Catch up on the rest of the Charlie and Declan Cowriting Project here!
Charlie sat on the edge of Declan’s bed while he opened his closet and began sorting through disguises. She fiddled with the clasp of her purse a little, resisting the urge to open it and pull out the little card she’d found at the crime scene. The card with her name and picture on it… Well, not her name. Katriona Devon. Her psychic calling card she had only made a few copies of… and which she had handed out to even fewer people. One had gone to Norman, yes. But that one was still tucked inside the photo album, she had already checked. So how had another been left at the scene?
More importantly, who wanted to leave behind evidence implicating her for the crime?
That was a stupid question. She knew exactly who. But if she wanted to keep Declan hooked… at least for now, that knowledge had to remain hers alone.
And that would be just fine. Definitely.
“So, what’s your plan, again?” Declan asked.
Charlie crossed her legs and moved her purse off to the side. “We’re going to go to the police station. You are going to enter posing as a reporter and distract the guards at the front so I can get to the back rooms. And I’m going to look at the case file any way possible.”
“I’m not very good pretending to be a reporter.”
“You’re a photographer. There’s hardly a difference.”
“Excuse me!” Declan puffed out his chest. “I am an artist, not a whistleblowing editorialist! I create art—they only create noise.”
“Then take your art and make it noisier. It’s called putting on a disguise, Declan.” She crossed her arms. “I thought you said you were used to donning masks.”
“I am.” He crossed his arms back at her. “And I also usually avoid this kind of situation.”
“Avoidance only increases anxiety. Speaking of disguises—I need one, too.”
“Feel free to borrow one.” Declan gestured to the dresses in the closet.
Charlie walked over and ran her fingers over the fabric of the dresses, separating out a few to look at them closer. “Do you ever wear these, Declan?” she asked, looking over at him with a smirk.
Declan reddened. “I… not often…” She pulled out a corselet from the back of his closet and raised an eyebrow, and he quickly snatched it from her, shoving it further back behind several long coats.
She grinned. “Put it on for me and maybe I’ll consider giving you back the photograph. Just for the show.” If she was being honest, it was slightly unnerving. She had to hope it was just for his photography…
“Really?” Declan raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure I believe you…”
“I said I would consider. It all depends on your willingness. How pretty do you look when you dress up, Declan darling?”
Declan grimaced. “Not pretty. At all. But it gets the job done.”
“And what’s the job?”
Declan didn’t answer.
“You are begging me to start speculating, you realize.”
“It…” Declan bites his lip. “Look, it’s not for anything indecent.”
“Then prove it,” she said.
“Look, as a photographer… sometimes I don’t want to be seen as a man. Sometimes, it’s easier to go into some places as a woman. Happy?” Declan threw up his hands in a gesture of defeat. “So sometimes, I need to dress up as a woman.”
She smirked and put a hand on his cheek. “You’re red as a tomato. I believe you.”
Declan visibly relaxed. “Good. Good. I don’t need you starting false rumors about me on top of everything else…”
Charlie dropped her hand, and her smile. “You really think that little of me?”
“No,” Declan said quickly. “No, I don’t believe you’d start rumors. But I don’t want you thinking badly of me, either.”
“I would never think badly of you, Declan,” she said softly. “No matter what secrets you might be hiding.”
Declan laughed a genuine laugh. “I’m not so sure that’s true. But thank you, Charlie.”
She wasn’t sure it was true either. But it reaffirmed how easy he was to play…
Charlie quickly turned back to the closet. “Pick something for me,” she said.
Clothes rustled behind her, and eventually Declan emerged, holding a blue dress with a low waistline. It wasn’t nearly as fancy as her party clothes, but it was pretty enough.
“Thank you,” she said. “I knew you’d have a good eye for this.” She held in a small laugh.
“Charlie…” Declan said, just a touch threateningly.
“What? You can’t seriously expect me just to let something like this go. Regardless of the why. You dress up like a woman. And I am highly amused.”
“I dress up as a woman occasionally. For very short periods of time!” Declan protested.
“That really doesn’t make much of a difference.” She chuckled and grabbed the dress from him. “Point me to your powder room?”
