"Hello, we're here interviewing Dana Knightstone about her latest book, Death and Betrayal in Romania! Dana, this is your best-selling book yet. And, I have to say, one of the most out there romances I've ever read," said Jance Winklebee, leaning forward, arms folded over her knee to get a more intimate conversation with Ms. Dana Knightstone.
"But that's how it happened, Jance!" laughed Dana. "I wasn't expecting to write about ghosts sword fighting, but that's how it goes in the writing business! I never expected it to turn out that Alexandra had been poisoned!"
Dana was in her prettiest of sweaters, and was trying to ignore Bandit barking and scratching at the wall behind Jance Winklebee. If Winklebee couldn't see the ghost dog and the film equipment wasn't malfunctioning, there was no need to bring Bandit up.
The interview was taking place at Eagle Studios, a small studio in Manitoba that did live performances and had carved out an entertainment niche that had disappeared decades ago for other studios. Dana's editor had warned her it wouldn't get her a lot of publicity, but after some searching on the web Dana had decided she liked the novelty of the place.
And, well, it was giving her a good Feeling.
"Now, this whole 'based on a true story' label your stories get, with murders you uncover yourself. How true is true?" asked Winklebee. She held up a copy of Dana's latest, flipped it over to the back cover and pointed a green nail at the text.
"Can we get a close up of the 'true story' statement?" said Winklebee.
"All true." Dana was prepared for this question. She got asked the 'truth' question at every interview. Maybe someone hoped she'd slip up.
"And how true are the accusations? Breaking and entering? Massive property damage?" said Jance, suddenly changing tactics. Author. Clairvoyant. Vandal. flashed on the screen underneath Dana.
Dana stopped laughing. "Sometimes, to solve a murder, you have to smash a few display cases, axe open a few doors, and discover how many people keep their keys in knotholes guarded by squirrels."
"Yes, squirre--" Dana looked up. Bandit had stopped attacking the wall. Now he was jumping around happily, the object of his affection a see-through lady in a sparkly flapper gown floating a few inches off the ground. The ghost was beautiful, her hair in a perfect curled coif, a long elegant feather arching above her head. She reached out to Dana.
And then the lights and cameras exploded.
"Oh my god!" screamed Winklebee, flying to the ground and covering her head. Dana leapt on top of her, grabbing her coat from the chair as she did, and tossing it over the two of them to block the falling glass. Around them, set techs were dodging and running and yelling as darkness enveloped the studio. Dana could smell smoke. Bandit was barking again, louder this time.
"We've got to get out of here," she told Jance, grabbing her hand. "Something's on fire!"
A tech was yelling at people to come to the emergency door, lit by the fire. Dana got up with Jance and just then something, probably invisible to Jance but felt and seen by Dana, surged up from the ground in front of them and into the ceiling, sending the rafters crashing down in front of them.
They were trapped.
"Oh no, no no no no..." Jance whimpered as she held tightly onto Dana's arm.
"It's okay..." said Dana, holding onto Jance comfortingly. There was just enough light from the fire, most of which had been thankfully smothered by the debris, to make out a broken chair with long wooden legs, and an anvil prop from a skit she'd watched performed before her interview.
Jance clung tighter.
"Jance, I'm going to need you to help me. We need to move that anvil and use that chair leg to leverage the biggest pieces of debris out of our way so we can escape the studio," said Dana.
"WHAT?" said Winklebee.
Dana was already using... why did she have a screwdriver? thought Jance in a panicked haze -- to unscrew the chair leg.
"Come on!" said Dana.
Jance broke out of her confusion and joined Dana in lugging over the anvil. She was suddenly glad that Eagle Studios was terrible about putting away props after performances on the other sets. If there hadn't been an avant garde rendition of cartoons earlier that day, there might not have been anything of substance to help them!
On the other side they could hear people calling to them. The flames were growing higher, but hadn't gotten to her and Dana yet. Jance could almost swear, but not to any other living being, she saw a dog pushing the fire back, a darting and leaping shape in the flames.
"And heave!" cried Dana. Together they pushed down; the debris blocking their way slid off and they scrambled through. They came out hailed by studio crew and on camera. Dana wiped soot off her face.
"Ms. Winklebee," said Dana, "I'd like to resume our interview as soon as possible."
