THE WRITTEN WORD
by Mickey Minner
It was just after dawn and the sky had finally lightened enough for Julie to see without the use of the flashlight. She dropped it onto the seat beside her and lifted the book she had placed there the night before. Opening the book, she removed a folded sheet of paper from between its pages and re-read the letter she had committed to memory many months before.
I feel like a fool writing to you but then I feel like a fool most of the time these days. It’s happened again. She just arrived home after being out all night. After all her promises; after everything we’ve been through; after all the claims of wanting our marriage to work, she still has a need to find comfort in the arms of other women.
Why? That is a question I find myself repeating every minute of every waking hour.
I realize that I turned you away before and I hope that you won’t hold that against me now. But I need a reason to leave her. Being hurt by her unfaithfulness is not enough unless I have another who wants me. Truly wants me. If what you said in the past is the way you still feel then, please, come. Come take me away from this life of lies and pain.
Breathlessly awaiting your answer,
Julie carefully re-folded the paper then tucked it back between the pages of the book for safekeeping. Placing the book back on the seat, she lifted the set of binoculars to her eyes focusing them on the house she had been watching all night.
Melissa groaned when the alarm shattered her dreams. She felt Dillon shift beside her and then the alarm went silent.
“Sorry, sweetheart.” Dillon kissed her wife then snuggled back down beside her. “I have to get to the shop early this morning. I’m expecting a COD delivery. How do you feel?”
“Not as bad as yesterday. Arm is throbbing a bit. But it’s not too bad.”
“You stay in bed and rest. I’ll come home as soon as I can to check on you.”
“No. I’ll get up.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Maybe you can wrap the cast in a plastic bag and I can take a bath. I must smell pretty ripe by now.”
Dillon laughed. “You do. But I love it.”
“You love the fact that I stink?”
“I love the fact that I’ve woken up beside you the past few mornings. It’s a wonderful feeling, Melissa. One that I’ve missed. A lot.”
Melissa shifted so she could face her wife. She leaned closer and gently kissed the waiting lips. “I’ve missed it too,” she said when the kiss ended. “What say I go to the shop with you? I’m sure you have something even a one armed, bruised and idiotic wife can handle.”
Dillon grinned. “I have a better idea. Why don’t you go down to the dock and get someone to help you check over the boat. I’ll close up early and we can do a little fishing this afternoon.”
“I like that idea. Maybe we can stay and watch the stars come out. Just like…”
“Just like we used to,” Dillon finished when Melissa hesitated.
“Yes, just like we used to.” Melissa sighed leaning in for another kiss, longer and more passionate than the first.
“Oh, I feel almost human again,” Melissa said as she padded barefoot into the kitchen. “Can you help me with this?”
Dillon turned away from the eggs she was scrambling in a mixing bowl. “I guess buttons are a little hard with one hand,” she said seeing her wife’s unbuttoned shirt.
Melissa lifted the pair of hiking boots she held in her good hand. “Bootlaces aren’t much fun either.”
Dillon smiled as she approached. “I think I can probably help with those too.”
“I feel like I’m four years old again,” Melissa grumbled as Dillon took over the task of completing her dressing. “Who was on the phone?”
“Scooter. Sit,” she said taking the boots. “He wanted to know how you were doing. And he said he needs you to come by the office and sign some papers.”
Melissa pulled a chair out from the table in the window nook and slowly settled onto it. “Oh?” she asked as Dillon kneeled down to the floor to help with her boots.
“Something to do with accident reports. He said he needed it as soon as you could but not to rush over there until you feel up to it. He offered to bring them here but I told him we would be in town later.”
“Okay. I’ll take care of that before I go to the dock then. Anything I can do in here to help?”
“Yes. You can sit there and talk to me while I get these omelets cooked.” Dillon straightened up, placing a quick kiss on Melissa’s lips before she return to the stove and their breakfast. “Coffee?”
“I’d love a cup.”
Dillon pulled two mugs out of the cupboard, filling both with freshly brewed coffee. She added sugar and cream to one then carried both to the table. “White or wheat toast?”
“White. With lots of jam.”
“You got it.”
Melissa smiled. “You’re spoiling me.”
“Nothing. Just thought I’d mention that I’d noticed. And that I don’t mind.”
Dillon laughed. “Well, that’s good because I don’t plan to stop until that cast comes off. And, maybe, not even then.”
“You don’t, uh?”
“No, I don’t.”
Melissa sipped from her coffee cup as she watched Dillon prepare their meal. The easy banter between them felt good and she suddenly realized just how much she had missed it. “Dil?”
“I so sorry.”
Dillon finished transferring the cooked omelets to their plates before she turned around. “What are you talking about?”
“Everything.” Her hands were shaking so hard she had to put down the mug she was holding. “I’m so sorry for how much I hurt you. How much I hurt us.” Dillon quickly covered the distance to her wife and wrapped her arms around her. “I—” Her speech was cut short when her wife kissed her then tenderly wiped her tears away with her thumbs.