Declan led her out to the front room, and pointed her to a small door that was almost obstructed by a bookshelf. “And don’t laugh at the makeup. It’s for the same purpose.”
“I won’t laugh, but I very well may steal some…” Then she smiled and shook her head. “But you really have makeup? What, do you also have sanitary napkins stashed away in there?”
Declan turned beet red. “No. No. Just… go. Steal my makeup or something.”
She slipped inside the room, but before closing the door asked, “Lacy underpants?”
Something hit the door as it closed behind her. A book, perhaps, thrown across the room?
“Touchy,” she called. “Don’t be sore, Declan.”
“You deserved it,” he called back.
She chuckled to herself and began to change into the blue dress. It looked prettier when it was actually on her—despite her teasing, Declan actually did have good taste in clothes. It wasn’t as showy as the dresses she wore to the bars, though. And it was too big. But it would keep the attention of a few police officers.
Charlie searched his cluttered powder room a minute before finding a case of cheap makeup. Declan took abysmal care of his brushes… she opted to use her finger instead, applying the eyeshadow around her eyes, darkening her brows, and accenting her cheeks. Then she took out her own tube of dark red lipstick from her purse and carefully drew it over her lips.
As she went to put the lipstick back in her purse, she noticed that the cigarette butt from the crime scene had fallen onto the floor. She picked it up gingerly between two fingers and examined it again. There were lipstick stains on the end of it—she had noticed that before at Norman’s, but had been careful to position her fingers when showing Declan so that he wouldn’t see it. The stains were there regardless, though. Stains in the exact same shade of red as she had just put on her own lips.
“What’s your plan, Cecil?” she whispered, eyes growing unfocused the longer she stared at the cigarette. “Are you just trying to make me hurt? Because it’s working…”
“We should probably go…” Declan called through the door. “The neighbors will see us, otherwise, and you never know—they might tell the police…”
“I know,” she said, hastily putting away the cigarette. “I’m almost done.”
Charlie quickly finished in the bathroom and opened the door to step out into the sitting room.
“Very pretty,” Declan said. A slight grimace crossed his face, but it was quickly replaced by a smile.
“You know that you can flirt with me if you really want to. I won’t be offended.”
“I’d have to be pretty bad at flirting to offend you with it,” Declan said. She noticed that he didn’t actually address whether or not he was flirting with her.
“Then show me how good you are.”
Declan looked about as red as he had when she’d asked him about the corselet. “No. The sign of a master is that you don’t know you’re being played, after all.”
Oh, you poor boy… “I take that as a challenge, darling.”
“I don’t care how you take it. Just… can we go, now?”
She smiled. “Ready when you are.”
“Now. Definitely now.”
Charlie took his hand and walked over with him to the door. She wasn’t sure how she felt about all the handholding—despite the fact that she had initiated almost all of it. It felt manipulative. It was manipulative. But it also felt so… right.
They walked to the police station, Charlie’s thoughts far away from the streets they were walking and returning to… bad memories. The policeman delivering the news about Norman’s death. The last five days of pain. Slightly older memories…
“Like her, for instance.”
Charlie blinked. “What?”
Declan pointed to a middle-aged woman pushing a perambulator. “She’d never listen to a man.”
She stared at him. Surely she hadn’t been in her own world for that long…
Declan sighed. “You weren’t listening to me, were you.”
“No, no I wasn’t.”
Declan sighed again, more theatrically, and they continued on for a few moments in silence. She just knew that he was waiting for her to ask. Should she give him the satisfaction?
“What about the woman who would never listen to a man?” she asked eventually.
“She’s the reason that I have women’s clothing. One of them, anyway. I want to capture the whole city on camera—but there are some women who would never let a man photograph them.”
“That sounds incredibly deceptive.” Not that she could judge.
Declan shrugged. “Better than interviewing women who think that you’re going to try to… hurt them.”
“So you do know that euphemism!”
“What?” Declan looked at her, confused.
“You pulled a knife on me and said you would never hurt me. I asked if you wanted to. You said, no, you would never fight me. And I called you dense.”
“And this relates how?” He was flustered.
