Part 2 (conclusion) 

She had been with me all afternoon and now into the evening. I wasn't sure why; she didn't act suspicious but I wondered. Wondered if she suspected I was holding back as I still thought she was. Virginia might not know what it was but she still knew more than she wanted to let on right now. That was fine. If she had a secret, so did I. We could both play this game.

I had shown her how the letter had been hidden between the binding and the cover. Showed her how I had checked both the front and back. She didn't ask if there was something else besides the letter. And I didn't tell her there was. Maybe I was playing her for the fool and she was really much more shrewd. That wouldn't surprise me. No, not at all.

The basement of the Green Lantern was warm, stuffy, and confined. The last place I would expect Virginia to be comfortable. Especially with the alcohol, but she didn't seem to mind in the least. In fact, her money had bought the bottle of fine Irish whiskey we all were liberally imbibing. Josephina, in her Saturday best-- long black gloves and flowered hat-- Effie, with a perpetual smile-- I couldn't tell who she was watching closer, me or Virginia--and Salieri, the jovial proprietor of the legal establishment upstairs he had made the mistake of trying to tell a story.

As for Virginia, she had smiled sweetly through his rendition of the commonly known folk tale, laughed when he was finished, then leaned forward and touched his hand. "Down in the South we tell that story like this, you-all."

Effie shot me a surprised but pleased look. Afterward Virginia had asked Sal to fetch his best bottle for us.

She was just finishing her second story...

"So the Parson ran one way and his wife the other and Dickey said: 'Have no fear it's only me, we shall have another drink around and I'll sing my little song...' Now Mr. Parson I will have you know It's out of my house I will have you to go, And as for you Mrs. Murphy, next market day I shall sell you for two cents and a bundle of hay And it's aye for a drop of more ale. '"

Salieri was grinning. "Aye, indeed, fair lady. I'll have a drop more." He filled both their glasses and they clinked a toast. "Yes, sir, I'll have to remember that one. Especially the next time my wife sends me out for milk and the minister comes round for a visit soon as I'm gone."

"Your wife is cheating on you with the minister?" Virginia asked with all seriousness.

"Well, now, I had better rush home and check!"

The two of them laughed riotously Virginia's eyes travelling past the older man to Allison. "You never told me you had such entertaining friends," she said raising a suggestive brow.

"Well, I guess I never knew they could be such a bundle of laughs." At her dour tone Effie kicked her under the table, but Virginia was still smiling.

The proprietor was called away on an errand and a moment of silence descended when the musicians, who had been playing a lively fiddle tune, paused to have a quick drink. When they started up again, they played a slow waltz. Effie gave Allison another sharp kick but turned to Josephina. "Josey, honey, let's cut a rug." She winked.

"Sure, doll," she got up placing her beaded purse on the table. "You lead."

Allison was instantly uncomfortable; she knew exactly what Effie was trying to do. Just enough whiskey sloshed through her veins to give her the courage. She stood up and extended her hand to Virginia. "Would you like to dance?"

There was a long pause as Virginia watched Allison coyly, almost seeming to revel in her discomfort. Then, slipping her hand into the detective's, she rose.

"I certainly would."

Though her purse was heavy with Perly's book, she kept it hanging in the crook of her arm. Allison had removed her suit jacket some time ago and had rolled up the sleeves of her crisp, white shirt. When they reached a spot on the floor not far from Effie and Josephina, Allison carefully reversed her grip on the young woman's hand and lowered her other hand until it gently touched the waistband of Virginia's skirt. Catching the beat of the song, she pushed forward with her knee, leading her partner in their first step.

One and two and three, Allison counted the steps with intent concentration. Her heart was beating too fast, and she hoped her palm was not as sweaty as it felt. Effie chose just that moment to swing by and favour her with a big grin. Allison did a little half step with her right, faltering.

"This is a waltz, Miss Burton, not the Texas two-step. Would you like me to lead?" Virginia's hand was on her shoulder, the fingers angling around her collar. Her eyes were filled with mischief.

"Uh, no. I'm okay. I just haven't had all the dance lessons I'm sure you have." Allison answered, still counting furiously in her head. One and two and three.

"Well, I suppose I do have you at a disadvantage there. I was the best dancer at cotillion. I don't expect you had a coming out, did you?"

"I never needed to." On one Allison moved closer, letting her hand ease several inches up Virginia's back. "Are you always so forthright when you drink whiskey?"

Their eyes were locked and Virginia's mouth curved slightly hinting at a smile. "I only drink when I go to speakeasies and dance with strange women investigators."

"And this happens often?" Allison was even closer now, her chin touching the soft hair at Virginia's temple. She spoke softly in her ear.

"Dancing with women?" Virginia took advantage of their not being able to see eye to eye.

"Yes," Allison breathed. One and two and three ... She could only guess at the expression in her dance partner's green eyes.

There was a long pause. Allison wondered if the music would end before Virginia spoke again. The delicate hand that Allison so admired was resting on her chest now, the thumb touching the base of her bare throat. She swallowed.

"I might consider answering that," Virginia pulled back to catch Allison's gaze. "If you will answer one thing for me."

Allison tried very hard to belay no expression even though she knew what was coming. "What's that?"

One and two and three ... outmaneuvered.

"Perly said in his letter 'find it, you'll know what to do with it'. Don't you think he would've left me some way or means of finding it?"

Allison didn't answer. The musicians hung on the last note of the waltz for a long moment, then with barely chance for a breath, launched into a fast reel. The bodhran pounded a snappy beat as the tin whistle started the melody. Someone across the room let out a loud whoop.

Virginia, her eyes locked on Allison, smiled devilishly. "Follow me." Before her partner could blink, she switched her hand to Allison's waist and thrust her left leg forward between her knees. Instinctively Allison stepped back as Virginia followed, guiding the taller woman firmly in a fast two-step. "Slow, slow, quick, quick. That's it, you've got it!"

They began a circuit around the dance floor much more fluid and in control than their waltz. Virginia led with a hard knee against her partner who had no choice but to continue to step backward in rhythm to the music. As they turned, Allison caught sight of Effie up ahead. Her friend widened her eyes in mock horror. Other dancers were flowing around the floor doing similar steps or just whirling in happy abandon.

"Well, are you going to tell me what else was hidden in that book, Miss Burton?"

Allison looked down at her partner. If she was not out of breath from the dance, she was breathless from their closeness. Thighs and abdomen pressed against her, Virginia looked up expectantly.

"Why do you think..." Allison began weakly.

"I know there had to be something else. What I don't know is why you would keep it from me."

Were I to admit the truth to myself, I'm not sure I could tell her why. Whatever it was, it was none of my business. Perly had written the letter to her, told her she'd know what to do with it. What did that have to do with me?

Not a thing. If I gave her that paper with the strange drawing, or whatever it was, she would be off. Off on the treasure hunt for this mysterious thing she would 'know what to do with'.

Without me.

Somewhere between the whiskey and the dancing I realized what I had unconsciously been doing. Hiding the paper was like hiding my feelings. The strong feeling of needing to keep her near.

No matter the cost.


Sunday, October 5th

The morning sun shone in the window creating a checkerboard pattern on the floor. A large black cat lay in the center of the sun's warm rays. For a time Virginia lay still watching as the cat flicked its tail causing tiny dust motes to swirl in the air.

The room was small; the space occupied by the bed on which she lay, a bureau and a straight-backed chair. Her purse and shoes were on the floor, her skirt and blouse draped over the foot of the bed. Allison's pants, shirt, and suit-coat were arranged on the chair. Just as it occurred to her she could not remember getting undressed, she became aware of a warm body against her back.

Carefully she turned. The detective was facing the wall her short hair tousled, her eyes peacefully closed. She was breathing deeply and regularly.

The mattress was old and sloped dramatically toward the middle, causing the two bodies who occupied the bed to roll together. With the utmost caution, Virginia eased herself out of this arrangement without waking Allison. As her feet hit the floor her head seemed to expand painfully and she felt an urgent need to find the lavatory. She dug a headache remedy out of her purse, threw Allison's white shirt over her camisole and made her way down the narrow stairs.

The kitchen below was warm and smelled of baking bread. A thin black woman with short curly hair was pouring water from a heavy bucket into a pot on the huge stove. When she turned to put the bucket on the floor she caught sight of Virginia.

"Well, you must be Virginia!" she smiled broadly, wiped her hand on her apron and extended it to the young woman who stood uncertain at the foot of the stairs. Her grip was firm like the rest of her wiry frame. "I'm LeeAnne. Effie's mother."

"Oh," Virginia started. That solved the mystery of where she was. "Can you tell me where the washroom is, please?"

"The outhouse is outside, dear." When Virginia blinked LeeAnne smiled again. "This is Africville. We don't have runnin' water or electricity. The city sees fit to keep us in the 1840s. Effie writes a letter every week to the mayor. He ignores us like he always did, but that's okay, we get by."

"Oh, I see," Virginia tried to hide her embarrassment as she moved to the door.

