The Case of the Contaminated Coffee
#98 Lipstick
-- by Stephanie

Disclaimer:  As always, this is just for fun!   I do not own the characters of Jessica Fletcher or George Sutherland.  And like everyone else who is participating in this Writer’s Challenge, my intent is not to infringe on anyone’s copyright, nor is it to make any money.

       George closed the file in front of him and rubbed his eyes wearily.  This case is impossible, he thought as he pushed his chair back away from the desk and stood up to stretch.  Fresh air, that’s what I need, he decided before retrieving his coat and descending the stairs.  The guests staying at Sutherland Castle had all turned in for the evening, giving him the opportunity to enjoy the solitude of the grounds while reflecting on the facts of the case.
       When he returned, he was chilled nearly to the bone and had no clearer idea of who had murdered Kathryn Fisher.  After closing and securing the door, he slipped into Mrs. Gower’s kitchen and brewed a hot, soothing cup of Earl Grey.  When he returned to his private suite, he rekindled the fire and settled into a comfortable leather chair.  The air outside had cleared his head but the damp castle now felt rather nippy.  As he propped his feet up on the ottoman, the chiming of the mantle clock distracted him momentarily from thinking about the case.
       It was Friday night, six o’clock Cobot Cove time, and that meant that Jessica and Seth were just sitting down to dinner – probably a new seafood recipe – after which they would likely indulge in a spirited game of chess.
     A woman’s point of view, that’s what I need, George decided.  He stood and walked to the fireplace, where Jessica’s photograph graced the mantle and then began to pace back and forth in front of the fire, debating whether or not to call and interrupt her evening.  He knew how little time she and Seth had to enjoy each other’s company since she had taken her apartment in New York, so he hesitated to pick up the telephone and ask for her help.
     If anyone can find a logical solution to a seemingly unsolvable case, it’s Jessica, George thought as he paused next to the phone, stopping and tapping his fingers against the receiver.
     But it’s Friday night and you know she has plans with Seth.
     He resumed pacing, stopping in front of the fireplace and looking at her photo once again.  She’d cringe at the fact that he had chosen that particular picture of her to frame, but George preferred candid photos – beautiful, sparkling blue eyes and blonde hair topped by a fishing hat.
     She would want to help, he reasoned.  She would want to see this case solved just as much as you do.
     George reached for the telephone once again and was startled when it began to ring, the receiver jumping slightly out of its cradle as it did.
     “Sutherland here,” George answered, expecting the call to be from the forensics lab at New Scotland Yard.
     “George, it’s Jessica.  I hope I’m not calling too late.”
     The sound of her voice brought a smile to his face.  “Of course not, Jessica, as a matter of fact, I was just thinking about ringing you.”
     “Why didn’t you?” she asked, although she already knew the answer.
     George sat down at his desk and looked at the manila file.  “Well, ah … I … ah … thought that it could wait a day or two.  Now, dear lady,” he said, quickly changing the topic, “to what do I owe the pleasure of your call.”
     Jessica retrieved a legal pad covered with handwritten notes from the table and flipped back several pages before beginning.  “I was hoping to get your opinion about an idea I have for a new book.”
     George hesitated, knowing how protective Jessica was of any ‘work in progress.’  She had nearly smashed his fingers in her laptop the one and only time he had ever tried to read over her shoulder.  “Jessica, I’m flattered, but I don’t think that I’m the best person to ask.”
     “Nonsense, you’re the perfect person to ask,” she insisted.  “Now, here’s what I had in mind ... set in Edinburgh … the protagonist is a young, Scottish policeman, fresh out of the academy ...”
     “Well, Jess,” George began, pausing as though further considering the scenario, “if you’re truly committed to the idea, you’re going to need to spend some quality time in Edinburgh…and you should be accompanied by someone who knows the city and the police department inside and out.”
     Jessica suppressed a laugh.  “And how long would I need to be there to complete my research?”
     “Two weeks,” he answered without hesitation.
     “Two weeks?” Jessica repeated.  She had planned for a week at most.
     “And who would you suggest for a guide?” she teased.  “Maybe a former colleague, someone you worked with when you were on the force there?”
     “Okay, lassie,” George scolded gently, “enough fun and games.  When are you coming to visit?” It had been months…far too many months since they had last seen each other.  And it was George’s fault.  He had been the one who couldn’t get away for more than a day or two.
