course." She placed the last of their bags in the tight space of the little Jeep. "I know I've asked you this before, but you can swim, right?"
Hesitation, how to answer. She'll think I'm a doofus if I say no.
"Grace?" The raven-haired con looked to her friend when she did not receive an answer. She poked her head from behind the car to look to see that she was still there. "You can't swim?"
"No," she said, embarrassed. "Is that going to be a problem?"
Dana walked up to her, her face serious. "Only if you fall in. The question is, will you feel comfortable?"
A nod yes. "And maybe you can teach me how."
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