"Just follow the path around back, you can't miss it."

When she returned LeeAnne was stirring honey and milk into an enamel mug. "Take this tea up for Allie and that pitcher of water for you girls to wash up. Time she was up, church starts in forty minutes. You're coming too?"

Virginia hesitated, "I'm Episcopalian."

The older woman grinned her brown eyes twinkling. "And I'm Baptist." She watched as Virginia blushed then added, "God doesn't mind, dear. All are welcome in His house and in our church. Now run along upstairs," she put the mug in Virginia's hand.

Upstairs she put the pitcher on the bureau beside the washing bowl and swallowed her headache pill with a swig of sweet tea.

"You meet Mama?" Allison was watching her from the bed.

"Umm, yes, I did. She says we have forty minutes until church." Virginia stepped over the cat, went to the bed and sat on the edge. Allison had kicked off the covers and was lying propped up against the headboard her long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. Virginia's eyes traveled over her, lingered on her legs, then moved up past her boxer shorts and undershirt to her face. Her expression neutral she extended the mug.

Allison took a big mouthful and sighed. "You have fun last night?" She draped one arm behind her head and the sight of a tuft of fine, dark hair did not escape Virginia.

"What I recall of it." She took the mug from Allison and sipped. "How did we get here?" Her question was intended for the house but her eyes took in the bed.

"Salieri drove us home in his Maxwell. You fell asleep on the way and I carried you up to bed. Effie slept downstairs with Mama." Her tone was slightly playful and Virginia could easily imagine how the unsaid part would be all about how she got undressed. She didn't push it, and Allison didn't offer anymore details, just slid off the bed and stretched, her fingers brushing the sloping ceiling.

"You go ahead and wash first. There's towels and soap in the top drawer." Allison pulled on her pants ignoring the shirt Virginia wore and trotted down the stairs. Virginia heard a brief exchange of voices and the outside door slam.

She looked at the other woman's coat hanging on the chair, hesitated only a moment before she started looking in the pockets. There was nothing of significance. Only a battered wallet with a few Canadian dollars, a small toolkit and an old tram pass.

Virginia was combing her damp hair when Allison returned. She dropped a bundle of clothes on the bed and began laying them out for dressing. Virginia clipped her hair into a silver barrette at the nape of her neck and finished dressing.

"Mama has a little breakfast for you." Allison told her dismissing her from the room.

Downstairs she sat at the table as LeeAnne cut bread. "So, who do you know in Nova Scotia?"

"No one, really, anymore." Virginia buttered the warm, aromatic slice. "My family had a house in Cape Breton, but my brother and I sold it when father died."

"Your mother still living?"

"No, she died last year when I was at college."

Silence fell as the two women ate. Virginia cut into the sausage; she was more hungry than she thought she would be. "Where is Effie?" Virginia noticed there were only three places set.

"She goes over to the church early to teach Sunday school. Another slice of bread?"

"Yes, please. I'm surprised Miss. Burton attends services."

LeeAnne smiled watching her young guest eat with good appetite. "You haven't heard her sing yet, have you, dear?"

Allison took just that moment to appear at the bottom of the stairs. Virginia's eyes widened at the sight. "Oh, my." she said softly to herself.

The gruff investigator had been transformed. She wore a long dark pleated skirt, patent leather boots and a light blue, frilly blouse. Smoothing her skirt under her, she sat gracefully at the table. LeeAnne watched Virginia's expression with amusement.

"Miss Burton, I presume?"

LeeAnne laughed lightly, but Allison was contrite. "Don't get used to it," she said. "I only dress up once a week."

"It's a start."

Allison only rolled her eyes.

Virginia was sitting in the front pew next to Effie. She was trying not to be obvious as she watched me.

I wondered if it was as obvious I was watching her. We had just sat down after singing "Rock of Ages". I could watch the back of the minister's head and Virginia at the same time. She had a bland but attentive expression as she followed the preacher's words. Every so often her eyes would dart to me.

I felt myself smiling slightly; I knew exactly what she was thinking. Well, one of the things. I began to wonder what was more important to her: what happened after she passed out or what I was hiding. That depended on whether her virtue was more important than her long running quest.

"Amen!" the congregation finished a prayer.

My mind drifted back to last night and carrying a drowsy, giggling Virginia upstairs to Effie's bedroom. She had looked up at me as I laid her on the bed, put her hand in the middle of my chest and said with all seriousness, "Are you going to have your way with me?" Her southern accent had been heavy with irony. "You know you want to."

"Amen!" called the congregation again.

Unfortunately for me she was asleep before I could answer. Then again, maybe that was fortunate for her because if she had stayed awake... well, I might have done more than carefully remove her clothing and make her comfortable.

"Allie, get ready, first verse solo everyone," Mama said in a stage whisper.

The parishioners were paging through their hymnals. Mama gave us the signal to rise. The old piano played the opening, I tapped the beat with my foot and began to sing. I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield Down by the riverside, down by the riverside Down by the riverside Gonna lay down my sword and shield Down by the riverside Gonna study war no more

"I didn't know you could sing so well," Virginia said falling into step beside Allison as they walked back toward Effie and LeeAnne's house.

"There's a lot about me you don't know."

"Yes, I suspect that's true. Your being a woman was certainly a surprise."

Allison only glanced at her sidelong. "Well, you know what they say 'clothes make the man'."

There was silence for a long moment as they walked along the dirt path, Effie and LeeAnne a discreet distance behind. Finally Virginia said what was on her mind. "You don't trust me do you, Allison?"

"No, I don't and you're not telling me the truth."

Virginia looked up at the taller woman but could not read her expression. "I really don't know what it is. I've never seen it. He only told me about it, and not very much. You have to respect that."

"Yeah, I guess."

Virginia caught her arm and they stopped, facing each other. Effie and LeeAnne continued walking past. "Listen to me, Allison Burton! There was something else in that book, probably something telling me how to find it. If you think you can take it and find it on your own, you're mistaken."

"And you can?"

"That's what this is about? You want a piece of the action, is that it? How do you know it's a treasure?"

Allison crossed her arms over her chest. "How do you know it's not?"

"I don't really. I just don't think it is. Why would Perly keep it all these years if it was silver and gold."

"How long did he have it?"

Virginia looked away. Down the slope of the hill, toward the water, children were playing around a large oak tree and a tire swing suspended from a branch. "He had it for about five years I suppose. I met him before he found it."

"Why did you wait so long to come here looking for him? Looking for it?"

"I was at college and I had family responsibilities. I couldn't just leave." She closed her small but strong hand around Allison's wrist. "Will you trust me?" she implored. "I don't know how else to ask you. Last night I was willing to give myself to you physically. I thought that might sway your decision."

"You must want it bad then." Allison steeled herself.

"It's been my life's work. Ever since Perly told me. Please, will you tell me what you have, what you found..." she hesitated didn't know what she was going to say until the words were out of her mouth. "We can find it together."

Allison began to walk briskly down the path. "Not here, back at the house."

From deep in her skirt pocket Allison withdrew the tattered paper. She spread it on the bureau in the bright sunshine. As Virginia began to look over it she changed her clothes, removing the church outfit and putting back on her regular everyday pants and shirt.

"What is this?" Virginia pointed to the drawing in the center.

"I'm not sure," Allison answered gazing over her shoulder.

"A diagram? A map maybe?"

The detective looked closer. Something about the lines, the contours, seemed familiar. "It could be a map. What are those?" She indicated two lines of symbols at the bottom of the page.

"That's Greek. In Perly's hand. The quote from Montgomery I wrote, he carried it with him." Virginia concentrated on the page. "The first line is like directions ... 'second door' then 'southwest passage' and 'fourteen paces-down'." She paused frowning. Allison watched her. "The last line is odd ... I'm not sure. The first word could be 'disaster' or 'calamity' or even 'tribulation' something like that anyway."

"What else?" Allison prompted, her natural curiosity piqued.

Virginia shook her head. "I'm not sure. It's like a quote or a line of a poem. I think it says," she took a deep breath and recited:

"Disaster follows those who wait..."

They looked at each other for a long moment. "Okay, I've translated it," Virginia stated. "I've done my part. Now what do you think this is a map for?"

"I think it's the Citadel."

The fortress occupied the top of the hill above the center of town. A total, commanding view over the harbour with its two islands, the small fortified hump of Georges almost directly below, and the sprawling McNab's sitting centered at the harbour mouth. Dominating the townscape, the old town clock tolled the hour, half hour and quarter hour. Allison led Virginia up the path past the clock as it intoned three o'clock. At the dirt road above she paused to check her pocket watch.

A row of four small-bore field artillery pieces led the way to the main sally port to their right. Allison turned and began to walk the other way to the south around the curve of the hill. Above them the earthen ramparts protected the interior of the fort, tall and unscalable. Between the high rampart and the road was a deep, stonelined moat. As if that were not enough, the moat on the roadside was surrounded by a wood and barb wire fence.

