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Authors: Susan May Warren

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BOOK: Double Trouble
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Pictures, free of dust, hung on the walls
 
—black-and-whites of stoic ancestors, and a grainy sepia, obviously blown up, of someone who could only have been the family matriarch with her Edwardian dress and grim, take-no-sass posture. Two senior pictures, the wide-collared shirt and orange print dress dating them as seventies-era graduates, perched atop the bookshelf, and behind them on the wall hung a shot of Gabby and a distinguished gentleman sitting up primly for the camera. She looked about fifty in her rust-colored pantsuit, her hair blonde and layered.

But the picture that caught PJ’s attention and beckoned her forward was what looked like a professional shot, with a pose reminiscent of a vintage Hollywood actress, maybe Lauren Bacall or Audrey Hepburn. In this black-and-white photo that hung on the wall next to the kitchen entrance, a twenty-year-old Gabby Fontaine leaned into the camera with barely a smile and all the beauty of a movie star.

In fact, as Gabby emerged from a back room, blankets in her arms, PJ could still see it
 
—the straight posture, the slight play of a smile on her face.

“Oh yes, that was me. It’s hard to remember back that far.” She disappeared into another room.

PJ followed her. “Were you an actress or something?”

Gabby was taking the cushions off a couch in a room that contained only a small metal desk in the corner. An orange macramé cat with big black eyes leaned against the wire straight-backed chair angled out from the desk.

Atop the desk sat an eight-by-ten glossy shot of the man in the other picture, his dark hair slicked back, one foot up on the fender of a Hudson, leaning on his knee as he smiled for the camera. It resembled a James Dean photo.

“Your husband was very handsome.”

“Yes, he was. He did some acting
 
—that shot was from one of his commercials. But he gave it up for the family. We didn’t have children until later, and he sold insurance for most of his life. I lost him to diabetes way too early.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Gabby pressed two fingers to her lips, then touched the photo. “We were married for forty-three years.”

Forty-three years.

Four-plus decades. Could she be married to Boone that long? That’s what he was asking, wasn’t it? The rest of her life. Could she love Boone Buckam for forty-three years?

Better yet
 
—could he love
her
that long?

Above the sofa hung another string of pictures, these more recent
 
—maybe late nineties. Two boys and a girl, faint replicas of Sebastian and Gabby.

“My grandchildren. My son, Tripp, never got married, but my daughter, Evelyn, did. That’s Evelyn’s son Sammy.” She pointed to a boy with skater-length blond hair.

“You have a nice-looking family.”

PJ helped her pull out the bed and grabbed the other end of the sheet. She was weighing her stupidity at following an old woman she barely knew into her home. But at Dally’s house, she would have spent the night in a strategic position in the living room with all the lights on, clad in the catcher’s armor, white-knuckling the softball to clobber any hint of an assailant. In her heightened condition, who knew if the chinchillas would live through the night?

No, better to accept Gabby’s divine hospitality and confront the demons from the night in the light of day.

Gabby spread out the comforter, a blanket with faded roses, and slid a yellowing white pillowcase with a crocheted edge over a pillow. “My family thinks that I’ve lost my mind. That maybe they should be making decisions for me.”

She tossed the pillow onto the bed. “Just because I forget things sometimes. Like where I put my reading glasses or a brooch.” Her hands went to the emerald at her neck. “You know, I can still remember the day they were born, even remember the day Seb gave me this necklace on our first anniversary. I remember every birthday and even their anniversaries. Just because occasionally I forget to turn something off or maybe end up at the grocery store with no memory of how I got there . . . but perfectly safe, mind you.” She shook her head. “I am eighty-four. I’m allowed to forget my teeth once in a while.”

PJ suppressed a grin.

Gabby turned and pulled the curtains over the window. “I’m sorry I don’t have a shade in here. Have to get that. You close that door and lock it if it makes you feel any better.” She
gave PJ a small smile. “I’m right down the hall if you should decide to do any more screaming.”

Without thinking, PJ reached out and hugged her.

Gabby held her awkwardly at first, then patted her back. “There, there. It’ll all look different in the morning.”

Yeah, sure it would. Tomorrow she had to become Dally Morrison.

PJ closed the door behind Gabby and climbed onto the lumpy sofa bed, staring at the ceiling. One glaring truth wouldn’t let her close her eyes.

Someone
was
after Dally. And they just might succeed in getting PJ first.