"Excuse me?" said Jance. "We just nearly died."
"That's the problem," said Dana solemnly, "we wouldn't have been the first."
There were a lot of areas blocked off and not just the old studio that had been bricked up longer than Jance had worked there.
They'd had to get her a new couch to do her interviews from. She hated it. It was puce. Jance hated puce. She'd wanted seafoam.
"And now, live from Eagle Studios in Winnipeg, it's Jance Winklebee!" called the announcer as her show started. Jance turned to her returning guest and smiled.
"It's so brave of you to come back, Dana," she began.
"Bravery has nothing to do with it," replied Dana. "Your studio... I think it's going to be the basis for my next book!"
Jance blinked, but kept her wide smile on. After her last question about Dana's criminal exploits before the explosion, she wasn't sure she wanted to see how she came off in Knightstone's dramatic style. She forced herself not to pause between dramatic and style. Dana had nearly been late getting on camera because the crew kept bringing books for her to sign, so drama did sell.
And maybe Jance really did love Death at Cape Porto. Just a bit. Just a lot. But it was also the story that had gotten Dana arrested and well, pursuing that was just good media, wasn't it?
Dana appeared to pet the air beside her for a moment.
"There's a presence here, Jance, a powerful one. Just the kind of person I love to write about. And help." Dana flashed a bright, self-deprecating smile at the camera.
"I should have said help first," she added with a laugh.
"Well, I'm sure I can show you around once my segment is done, but let's talk more about your arrest," said Jance, leaning in. "You were caught stealing, breaking and entering, and committing vandalism in Cape Porto. And from what I hear, that's not the first time you've done that for one of your stories. You wreaked absolute havoc on a Romanian castle, but when I called, the caretaker had nothing but praise for you!"
Dana wasn't taken aback this time. "You have to understand... the things I did, they may have seemed random and strange, but they all had a purpose in the end. I help people, Jance. I put spirits to rest, and even help the living. And as for Cape Porto? There was a lot going on there."
"In court, there was talk of someone being falsely imprisoned?"
"Mhm," said Dana. "At one point a young boy was locked in a shed against his will, but I think he's pretty happy now with how things turned out, what with his family getting their farm back for his trouble."
"What a brave little boy," gushed Jance.
"He was! I couldn't have solved his great-aunt's murder without him," said Dana with a smile. "Speaking of murder, has anyone ever been killed here at the studio?"
Jance was not liking Dana Knightstone as an interview subject.
"That's... there have been no murders here, Miss Knightstone," protested Jance. "We're a safe workplace, except the fire last week, our second major accident ever! In over fifty years, that's really good!"
"What was the first?" said Dana, crossing her hands over her lap.
Jance squirmed. "Well, there was one back in the fifties. During a rehearsal for a performance. There was a fire. Almost everyone got out of the building, except four people. I don't remember their names right now, it was just a fire."
Dana nodded thoughtfully. "Who would know more?"
"Miss Knightstone, this is a live interview!"
Dana flashed the camera a bright smile. "I'm just showing the audience how my writing process goes! Next I'll tell them how I had to save my last boyfriend from a secret society. Which... also involved a fire. I guess I just attract that sort of thing." Dana laughed.
Jance looked at the scorched marks on the wall that were still waiting to be painted over.
"I'm sorry I kept putting you on the spot like that, Ms. Winklebee," said Dana. "I just... I think something terrible happened all those years ago, besides the deaths, and I want to use my abilities to set things right."
"What's more horrible than burning to death?" asked Jance.
"Unfinished business," replied Dana. "That's what keeps people here long after they should have found peace."
"Hm. If you say so. I asked around, before people left, and I found out some more. Got my memory jogged."
"Where do we start, Ms. Winklebee?"
"Well. Look, I'll draw you a map," said Jance as she got out a napkin and pen.
First she sketched out the rounded studio area, the boxy areas of the office and dressing rooms behind, and finally the big unknown to her: The old studio that had been blocked off since the original fire for being unsafe, but budget being what it was back in those days, it had just been left there behind a wall. There had been talk about opening it up and repairing it as a live venue, usually whenever the Fringe Festival was coming up, but nothing had ever come of it.