"We're going to get inside there?" Virginia trailed reluctantly behind. "Are there still soldiers on guard?" They were passing below the signal station at the southeast angle with its tall masts and signal flags. The main mast flew the Union Jack and the white flag with the blue St. Andrew's cross of the province. A flag on another mast caught Virginia's attention. "Why are they flying the American flag?"

Allison paused letting the younger woman catch up. "That means there's an American ship due in port." She gazed out over the harbour, but could not see anything. Fog hung forbiddingly in the western passage obscuring Hangman's Beach.

"And the soldiers?" They continued to walk. Eventually Allison stopped at a point where the hill sloped gently downward to the Garrison Grounds. She sat down on a flat piece of cut granite protruding from the grass. Virginia sat beside her.

"There's still the artillery orderly room, the signal station and, I heard, some barracks. During the war there were German prisoners. That's why the fence."

Virginia looked at the fence directly behind them. In one place it was bent up from the bottom, the ground dug out as if people picked this spot to squeeze under. "We can get in here?"

"Yup," Allison's attention was on the road. She smiled and touched her cap as a well-dressed couple strolled by. They paid little attention to the two rough looking boys sitting on the slab of rock.

Virginia was wearing cast-offs from Effie's brother. Worn, wool army pants rolled up at the cuffs secured at her waist by a heavy leather belt the excess end twisted around it was so long. A thick, plaid overshirt covered her female camisole. She had buttoned it up under her chin and rolled up the sleeves so they did not hang over her hands. She carried her purse in a canvas knapsack that also contained tools they had recently collected from Allison's office.

Allison was smiling at her. "What?" she asked pushing loose strands of her hair back under her cap. Allison just smiled. Virginia's cheeks coloured. "Look, I'm sorry I made fun of you this morning. You get to have your revenge now, it would seem."

"That's not it," Allison was watching her, her expression mild. "I just think you look cute."

Virginia blushed a deeper red. "Oh, so I make a cute boy," she mumbled to herself. Allison reached out and patted and gently squeezed her knee. Virginia looked away but did nothing to remove her hand.

"Would you really have slept with me? For the map?"

Virginia jerked her head around and looked at Allison startled. "Do you want me to make good on that offer now?"

Allison was tingling all over. She wanted nothing more than to slip under the fence, find a secluded spot in the moat and make love to Virginia in the grass. She could imagine the warm fall sun on her back as she ...

"Where is your mind?" Virginia stood up catching her pants as they started to slip down her hips. Allison snickered. "Don't you ..." she began but Allison pulled her back down on the rock as a horse drawn buggy appeared on the road to their right. Virginia fumed until it was out of sight. "Can we get on with this now?"

A section of the retaining wall had long ago collapsed, making the moat wall beyond the fence steep but passable. In the bottom of the moat the air was still and warm. To the west, the remainder of the wall had fallen in completely closing off the moat in that direction. To the right, it curved away around the west ravelin.

Allison quickly crossed the open area to an iron door set in a stone arch. "Is this the 'second door'." Virginia asked at her elbow.

"No," Allison took a large key out of the knapsack. "It's the 'southwest passage'." Virginia took the map out of her pocket to consult as Allison worked the old skeleton key in the lock.

"I see," she said to herself. "Then the 'second door' is --" Just then the old door gave a screech as Allison wrenched on the key with both hands. When she pulled on the handle it came open with protesting hinges.

Inside the passage was low and narrow smelling of musty earth. And very dark. Allison reached behind her to push the door open enough for them to see. Ahead the corridor sloped upward to another closed door. Four dark impressions indicated doorways. Two on each side.

"Second door!" Virginia said. "There are four doors."

Allison took the map from her and looked at in the light from the door. Perly had drawn the outside door to the moat, the short passage under the rampart with four doors. One was marked with a small X. Orienting the map to where she stood, the X indicated the first door on the right.

"Here," Allison strood to the doorway. This door was made from rotting wood and was falling from its hinges. It gave way to a push from her shoulder. Inside was dank the only light coming from musket slits high in the outer wall. She handed the map back to Virginia and began to look around.

Broken crates were in one corner. Wooden casks smelling faintly of black powder in another. There was precious little else. Virginia was counting paces from the doorway. "Thirteen, fourteen, down." This placed her almost in the exact center of the room. "There's nothing here," she turned a circle in place. Allison moved to stand beside her.

"Fourteen paces down."

"Fourteen paces ... down!"

As one they looked at the floor below their feet. Allison stomped down hard with her boot. A hollow, muffled boom sounded. Together they swept away the dirt quickly uncovering a steel plate.

"Here, along here." Allison indicated a seam in the plate. They uncovered a square three feet by three feet. Allison dug her fingers into the seam and with great effort pulled it upward. The hinges for the trapdoor were on the inside. So was the handle and it was turned to the unlocked position.

Allison and Virginia looked down following with their eyes a rusty ladder as it disappeared into the dark of the shaft.

The ladder took us down into the dirty bowels of the fortress. The air hung heavy with the smell of rot and dust. This was the place of ghosts and secrets. Virginia's secrets and my ghosts. I don't know why I was disappointed not to find skeletons hanging from iron shackles on the walls. Certainly a little bit of decoration never hurt anyone.

We found an old lantern and a candle on the table in the chamber. I thought it was a guardroom; Virginia favoured it having been a dungeon. There was a tunnel running downward and away at the far end. I could hear a faint dripping of water but nothing else.

Virginia was making her way around the perimeter, checking under the broken wood that littered the floor and trying the crumbling bricks that made up the walls. I was whittling at the wax on the candle trying to expose the wick while telling her how one day my father and I had been walking on Citadel Hill and overheard a man telling his children about "the secret tunnels."

"It's an old legend," he had said. "When they built the fourth Citadel, the one that's still here now, they built tunnels leading out under the harbour to the islands."

Virginia wasn't interested. She made a polite but noncommittal sound and continued searching.

I really didn't want to say it, didn't want to ruin her hope, but I was having trouble imagining how we could find anything down here. He had led us to this room and left us here. That wouldn't matter to Virginia though. She'd go through every speck of dirt before she gave up.

Not that I didn't want to find it, I did. After all, she had said we'd find it together.

I finally got the candle to burn and was pacing around when I stepped on a piece of yellowed newspaper. I picked it up and began to read aloud.

"Speaking of the too popular sex novel of the present day which the young girl read, Mrs. McDonald admitted that it was not until the other day that she had read Flaming Youth, the most flagrant of the fast, "sexy" novels. She had been disgusted by it, for it neither pointed to a moral, nor had it any excuse for its existence, like some of the really great sex novels, such as Tolstoi wrote. This type of literature, too, she thought would pass. She spoke of the influx of disgusting literature which had flooded the restoration period of the Stuarts, which had been immediately followed by the prim, narrow literature of the Victorian period."

Virginia had stopped and was looking at Allison. "Who? Did you say 'Mrs. MacDonald'?"

The detective didn't have time to answer. Virginia crossed the room in several quick strides and was in front of her. "That's Lucy Maud's married name. Where did you find it?"

Allison took a step back and looked down at the floor. "It was right there on the floor. What is it? Another clue?"

Virginia didn't reply, she was down on her knees digging in the soft earth. Like the trapdoor above, it was not well concealed. Brushing the dirt off the box, Virginia stood.

Her face had changed. Eyes lit with the raw passion of victory she held the small wooden box in a hard grip. She looked so wild Allison thought she might crush it. "Finally I've found it!"

There was a noise at the ladder to the surface, the sound of someone descending. Allison's first thought was to snuff her candle and fade back into the shadows. Virginia thought of something else. Her back to the ladder, she quickly pried open the box, retrieved something and stuffed it into her shirt.

"Well, what goes on down here?" a man's voice called loudly and a crude torch burst into flame. He swung the light in an arc around the room stopping in front of Virginia. "What are you doing down here, little girl? Don't you know nothin' about trespassing?"

Peering from the shadows, Allison recognized Detective Dunn of the Halifax Police Department. Two others were coming down the ladder behind him. She stayed well back out of sight.

Standing perfectly still and holding the box in front of her, Virginia said nothing. With her thumbs she was pushing the lid down hard so that it would catch and be difficult to open without a tool.

"Lovely place you have here, Ginny. So homey."

Allison was surprised to hear a woman. She tried to peek around the edge of the wall, to see if she recognized her but all she could see was a glint of blond hair in the light of the torch. Virginia knew her instantly.

"Cassandra! What are you doing here?"

"Why, I'm after that, of course, darling," her voice was silken but deadly. "Give it to me. It belongs to me not you!"

"I will not!" Virginia was indignant. "You don't deserve it."

"Oh, but I do. It was stolen from me after all. Give it to me now and I might decide to let you live."

Virginia's back stiffened but she made no move to surrender the box.

"All right then, have it your way," the strange woman sighed dramatically. "Theodore?"