“It’s over. We both made mistakes. All I care now is that we’re back. I love you so much, Melissa.”
“I love you, too.”
The walk from their house down the hill to town was done slowly to accommodate Melissa’s sore and strained muscles. Dillon had offered to drive the short distance but the idea was vetoed by her wife who wanted the opportunity to test her body after a week of inactivity.
“Made it,” Melissa declared triumphantly when they reached Shoreline Road at the bottom of the hill. “You probably could have walked to the shop and back at least three times by now.”
Dillon chuckled. “But I would have missed out on your repertoire of grunts and groans.”
“Ugh. That bad?”
“You didn’t notice?”
“I was too busy making sure I didn’t step wrong or trip over the cracks in the dirt. The last thing I want to do is fall and bruise my bruises.”
Dillon tightened her hold on Melissa’s hand. “You did fine, sweetheart. Oh, damn. There’s the delivery truck.”
Melissa looked toward the town’s only intersection where a dark brown delivery van was pulling to a stop in front of the Beachcomber. “Go on. I’ll hobble over to Scooter’s then meet you at the shop.”
“Yes. Go on. Look, the driver is testing the door. You better go or he’ll take off.”
“All right. But be careful,” Dillon called back over her shoulder as she trotted down the road.
“I will,” Melissa called after her.
The sheriff looked up when he heard the door to his office open, a smile quickly spread across his face when he recognized his cousin and he jumped to his feet to greet her. “You look pretty good,” he said as he pulled a large leather executive office chair across the room. “Sit. How do you feel? Where’s Dillon? Don’t tell me you walk here alone.”
Melissa laughed as she sank into the chair. “Slowdown, Scooter. Take a breath before you pass out.”
The sheriff laughed. “I guess I’m just surprised to see you,” he said as she settled into the comfortable chair.
“Nice chair. No wonder my property taxes went up this last year.”
“I’ll have you know I paid for that out of my own pocket. What the county sees fit to provide for office chairs is only good for torturing prisoners.”
“You do that a lot?”
“What? Buy my own equipment?”
“No. Torture prisoners?”
“Oh, that. Well since the last time this jail held one must have been back in the seventies, I’d have to say, no.”
“Really? You haven’t arresting anyone the whole time you’ve been sheriff.”
“I didn’t say that. But I don’t count the drunks that spend the night sleeping off their partying, or the juveniles that are waiting for the daddy to come and bail them out after they’ve been caught shoplifting, as real prisoners. And Lake Como doesn’t have much else in the way of crime.”
“Except for someone vandalizing my truck and forcing me off the road. Can I get a drink of water?”
“Oh, sure.” He walked to the fountain and pulled a paper cup out of the dispenser then filled it with the ice cold water. He carried it back to her. “The vandalism I understand. But are you saying the accident wasn’t?”
“I’m not sure. It’s just that the more I think back on it, it sure seems like whoever was driving that other car was aiming at me.”
“Lots of people drift over the center line in those curves.”
“I know. I’ve done it myself. But…” she shook her head and sighed. “It’s just a gut feeling I have, Scooter. I think it was more than a driver not paying attention.”
“Nothing showed up in the accident investigation to prove it was anything but an accident.”
“Have you located the other car?”
“No. I put out the All Points Bulletin. But no one has spotted it. And if it was just someone driving through, they’re probably long gone.”
“Not many people just drive through Lake Como. Considering it’s at the end of the highway.”
“True. But you know how many forest service roads there are in these mountains. And they all cross and connect with one another. Someone could have gotten turned around on one of them and…” He shrugged. ”Heck, Cuz, the possibilities are endless.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“But I’m not giving up. I’ll keep the APB active and we’ll keep looking for that car.”
“I know you will, Scooter. Dil said you had some papers for me to sign. Can we take care of that? I need to meet her at the Beachcomber.”
The sheriff studied his cousin for a moment. Something was definitely different in her demeanor. “Dillon has sure sounded happy the past few days. You and her make up?” he asked, smiling.
Melissa grinned. “Yeah.”
“Damn, that is good news. No need for details but I am glad.”
“I was such an idiot.”
“You got that right.”
She glared at him but couldn’t stop the corners of her mouth from twitching upward. “The papers?”
“They’re right here on Jan’s desk. I think,” he muttered as he rummaged through the stacks of papers on his secretary’s desk. “This will teach me to let her go over to the Lakeside for a late breakfast. Ah, here they are.”
“And just what is it I’m signing?”
“I typed up the statements you made, both at the scene and in the hospital. I need you to read them over. Let me know if you see any mistakes or have anything to add. And sign them.”
He carried papers and a pen to her. “Want to sit at a desk?”
“No, this is good. But you’ll have to make any changes,” she said holding up her encased arm.
“Not a problem. You read. I’m going to call the Lakeside and see what’s keeping Jan.”
Melissa giggled. “I don’t suppose she was bringing you back a couple of those jelly doughnuts, was she?”