CHAPTER
NINE

Bacon. She smelled frying bacon. PJ’s stomach leaped to attention even before she could pry her eyes open.

Where was she? She stared at the window, the sunlight trumpeting through the light blue curtain. A sparrow’s chirping suggested a cheery morning.

Gabby. She was in her neighbor’s guest room.

Because she was Dally Morrison. Oh, this was already getting way too confusing.

She’d slept with her cell phone gripped in her hand and now flipped it open just to confirm that no, Jeremy hadn’t called. She could be lying dead under a bridge in the Kellogg harbor, and Jeremy would be having breakfast at IHOP trying to distract Dally.

Clearly it was up to her to find out who wanted Dally dead. Or at least scared and perhaps hurt. Mostly because they’d aim for Dally and take out PJ.

She hadn’t packed a bag last night, so she finger-combed her hair and promised herself she wouldn’t breathe on her hostess as she folded up the blankets and the sofa and then tiptoed into the hall.

Gabby was at work in her sunny yellow kitchen wearing a purple leisure suit and a frilly green apron, cracking an egg into a cast-iron pan when PJ entered. She’d smoothed on another layer of lipstick and the finest powder on her wrinkled cheeks, and she wore a pair of clip-on gold earrings and the necklace with the small emerald pendant. She emanated an old-world elegance and smelled like PJ’s mother’s old powder puff.

PJ pulled up a chair at the Formica table. “Good morning.”

“It’s 9 a.m. Did you know that?” Gabby turned, holding a spatula. “Dally is usually up at seven.”

“Sorry,” PJ said.

A gray Siamese jumped on the table and glided over to PJ, purring.

“Simon, get off the table,” Gabby said, shoving the cat away.

PJ picked him up and set him on her lap, running her hand over the soft fur.

“He loves to get up on things, get a regal view of life. But he knocks pictures over and pushes things onto the floor. Troublemaker.”

As if he’d had enough of the slander, Simon leaped from PJ’s lap.

Gabby turned back to the stove. “You might as well come clean, because I’ve been tossing this around for the better part of the night, and I feel it only fair to tell you that I know you’re here because of that Chicago thing.”

PJ stared at her, scrolling through the transcript of last night’s conversation. Had she . . . no, she hadn’t mentioned Billy. . . .

Gabby rounded, a don’t-bother-to-lie look on her face. “I told you, Dally and I have a standing breakfast date. And she wouldn’t miss it unless something was really wrong. And then I remembered
 
—her trial’s coming up. She has to testify against that creep she used to date, and she’s probably scared, isn’t she?”

“Uh . . .”

“And I’ll bet you’re a cop, aren’t you? Supposed to watch over things . . .” She waved her spatula. “House-sit.”

“I’m not a cop.”

Gabby could probably make a CIA agent talk, the way she used her hazel eyes as lasers.

“Fine, I’m a private investigator.” Sort of.

Only, at this rate of confession, she wouldn’t be a PI long. Good grief, maybe she should just take out an ad in the
Star Tribune
.

“I’m standing in for Dally.”

“What, so you can get killed?”

“I hope not. But why do you think someone wants to kill Dally?”

“If you could put someone behind bars for life, don’t you think you’d be a prime target? Of
course
someone’s trying to kill Dally.”

PJ knew it;
she knew it!
She wasn’t sure, however, exactly how she felt about this knowledge. . . . There was a sort of catch-22 to her always being correct about international assassins and dark-alley thugs.

“Who
 
—?”

“Well, Billy Finch of course.”

“He’s behind bars,” PJ said, trying out Jeremy’s argument.

“Oh, sure. Don’t tell me that he can’t figure out a way to get to her. I watch television.”

PJ hid a smile as her gaze went to the console in the family room.

“I have a black-and-white in my bedroom. Sebastian used to like to watch it after he was bedridden.” She shook the spatula at PJ. “I don’t like this scenario. Not one bit. You here by yourself, pretending to be Dally . . . that’s what you’re doing, isn’t it? I think the word is
 
—” she lowered her voice
 
—“
bait
.”

“Bait?” To hear Gabby say it, plain out like that, made a finger of dread crawl up PJ’s spine. And it was a little unnerving how easily Gabby put those pieces together.

“You know, Finch’s boys will think it’s you
 
—”

“I think if Billy Finch wanted me
 
—or Dally
 
—dead, we’d already be that way.” PJ took a napkin, began to fold it into tiny squares. “I’m perfectly safe.” If she kept saying it, in that exact tone of voice, over and over, she might just believe it.