“Good Lord, you’re an idiot.” She laughed a little, bumping against his shoulder. “Do you know absolutely nothing about what women think when a man approaches them in a club or on the streets and asks to photograph them?”
“It took me a few years to figure it out, but yes, I do know, now.” Declan flushed. “And I told you. That’s why I have women’s clothing now.”
“So my point stands. You know the euphemism. And you are still dense.”
“I think my solution’s pretty clever…” he grumbled. “I can interview prostitutes, now, too.”
“Well, seeing as I now realize the breadth of your knowledge, I will re-ask the question. Did you want to ‘hurt’ me that night?”
Declan shuddered. “No.”
“You don’t have to sound so disgusted, you realize.”
“I’m just disgusted that you would accuse me of…” Declan broke off again, suddenly intrigued by a display of flowers on the side of the road.
“I wasn’t accusing you of anything. I was merely curious about your intentions. I don’t think you would ever… force anything. You’re far too naive for that.”
“Naive?” She had his attention again. “I’m older than you. And far more well-traveled.”
“‘Well-traveled’ does not imply ‘experienced’.” It was physically impossible for him to redden any more. “I mean, truly, Declan. Had you ever even kissed a girl before me?”
“Yes,” Declan said, half defensive, half embarrassed. “Yes, I had.”
That shouldn’t have bothered her. It didn’t bother her. Not in the slightest. “And what happened after, hm?”
Declan’s brow furrowed. “Nothing.”
“See? No experience.”
“Oh, look! We’re here.” Declan gestured dramatically down the street.
Charlie rolled her eyes. “It’s half a block away.”
“Uh-huh. We’re here.”
“You know, if the conversation was bothering you that much, you could have just told me to stop.”
“It wasn’t bothering me.”
“Clearly.” She gestured to his face. “You just have a very bad sunburn.”
Declan didn’t have a reply.
“Your silence is simply proving my point.”
“Just go in and get the files,” Declan growled. “And tell me how to be an annoying reporter.”
“Well annoying you need no help with. Just ask lots of nosy questions. Keep them occupied. If you actually get something out of them, all the better.”
Declan nodded, and they stopped in front of the station doors. “Are we going in together?”
“No, you’ll go in first.”
“Feed me to the wolves first. Yes, very good.” Declan started to pull away from her, but she tightened her grip on his hand and pulled him close again.
“You can do this,” she said softly, then leaned forward and lightly kissed his lips. Very brief. Hardly even a brush of skin.
Declan smiled, slightly. “As you said, I’m quite skilled at being annoying.” He let her go, and pushed through the doors with an extra swagger.
“Yes, you are…” she muttered to herself, feeling her own cheeks heat up.
It was wrong to keep kissing him. She knew that.
But… it was so easy.
A few minutes later, she heard raised voices inside the police station. Hopefully it was just Declan being annoying, and not Declan getting arrested… She pushed those thoughts aside and took a breath, then opened the door and stepped inside the police station, keeping to the walls and trying not to draw attention to herself.
“I’ve heard you have a suspect list! I have my sources! The populace needs to know!” A semi-familiar voice was shouting. It was Declan, but Declan with a much heavier New York accent, and high enough to almost be a whine. Charlie had to keep herself from laughing. His act was good—certainly believable—but she far preferred his real voice. He would draw everyone’s attention, though. And probably get himself thrown out, as like as not. She didn’t know how much time he would be able to buy her.
For now, however, all of the attention was still on him. She easily slipped past the few people in the front room and opened the door leading to the back of the police station. Declan was still yelling loud enough that she could hear him even the door closed behind her.
“I’ve heard from my sources that there’s a greater conspiracy! That you suspect a serial killer—”
Charlie chuckled darkly. The act was still good. And still wrong.
“Excuse me, miss?” A man in a dark coat stepped out to block her path down the hallway.
She quickly ran her eyes over him. Two kids. White dog. Gambling addiction. Aspirations to be police chief.
“Is there a problem, sir?” she asked sweetly.
“You’re not supposed to be back here, miss,” he said. Make that… three kids. The circles under his eyes, the bit of saliva he hadn’t cleaned off of his shoulder…
“But… I was told to come back here.” The eldest of his kids couldn’t be much older than ten… she couldn’t really play on his fatherly instincts in that case. There were other ways, though.