Scooter growled. “Read.”
Dillon rushed out the Beachcomber’s door as soon as she spotted Melissa walking toward the shop. “I was just about to call Scooter and see what was keeping you.”
“Sorry, honey. I didn’t think it would take this long.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yes. He had to make a few changes in my statement and re-print it before I could sign.” Melissa walked inside the shop with Dillon following closely behind. “Everything okay with the delivery?” she asked when she didn’t see any boxes being unpacked.
“Yes. It wasn’t a very big one but it was from that company that always wants payment immediately. “You were gone just long enough. I got the box unpacked and everything put away already.”
Melissa grinned. “Great timing.”
“And you still love me?”
“With all my heart.”
Melissa blinked away tears as she felt her wife’s arms envelope her in an emotional embrace. She had to wait a few moments for her heart to calm and for the knot to leave her throat before she could speak. “I don’t deserve you.”
“Of course you do,” Dillon said releasing her hold on her wife. “We deserve each other. Now stop that blabbering and tell me the plan for the day. I can’t wait to get out on the lake.”
“Can you really have forgiven me so easily?”
“Oh, it wasn’t easy, sweetheart,” Dillon said walking around the counter in the center of the shop. “But, yes, I have forgiven.”
“You’re a remarkable woman.”
“No. I’m just a woman in love. And that makes anything possible.”
Melissa sighed deeply and smiled. “I guess it does, doesn’t it?”
“Yes. Now-- your plan?”
“I saw Jasper down on the docks. I’m sure he’ll be happy to help me with the boat. Then I thought I’d go over to the Lakeside and have them pack up something for dinner. Any preferences?”
“Not really. Something easy. Like sandwiches.”
“That’s what I was thinking. Then I’ll check in with Nick at the bait shop and see where the trout have been biting.”
“Don’t bother.” Dillon grinned. “I want to go to Gibbon’s Cove.”
“Gibbon’s Cove? Honey, nobody goes to Gibbon’s Cove to fish. The trout never bite and you’re isolated and can’t see where the other fishing boats are. Not to mention, it’s all the way at the end of the lake where even the tourists don’t go.”
“And your point is?”
“My point is… Oh…” Melissa smirked. “Gibbon’s Cove sounds like a good spot. Yes, indeedy.”
Melissa stood on the dock looking down at the sleek deck-boat tied to alongside it.
Chuckling at her predicament, a man put down his work and strode toward her. “Looks like yer’ve got yerself in a bit of a pickle.”
So intent was she on trying to figure out a way to board the boat without dropping the box precariously balanced in her arms, she hadn’t noticed the man approaching and almost spilled the contents into the lake when he spoke. “Damn, Jasper, you scared the poop out of me.”
He held out his hands. “Holy smokes. What ya got in here?” he asked taking the box from her. “The crown jewels?”
Relieved of the heavy box, Melissa immediately took the opportunity to shake out her tired arms. She grimaced when her broken wrist protested the action. “No. Dinner.”
“Feeding an army?”
“No, again. Can you give me a hand?” she asked attempting to board the gently rocking boat.
Jasper set the box down on the dock then helped steady her as she stepped onto the deck. “Never knew you and Dillon ate so much. Yer’d never know it by looking at ya.”
“Funny, Jasper. Don’t you have barnacles to scrap or something?” she asked when he stepped onto the boat behind her. Jasper had been a fixture at the docks as long as she could remember. He operated the gas pumps and provided repair service for any boat in need, working out of the same shack at the end of the dock his father and grandfather had used before passing the business down to him.
“Now, don’t go getting uppity with me after I left my important work and come all the way over here to help you out.” Placing a knee on the seat cushion, he reached back for the box and lifted it onboard. “Where ya be wantin’ this?”
She looked around. “Good question. Just set it on the deck for now. And try not to step on it,” she teased.
He did as requested then sat down on the cushioned seat and leaned back stretching his arms along the seat-top.
“Don’t go getting too comfy. You’re not coming.”
“Well now, where are yer manners? While ya was arranging for this delicious smelling snack, I checked this here boat over all nice and proper. Gassed her up and even wiped down the seats and shined up all them fancy dials and doo-dads on that there console fer ya. Though, I don’t know what ya use half of them fer.”
She grinned. Jasper knew more about boats than anyone else in town. Melissa dropped onto the seat beside the older man. “And we do appreciate that, Jasper,” she said patting his knee affectionately.
“But yer still ain’t takin’ me, are ya?”
“Alrighty,” he pushed himself off the seat. “Ya just remember that next time ya expects this old man to go out of his way to help ya.”
She chuckled as he stepped gracefully back onto the deck, moving more agilely than most men a third his age. “You will add all that to our account?”
“Yep. And I’ll add a nice fat tip on there fer me. How ya like them oysters?” he huffed as he walked back to his shack.