There was a brief struggle and Virginia was pushed backward. She landed with a grunt very near the lantern. Allison held to her hiding place though she really wanted to fight the man who had hit Virginia. He was now handing the box over to the blond woman who shook it and pried at the lid. Satisfied it had not been recently or easily opened, she slipped it into a deep pocket of her skirt.

"Where is that low class, cross-dressing slut of a friend of yours anyway, Ginny? She run away on you?"

Allison sunk further into the shadows as the torch moved around the room. Virginia said nothing squeezing fistfuls of dirt where she sat on the floor.

"Never mind that then," the blond woman's voice was light. "You will have all eternity to find her buried under a ton of rock!" She started up the ladder, followed by her thug. "Blow it to hell!"

When Allison looked out, only Dunn remained. Sparks flew as he lit the fuse of a dynamite stick on the torch. "That's what you get for breakin' the law 'round here." He grinned evilly cocking back his arm to throw.

The trapdoor slammed shut above. Surprised he turned his head and Virginia took the opportunity to leap up from the floor. Hearing her he turned back around only to get a face full of dirt. He stumbled backward dropping both the torch and the dynamite.

Virginia started ahead to find the explosive but it had rolled into a crevice in the wall. Blindly pawing for the ladder and the only means of escape, Dunn found it and started up.

"This way!" Allison appeared from the shadows and grabbed the lantern. When Virginia didn't respond she looped an arm around her waist and dragged her backward to the tunnel.

They had not gone far when all hell broke loose.


"You were a lot of help in there!" Virginia waved her hand at the wall of rock and dirt. Allison sat against the wall, her knees drawn up. She didn't answer, it wouldn't help get them out of this predicament.

They were trapped in the underground tunnel. The end that led into the room under the Citadel collapsed by dynamite. Exploring the other way, they had reached a cave-in after about 200 yards.

Virginia made an exasperated sound and plunked down beside Allison. "What are you doing, anyway just sitting there? We have to do something."

"I'm thinking."

"About what?" Virginia could not see the detective's face in the dim light. Allison had turned the lantern down to a low sputtering flame shortly after they had discovered there was no easy way out. The tunnel was damp and chill. Virginia rubbed her arms, happy for her heavy clothes.

"Perly said he was blown through the air and landed in the water. He probably came up the tunnel from the harbour so that cave in must have happened since then. That lantern, too," she nudged it with her foot. "He must've brought it. It was made in 1910. And the trapdoor. It's locks from the inside! Didn't you notice?"

Virginia just looked at her. "They don't call you a detective for nothing, do they?" she said caustically. "What difference does it make? How are we going to get out of here?"

"I don't know."

There was a long silence. Eventually Virginia spoke. "At least we have fresh air."

"What?" Allison snapped her head around.

"Air. We have fresh air."

Allison stood up and took the candle out of her pocket. She lit the wick on the flame of the lantern and began to walk along the wall holding it close to the stones. After a few minutes she stopped. Where the tunnel made it's 90 degree turn to lead toward the harbour, the flame flickered.

"Turn up the lantern and bring it here," Allison ordered.

"Aye, aye, Cap'n."

With the illumination of the lantern they could see a crack in the wall. Allison took a small mallet out of the knapsack and began to pound at the wall. The bricks gave way easily, falling inward.

"Nope, they don't call me a dee-teck-tive fer nuttin'." Allison drawled.

They were heading west, the opposite direction from the harbour. Allison could not imagine where this tunnel led. Virginia didn't seem to be concerned; she was asking questions as they walked.

"Why do you call Effie's mother 'Mama'?"

"Everyone calls her that." Allison picked her way carefully around some fallen bricks.

"But she's not your mother?"

"No, I never knew my mother."

"Really?" Virginia's voice sounded interested. "Why not?"

Allison sighed, she hated to talk about herself. "I was in an orphanage until I was 11. Then my father found me and claimed me."

"Where? Where was the orphanage?"


Even in the dark, Virginia blinked. "Really? What did you do after that?"

"I traveled with my father. He was a detective for Pinkerton's. We went all over on the railroads." Allison could hear the sound of dripping water. Lots of dripping water. She put her arm out and back to stop Virginia. When the younger woman walked into her hand, she could feel her breast under her shirt. "Oh, sorry." she apologized.

Virginia ignored it. "What's the matter?"

"I think there's water up ahead."

The tunnel had been sloping steadily down. Now as they walked they could see water running in small rivulets down the walls. After only a minute or so, they began to notice water under foot.

"This is not good," Virginia said when the water reached her ankles. She reached down, scooped some with her hand, and tasted it. "It's salt."

"Yeah, I think we're under the arm." Suspecting Virginia wouldn't understand she continued. "The Northwest arm of the harbour."

They moved steadily forward quickly getting wet to their waists. The tunnel stretched ahead into the darkness as far as the lantern's light could reach. The only positive thing Allison could think of was it was level now no longer angling down.

"Virginia, move closer to me. I don't want you stepping on something or falling in a hole in the floor."

The younger woman took a few quick strides forward, and, as if to prove the point, she caught her foot on something under the water. "Damn!" she reached down, grasped the offending object and pulled it up.

Allison turned in time to see rotting clothing and white arm bones rise from the water. Virginia screamed and dropped it.

"Wait!" Allison moved urgently forward. She thrust the lantern into Virginia's hands and reached down into the water. This time when the skeleton came up, they could see something enclosed within the hand bones. Allison pried it out, opened the little pouch and poured several gold coins out into her palm. They glinted in the light.

"There's my treasure," she grinned at Virginia.

The water never got any deeper than their waists and eventually the tunnel began to slope upward again. "It is a treasure map, isn't it?" Allison asked as they walked, their clothes dripping.

"No, I don't think it is."

"You don't think? Have you ever heard of Oak Island?"

"Yes, I have." Unconsciously, Virginia touched the package under her shirt.

"You have?"

"Yes. It's the treasure island not far from here. In 1795 three young men found a block and tackle hanging from the branch of an oak tree. Under it was a depression in the ground. As they dug down they would reach a layer of some material every ten feet. They stopped at about thirty feet and went home. Several years passed before anyone else dug again. I'm an historian."


Virginia ignored the sarcasm. "Yes, really."

"Where did you learn to read ancient Greek?"

"Cambridge University."

Allison didn't have a chance to say 'really' again. They had come to the end of the tunnel. Steep, stone steps rose up into the gloom.

Upward they went now hopeful for an end to this underground mystery. Virginia began to imagine what it would be like to stand in a large open field, fresh air filling her lungs and the hot sun beating down. She said a prayer silently to herself and again patted the package under her shirt.

If they got out it would all be worth it.

Allison stopped on a narrow confined landing. A short ladder led up to another trap door. She handed the lantern to Virginia and climbed up.

It was locked. With effort she turned the lever to open. Before she put her shoulder to the hatch she looked back at Virginia. "Cross your fingers."

Virginia held the lantern up with one hand; with the other she crossed her fingers. "My toes are crossed too."

Allison pushed hard. The trapdoor creaked open with a deafening wail. She squeezed her torso through then held it with her legs long enough for Virginia to wiggle out.

They were in another room. From one wall came the sound of running water. As Allison sat still catching her breath, Virginia walked around the small space playing the lantern along the walls. "I don't see a way out." she said her voice tight.

Allison could see where it had been though. It looked like a sealed doorway. She kicked, pounded and beat on it with the hammer but it wouldn't give. Although old, the brickwork was solid. She stood back and sighed.

Virginia was breathing slow and deep trying to keep herself calm. "I'm okay," she said when Allison noticed. "It was fun up until the part where we couldn't get out."

"I'm sorry," Allison reached out a tentative hand to touch the other woman's shoulder.

"You shouldn't be sorry," Virginia started, her tone gentle and her eyes warm. "I got you into this."

"You didn't take me anywhere I didn't want to go."

For a long moment they stood eyes locked together. The dark, damp, underground chamber closed in around them though they took no notice. To Allison it seemed perfectly natural they should be here, in this place ... together.

"I like you, you know," Virginia whispered after a long time.

Allison was surprised. "You do?"

"Yes, and I'd like to have the time to get to know you better. Let's keep looking. There's got to be a way out."

We found it. Against the wall where the water was running down there was a soft spot in the floor. We dug at it with our hands and it opened into a drainpipe. At first I thought it might be only big enough for her, but when I tried, I could get my shoulders into it. It was tight and painful. I didn't give a damn.

I went first. It sloped down and the water running under us was cold. After a long time of crawling in the dark, I could smell seawater and further on I could see light. Water was sloshing into the pipe through a small hole with the rhythm of waves.

I crawled under it and turned over. The hole was as big around as my head. When I stuck my hand out I touched a wet, seaweed coated rock. Virginia tugged on my leg wanting to know what was going on. I didn't tell her I was worried about the tide. Worried this pipe was probably concealed most of the time by the water and exposed only at the lowest ebb. A tide that was, no doubt, turning right now.