"It's probably filled with squatters and wasp nests, you know," said Jance. "Hopefully just squatters."
"How did you guess that's where I wanted to go first?" said Dana with a small smile.
"Well, I thought where did I not want to go? as I was drawing and that's what came out," said Jance. "It's not easy to get in there. It's locked off and no one's seen the token that opens it for years. My supervisor told me the only way in was with an axe."
"I have a knack for finding things, Ms. Winklebee," said Dana. "Let's take a look around the studio first, now that filming is over."
Jance took close note of the plural, a little thrill in her stomach. Okay, so she'd nearly died but this was the sort of thing in Dana Knightstone's books she'd secretly enjoyed. The exploring. The solving. This wasn't why she'd suggested interviewing Dana, but was the sort of thing she'd have fantasized about when she was younger -- and somewhere around page 200 of Death at Cape Porto.
Maybe she'd make the next book. Hopefully not the way Sebastian Knightstone did.
Eagle Studio proper, the used and not-boarded up part, had seen better days (those better days had been about a week ago), and still smelled of smoke from the fire. The fallen debris had been revealed to not be from structural damage ("It was like something just yanked them right down!") so the studio had been deemed safe for re-opening much sooner than otherwise. The fire had even been small enough that the equipment that hadn't exploded was still in working order. Jance liked that. Jance liked not losing her job to studio destruction.
Jance kept up a nervous stream of chatter as Dana rooted around the studio. Bits of history. Some trivia. What she had for lunch.
"We're old-fashioned, we still run variety shows. The owner of the studio, Max Hess, says it's in honour of his great-aunt, who used to broadcast live plays in the old studio, back during the fifties. I met him once. He's nice. He gave me the last brownie on the tray. I had brownies for lunch."
Dana grunted as she broke into a circuit board to rewire something. With a click, the door to the offices that were locked for the night snapped open.
Jance watched Dana work. Dana seemed to rush from spot to spot, sometimes picking up the oddest objects and carrying them under her arm. Jance had no idea what on earth Dana planned to do with them.
Dana went for an axe.
"No!" yelled Jance.
"What's wrong?" said Dana, turning her head back at Jance. She was at the emergency axe and hose. She'd just pried open the glass case with... was that a shoehorn?
"That's for fires!"
"Well, an axe can always be useful! You said we'd need it for the door!" Dana added it to the assortment of strange objects she was carrying.
"I wasn't serious! There's an opening mechanism somewhere."
"Oh. Well, let's keep the axe anyway."
They moved into the control room of the studio, where the techs lived and did their strange tasks that Jance had never been sure of. Buttons were pushed. Things were recorded. They made her look not orange.
The screens were on, cameras still pointed at the set-up where Jance had interviewed Dana. Jance had been fit in last for tonight's filming, by cancelling the talent show segment in honour of a special re-interview of Dana.
With a burst of noise, static filled the screens and a woman's face with glowing white eyes flashed across them for just a second. Her hair was long and she wore glasses. She'd worn? Do you use the past tense for ghosts?
Jance leapt back in surprise.
Jance looked over to ask Dana if she'd seen it too, in time to see Dana steal a cheese sandwich out of someone's lunchbox.
Dana looked right back at Jance. "I'm not used to being supervised while I work, Ms. Winklebee."
"I think you need supervision more often, Ms. Knightstone," replied Jance.
"What's this, then?" asked Dana as she slid out the contents.
"There's pieces of photos in here," said Jance. "Isn't this your wicket?"
Dana started piecing together the photos. In the first one, a beautiful woman who looked like a star and a handsome man who definitely was a star were posing for media shots. Publicity shot #1 was written on the back in black ink.
In the second, the starlet was clearly pulling away from the man while another woman, with long hair and glasses… Jance paused, taking a closer look at that photo. Yes, it was definitely the ghost she'd glimpsed earlier. The ghost watched from the sidelines, frowning.
In the third, a second man, with a goatee, was pushing the couple together with a wide smile.
"For the publicity. I'm sorry, Marianne. -S" was written on the back of the last picture.
"Who is S?" asked Dana, peering at the photos.
"Serena Salvadore, I bet. She was a big star for this studio," said Jance. "I remember now, she's one of the ones who died in the fire. It was two actors, a director, and the Mr. Hess's great-aunt, Marianne Hess. Do you think she's the Marianne being apologized to?"