Melissa laughed. “Make sure it’s not too fat,” she called after him. It felt good to sit but she knew Dillon would be joining her soon and she still had some things to do. “I don’t think we’ll be using it much but I better check our fishing gear,” she told herself as she stood keeping hold of the railing.
As she slowly moved from the stern to the bow, she came to the sink situated opposite the helm in the center of the boat, its thick plexi-glass lid securely in place. She was surprised to discover a wine glass, bottle, and rose resting in the basin. “What the heck?” she said as she lifted the lid and removed the rose. “Oh, honey, how sweet,” she whispered holding the bloom to her nose. “When did you manage to do this? And why didn’t Jasper mention seeing you? I bet you told him not to say anything, didn’t you?” Lifting the bottle, she read its label and found it contained sparkling punch, her thoughtful wife aware she couldn’t drink alcohol because of her pain medication. The cap was a screw-on but by clamping the bottle under her right arm she managed to remove it with her left hand, the effort clumsy yet successful. She partially filled the glass with punch then lifted it to her lips. The taste was sweet with a hint of something tangy. After emptying the glass, she replaced it and the bottle into the sink basin and secured the lid. “I’ll save the rest for when you can share this, Dil.”
Dillon turned off the lights and flipped the sign in the window to show the Beachcomber was closed for the day. Exiting the shop, she pulled the door shut and locked it then turned and began the short walk to the docks. A smile spread across her face when she thought of spending the rest of the afternoon with her wife. As she neared the Bayliner Deckboat that had seen little use over the last few years, she spotted Melissa bent over the bench seats in the bow. “What are you doing?” she asked as her wife seemed to be struggling with something.
“Damn fishing poles have gotten tangled together.” Melissa’s voice sounded muffled due to her unusual position. “Can you help me up?”
Dillon dropped off the dock, landing on the boat deck with an easy bounce. “Should you be bending over like that?” She wrapped her arms around her wife’s waist and eased her upright.
“Apparently not.” Melissa weaved unsteadily as the world whirled around her.
“Are you okay?”
“Just a little dizzy. I think I better lay down.” She reached to put the seat bench back in place.
“I’ll get that. Okay, sit.” Dillon guided Melissa onto the bench once she had replaced the seat cushion.
“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”
“No, it is. I’ll be fine in a few minutes. It was stupid of me to bend over like that. Especially, since I haven’t been on the boat for so long. I think I lost my sea legs.”
“Are you sure?”
Melissa chanced forcing one eye open. “I want to do this, Dil. Okay?”
Dillon studied her wife. Her skin was pale but some color was returning to it and she had now opened both eyes so the dizziness must be clearing. “If you’re sure.”
“And if you promise to take it easy the rest of the day. Otherwise, I’m turning the boat around and we’re coming home,” she said seriously.
“Okay.” Dillon leaned over to kiss her. “You stay here while I get us away from the dock. No getting up until we’re out on the lake.”
Melissa grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Everything okay with the boat?”
“Jasper checked her over.”
“Well, if he didn’t find anything, we’re good to go,” she said as she stepped back onto the deck to release the two ropes holding the boat in place. She untied the bow line then tossed the end onto the boat’s deck. Walking to the stern, she untied that line but kept a firm grip on it keeping the boat close to the dock as she hopped back onboard. “What’s in the box?” she asked as she coiled the rope and placed it on the seat bench.
She chuckled at the box’s size and imagined the amount of food it must hold. “Think you got enough?”
“That’s what Jasper asked? I… Um… I wasn’t sure how long we’d be out.”
Dillon moved to the console and sat in the captain’s chair. The keys were already in the ignition and a quick turn of the wrist brought the outboard engine to life. Putting the boat in gear, she pressed the throttle forward and turned the steering wheel, easing away from the dock. They moved slowly toward the open water of the lake. Once they passed the buoys marking the boundary of the no-wake zone, she pressed the throttle further forward and the engine picked up speed.
The cool lake air felt good as it blew against her face and through her hair. She saw Melissa sit up and eased back on the throttle. “Sure you’re ready for that.”
“Thought I’d come sit by my girl.” She spread her legs planting her feet wide apart before trying to stand. Stepping carefully from foot to foot, she moved away from the bow. Dillon eased the throttle completely back and let the engine idle as she helped Melissa to the bench seat beside the sink and opposite the captain’s chair. “I’m good,” she said once she was settled. “Now, let’s see how fast this baby can fly.”
Dillon laughed returning to the helm. “I think we better keep that for another day,” she said as she powered up the engine and the boat began to skim across the lake but at a much slower speed than Melissa wanted.
They had traveled almost halfway across the lake when Melissa doubled. “Dil,” she cried out as she clutched at her stomach, the muscles cramping painfully.
Dillon immediately pulled back on the throttle and put the engine in neutral. “Melissa! What’s wrong?” she asked dropping to her knees beside her ailing wife before the boat’s forward motion stopped.
“Oh, god. I think I’m going to…” her speech was cut off as she began to retch.
Dillon cradled her wife. “Baby, what’s wrong?”
