The party was off to a good start when I returned to Ginger‘s house. There were plenty of volunteers to keep the food trays filled and the wine flowing into the donor’s glasses. A pianist played beautiful background music and the low sun reflecting off Monashka Bay was a fabulous addition to the ambiance of the evening. Ginger didn’t need my help so I decided to mingle and enjoy the party a little.

I spent time with our newly widowed mayor and wondered how much longer he would be independent without his wife by his side. Forty nine years of marriage and now he was alone. There were doctors, lawyers, business owners, and the heads of many a non-profit here tonight. It was a chance for Donors to meet the faces of the organizations they supported. I was almost a professional volunteer so I knew them all. And, I knew who was exaggerating their successes or lying about their cash flow tonight.

I was standing back and watching the group when Guy Hanson and his Aunt Cecil joined the party. He was tall, lean, and what we called “white headed” in the south. His boy-next-door face had just a bit of weathering from years as a commercial fisherman. He was finally beginning to look his age. Guy was a nice fellow who was once in an unfortunate marriage to a dreadful woman. He ended up with sole custody of his young son and called upon his Aunt to move in and help him raise the boy since he was often out fishing. His own parents had died in an airplane crash while on vacation in Mexico. Aunt Cecil, his mother’s sister who had never married, stood in nicely as his surrogate mother and his son’s grandmother.

It was rumored that Cecil had purchased one of Princess Diana’s charity auction gowns under an assumed name. Everyone paid close attention to what she wore to every fancy dress event and wondered if that was the one. Tonight’s outfit was certainly not a Princess Diana gown but her long, lean body looked wonderful in her colorful tunic and black silk pants. The tunic fabric was large, colorful, hand-painted fish with hand-sewn beads detailing each fish. Clothing with fish designs was always fashionable in Kodiak. Come to think of it, fish were also popular in home décor and yard art as well. I guess that’s part of living in a town where commercial fishing drives the economy.

“Hi Guy, I haven’t seen you around much” I said and immediately realized that may have sounded like a pick up line.

“Aunt Cecil and I have been in Seattle” and he started to say more but his Aunt gave him a stern look.

I then realized that Aunt Cecil didn’t look quite right. Her color was off, her cheeks were hollow, and I would guess she’d lost quite a bit of weight quickly. She made her way around the room to greet everyone and then found a place to sit out the rest of the evening. This was not the Cecil I knew. The woman I knew started many of the patriotic organization in town such as the DAR and the Society for Mayflower Descendants. She was involved in numerous activities and was usually the eye of the social hurricane. She was the premier speech giver, emcee, and award presenter in our little town.

Aunt Cecil’s departure gave Guy and me some time and privacy to talk and perhaps flirt just a little. He is one of the nicest men I know and I have always enjoyed his company. Plus, I detect no lies coming from his brain. We spent the better part of the evening together and made plans to get together later in the week. I wasn’t sure if it was just buddies spending time together or a date. Either way, I had to give shopping another try.

 Eventually the subject of Cecil resurfaced.  Guy said, “I mentioned earlier that Aunt Cecil and I have been in Seattle recently. She’s really sick Brinkley.”

“I’m so sorry” I responded. “What are the doctors doing for her?”

“They have done everything. It’s just her time” he said. “It started with breast cancer a few years ago.”

“Yes, I remember that. The guild made a comfort quilt for her and our DAR chapter prayed hard for her recovery. I thought she was in remission” I said almost angrily.

“She was but this is actually her second reoccurrence and this time it is bad. I’m afraid she is in for a rough time. The doctor talk was about comfort, not cure”

I could tell this conversation was upsetting him and I don’t believe I was the only one to notice because Aunt Cecil made her way back to Guy and asked that he take her home as soon as she said goodnight to Ginger and complimented her on a lovely party.

At nine o’clock the crowd started to thin and by nine thirty I was helping Ginger and her volunteer army get her house back in order. Wisely, her husband had waited until the party cleared to return home from his poker night. Ginger’s husband Matt was a bright fellow but not particularly social. He supported her efforts and volunteered his time to help set up these events and anything else that Ginger found herself involved in; however, he wasn’t hanging around for any parties trying to conduct small talk with people who knew nothing about archaeology or geology.

“Do you think that Cecil really bought one of Princess Diana’s dresses at that Christy’s auction?” I asked Ginger as we moved her furniture back into place.

“Well, you know I’m not one to gossip but” she started.

Yeah, right I thought. I didn’t have to read her to know that was a lie.

“But I hear tell that she plans on wearing that gown one time only and that is to her own funeral! Can you believe that?” Sometimes I hear a hint of Ginger’s Georgia accent when she gets excited. She was born and raised in Savannah and no amount of time in the Pacific Northwest would fully strip her of her that drawl.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

Her response was “I heard it’s in her will.”

I wondered how in the world my friend would know the contents of Cecil Hawthorn’s will but decided not to question her after such a long, busy day. I also worried that Cecil might be wearing that dress sooner rather than later judging by her appearance tonight. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was going to be the person to solve the mystery of the Princess Diana dress.

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