Making the hole bigger was slow going. Even with the mallet. All the while the cold water slopped in. Virginia was resting with her head against my knee. Every once in a while she would speak a few words of encouragement. I tried not to think about what it would be like to try to work our way backward up the pipe racing the tide.

What a way to go that would be! I had thought about death more than once in my life, even faced it a couple times, but this beat all.

I got my head and one shoulder out, shoved a rock out of the way and pushed up hard with my back. The pipe gave way and I crawled out. We were free.

We sat for a bit on the rocks watching the tide start to fill the pipe. The sky was a deep indigo, night fast approaching. I could see the peninsula of the city, studded with lights, to the left across the water. To the right were the faint shapes of moored boats, a yacht squadron by their fancy lines. Ahead over a hump of forested land I could see a tower rising into the sky.

The Dingle Tower! It had to be. We had gone under the arm to ...

"Melville Island!" Allison stood up suddenly. "We did go under the arm!" She extended a hand to Virginia, helped her up. When she saw how the blond woman was scratched on her forehead and shivering in her wet clothes, she lost her excitement. Her look was very serious.

"I can't just go back to the hotel, and you can't go back to your office. Cassandra will still be watching, I know her." Allison opened her mouth to speak but Virginia stopped her with a light touch on her lip. "Not now, Allison. I'll tell you later. Suffice to say she's very dangerous and she will be very annoyed when she finds out she doesn't have this."

Virginia took the package from the back of her pants and Allison could see it clearly for the first time. About as big as a book but much narrower, it was wrapped in water proof oilcloth. She stuck it back inside her shirt.

"We'll lay low for a while. Hide out till the heat blows over."

"Right," Virginia mocked Allison's serious detective tone. "That's the plan!"

Allison took Virginia's hand and headed along the shore to the causeway that connected the tiny island to the mainland. "I know just the place."

It was small schooner outfitted like a pleasure boat, but Allison suspected the real pleasure it brought its owners was in rum money. The rowboat they had taken from shore was tied to the stern.

Allison opened the unlocked companionway door and made her way down into the dark cabin. Virginia bumped into her back. "What if someone comes?"

"I don't think we have to worry about that tonight." Allison lit the candle with a damp match and looked around. To her right was a tressel table with two benches and a shelf suspended by rope hanging above it. Beyond that was the small space of the galley with the cast iron pot-bellied stove almost directly in the center of the cabin. Along the left were bunks, two doubles and a single.

Once a fire was lit in the stove the cabin warmed. Allison heated some water, washed quickly and attempted to rinse the worst of the grim from her outer clothes. She then hung them by the fire to dry and made tea for them both.

Sitting at the table sipping a hot mug she watched Virginia rinsing her hair in a basin of water. Like many women who carried everything in their purse, she had a complete set of cosmetics. Soon Allison was breathing deeply of jasmine hair soap. She closed her eyes and imagined Virginia stepping naked from a bath brimming with the sweet bubbles.

When she looked again, Virginia had pulled off her camisole and was washing her body. Allison could hardly breath as the cloth passed over her shoulders, under her arms and down her sides. She knew she shouldn't be watching but she could not tear her eyes away. She was so beautiful; the light from the fire playing over her wet skin like the hands of a lover. The lover Allison so much wanted to be.

When she was finished, Virginia dried herself and dressed in some old clothes they had found, trousers and a white shirt far too big. She washed out her undergarment and brought it to the stove to hang. Her eyes as she watched Allison were narrowed, almost knowing. She said nothing, only arranged the camisole and went back to the galley.

Allison followed her, stood watching as she tried to open a tin of fruit. She dropped the opener and Allison was instantly behind her, arms reaching around to take the tool and can. The length of her body pressed against the smaller woman, her chin against her temple. Allison turned the opener along the tin's edge half way and paused; her body was no longer under her control. She let the container drop from her left hand and very slowly slipped it under Virginia's shirt.


Allison didn't answer. Her face was buried in Virginia's damp hair intoxicating in its scent. Her hand moved upward over the flat, firm belly, her lips finding Virginia's neck.

"Allison, I ..."

"You what?" Allison yanked Virginia around to face her. She was suddenly intensely frustrated. "What, Ginny?" She swept the galley table clear, seized hold of the blond woman's pants, bodily and roughly picked her up and put her down on the high surface. They were nose to nose as Allison pushed between her legs. "God you drive me crazy, girl!" Allison trailed her cheek along Virginia's, pushed her right hand up her back. Softly but eagerly she kissed her neck.

"You don't frighten me, Allie."

Allison froze, pulled back to look in Virginia's eyes. What she saw there surprised her. The same cool composure she had seen before plus a self satisfied amusement as if Virginia were privy to some private joke.

The detective grunted in irritation. Giving Virginia a sharp push back against the hanging pots, she turned and stalked away.



Virginia carefully paged through the old parchment documents. There were three pages, all written in a very old dialect of Greek. From the arrangement of the words and sentences, it looked like an ode or poem. Whatever its value might be was not immediately apparent. She would need her reference books, concentration, and a great amount of time to translate it all. She had none of these things at the moment, especially concentration.

Allison was lying on the single bunk naked except for her shorts. Virginia blew out the candle and allowed her eyes to adjust to the cabin's gloom. Moonlight shone in the deckhouse skylight, spilling over the bunk and deck. Although she was peaceful now, after her outburst, Virginia could easily recall the tension in her arms as she leaned into her and the raw desire in her blue eyes.

That desire did not scare her nor did it surprise her in the least. Allison had been about as subtle with her longing as a bull in rut. A strong bull with wonderfully sculpted arms, firm jaw and amazing blue eyes, her mind eaisly envisioned. Virginia slipped out of the too big pants and stood at the foot of the bed.

"I do want you Allie," she whispered as she slowly and carefully began to unbutton her shirt. "But I want you my way is all."

Allison drew in a breath as the beautiful young woman stepped into the moonlight letting her shirt fall away. Her eyes locked on Virginia's face as she approached the bunk. She then lay still as Virginia spread her body gracefully over her, hair trailing her chest to dangle around her face. She reached up to brush the blond strands aside.

"No, don't touch me. Not yet."

It took everything she possessed not to pull Virginia down on top of her and cover her mouth with her own, she wanted her so badly. She swallowed hard. How she wanted to feel that warm skin under her hands and feel her lover responding to that touch. Virginia straddled her hips, straightened her back, and lowered her center until the soft fine hair between her legs brushed Allison's belly.

"Oh, God." Allison breathed. Virginia smiled, alive in her own power. When the other woman's hands touched her thighs she took them in her own and pushed them back over her head. She held them there firmly as she ran her lips along Allison's throat and along her shoulder. She breathed the faint, musky scent of sweat and salt water from under her arm, nipped lightly at the flesh there with her teeth.

"Where do you really want to go, Allison Burton? You came with me this far."

Virginia dragged her tongue over Allison's breast, took the nipple in her mouth. Allison's back arched upward, straining, but Virginia held her hands tight. For some time she pulled on the nipple, pressed it hard with her tongue, bit lightly. Finished there, she afforded the other the same, long pleasure.

Allison drew up her knees, squeezed the smaller woman against her. She could feel the warm moisture press into her abdomen. "Please," she whispered. "Let me touch you. Let me touch you there."

Virginia released Allison's breast, shook her head slightly. Then ever so slowly, she bent and kissed her hungrily. Allison could hardly bear it, the torture was exquisite. Just when she thought she could take no more after what seemed like hours of deep kisses, Virginia guided her hand to her soft pelvic mound.

Virginia sighed, moving her body to the rhythm of Allison's hand, the fingers moving easily in the slippery folds. She gasped when Allison pushed inside her.

"God, you are something!" Allison told her.

Virginia shifted slightly pulled Allison's free arm down to brace herself. Then she reached her other hand down and over the waist band of Allison's boxers. She found the button fly and pushed inside.

With her hips rocking steadily, she kept both their pleasures flowing. Virginia drew Allison's hand to her lips, kissed the knuckles.

"Now, I'll take you where you really want to go."


the same night

My mind was spinning down like a child's top slowly losing its momentum.

She was perfect, she was sweet, and tonight, she was mine. Mine in the here and now while the world turned around us.

Or maybe I was hers? It didn't matter to me; I'd give myself to her soul and body in a heartbeat. She could possess me, obsess me like she did that damn thing. A minute in her arms was worth a chest of gold.

She leaned over and kissed me again, trailed her finger over my bottom lip. I had tried hard, that was for sure, but I wondered if I could ever get enough of her. Who knows? Maybe I'd spend the rest of my life trying.

Lying there with her on the bunk in that little schooner with the moon's shine all around us anything seemed possible. Even being with her after tonight.

"What happened to you when the ship blew up in the harbour? Where were you?" Virginia asked softly.

"My father and I were at our place on Duffus Street. The house, it just cracked like an egg. We had the upstairs flat. The people downstairs were killed." Allison paused in her story telling, she could smell the smoke again, hear people screaming, calling. "We heard LeeAnne. We got her out but the family she cooked for, all of them, died. We could hear them but the fire was too bad by then." She sat up. "I don't want to talk about it anymore."