“I’m right here.”
“I don’t feel so good.”
“I think… I’m… gonna… pass out.” Her speech was slurred and she was struggling to breath.
Dillon tried to stretch Melissa out flat on the deck. But her wife was curled up in the fetal position and she was unable to relax. “Hang on, sweetheart. I’m getting you back to shore.” Melissa’s groaning increased then her body went limp. “Melissa? Melissa!” Dillon reached for the radio mic. “Scooter, you better be in your office.”
“What’s coming through?” The sheriff asked his secretary when he heard the fax machine start.
Jan turned in her chair and read as the machine printed. “State police think they’ve might have found the car involved in Melissa’s accident.”
“That’s great,” Scooter said as he stood and walked across the room. “Where?”
“Thompson Falls. Bad news though. It was set on fire. And they think whoever did it may have stolen another car.”
“Read for yourself,” she pulled the paper off the machine and handed it to the sheriff. “You know, the description of that burned sedan sounds an awful lot like the one that was parked over at Conrad’s a last week.”
Scooter looked up from the paper to stare at Jan. “Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?” he dropped the paper onto her desk then walked toward the door. “I’m going over to talk to Conrad. Pass on the description of that other vehicle to Shaun and Curtis,” he said of his two deputies.
“Conrad!” The sheriff yelled as he entered the store and motel office, slamming the screen door against the wall.
“Dang, is the building on fire, Sheriff?”
“I need a registration card. You had a sedan parked in your lot for a few days last week. I need to see who it belonged to.”
The motel owner reached under the counter. “Which sedan?”
“It was parked out front. Under the trees. For two, maybe three days.”
“I think he means the one that woman who came to see Dillon was driving.” Shirley Henderson came out of the kitchen, attracted by the loud voices.
“Oh, I remember now,” Conrad said as he rustled through the box holding the motel’s registrations. “Here it is.”
The sheriff plucked the card out of the owner’s hands. “May I? You said she came to see Dillon?”
“Well, I’m not sure that was why she came—” Conrad said.
“Oh, I think it was,” his wife interrupted. “She made a big show of just being here to check out the lake and town but she asked about Dillon right off, just like all the others that come looking for her. And I saw Dillon and Melissa here that night.”
“Doing what?” the sheriff asked.
“Signing books, I imagine. That’s what most of them want.”
“Can you describe her?
Conrad thought for moment. “Average looking. About the same size as Melissa but lighter hair.”
“And a lot thinner,” Shirley added.
“Thanks,” the sheriff said. As he turned to leave, he reached for the mic on his shoulder. “Jan, call the state police and tell them the license plate matches. Name on the registration is Julie Peterson from Great Falls.”
“Will do, Sheriff.”
“I’m heading over to the Beachcomber.”
“What was that all about?” Conrad asked Shirley after the sheriff had left as abruptly as he had entered.
“I don’t know.” Shirley chewed on her lower lip. “I hope it doesn’t mean any trouble for Dillon.”
The walk to the Beachcomber Curio Shop took only a few minutes. Scooter spotted the closed sign before he crossed the highway. “Little early to be closing,” he muttered as he approached the locked building.
“Sheriff? You there?”
“What’s up, Curtis?”
“Found that car the state police are looking for. It’s pulled into some bushes behind the Bounty.”
“None that I can see.”
“If yer lookin’ fer Dillon, she’s out on the boat with Melissa and a friend.”
Scooter spun around to see Jasper standing behind him. “What friend?”
The mechanic shrugged. “Don’t know. She showed up when I was checkin’ the boat out for ‘em. Said she was a friend of Dillon’s and not to tell Mel about her. Said she and Dillon was plannin’ a surprise.”
“What kind of surprise?”
“What did she look like?”
“’Bout this high,” Jasper held up his hand. “Blonde and skinny. Too skinny if yer was to ask me.”
“How long ago did they leave?”
“Damn.” The sheriff keyed the mic, “Jan?”
“Call the state police. Tell them we found the second car. And tell them we may have trouble here. Big trouble.”
“I don’t have time.”
“Where are you going?”
“Dillon and Mel are somewhere on the lake. I’m going out to find them.”
The Sheriff’s boots beat loudly against the wood dock as he ran for the department’s boat tied up at the far end. Working as fast as he could, he untied the lines and jumped onboard. As soon as the powerful twin outboards roared to life, he steered away from the dock and sped toward the lake trailing a large wake behind.
“Let her die.” Dillon turned in surprise at the strange voice. Julie was climbing out from the storage compartment under the seats at the stern.
Julie smiled as she moved toward her, arms spread wide. “We can be together now, my love. Just like you wanted.”
“Julie, what the hell are you talking about?” she screamed pushing the woman away from her.
Puzzled by her response, Julie glared at Dillon. “It’s what you wanted.”
“What did you do to her?”
“What you asked me to do.”
“WHAT DID YOU DO!” Receiving no reply, she turned back to the radio.