“Really? By whom?” He didn’t look that suspicious yet. Good.
What was the name… “Constable Jackson. I… I was told to look at some files… to make a confirmation…” Charlie let herself start crying, which wasn’t difficult. She had been holding it back for so long after that day in the park, it was almost a relief to be allowed to sob. “Norman…”
“Norman Jameston?” The man asked, his brow furrowing. “You have evidence? I thought Constable Jackson was out… but please, come on back…” He seemed very distraught at the sight of a crying woman.
“Thank you, sir,” she said, dabbing at her eyes with one of Declan’s handkerchiefs.
He led her into a back room, and sat her down on a hard wooden chair. “Were you told to see anyone in particular?”
She shook her head. “Just to look at the files…”
“Which files? What do they want you to do?” Damn, he was getting more sensible.
“I knew him well… they wanted me to see what from the scene was actually his…” She choked on another sob. “I’m sorry… I miss him so much…”
The man relaxed. “Oh, they wanted you to confirm what the assistants told us? I think I can get the list of what we found for you…” He looked at her sympathetically. “I know that in times like these, it’s hard to see how it can get any better. But I assure you, we will find out who did this.”
No, you won’t… “Thank you, sir…” She sniffled and lightly reached across the table to touch his hand. “Thank you so much…”
The man stood up. “Stay here. I’ll be right back with the list…”
Right in the palm of her hand.
As soon as he closed the door she stood up, quickly drying her eyes and taking deep breaths to stop herself from crying any more. She scanned the bookshelf on one of the walls, but nothing caught her eye—they were mostly just procedural handbooks, a few folders of old case files that weren’t pertinent. Then she opened the drawers on the desk in the center of the room. Again, nothing interesting. There was a pack of cigarettes though, and some loose change; she pocketed both.
She heard footsteps approaching, and quickly took her seat again. The man took out a thin sheet of paper typed in drying ink, and passed it to her.
“Can I ask…” Charlie let a few tears pass through her eyes again. “Can I ask how he died? No one would tell me, I don’t know why they wouldn’t tell me…”
“If…” The man looked uncomfortable. “If you wouldn’t mind telling me your relation to the… victim.”
“I’m… I was his daughter…” She really hoped he believed that…
The man’s brow furrowed even further. “We don’t have records of a daughter.”
She started to cry more heavily and reached a shaking hand into her purse to bring out one of the pictures from Norman’s photo album. They had taken it together on her last birthday. She passed it across the table to the officer.
He examined it briefly, and then looked back up at Charlie’s undoubtedly red eyes. “I’m so sorry… this does indeed look genuine…” He sighed. “Why don’t we have records of you, Miss Jameston?”
“It… I… I only found out a few years ago… We only just found each other and now I’ve lost him again…”
The man nodded knowingly and cleared his throat. It was a good lie. Nobody would want to ask after a dead man’s private wrongdoings. Not now. “It… it wasn’t a bloody death, miss. Poison—cyanide, we think—in the illegal wine.” The suspicion was back. “You didn’t know anything about the smuggling, did you?”
“Smuggling?” She wiped her eyes. “I thought he sold hats.”
“He did.” The man looked down at her sodden handkerchief, and then handed her his own. “But he also had an illegal smuggling business on the side. We think a rival might have killed him… or a supplier. But that’s not for you to worry about. You’re here to look at the list of what we found at the scene.” He tapped the paper in front of her, and pulled out his own notepad.
She looked down at the list, now slightly stained by her own tears.
One cigarette end, Lucky Strike brand, with red lipstick.
Receipts for illegal liquor suppliers, names and sums as follows:
Declan Erikson: $10.31
John Lewis: $15.27
Samuel Sylven: $27.35
March Faiborn: $5.98
Airen Avaria: $17.56
One broken wine glass (in two pieces, stem and bowl)
One pen, with ink bottle (india ink, mostly dried)
30 crates of illegal liquor:
23 crates “bathtub gin” (undetermined alcohol content)
5 crates whiskey
2 crates red wine
One handwritten note (not in the victim’s hand)
One package of pins
Charlie bit her lip, dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief again. “What was in the handwritten note?”
