Duncan! Slow down! We’re far from the building and safe!
No, we’re not out of the woods yet. Stella is clever. I thought I knew everything about her, but I was wrong. Jesus, was I wrong.
I freak out, but only a little, and I say,
But wait! Explain why she wants to kill me. What is all this about? She’s the mole, isn’t she? I knew she was up to no good! She was a scheming shithead when we were in school together.
I’ve always known she’s a bit devious, but people like her always do well in these kinds of espionage jobs. But Stella’s a little too underhanded and forgot whose side she’s on.
You mean, she “forgot”?
Okay. Yes, she “forgot”.
Duncan takes his hands off the wheel to imitate my air quotes. I really need to stop doing that. I even get irritated with me now. But this does make him slow down once he puts his hands back on the steering wheel.
I say, okay, Dunc. Let’s both slow down, breathe deeply and talk normally. So, what’s the deal?
We’re really close to Joan Lake. We’ll settle in, you can get Kristina and her stuff inside and we’ll have a martini or two. Then I’ll explain all.
You know, Duncan, I’ve lived in and around Portland my whole life, and I’ve never heard of Joan Lake. You say we’re almost there, and we’ve only been on the road for fifteen minutes. What the … ?
You’ve never heard of it because, it’s, well… it’s in another world, so to speak.
I say nothing. I take out my phone and try to Google “Joan Lake.” Nothing. In fact, my screen goes blank.
You won’t find it there anyway. There are no bars here, and your phone won’t work. Well, there are sort of bars, but we call them saloons.
I look at him like he’s out of his mind, and he says, I’m serious, Gretchen. Type the word, universe, all in little letters, an en dash, then the numbers, 59653. Then you’ll have service.
I do this. The numbers show up in green across my screen, and bingo! At the very top, I see four tiny brown old American west style saloons. I roll my eyes, because, well, this is ridiculous, and I look up from my phone to realize Duncan has parked in a circular drive in front of a palatial house. I’m speechless. Almost.
Ah, so Joan Lake is the name of this house? This place is something; definitely not a cabin! Is it some kind of a retirement home for spies like us?
First, we’re nowhere near retirement, and no, this is a safehouse of sorts. No one from Portland can get near us here.
But what about people from San Diego, Fargo, St. Paul, Boston, …?
You know what I mean. No one from the other side.
No, Duncan. I don’t know what you mean. I want that drink, and I want you to tell me everything. Understand? I want to know it all.
All right. I hear you. Let’s go in.
I take Kristina in her carrier out of the back seat along with my purse and backpack. Duncan retrieves his few things, and we go to the door. He doesn’t take out a key, but places his right palm below the brass door knocker and says the words, “hot Seckcee oysters and honey.”
I laugh so hard tears begin to roll. I did not sign up for this ludicrousness. He’s playing some kind of a joke. It has to be a joke. I mean, it does, right? Then I say it,
Duncan, what the everloving hell!?
Just be patient, Gretchen.
The door opens, and we walk in. The foyer is smaller than I expected, but beautiful. A housekeeper enters from a room to the right, and says,
Welcome, Duncan, Ms. Foss, and Kristina.
Duncan says, Gretchen, meet our housekeeper, Anna.
Anna smiles at me, but I feel wary. She reminds me of the housekeeper in North By Northwest, and I shiver slightly.
She says, Come with me Ms. Foss. I’ll show you to your suite, and your closets.
Duncan excuses himself and says, I’ll be in the library for awhile, and then I’ll meet you in the sitting room, Gretchen. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you everything then.
We smile at each other, and I feel at least some relief. I let Kristina out of her carrier, and she and I follow Anna up the stairs on the left. I think, Anna said she’d show me my “suite and closets”. Then I remember I only packed enough for two days, also that I left Kristina’s stuff out in the car.
We reach the top the stairs and take a right, and go into the second room on the left.
Anna says, this is the wisteria room, and I feel like I have to touch the walls. Yep. It’s just wall paper, but it’s like trompe l’oeil. Like I can feel the petals. Like the vines and blooms are coming out of the walls. She asks if I like it, and says that Duncan’s grandmother made and painted the paper.
Then, she says the room is all mine for the length of my stay, and the three closets full of clothes are mine.
I want to say, so you knew I was coming, and for longer than a couple of days, but I don’t get the chance. She goes to exit, but turns and says, Duncan will be across the hall when you’re ready.
I say, well, Kristina, let’s have a look. I realize she’s already hopped up on the bed and made herself at home. I go to look in the closest closet. Are all these clothes really my size? I think back over the last twenty four hours, and it’s all a blur. I feel I’ve lost all sense of time going by. Is it tomorrow yet? It should be late at night. Dunc and I left town right before the potluck was supposed to start. But, I look out the big side window and see full sun like it’s noon, and I have a big headache. No time to nap, though. I need to go see Duncan and find out what this place is and what’s really going on.
I open the door to head across the hall, and decide I’ll take Kristina with me. I think of the potluck and what’s happening or happened there?
The sitting room door is wide open. Duncan is on his phone. I hear him say his sister, Veronica’s name. He says, so sis, what do we do about Stella?
I sink into a deep blue velvet chair, and Kristina leaps up to my lap.
Duncan says to Veronica, do we have any choice but to kill her?
Meanwhile, back at the potluck..
To Be Continued..