“Put it down.”
“I have to get her to a doctor.”
“Let her die. It’s what you want. It’s what we want.” Dillon glanced back over her shoulder to find a revolver pointed at her.
“You love me. You said so. You asked me to come here.”
“NO! I love Melissa. She’s my wife.”
“You want her dead!”
“I don’t...” She watched in horror as the gun was aimed at the unconscious woman on the boat deck. “Julie, NOOOOOO!!” Using her body to block Julie’s view, Dillon dropped the radio mic and reached for the throttle shoving it all the way forward.
The powerful engine roared to life thrusting the boat forward and lifting the bow high out of the water. Unprepared for the sudden movement, Julie stumbled backward. With arms and legs flailing seeking anything to stop her momentum, she tumbled over the gunwale and bounced off the diving platform into the water.
Dillon didn’t hesitate to spin the wheel over. “Hang on, sweetheart,” she called out as she steered the boat into a sharp turn reversing directions. Only when the bow was pointed toward town did she bother to look back to see where Julie was. She thought about stopping long enough to throw out a life vest. “To hell with her. Scooter can pick her ass up.” She reached for the radio mic swinging haphazardly on its cord. “Mayday. Mayday. I need to talk to the sheriff.”
“Dillon, is that you?”
“I need immediate medical assistance. She poisoned Melissa.”
“Where are you?”
Dillon looked around. “Due east of Finney’s Point. We’re headed in.”
She glanced at her wife. “Oh, shit!” Still unconscious, her body had rolled during the boat’s movement and was sprawled across the forward deck. “It’s bad, Scooter.”
“I’m on my way.”
“I’m not stopping until we reach shore.”
“All right. I’ll have the ambulance waiting.”
“We need to get to a hospital. That’s not going to be fast enough.”
“I’ll take care of it. You just get her to shore. Jan?”
“Call Hamilton. Have them send their chopper.”
“Already on it.”
Dillon pulled alongside the dock right behind the sheriff who had met and escorted her to shore, the pair of power boats racing around other craft not caring how they wakes upset the fishermen onboard. As the sheriff leaped onto the dock and ran to the other boat, one of his deputies jumped onboard to throw the bowline to a waiting Jasper. His other deputy repeated the action on Dillon’s boat.
By the time Scooter reached her, Melissa was already being cradled by a very distraught Dillon. “Wake up, sweetheart. Please, wake up.”
“Jan, what’s the ETA on the chopper?”
“Don’t have one yet, Sheriff. I’m on the phone with the hospital now.”
Scooter placed a hand on Dillon’s shoulder to get her attention. “Dillon, where’s Julie?”
“Out there somewhere.”
“I dumped her out there. She was going to shoot her. I had to do something.”
“Did she come up?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care. Shouldn’t you be worried about Melissa right now,” she challenged the sheriff.
“I am,” he said scooping Melissa up off the deck and carrying her to the side of the boat. Placing his boot on the cushioned seat, he stepped up to the dock where Jasper grabbed hold of his arm to help.
“Ambulance is here,” Jasper said, having seen it pull to a stop at the end of the dock.
“Ten minutes, Sheriff.”
Melissa began to wake as Scooter carried her toward the ambulance. “Dil?” she asked groggily.
“I’m right here, sweetheart.” She held her wife’s hand, refusing to let it go. “We’ll have you to the hospital in no time.”
Dillon had no idea how much time had elapsed from the time the helicopter took off from Lake Como with Melissa to now. She was sitting in a chair at the side of a hospital room bed, her head resting on Melissa’s shoulder with an arm draped over her body.
Unable to ride with her wife, Scooter had ordered one of the deputies to drive her to the hospital. It was a wild ride she hoped never to have to repeat. They arrived to find Melissa under the care of Doctor Hayes, the same emergency room doctor who had tended her after the car accident. She had already undergone numerous lab tests and had had her stomach pumped and was laying in an examination room hooked up to a multitude of machines monitoring her breathing, heart rate and who knew what else.
Through the thin curtain, Dillon could hear the heated conversation between the deputy and doctor out at the nurses’ station.
“I don’t like having that woman in my way. You’ll have to remove her.”
“Dillon isn’t going anywhere.”
“I won’t have her in there.”
“You don’t have a choice in the matter. In case you haven’t noticed, someone tried to poison Melissa. Both she and Dillon are under protective custody until we locate the person responsible.”
Scooter was making another slow sweep along the invisible grid he and his deputy were using to search for Julie. Unsure exactly where she had entered the water, their search area covered a lot of area and would take hours to complete. Several local boats were aided them as they hunted for the woman.
The radio squealed on. “Sheriff?”
“I think you better come back in, Sheriff. And hurry.”
“Just had a vacationer come into the office. Said he was out fishing when a woman climbed out of the lake onto his boat. Ordered him to take her to shore. She had a gun and he’s screaming he wants to talk to you.”
“Damn. On my way. Curtis, did you copy?”