“A threat, we think,” the man said. “Don’t worry. It wasn’t suicide. Or, if it was, there was no note written by Norman Jameston.”
“May I see it? I might recognize the handwriting…”
The man squirmed. “I think that would be quite improper… could you just identify what you know was his, and what you think might have belonged to the murderer?”
“Well… I can’t speak for the alcohol, but if what you say is somehow true… I suppose that must be his. And the pins and thread.” Charlie hesitated. She didn’t really want to address the cigarettes… “I… I imagine the cigarettes weren’t his. He didn’t smoke that brand. Or wear lipstick.”
“Men usually don’t,” the officer remarked, trying to make a joke.
She smiled, just slightly. Not at his joke, but at the sudden image that popped into her head of Declan in full makeup and a dress.
“No. No, they usually don’t.” Charlie looked down at the list again. “I really would like to see the note, sir. Especially if he was being threatened…”
“I really can’t do that,” he replied. It was so frustrating when the police were competent.
“I mean nothing ill… I’m just looking for… for closure.” She started to cry again, flourishing the man’s handkerchief a bit more than was necessary.
He broke. “It… Just let me know if you have any insights into what it’s saying.”
“I will.” Not likely.
The man left the room again, but this time, Charlie didn’t bother to look for more knick-knacks to pickpocket. He returned with a piece of cream stationary in one hand and laid it before her. She forced her best poker face while looking at it—because she recognized it immediately.
The top part of the note—Dear Cecil, it had once read—had been torn off, but the rest was still there, written in her own hand.
We both knew it was just a game. You never would have found me if you believed otherwise. I’m sorry it had to end this way.
You let yourself get played. You can hardly blame me for that.
Please don’t come after me again. If you do, I will go to the police. I have plenty of evidence to put you away for a very long time if you try to stop me from getting away with this.
I really am sorry. Please forget me.
“I don’t… there’s nothing I recognize, sir,” Charlie lied. “I’m sorry.”
“Pity.” He did look disappointed. “It’s a rum note. I’d hoped you had evidence for us that it wasn’t connected to the killer at all—we really do think that it’s one of his suppliers who did the deed…”
They still thought it was Declan… There was nothing she could say right now to turn them from that idea that didn’t cast guilt onto herself—or Katriona, which could prove just as dangerous. “I hope you find whoever did it,” she murmured, passing the note back to the officer.
“Is that all we need you for, then?”
“I believe so, sir.”
“Then, good day to you, Miss Jameston.” He gave her a sympathetic smile. “I assure you, we will let you know when we have more news. If you want to leave your address, we can even send you an update by post when we catch the murderer.”
That wouldn’t do… She couldn’t have any paper trail linking her to this visit. “I… I need to be going, sir. I’ll leave my address with the men at the front.” She stood up and started to the door.
“Take care, Miss Jameston,” the man said, his voice dripping with sympathy. He probably had more to say, but she closed the door before he could say it.
“And finally—” Declan’s fake voice was still shouting. “If there is a conspiracy linking the murder of Norman Jameston to Chicago, then—”
There was a sound of scuffling, and something metal rang out—hopefully not after collision with any person. Charlie winced.
She entered the front room to see a couple of officers dragging Declan out of the station by the arms. His struggling only looked half-real. He saw her enter the room, but didn’t acknowledge her—though it looked like his struggling became a little less frantic.
“I have my rights!” Declan shouted, but it was clearly a dying cause. “I will tell the press!” He held his camera aloft as the officers finally managed to shove him through the open door.
As the officers began to return to their posts, muttering comments to each other about the idiots of the press, Charlie slipped out the door after Declan. She met him on the street—he was smiling. He had clearly enjoyed this far too much.
“That,” he said, somewhat breathless, “was wonderful. Even if you found nothing useful, that was truly wonderful.”
“And I thought you said you couldn’t pretend to be a reporter,” she said, forcing a smile of her own.
“I didn’t. I just pretended to be a nosy jerk.”
“That’s not much of a stretch,” she said.