“I think I need to call Sammy.”

“No!” PJ leaped to her feet, crossed over to Gabby. “Listen. I know some . . . self-defense. And I’m pretty fast on my feet. But more than that, if too many people find out that Dally is gone, then she
will
be in danger. I’m just going to lay low, keep my doors locked. I’ll be fine; I promise.”

Gabby flipped first one egg, then the other. After a moment, she slid them onto plates. She added bacon, then slipped off her apron and turned back to PJ, the plates in hand.

PJ took a plate as Gabby sat down at the table and poured PJ a glass of orange juice, then one for herself.

PJ picked up her fork, but a hand on her arm stopped her.

Gabby turned her hand over. “Let’s bless the food.”

PJ took her hand. The skin was soft, and Gabby ran her thumb slightly over PJ’s grip. And when she threw in a few words for PJ’s
 
—and Dally’s
 
—safety . . . well, PJ was probably just overtired from last night’s activities. She blinked back the moisture in her eyes as she raised her head.

Gabby patted her hand, then picked up her fork. “Now, tell me everything. Where are you from, Miss PJ, and don’t even breathe the word
Chicago
.”

PJ filled her in on how she’d returned to her hometown after ten years of wanderings, omitted the run-in with an assassin in her hometown, but somehow found herself revealing Boone’s recent proposal.

“But you haven’t told him yes?”

“I don’t know what . . . I mean, that’s a big decision, and I’m not sure.” PJ finished off her egg, washing it down with juice.

“Do you love him?”

“I’ve loved him for a long time. And I always pictured us together. But the truth is, there’s something about saying yes that sort of cuts off my breathing.”

“Oh, my.”

“I just feel, sometimes, that Boone only sees me the way he wants me to be, not the way I am.”

Gabby considered her for a long moment, her hand going to her gold necklace, playing with the emerald pendant. “I was engaged to someone else before I met Sebastian. Clark was working as a walk-on for MGM back in the glory days of the silver screen. I was young and impressionable, and I
had bright-light dreams. He was a smooth-talking extra who thought his smile and the cherry red carnation he always wore in his lapel might make me swoon at his feet. I fell in love with him the first day I saw him. He drove up in a convertible Karmann Ghia
 
—he was parking it for a studio exec
 
—and I thought,
Now there is the man for me
. Dashing and rich, with a bright future ahead of him.

“Oh, I wanted him to love me. So I didn’t tell him how terribly poor I was, living hand to mouth, working in costuming, waiting for my big break. I ‘borrowed’ costumes when he took me out on dates. We’d dated about six months, and I’d already accepted his marriage proposal when one night I saw him stepping out with one of my coworkers, a girl who had a role in an upcoming Ginger Rogers movie.

“I was devastated, and I hid in the costume room, furious at myself for being so stupid. Sebastian found me there. He was working set construction at night and walking on as an extra during the day. I’ll never forget that night, the smell of sawdust in his hair, the way he sat on a crate, those blue eyes seeing me in my darkest place. Then he asked what a beautiful girl like me was doing hiding under a rack of dresses, looking like I’d lost the world. Sebastian touched my hand and said the words that saved my life: ‘You know, just because he seems like the right guy doesn’t mean he is.’ I wept even more because I realized that I’d been holding my breath all along, waiting for disaster. And when Seb took my hand, I knew I could breathe again.

“Of course, Seb just wanted to marry me instead. He’d been watching me on set and hoped that I’d come to my senses. It was no accident he found me in that costume room. He didn’t tell me that for years. By then, he didn’t have to.”

Gabby took PJ’s plate and piled it on her own. “Now then, we’re going to have to do some work if you’re going to be impersonating Dally Morrison. Let me tell you, you’re in for a ride.”

PJ opened her mouth, still trying to absorb Gabby’s story. “I, uh . . .”

“You didn’t think I was going to let you do this by yourself, did you? Now listen, if being Dally will keep her alive, then you’re going to be Dally. My concern is how we’re going to keep you out of trouble.”

Yeah, well, someone should start a club.

* * *

With the exception of the wide green eyes, the remnant freckles from her youth, and the heart-shaped face, PJ barely recognized herself.

In fact, she did a better job of recognizing the cronies in Dally’s pictures. Now at least she had names for those faces.