“It may be something else. You stay out here and keep looking until you hear otherwise.”
Scooter pointed the boat toward shore and pressed the throttle all the way open. As soon as he had tied the boat to the dock, he ran toward the Bounty. His internal alarms going off when he found the car his deputy had discovered earlier in the day no longer parked behind the bar.
“Have they found her yet?” Dillon asked the deputy.
“I don’t know. But the sheriff won’t stop looking until they do. Don’t worry, they’ll find her.”
“Don’t tell me that, Shaun. I’ve seen too many movies where they say that then the bad guy shows up and finishes what he started. I won’t let Julie kill Melissa.”
“Calm down, Dillon. No one is going to kill her. That’s why I’m here.”
“You better damn well make sure of that.”
A nurse entered the room. “Sheriff, you have a phone call. You can take it there,” she pointed at the phone hanging on the wall on the far side of the room.
“Probably the office. Radio doesn’t reach this far,” he told Dillon. “And, it’s Deputy,” he told the nurse as he walked to the phone.
“Punch the blinking light,” the nurse said then left.
Dillon had to go the bathroom, she had put it off as long as she could but knew she couldn’t any longer. “Shaun, I’ll be right back. I have to… uh…”
“Right. I’ll keep an eye on her,” he said as he leaned back against the supply cabinet and punched the flashing light on the phone dial. “Hi, Jan. Any news.”
A nurse entered the room carrying a tray of blood vials. She walked to the bed setting the tray down on the chair Dillon had vacated moments before. She patted the inside of Melissa’s left elbow a few times then tied a length of rubber hose around the arm just above the elbow. Then she walked around the bed, pulling the privacy curtain into place.
“Hey, don’t do that,” Shaun told the nurse, uncomfortable with his view of the patient being blocked.
“I’ll just be a moment,” the nurse responded.
“I’ll call you back,” Shaun hung up the phone.
“What the hell are you doing?” Dillon screamed as she returned from the bathroom to find a nurse bending over Melissa who was desperately trying to remove the rubber cord pulled taunt around her neck. She ran at the nurse, dropping her shoulder and plowing into the woman. “Let her go.”
Shoving the curtain out of the way, Shaun gripped the bed railing and tried to yank it back away from the nurse but the locked wheels prevented it from moving. Unable to move Melissa aware from her attacker, he grabbed the nurse’s wrists wrenching them in opposite directions trying to break her hold on the cord.
Dillon grabbed the nurse around the waist, lifting her feet off the floor. “Let her go, you bitch!” But the nurse continued to maintain her grasp on the cord chocking Melissa even as she fought off Dillon.
Shaun tightened his hold on the woman’s wrist. Willing to break her arms if necessary, he viciously twisted them.
The nurse screamed in pain, one end of the cord falling from her grasp.
Dillon renewed her efforts. Leaving one arm wrapped around the nurse’s waist, she reached up with the other grabbing a fist of hair and yanking the nurse’s head back. “Julie?” she gasped in surprise when the nurse’s face was revealed. “You bitch! I’ll kill you!” Dillon let go of Julie’s waist and balled her hand into a fist which she threw at her face. Stunned, she fell back a step sending the IV rack crashing to the floor. Melissa writhed in pain as the needle was ripped from her skin. Grabbing the first thing her hand touched, Dillon wrapped the IV tubing around Julie’s neck. Everything in the room went black except for the face of the woman who seemed determined to take her wife from her. She pulled the tubing as tight as she was physically capable of doing.
Julie hung limply, kept from collapsing to the floor only by the IV tubing around her neck.
“Let her go,” Shaun had his hands wrapped around Dillon, trying to force her fingers open. “Melissa needs you now. Let her go.”
Through the thick fog that surrounded her, Dillon felt a familiar hand gently placed on top of her arm. “Dil,” a raspy voice penetrated her self-induced trance, “I love you.” She relaxed her fingers. If Shaun hadn’t caught her, she would have crumpled to the floor along with Julie.
Shaun sat Dillon on the edge of Melissa’s bed and held onto to her until she was steady enough to sit unassisted. Then he pulled his handcuffs from his belt and knelt beside the woman lying at their feet. “Is she…?”
“Yes. That’s Julie.”
“Damn. I wonder how she managed to get here?”
“Just like in the movies, Shaun. They always manage to get away.”
Doctor Hayes who had been watching everything from the doorway finally found his voice. “You can’t handcuff her. I think you broke her arm.”
“She’ll be lucky if that’s all I broke,” Shaun said. But instead of handcuffing both of Julie’s wrists, he only handcuffed the unbroken arm then clasped the other cuff around the frame of Melissa’s bed. “I’ll cuff her to her own as soon as you move her,” he told the doctor who was now examining his new patient.
A harried looking nurse rushed the room. “Deputy, your office is insisting on talking to you. I told them you were a little busy but they’re—“
“That’s okay,” Shaun assured the woman. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Dil? Are you okay?”