"It haunts you," Virginia ran her hands over her bare back. "I know."

"No, not really, not anymore. I think I'm over it."

"Then..." Virginia was still for a long moment. "There's more. I've seen something in you. Something that's tired and resigned. I'd like to know what."

Allison exhaled sharply. "Is there anything about me you don't know?" she said, her tone sharper than she intended. She had given her body to this woman and was willing to give her soul, but still the thought of exposing the dark scared her.

Virginia pulled her chin around tried to look into her eyes. Allison resisted, finally said, "It's something I did a long time ago that I regret. It doesn't matter now. Why don't you tell me about that woman Cassandra? That matters."

Virginia did. Told how they had met at Bryn Mawr. How one night she had told her about Perly and this thing he had found some years before. For some reason it had struck a nerve with Cassandra Collins. She became relentless, obsessed with the notion of seeing it. Virginia had quickly realized she didn't just want to look she wanted to possess.

Lucky for her she graduated and went off to Cambridge to further her studies. It seemed now that Cassandra had followed her movements, knew when she went to Halifax to look for him.

"And here I am, chased by a lunatic who doesn't know what it is but knows she has to have it."

Allison didn't tell her that sounded only too familiar.

For a long time they lay silently together, close and connected but with very different thoughts. Allison found herself pulling out and analyzing her fear. The fear of Virginia seeing her darkness and rejecting her. She knew it could end here. She could sever the strange but very real bond which had developed between them, or she could press on and hope Virginia could take the good with the bad.

"Where do we go from here?" she asked, taking the first tentative step.

"I don't know for sure," Virginia wasn't looking at her. "I have to leave--return to Charlottesville. I don't care about my suitcase at the hotel. I need to start the translation right away."

"That wasn't what I meant." Allison could not keep the hurt from invading her voice.

Virginia propped herself up on one elbow and looked down at the dark haired woman. For a long moment she didn't speak. When she finally did, it was a blunt question. "Are you in love with me, Allison, or is it just lust?"

Allison beathed deeply. "I ... I'm not sure. I just know I don't want you to leave ... to leave me."

Virginia's eyes were unreadable in the dimness.

"Then come with me," she said.

October 6th, 9:05 AM

Josephina picked up the ringing telephone.

"'Allo? L'office de Monsieur Burtonne."

"It's me."

"Sweetie, I've been worried about you! Some woman was just here lookin' for ya."

"What did she look like?"

"Red Italian pumps, white knee length number, a mink, do you believe it, lovely little pillbox ..."

"Was she blond?"

"Hardly! Worst dye job I've ever seen."

"Cassandra! Had to be. Listen up, we need your help. Get that little bundle of papers of Pop's out of the safe and that disguise kit.. Go out the back way and make sure no one follows you. Go to that dress shop you like and get something really nice. I'm your size aren't I?"

"Oh, I know just the thing! You'll love it! It's ..."

"Josey! Stick with me! Then go to your place and get your army uniform and a sewing kit. Bring it all in a suitcase and meet me at the train station in two hours. And bring my piece."

"Honey, you know how I feel about guns ..."

"I really need it, Josey."

"Oh, all right. This is so exciting!"

Allison returned to their table at the back of the Ardmore Tea Room. Virginia, her cap pulled almost down to her ears to conceal her hair, was digging into a large plate of breakfast. "I ordered for you," she gestured to the plate in front of Allison piled with eggs, bacon, sausage and bread.

"Thanks," Allison said pouring them both more tea.

"Did you get it all set up?"

"Damn! I forgot to tell her about those gold coins."

Virginia chewed thoughtfully. "Who was that skeleton in the tunnel?"

"Probably an escaped prisoner. Melville Island was a Naval prison starting about 1800."

Virginia watched Allison for several minutes as they ate. Finally she said: "You like it here don't you?"

Allison shrugged, indifferent.

"It's the only home you've really had, isn't it?"

"Pop and I were in New York for awhile when he worked on the steamers." Her tone was light but she wouldn't meet Virginia's eyes.

"I just think you'll miss it, and your friends."

Allison picked at a tooth with her thumbnail. "It's different though," she said, then mumbled, "I've got you, now."

Canadian National Railway Station 11:00AM

Josephina strolled along the main concourse carrying a suitcase. She couldn't see Allison but as she passed a bench a young boy in scruffy clothes nodded at her from behind a newspaper and gestured to the washroom. She followed him at a discreet distance.

As they got near the men's room she said, "You're cute sonny, but I don't have much time. I'm meeting a friend."

"It's me!" Virginia turned around, checked that no one was watching and pulled her toward the broom closet. "Give me the suitcase," she took it and shoved several bills into Josephina's hand. "Go get two tickets on the train to Montreal. First class sleeping car. We'll be in there." she indicated the broom closet.

"Sure thing, doll."

Virginia slipped into the broom closet and softly closed the door. "I've got it," she whispered and Allison came out of the shadows.

"Good we don't have much time."

When Josephina returned, Allison had finished pulling on the dress. Josephina gave a soft gasp and pulled Allison under the single light bulb for a better look. "Oh, honey, you look so good." She turned her this way and that under the light and adjusted the lace at her neck and the Victorian style bow at the back. "That dark blue sets off your eyes. Don't you think, sugar?" She looked at Virginia.

"Sure does," she grinned.

"Never mind that," Allison pulled the black leather oxfords from the suitcase and put them on. There was also a new hatbox but she ignored that for now. "Josey, start getting Ginny dressed. We'll have to turn up the pants and bring in the tunic a bit."

Between the three of them they had Virginia ready in twenty minutes. As Josephina pinned her hair up securely with bobby pins, Allison selected a floppy blond moustache from the disguise kit. "This won't hurt a bit, " she glued it to her upper lip.

"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Virginia asked slipping her arms into the military coat. Allison tightened the wide leather belt around her waist.

"And you aren't?" She stood back to admire their work. With the belt the tunic didn't look so obviously oversized and her lace-up boots were obscured by the leggings and gaiters. She straightened the medals hanging from the left breast, paused when her hand touched one. It was a square cross on a deep crimson ribbon.

"Josey, you should take your Victoria Cross."

"That's okay, you two keep it. I don't mind. Looks good on her anyway." Josephina fitted the Glengarry hat with its jaunty feather on Virginia. "Now let's get that new hat on you, girl."

Allison cringed when the hat was put on and fussed even more when Virginia powdered her cheeks and rouged her lips. She emptied most of the things out of Virginia's purse and shoved in the old Colt revolver.

Finally finished the three fell into an awkward silence. Josephina sniffled. "You're not coming back, are you sweetheart?"

"No, I don't think so, at least not for a while." Allison took out all of the gold coins except one, pressed them into Josephina's hand. "Tell Effie I'll cable her as soon as I can."

Josephina didn't look at the coins. She kissed Allison on the cheek and whispered, "Goodbye, Allie. You take care. I love you." Then she peeked out the broom closet door and was gone.

Allison looked at Virginia. "Are you ready?"

The track announcer was giving the last call for the Ocean Limited to Montreal when Allison and Virginia strolled arm in arm across the concourse for the platform. No one looked at them strangely; the only looks, they did receive, were from a few men who touched their caps for Allison.

"You could have any man you want." Virginia said in an under tone.

"I only want my soldier boy," Allison patted her hand. "Listen, Virginia, if anyone asks you, you're a corporal in the Nova Scotia Highlanders and you got that VC at Vimy Ridge."

"We only have to get on the train. We can spend the trip in the Pullman car."

"I know," Allison steered them down the row of train cars. "It's just in case."

Virginia was looking at the taller woman oddly. She wiggled her moustache.

"What?" Allison asked perturbed.

"I just think you're cute, is all."

Allison was blushing red under her make-up when they boarded the train.

several hours later, near the Wentworth Valley

The steam driven locomotive belched smoke as the train chugging up and over the spine of the peninsula of Nova Scotia. The afternoon light was waning into a deep pink when Allison re-entered the compartment. Virginia was admiring the brilliant fall colours of the dense hardwoods from the window. She didn't speak, but her crossed leg bobbed nervously.

"The porter says we can take some meals in here instead of going to the dining car. I told him my husband was not feeling well." Allison sighed as she looked around the dark wood paneled sleeping compartment. "I can get used to this first class thing."

On the floor was a brocade rug in rich colours that matched the heavy curtains on the one window. To one side was a small bed, made up now to look like a settee. Above it was another bunk folded up against the wall. Virginia sat in one armchair. The other was next to her with a tiny table between. The washroom and closet took up most of the other wall.

Allison struggled out of the dark blue, satin dress, slip, shoes and stockings. Reaching into the closet to hang the garments, she noticed her hands were shaking. She sighed to herself; although she had not thought of liquor since Saturday, it was making its lack of a presence felt.