"So why is this woman, I assume she's Marianne, so mad at her? Did Marianne start the fire? Was this man Marianne's boyfriend?" said Dana, running a thumb over Serena's uncomfortable face in the photo with the two men. "Serena wasn't happy, and neither was Marianne. I know that."
Jance shrugged. "Wouldn't be the first time a studio decided the stars being together made for better publicity."
"I think there's more to this," said Dana.
"Well, so much for tha--" said Jance before hearing the squeaking noises of the screwdriver and a light fixture.
"Found the key!" said Dana gleefully, holding up the key triumphantly, in a napkin that Jance was pretty sure belonged to the producer.
"It was too hot to hold," explained Dana, meeting Jance's gaze over the napkin.
"Right," said Jance.
The key that was in the fixture was indeed the key for the dressing rooms and they stepped inside. The door slammed shut behind them in a gust of cold air.
"Air conditioning must be on the fritz since the fire," said Jance, shivering. She turned to check her hair in the dressing room mirror in time to see the goatee'd man (the director?) from the photos reach for her shoulder. Before a reflection of see-through dog bit his hand.
Jance speedwalked to Dana who hadn't been murdered by ghosts yet so was the best bet for protection.
"What's in this old propcase?" asked Dana, thumping an old trunk.
"I'm not sure," said Jance, keeping Dana between her and the mirror. "It's been here since I started back in the 90s. No one really notices it anymore. Can't open it for the rust."
Dana crouched down and started rubbing rust off the hinges with the napkin and an... oilcan? Jance didn't even remember seeing her grab that one. Soon the joints were moving smoothly, but there turned out to be, under all that rust, a lock.
"Hold this," said Dana, handing Jance what was left of the objects she was carrying, which were the purloined cheese sandwich and the axe. Dana started crawling around on the dressing room floor, checking every corner until she came to a mouse hole.
"AHA!" she said. A little mouse head poked out with the sound of jingling keys.
"Oh, I can do this one!" said Jance and hefted the axe.
"No!" yelled Dana. "That's not what that's for!"
"Oh fine," said Jance.
They used the cheese sandwich instead.
Inside the box were old props and mismatched ephemera that Jance had never seen before, but Dana sorted them like a woman possessed until she had seven pieces of what was once a small statuette.
"Wonder why they didn't toss this in the garbage," said Jance.
"Hmm," said Dana. She picked up some of the sticky nail polish from the counter in front of the mirrors, and this time Jance definitely saw someone, a flapper? Serena? Her face was there and gone too fast for Jance to be sure, staring out at them, flickering in and out of view. Dana paid the ghost no heed and began using the nail polish to assemble the prop.
When she was done, it was a an eagle, posed like the studio's emblem.
"I'll just keep this for now," said Dana, slipping it into her pocket. "Let's check out the office!"
"Write it down," said Dana. "It might be for the filming equipment."
"Oh good," said Jance, "in case we want to film show and tell with all the stuff you've grabbed around here."
"We've just got the axe and eagle now," pointed out Dana.
"Huh," said Jance.
Dana rummaged through the file cabinet and found a series of news articles in a file. She sat down and laid them out, moving them back and forth to create a chronological order. Jance sat down beside, disappointed that yet again they'd come across a problem that the axe didn't apply to. She was so ready to use the axe.
The articles confirmed what they'd already suspected about who was in the photos.
The first article was about the opening of the studio under the Hess family, a joint production between Malcolm Hess (Max's grandfather, Jance supposed) and Marianne Hess (his great-aunt! Jance reminded Dana, and definitely the glaring woman from the photos) back in the 40s. There was a line about how with her own studio, Marianne Hess had just become quite the eligible bachelorette.
The next article was about how Marianne had to step back from directing the plays she wrote for getting too involved, and that they were seeking talented new directors.
The third, Jance handed over to Dana after reading. "This is right before the fire. I remember Jacob Harley now, he's a tragic story. He was a movie heartthrob who wanted to get into theatre and he died in the fire. But they said he was absolutely dismal at it. Guess sometimes you get lucky enough to die before you mess up on record, right? Is it his ghost?"
Dana frowned, shaking her head. "No, the ghost that wants my help… She's Serena."