He laughed, elbowing her lightly. “I hope you did find something, though.”
She took his hand as they started to walk, acutely aware of the fact that her hands were trembling. Declan, however, didn’t seem to notice. “I found… something,” she said quietly. “I don’t think it’s important, though.”
That was a blatant lie. But Declan didn’t need to know that yet.
“What was it?” Of course he was curious, curse him.
“Some more cigarettes. A… note. Torn to pieces, I couldn’t read a word.”
“A note?” Declan crinkled his brow. “Charlie… I hate to suggest it, but, you don’t think…”
“It wasn’t suicide,” she said quickly. “Besides, if it was a suicide note, why would he have torn it up? And he had no reason to kill himself regardless. We both saw him five minutes before he died, practically. He was happy.”
Declan nodded, an absent-minded expression on his face.
“What are you thinking?” she asked. “I know you’re thinking something.”
“Oh, just…” Declan laughed a little. “About people being happy. Or looking happy. And no one suspecting otherwise.”
She looked down at the ground. “Norman really was.” She lightly squeezed his hand. “Would you… tell me? If you were just pretending to be happy?”
“We’ve talked about pretending,” Declan said, smiling a little sadly. “And I’m happy. Mostly. When I can forget who I am.”
“That… doesn’t sound like real happiness.” She really had no right to be saying anything. She had played the part herself. Put on the masks. More than likely… that was the exact reason why Norman had died.
Declan laughed. “‘Real’ is a very difficult word to define. Ice cream makes me happy. Being out in the sunshine, like today, makes me happy. Holding—” He almost stopped himself, but went on. “Holding your hand makes me happy. The little things are still so satisfying, so why bother that the bigger picture is… less so?”
“You… You deserve for your bigger picture to be happy, though,” she said quietly. “And… I’m afraid having me in your life isn’t going to let that happen.”
“The bigger picture was already less than happy before you came along,” Declan said. “And like I said… you’re part of the nice, little moments.”
“Just another distraction?” She couldn’t look at him. She was afraid of the answer—either possible one.
“More than that, even,” Declan said quietly. “A distraction from the big picture… and the creation of a little one. A happier one.”
“Do I really make you happy, Declan?” she whispered, tears threatening to come forth again. She did her best to hold them back.
“When you’re not teasing—” He looked down at her, and saw that she was beginning to cry. “Charlie, what is it? What happened back there?”
She couldn’t tell him that. Not yet. “I asked you before if this was becoming real. And you ran away. I… I don’t want you to run away again. And I know you want a friend. I… I do too. But I still need to know. What happens if this becomes real?”
Declan stopped and pulled her into a small nook in front of an antique bookstore. “If it becomes real,” he said, putting an arm around her, “then know for a fact—I’ll never run away again.”
Charlie leaned forward and kissed him. A real kiss. She wrapped her arms around him, holding him tightly and kissing to forget—to forget what had happened to Norman, to forget about Cecil and the note, to forget the target that was slowly growing on her back. It was just her and Declan and he had promised not to run away.
If only she could forget that she was conning him, too.
“This would be nice, real,” Declan whispered into her hair. “I don’t know how it gets there, though. And I still think that I’m too much trouble for you.”
“I’ve known too much trouble before,” she murmured back. “And it’s not you. Declan… This is how we make it real.” She touched his cheek and pressed her lips against his again. She leaned into the kiss even more fiercely than before, savoring it for as long as she could, because the moment seemed to be passing all too quickly. Reality was just around the corner. And she wasn’t even sure if she was pretending herself, anymore.
It was easy just to be there in his arms. Not just easy… it was becoming familiar. The way he held her, the taste of his lips. She liked it far more than she should. And from the way that he was kissing her back… so did he. And it was still so wrong.
“I like these moments,” Declan said, finally pulling away from her. “And I think people are starting to stare at us. We may be out of time, for now… but Charlie…” Declan looked at her with such honest eyes that she almost broke and confessed everything. “I’d like to make it real. Ironically, I am very bad at pretending.”
“Then let’s make it real,” she said softly. Inside, though, she could practically feel her heart breaking.
Any chance of the resolution of this being easy was gone now.