In the cramped but well-appointed washroom, she washed her body all over, her hair thoroughly and rinsed out her undershirt and shorts. Pulling on the pants Virginia had taken from the boat, she smiled to herself at the scent of Virginia's soap on her body.

"Why is it you dislike wearing dresses so much? You look lovely when you want to be a woman." Virginia rose from the armchair, pulling the pins from her hair and shaking it loose. She had removed the uniform tunic and hat as well as the moustache.

Allison pulled her close by her suspenders. "You don't think I'm a woman all the time?" she purred running her hands up Virginia's sides and through her blond hair.

Virginia's hands caressed the taller woman's bare back as she thought about her answer. "I happen to like you in men's clothes. It does something for me, I don't know why maybe it's the mystery of that gorgeous female form underneath." Her hands found their way downward where they squeezed Allison's firm buttocks and pulled her against her pelvis.

Allison felt her chest tighten and a small sound escaped her. She began to unbutton Virginia's shirt. "I hate dresses because they have a habit of getting caught on things. Trousers are so much easier to move in." She turned her attention to Virginia's pants, began to unbuckle her belt.

Virginia pulled away slightly. She took something from the back of her pants and slipped it under one of the pillows on the bed. "Forget that damn thing!" Allison tugged her pants down and pushed her back on the bed. She began to work at removing her boots and leggings. Watching Virginia's face, she could see her jaw tighten though she did not speak. "You could throw that cursed thing off the next bridge for all I care. I want you, not it."

Allison tossed aside Virginia's pants and boots. She then ran her hands up her smooth shins, pushed her knees up and apart and leaned into the space. Virginia met her mouth for a deep, long kiss. "It's just me and you, Ginny," she said against her ear. "Nothing and no one between us." With one hand she stroked Virginia's inner thighs, allowed her fingers a tantalizing touch of soft down.

"I've noticed you've been calling me 'Ginny'."

Allison's mouth was busy on her breast; she didn't answer only worked her tongue faster as her hand moved to Virginia's center delicately drawing her arousal.

"I also noticed you like to be aggressive; but I tamed you last night."

Allison's head came up at that. "Is that so?" Her eyes locked with the younger woman, she thrust two fingers firmly inside her and pressed her thumb against her taut clitoris.

Virginia sucked air through her teeth. "Lord, you are so much more than I expected."

Allison moved her hand steadily and purposefully watching her lover's face. "There was something I wanted from you last night, Virginia. Something I've been wanting for a long time. Do you want to know what it is?"

Virginia didn't answer. Her fingernails traced Allison's forearm as that hand moved in and out of her.

Allison licked her lips. "Well, girl, I'll just have to show you." She lowered herself between her legs and met her with her hungry mouth.

later still, somewhere along the upper St. John river

The grand river lay like a dark ribbon in the moonlight. Farmland, broad fields of grain and ripe corn, hugged the banks and the flood plain and climbed the far shore. It was beautiful, gentle country.

Virginia gazed out the window but she wasn't seeing much. Tapping a pencil on her teeth she was trying to concentrate on the translation of the parchment. Allison was sleeping on the bed all loose limbed and tousled like a discarded rag doll. Virginia felt a wave of tenderness pass through her as she looked at the tall, strongly built woman.

She had pushed aside the sheet in her sleep and lay open to the eyes of her lover. Virginia admired her long feet and shapely, feminine thighs. Her abdomen was flat, her ribs a bit too lean and stark, but her breasts, though not heavy, were firm. One arm was thrown over her head, exposing the fine hair such as she had seen on some European women. It did not surprise Virginia that Allison did not take close care of her body; it was a vessel not a tool.

She suspected Allison's close cut hair was trimmed by a friend and not by a paid hairdresser. Her arms were her best bodily feature to Virginia. Hard muscled, they ended in big, powerful hands. Virginia tingled as she thought of those hands on her body and the arousal mixed with the afterglow of love-making between her legs.

Allison shifted, passing a hand over her face with its thick brows, narrow cheeks and slim nose. Her full lips worked as she whispered words only she would know.

Virginia sipped tea from the dinner tray. It was cold but she didn't care; her mind was already shifting gears, moving back down into deep focus. It would remain there for several more hours.

Allison sighed and stretched sensually on the bed. She watched Virginia as she wrote something on a pad of Canadian National stationary, crossed it out and wrote something else. Allison could never see enough of those elegant, feminine hands.

"Come back to bed, Ginny. I want to make love to you all night, and wake up in Montreal with you in my arms."

"When did you become a poet?"

"When you walked into my office five days ago."

Virginia didn't reply only continued to stare at the papers in front of her. "What's so important about it?" Allison asked annoyed.

"You don't understand." Virginia's voice was soft. She closed her eyes shook her head gently. "It's bigger than you and me. Bigger than anything you can imagine."

Allison was out of bed angry. "I'm used to people treating me like I'm stupid because I never got a lot of schooling, but I never wanted to hear it from you." Her face flushed and she pointed an accusing finger at Virginia. "Don't you dare say that thing... that stupid cursed bunch of rotten paper, is more important than us!"

Virginia remained silent. Her face tightly closed. It hit Allison like a blow.

"Dear God, no!" she pounded her fists on her thighs. "What am I to you then? What am I if that…that thing means everything. Why did you want me to come with you? For sex and protection?"

"No, Allie. I care about you, I do." Virginia was standing. She tried to reach out a hand to Allison, but it was swatted away.

"I love you, Virginia." She was not surprised to hear herself say those words. In fact it seemed like the most honest thing she had ever admitted to anyone, and especially herself. More than anything she wanted to know Virginia returned her feelings but something was between them.

"I love you like nothing I've ever loved in my life and all you care about is that." She moved to seize the parchment but Virginia blocked her.

Allison raised her hand. She wanted to strike Virginia, to relieve her burning pain, but something stilled her hand. No matter how much she hurt, she could not injury the source of her love. Hell, not heaven, lay down that road.

"Don't, Allie." Virginia's voice was soft, her control hard pressed. "I've worked for that all my life. You just don't understand. I've sacrificed everything to have it. Can't you see that?"

"No I don't. All I see is I love you and you love that stupid paper."

Allison turned, began to gather up scraps of clothing. She put on her underwear despite their dampness, found the pants Virginia had taken from the schooner, and the shirt.

Virginia sat slowly, tears stinging her eyes. "Please don't go, Allie. I want to ...I want to..." she couldn't finish. At that moment, she didn't know what she wanted.

Allison yanked open the door. "Goddamn you Virginia Elizabeth Potts! Goddamn you and that thing to hell!"

She slammed the door and made her way forward pushing past a bulky man in the narrow corridor.

I hate crying. I learned that after all those years in the orphanage. Learned that when you cry laying on your back the tears run down into your ears. I cried a lot laying in bed at night in that place. I was alone and no one loved me.

Here I was again back with the hard luck people. The bench under me was hard. The sound of those without the money to afford a private place to sleep, harsh in my tear-soaked ears.

The common car was shabby and not very crowded. As I lay there and the night wore on, I felt at home. This was my place; here with the poor, the betrayed and the unloved. Virginia could have her luxury, her money and her damn piece of parchment.

It had been so good to love her like I thought I could never love anyone. But that thing was between us. She had used me to get it. Used my attraction and then my love to find it and keep it.

Now it was hers and I was back in my place with the poor folk. Alone, without the thing I wanted most. Her love.

In the hour before dawn, as a cold rain beat on the roof of the passenger car, Allison dozed. Her mind replayed the confrontation in the sleeping compartment. She saw the tired, confused look on Virginia's face as she closed the door on her, felt her own bare footsteps as she fled. Then the face of the man in the corridor.

Allison woke with a start. She had seen that man before. He had been in the tunnel room under the Citadel with Cassandra before Dunn blew it up. She knew he hadn't seen her there. She had stayed hidden, unable to do anything to help.

Her chest filled with horror as she remembered her last words to Virginia: "Goddamn you Virginia Elizabeth Potts! Goddamn you and that thing to hell!"

Allison started back through the train cars. Back through the common seating and dining cars, the sleeping cars with curtained bunks and into the first class dining car. It was empty and she was able to move into their sleeping car without a porter stopping her.

The door to their compartment was slightly ajar. Easing it open, she could see no one. The lights were off, the bed empty. The table lamp, in fact, was on the floor beside a single piece of paper.

Virginia was gone.

Allison replaced the lamp and turned it on. She began to read the paper.

Disaster follows those who wait
Can you be the one who will forsake
All you are for all at stake
Puzzle me this and you will break
The cycle that your pain creates

With her father's gun shoved in the back of her pants, Allison moved on toward the back of the train. They could not kill Virginia in any of the occupied cars, she knew. Even behind the doors of a sleeping compartment the feisty blond woman would not go easily. She would kick up a holy racket.

Allison knew trains; knew where there were quiet places where someone could hide. She passed through the two cars the porters used for sleeping and stood on the open coupling to the mail car.

If she was very lucky, Virginia was still alive.