The fourth headline was 'Love Blossoms On Set,' an interview with the new director, Henry Blackwood, about the chemistry between the lead actress who had been in several of Hess's plays and Jacob Harley.
"Well, this article," Jance picked up the fifth, "says who died in the fire. Serena Salvadore the lead actress, Jacob Harley the lead actor, Henry Blackwood the director, and Marianne Hess, the screenwriter. It says that the day before the fire Marianne and Blackwood were seen having a screaming fight. She hated having someone else direct her plays."
"'You're trying to steal my leading lady'," read Dana. "Directing her main star herself was more important to Marianne than her own plays?"
"Guess so," said Jance.
"Now…" Dana's eyes searched the room, and fixed themselves on a decorative cloth that hung on the wall like a tapestry -- or a curtain! But if it was a curtain, it wouldn’t open. The pole holding the top was out of reach, and the bottom was fastened tightly to the ground, they found out after some tugging, but…
"Don't worry," said Dana to Jance.
"Worry about WHAT?" said Jance.
"Bandit! Go!" yelled Dana, and Jance heard what she could only describe as spectral barking, which was a new term to her lexicon. Suddenly, the pole holding the cloth at the top flung itself off its hooks and clattered to the ground in front of them, revealing an old metal door behind the covering.
Above its inset handle was a hole that would take the small eagle statuette perfectly.
"Knew it," said Dana softly as she put the statuette into the hole.
"That was the token?" said Jance, following. "I was imagining coins. And a visible door."
Or there were none, until a set of dog prints appeared.
"He wasn't in your book. Haven't found him his love yet?" said Jance.
"Bandit likes his privacy," said Dana with a smile. "Come on, let's see what's back here. This is where they died, huh?"
"Mhm. Like the article said, all four of them ran here to take refuge. Only Serena Salvadore and Marianne Hess stayed behind, while the director, Blackwood, and Serena's co-star, Jacob Harley, ran out through the flames. They were in the part of the building that collapsed. They found Serena and Marianne right beside each other after…" Jance sighed. "You know, there were rumours that they were lovers? But there were rumours that everyone was gay back in the day."
Dana stopped. "Didn't the papers say that it was Serena and Jacob who were in love?"
"Yeah. Strange that he'd run and leave her in the fire, isn't it? Of course, I dumped my last boyfriend for being that kinda guy," Jance said and toed a bit of dirty rags aside. Her toe clunked.
"I found something, Dana!"
What Jance had found was an old chest, with a padlock on it. It was rusted, old, and impossible to pick.
"Ms. Winklebee," said Dana, "please use your axe."
Jance swung it down on the lock, smashing it apart.
"Okay, you can drop the axe now, we don't need it anymore," said Dana. She crouched down to open the box.
"But I love the axe," said Jance.
"It's dead weight now."
"Fine," said Jance as she dumped it.
Inside the box was a miraculously unscorched pile of papers. Written on the top was 'Serena Salvadore' in beautiful, swooping handwriting. Underneath was the title and author of the play: 'Bring Me Violets by Marianne Hess'
"That must have been what they were rehearsing that night," said Dana.
Dana gasped and jerked back. Jance couldn't see anything, but suddenly the dirt and box were flying around, and the pages were flitting everywhere.
"Grab them!" cried Dana.
Jance (and, it seemed, Bandit) leapt through the air snatching pieces of paper. When it was all done, Dana laid them out and they… rearranged themselves back into a new order, starting with a page with the same beautiful handwriting from before inscribed on it.
"Serena… this is our scene. Always. - Mari"
Dana read the words out slowly, realization in her tone.
Jance read the text below it, written in a different hand:
"I'll be saying these lines to you -S"
"It's a love scene!" cried Jance. "Look, between the lead, Serena's character, and the Harley's character."
"But Marianne wrote it for her and Serena! It must have killed her to watch Serena perform with Harley. Especially with those rumours swirling around Serena and Harley."
The room chilled.
"What do you know about Bring Me Violets, Jance? This was the play they died performing."
Jance frowned, thinking back to what she'd looked up and what she'd been told. "It was set in the roaring 20s. Early reviews were terrible, I think. Max Hess said that the studio might have gone under after all the money they put into publicity and getting Jacob Harley if the studio hadn't burnt down and they'd gotten all that insurance. I think this script is the first I saw of what was in it.