Dillon turned to look at Melissa. “Are you?” she asked as her finger tenderly traced the raw stripe around her neck.
Melissa reached for the hand, blood flowing from the wound left when the IV had been pulled out. She brought Dillon’s hand to her lips, kissing it. “I am now.”
Dillon dropped down onto her wife, wrapping her arms around her. With tears streaming from her eyes, she cried, “I love you so much.”
“I love you, too, baby. I love you, too.”
“The lab tests confirmed it. That bottle of punch we found on your boat was full of GHB. Same stuff they found in your blood.” Scooter was sitting on the window box in Melissa’s hospital room.
“What’s that,” Dillon asked from the chair where she sat next to the bed.
“Gamma hydroxyl butyrate,” he read off the sheet of paper he held. “It’s a lot like the date rape drug you hear about. Looks like water but doesn’t taste like it.”
“That must have been the tangy taste,” Melissa said. “I thought you left the bottle and rose, babe. As a surprise.”
Dillon frowned. “Some surprise.”
Melissa smiled at her wife. “It was. If it had been real.”
“Do we know why she did it? Or even who she is?”
“To answer the second part, Julie Peterson was a secretary in a small accounting office in Great Falls. Her boss said she was a fairly normal, dependable employee until about six months ago. That’s when a relationship she was in went bad. After that, she started calling in sick several times a month, leaving early, not getting her work done. When she asked for a few weeks off she said she had to save a friend from a bad situation.”
“Me?” Dillon asked.
Scooter tossed a plastic bag into Dillon’s lap, inside was a book. “This might explain it. We found that in the car she’d stolen.”
“That’s one of yours.” Melissa said recognizing the book’s cover.
“Yes, one of my earlier ones. But this doesn’t explain why she attacked Melissa.”
“We found this inside.” He handed Dillon a plastic encased piece of paper, the page obviously having been ripped out of a book.
“But this is just a page from the book.”
“What is it?” Melissa asked.
“The letter Diane wrote to Jules.”
“Where she asks for help?”
“But I didn’t write this to Julie. Why would she think I had?”
Scooter scratched his ear. “Relationship falls apart, she looses touch with reality, withdraws more and more into the books she reads, identifies with the characters, even believes she’s actively involved with the story. It’s happened before.”
“What now,” Melissa asked.
“She’ll have her day in court. Her attorney is claiming insanity.”
The door opened and a nurse poked her head inside. “The doctor is signing your release papers right now. You’ll be out of here in less than an hour.”
Melissa sighed. “Thank goodness.”
Scooter laughed. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like hospital food?”
“No. And I don’t like hospitals. Two days in here is more than long enough for me.”
“It’ll be nice to go home,” Dillon said.
“Any plans once we get you there?”
“Lock the door and never leave again,” Melissa answered.
“At least, not for a good long time,” Dillon agreed.
“I guess you’ve both earned that. I’ll go warm up the cruiser. Would you like lights and sirens for the trip?”
“No, thank you, Scooter,” Dillon handed the book and paper back to the sheriff. “Just a nice safe drive with no unusual occurrences or almost accidents is all we need.”
“I second that.”
Melissa stood in the doorway to the office leaning against the doorframe. Scooter had dropped them off an hour before. Shortly after, Dillon had disappeared and she had found her sitting at her desk staring at her blank computer screen.
“Do you think I’m crazy?” Dillon asked.
“For what? Stopping writing? Or thinking about starting again?”
Melissa padded into the room on bare feet and sat on the Dillon’s desktop. “For stopping- yes. But I take the blame for that one—”
“Yes, I did. For starting again… You have a real talent, Dil. You touch people with your writing like most writers only wish they could.”
“I touched Julie enough to want to kill you.”
“Julie had nothing to do with you. She took a few words out of an entire book and twisted them to suit her purposes.”
“But they were my words. I’d hate to think that could happen again.”
“Whether you ever write another book or not, it can happen. You have almost twenty books in print. You can’t stop it from happening by refusing to write.” Dillon looked up at the shelf of books above the desk. “Do you have stories you want to tell?” Her wife nodded. “Then tell them. Don’t worry about the what-ifs. We’ll deal with them if they happen.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because I know you. You’re a writer, Dil. It’s part of you and you’re not whole unless you’re doing it.”
“It’ll bring up…”
Melissa shook her head. “No. It won’t be the same.”
“I won’t go to any conferences. Or book signings.”
Melissa smiled. “Yes, you will. And you’ll enjoy them. Just like before.”
“Not without you.”
“What makes you think I’d let you go without me?”
“Melissa… I can’t… I won’t—”
“I know, baby. We’ll go together. You’ll meet your fans and sign their books and accept their adoration. But not all day. We’ll make time for us. No matter where we are, we’ll make time.”
Dillon nodded. “And the nights?”
“The nights, my love, are only for you.” Melissa stood and held her hands out to her wife. “Would you, perchance, care to come to bed?”
Dillon smiled. “Yes. I would very much.”
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