She put her back to the mail car door, slowly raised her eye to peer in the window. Three people were in the car. Cassandra Collins stood holding the packet of parchment as her thug, Theodore, splashed water on a semiconscious Virginia.

Allison tried the door and found it locked. She knew if they had not killed her now they would very soon. They would clean out the sleeping compartment, making it look as if she and Virginia had left the train at Quebec City. After that was done, they would come for her. Remove all the evidence. Neat and tidy.

She couldn't let that happen. Her luck had held long enough for her to find Virginia alive. Now, she had to keep her that way. Love or no love Virginia didn't deserve to die.

Stepping back out from the car's overhang into the rain she looked for the ladder to the roof. The rungs were cold as she climbed and they bit into her feet. She moved quickly across the roof the sound of her movements hidden by the rain and the creaking of the car.

Voices floating up through the skylight stopped her. Virginia was awake. Her voice, when she spoke, sounded tense and afraid. "How did you know we would survive?"

"It's not you, it's this," Cassandra answered and Allison could see her wave the parchment at Virginia. "It doesn't die. People around it die, but it goes on."

"I don't understand."

"I'm not surprised you don't." Cassandra's voice was low and deadly like a predator's growl. "It's not about words on a paper, it's about power. Whoever has this has everything." She stepped back, stared long at Virginia. "Now I'm tired of you. Kill her Theodore."

Allison put her elbow through the glass of the skylight. The glass crashed into the mail car narrowly missing Cassandra. She looked up but could see only a shadow.

"Damn! It must be that private dick." She seized Virginia by the front of her shirt and hauled her to her feet. "Go get her, Theodore. Put her out of her misery."

The thug went out the far end of the car. Cassandra dragged Virginia toward the other. "C'mon," she said to her. "Let's go watch your P.I. friend die." She pushed her toward the ladder to the roof

Dawn was beginning to colour the sky with a steel grey as the night fell away. Allison used the last of the gloom to her advantage as she hid behind the skylight. She could hear the thug as he climbed to the roof; could hear his uneasy footsteps as he worked to keep his balance with the sway of the train. When he was almost upon her she came out, gun raised.

Rain streaming in both of their eyes they stood still. Allison pulled the hammer back, steadied her hand. He only grinned and started slowly closing the distance between them.

A noise behind her diverted her attention for a split second and gave him his chance. He was on her. She fell back letting his momentum carry him over her but he kept hold of her collar and pulled her back. He landed a heavy blow to the side of her head and reached for the gun.

Cassandra pushed the barrel of a small pistol into Virginia's throat. "I love a good fight, don't you?"

Virginia shivered against her captor. They had drugged her with chloroform and taken her from the sleeping compartment wearing only the light undergarments and army shirt she had on. She could feel the body warmth of the woman behind her, but that only chilled her more.

Theodore's hand closed over Allison's and he slammed it down hard against the roof. Her knuckles burst with pain and the gun dropped, sliding down to catch against the roof edge. Allison worked her other hand between them and gave him a sharp jab in the throat. He grunted, rolled to the side and got to his feet.

When he started to reach down at her, Allison rolled taking his feet from under him. He fell forward over her, hit his face hard. Dazed, he could not find a handhold and fell over the side.

Allison breathed hard trying to calm herself. She got slowly to her feet and turned to confront the woman holding Virginia. Before she could utter even a 'let her go' Cassandra spoke.

"You!" Her voice was incredulous, but tinged with an odd delight. "I knew I'd see you again!"

Allison was confused. "You don't know me. I've never laid eyes on you."

"Oh, yes you have. I should've known you'd forget though. " With her free hand she twisted Virginia's wrist. Virginia gave a small cry and Allison took a step toward her.

Cassandra moved the gun from Virginia's throat to her temple. "I'm hurt you don't remember me. Killing all those people must not have been very memorable for you."

Allison sucked in a breath.

"Ah, you do remember!"

Allison's eyes sought Virginia's. Cassandra laughed. "Why don't you tell her? Tell her what you're really like." When Allison didn't respond she continued. "Tell her how you and your father took advantage of a sinking ship to steal from my family what my parents had searched for all their lives. Tell her how your father, in his White Star uniform, told us he was taking us to the lifeboats but instead took us down into the ship and robbed us!"

Allison still didn't respond. She couldn't, didn't want to think about that night. Cassandra raged. "Tell her before I kill her." She twisted Virginia's wrist again.

"All right! Stop hurting her! I'll tell her."

Even in the steady rain Allison could see the dark obsession in Cassandra's eyes and the insanity that fuelled it. "Tell her what happened next." Cassandra prompted. "About how you condemned my family and all those other people to die."

"It wasn't my fault. Pop closed the gate, not me. I didn't do it!"

"You are a liar!" Cassandra pushed Virginia forward, narrowing the distance between her and Allison. Allison could see the confusion and hurt in Virginia's eyes and knew it was not for the pain Cassandra had caused her. It was for her, and the tragic story she was hearing.

"Pop closed the bolt," she implored, her eyes on Virginia. Cassandra laughed with delight but Allison ignored her. "I didn't know they couldn't reach it. Then Pop started up the stairs. He knew where we could get into a lifeboat, but I couldn't move, my dress was caught on something."

"And what did you do?" Cassandra's eyes practically glowed with hatred.

"Nothing. I tore my dress and went after Pop."

"Liar!" The word was a curse coming from Cassandra. "Tell her what you did. Tell her why all those people died that night."

Allison could see in her mind the gate with the bolt drawn, how they struggled to try and reach what was beyond their grasp. She could, if she wanted to, free them. She didn't.

Cassandra was speaking again her tone careful and precise. "All those years since then, I've waited for this moment when I would have what was rightfully mine, and I would hear you admit what you'd done. Now say it before I kill you both and you go to hell where you belong. Say it! Say what you did."

The train was making a gradual turn leading up to a bridge over the broad river to Quebec City. The tall cantilever spires were obscured by fog, and the city beyond hidden from sight.

Allison was very still. She could feel the pain crushing down on her. The pain that had followed her since that April night in 1912. The pain she could never bear to face until now. It was now so clear what she needed to do.

On the swaying roof of a train car, with the rain pouring down, she looked directly into the eyes of the woman she loved and admitted what she had so long denied.

"I did nothing and they died."

Cassandra let out a piercing scream and raised the gun, but before she could fire, Virginia sank an elbow into her side. Cassandra didn't seem to feel the pain. She pushed Virginia down and lunged toward Allison.

Allison saw the gun come up, saw the murderous gleam in Cassandra's eyes and braced herself for the bullet that never came. Virginia grabbed Cassandra's skirt pulling her off balance. As they fell forward onto Allison, Virginia's hand touched the parchment protruding from Cassandra's pocket. She wrenched it free but could not hold it.

Allison was knocked flat and she and Cassandra rolled toward the edge of the roof. As Cassandra started to go over she tried to grasp Allison's shirt. Allison saw the flash of water far below the train between the steel girders of the bridge. Her hand brushed the roof rail and she grasped it hard. Cassandra's nails dragged down her back as the woman slowly fell. Allison had one last look into her maniac eyes before she dropped away from the train toward the river hundreds of feet below.

Hanging only by one hand, Allison looked to her left. Caught in the rail the parchment fluttered in the wind. The secret no one knew but had to have. A simple piece of paper that disaster followed from place to place and life to life. As Allison's grip loosened, the wind began to tug the paper free. She looked up to see Virginia above her, saw her look from the parchment to her.

Virginia reached down.

October 8th, Chateau Frontenac Hotel, Quebec City

The coffee was good. I poured another cup, stirred in cream and sugar as I watched Virginia eat breakfast. The sun was shining in the French doors behind her lighting her blond hair and making it seem softly red. I smiled at her and she smiled back.

She had been given a choice; the parchment with its secrets that drove people into dark obsession, or me and the love I offered her. When her hand closed over mine the parchment fluttered free, floating away out over the St. Lawrence.

I had admitted my own darkness. Freed the ghosts who haunted my soul and she had accepted me. Accepted and redeemed me just as LeeAnne had tried to do when she saw my darkness and took me into her heart and her church. I was not ready then; it took my desire for Virginia, and then my love for her, to finally make me see.

"I love you, Allie." She stood behind me slipped a hand inside my robe and rubbed the middle of my chest. "I think I always felt it I just never let myself believe, I was so wrapped up in finding the parchment and having it for my own."

The parchment and its power over people. It was not a treasure map, not some mystical message of power. It was a curse that brought disaster with it wherever it went. From Cassandra's parent's hands on a sinking ship, to my father who only held it long enough to lose it to the sea while we were saved, then to Perly when he went out on the "MacKay Bennett" to pick up bodies from the sinking, found it floating and brought it back to Halifax.

Virginia had broken its cycle of pain when she reached for me and not for it, and I had at last banished my ghosts by facing the truth. The truth that sometimes what you didn't do was as bad as what you did do.

Our story now started here with Virginia and I together, and that was how I knew it was meant to be.

LMB, October 31st, 1998.

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