"Everyone said that the leading man could ruin any number of plays he wanted with looks like that," said Jance.
"Being handsome isn't everything, it seems," said Dana. She rolled up the script and put it in her pocket. "We're going to need this."
They looked through what remained of the old studio.
"Do you think Jacob Harley did it? Killed her for loving Marianne and not him?" asked Jance, rubbing some soot off the bottom of her skirt. "Talk about a triangle."
"It wouldn't be the first time something backfired so badly," replied Dana. "Was Harley the killer?"
Jance took another look at the photos as they walked, really studying the faces.
"Dana," said Jance, "I think I saw Blackwood earlier. In the mirror."
"You did?" Dana looked surprised.
"Just for a moment. I remember this terrible goatee."
"I saw Jacob earlier, but I didn't want to alarm you," said Dana. "He was the one who threw the script in the air. I think he was trying to hide that scene from us. Or maybe…"
Jance picked one up.
"These are from the director! To Jacob! This must have been his dresser."
"SHAPE UP OR SHIP OUT"
"THIS IS MY PRODUCTION, NOT YOUR FAILURE"
"I'VE DONE EVERYTHING FOR THIS PLAY, DO YOUR PART"
And a review, saying that you'd be better off birdwatching than tuning in to watch Bring Me Violets.
Dana read a damning line to Jance. "'Jacob Harley's mouth turns gold into straw.'"
Dana and Jance exchanged an uneasy glance.
"That fire… if the director was willing to go so far for publicity, what would he do if it was going to fail anyway?"
Dana picked up the article and stared intently at it.
"Dana?" said Jance. There was no response.
"Dana?" she said again. This time she shook Dana's shoulder. Dana didn't seem to register it.
Suddenly Dana fell backwards, article flying in the air. In Dana's hand was a key.
"There's a trunk in here!" said Dana, and started searching among the debris. Dumbfounded, Jance stood by wondering what had just happened -- until she realized: It was one of Dana's flashbacks! True to Dana's word, there was a trunk and the key fit it perfectly. It was filled completely with costume pieces, but Dana found what she needed at the bottom after removing each layer. A locket shaped like a knot.
"I know what we need to do," she told Jance.
Jance felt, on the edge of her senses, a relieved sigh. She and Dana made their way back to the proper studio.
"Can you set up the cameras, Jance? I need to put this necklace on the stage. In this scene, the main character was supposed to receive the knot from her love. We're going to film it."
"Please tell me I'm in the book," said Jance.
Dana laughed. "You're in the book!"
"Then to the camera!" She was already pulling out the slip of paper for the code. It did, indeed, grant her access to the controls. Through the cameras her paranormal sight wasn't as good as Dana's, but she could make out flickers that she knew wasn't dust on the monitors.
"Cameras on, Dana," she said through the intercom.
Dana took up her seat. "Final act! Filming in one, two, three…"
Jance watched on the screen, bits of audio trickling in.
The necklace, the silver knot, rose up from its spot on the table it had been placed. On the screen two women flickered in and out of view, Marianne holding the necklace out to Serena in her flapper costume.
Marianne slipped the necklace over Serena's head.
"You don't.. everything… us…" the speakers said. Turning up the volume did nothing.
Serena's ghost reached out to the other flickering woman. And then, like a flash, they were totally visible to her on the camera. The volume flickered to life.
"Together, we can do anything. Our future is up to us," Serena said, and took Marianne into her arms.
A light filled the viewscreen and then there was silence in the studio.
"And cut! Perfect!" called Dana.
"The film won't play back," said Jance. "But that's okay, I have enough explaining to do about tonight. Ms. Knightstone, after all that, I believe I owe you some Timmy's for an exciting night out. We need the coffee after this."
"It would be my pleasure to accept, Ms. Winklebee," replied Dana.
And so, dear readers, that ended my trip to Canada.
A new friend, and two lovers given their last shining moment! Blackwood's decision to destroy what he could not make a success couldn't hold them back, and now I can safely say Eagle Studios is ghost free.
As for Jacob Harley? Well, he and I had some unfinished business about finding a lost film that would change his reputation for the better.