Stacey Dale ran the tattoo and body art shop attached to the Scissor Shack. With her long red hair and her infectious laughter, PJ could understand why the place was called Happy Tats. Stacey and Dally were cut from the same cloth. Stacey wore a tight black shirt covered in skulls, dangerously low wide-leg jeans, and a pair of red open-toed Vans. Still, from the moment PJ walked into the Scissor Shack with Gabby, Stacey had been all enthusiasm and not in the least horrified that PJ wanted to impersonate her best friend.

“Are you sure we can’t just dye it? This wig will get
soo
hot under your baseball cap and mask.” Stacey smoothed the long black wig with her fingers, the nails painted black.

“I like my hair. Besides, I’d also have to put in hair extensions.”

“And those aren’t cheap.” This from the Scissor Shack’s owner, Linda Button, a blonde who embodied every nuance of the word
buxom
in black spandex leggings under a voluminous white tuxedo shirt rolled up at the arms. “The wig’s all I can afford to donate for the cause, sisters.” Linda stood behind PJ with her hands on her hips, surveying the final product. “You reproduced the magnolia tattoo real well, Stace.”

PJ’s persona had transformed before her eyes as Stacey airbrushed Dally’s magnolia tattoo onto her shoulder, trailing the stem down her right arm and punctuating it with two red dots of blood on the hand.

“What does the flower mean?” PJ asked.

“Well, the magnolia is a symbol of nobility and strength, but that strength has come at the cost of her own blood. Dally got it after Chicago. It’s sort of a reminder of all she’s gone through, and everything she is today. She has a motto:
Every day the choices you make tell you who and what you are.
But it isn’t without struggle, hence the blood, despite the beauty. I helped her design the tat
 
—it’s one of my favorites. Are you sure you don’t want me to give you a real one? Or maybe we could doodle this one up a bit?” She surveyed PJ’s left shoulder. “Who’s Boone?”

“The man she’s trying to figure out if she should marry,” Gabby piped up from her spot under a dryer as she flipped through a women’s magazine. She’d accompanied PJ to the Scissor Shack, a block and a half from her house, walking in her spongy shoes at a pace that shocked PJ and made her hope
to be as spry when she reached her eighties. It had taken the clout of only one of Dally’s longtime Scissor Shack clients to convince Stacey and Linda to transform PJ from conservative Kelloggian to inner-city rocker.

“You don’t know if you should marry him?” Stacey asked, plopping herself down in one of the four black chairs. The place had an elegant chic about it, from the black sinks and chairs to the blue walls and the white oval French country mirrors at each station. The place was small, to be sure, but embodied a neighborhood charm that evoked the sense of juicy gossip shared over a perm and color or a set and dry.

Stacey slid one skinny leg over the other and leaned in like PJ might have some sort of delicious backstory.

“I just haven’t made up my mind yet,” PJ said. “He was my high school sweetheart, so of course, I love him. . . .”

“But do you want him to be the father of your children?” Linda asked.

“Children?” PJ looked at her in the mirror. Linda was eating a granola bar and nodding. “I haven’t thought about children.”

“Well, first comes marriage . . .” Linda lifted black penciled eyebrows.

Gabby closed her magazine and pushed up the dryer. “Let’s keep her alive first, shall we, girls? She can figure out if she wants to marry Boone once we catch whoever broke into Dally’s house last night.”

Linda shot her a look, midbite. “We?”

Stacey drew both legs up onto the chair, her face bright, accented by the half-moon tattooed over her right eyebrow. “
We
, of course. Who knows Dally’s life better than Linda and
me?” She nodded at Linda. “I’ll bet it’s Missy Gainer. Remember, Linda, how hot she was after Dally botched her hair?” She added a minute inflection to the word
botched
.

Stacey turned to PJ. “It was gorgeous. The most delicious deep purple I’d ever seen, and with Missy’s dragonfly tattoo on her neck, it made for beautiful wedding shots. But Missy wanted lavender, and anyone knows that when you’re starting out with hair as dark as Missy’s, you have to strip out the black, which makes it more porous and more susceptible to color. Dally even told her that, but oh, Missy was furious. And of course, poor Dally couldn’t go back and lighten it because the hair would have been damaged
 
—anyone could figure that out. At least anyone who isn’t . . . you know
 
—” Stacey ran her two pointer fingers in small circles around her head
 
—“loony.”

BOOK: Double Trouble
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