     “Well, I have a meeting with my publisher on March 1st, so the sooner the better.”
     “You’re serious!”
     “Yes, George, I’m serious.”
     “Well, in that case, I guess I’d better put in for a couple of weeks of leave … immediately.”
     “Are you sure?” Jessica asked hopefully.  She missed him as well and was concerned that he had been working too hard as of late.
     “Aye,” George answered despite the case file sitting before him.  He flipped open the cover of the folder.  “I’ve just one more case that I’d like to wrap up personally before then.”
     “I wish I could help,” Jessica offered.
     “Actually, Jessica, that’s why I was going to ring you.  I was thinking that there might be something that I overlooked, something that you might pick up on.”
     “Anything I can do to help you clear your desk,” Jessica offered agreeably.  She took a sip of tea and settled in to listen.
     George was relieved.  “Okay, we’ll start with the facts.  The deceased is a 35 year old secretary, a Mrs. Kathryn Fisher.  Mrs. Fisher collapsed in her office shortly after sharing an early morning cup of coffee with her co-workers two weeks ago.  The pathologist alerted The Yard when he determined the cause of death to be poison.”
     Jessica listened intently on the other end of the line.
     “According to her co-workers, Mrs. Fisher was the one who prepared the coffee.  She poured her own cup and it never left her hand until she tossed it in the trash bin.”
     “Did she eat anything for breakfast?”
     “Actually, according to both her husband and co-workers, she was in the habit of not eating breakfast.  Mr. Fisher indicated that his wife did not vary from her usual routine that morning.  She awoke at six o’clock, showered, fixed her hair and make-up, dressed, and left for work.”
     George paused for a sip of Earl Grey.  “The forensics came back negative on the coffee.  The last thing that she ingested was fish and wild rice the previous evening.  There was no evidence of poison there either.”
     “What do you know about the poison?” Jessica queried.
     “It was relatively fast acting.  It was a fairly large dose and she was a petite woman.  Dr. Williams hasn’t been able to narrow the window down very much.  She could have ingested it anywhere from a few minutes before she collapsed to a couple of hours.”
     Jessica considered the facts logically.  “There are only two possibilities then,” she began, thinking aloud.  “Mrs. Fisher was either poisoned at her office when she drank her cup of coffee or she ingested something else that morning – but forensics ruled out the coffee and verified that she hadn’t eaten anything else since the previous evening.”
     “Exactly,” George agreed.
     “The only solution is that she ingested something else that was poisoned,” Jessica reasoned logically.
     “But, Jessica …” George began.
     “Let me think this through,” she said, interrupting him.  “What is the first thing that you do every morning?”
     It had been a rhetorical question, but George answered anyway.
     “I open my eyes and wish you were lying next to me, but that’s probably not what you meant.”
     “What next?” Jessica asked, feigning impatience, although she appreciated the sentiment.
     “I scan the Times while I make a cup of coffee.  After that, I shower, shave, dress, and drive to work.”
     “You forgot something,” Jessica said excitedly.  “You brush your teeth.  Toothpaste, George!  The poison must have been in her toothpaste!”
     “Sorry, Jess, I forgot to mention that.  The toothpaste and toothbrush were ruled out as well.  There was no trace of poison in the office or in her home.”
     “Okay, then,” Jessica said determinedly as she wrapped the telephone cord around her finger.  What is my morning routine – a woman’s routine?  Wash my face…brush my teeth … morning exercise … coffee and breakfast … shower … hair and make-up …
       “George, there isn’t a single woman working on this case, is there?”
     “Not that I recall,” he answered as he moved to the bed and sat down.  “Why?”
     “Well, there should be.  Do you have a list of the personal items that may have been found in her desk … or better yet, her purse?”
     George paged through the file and removed a one page inventory of Kathryn Fisher’s purse.  “Do you want the whole list?  It’s quite extensive,” he added, wondering how or why anyone would choose to carry around so many unnecessary items.
     “No.  Did she have lipstick in her purse?  No – lip gloss!  It would have to have been lip gloss.”
     George adjusted his reading glasses and scanned the list.  At the bottom of the list, he found “Rimmel lip gloss.”
     “George?  Is it there?”
     “Aye, Jess,” he said calmly.  “It’s here.  Would you mind terribly if I called you back?  I need to ring The Yard.”

     Half an hour later, Jessica’s telephone rang.  “Are the lab techs at Scotland Yard scrambling?”
     “Aye,” George replied.  He was obviously pleased with Jessica’s deduction.
     “You know, George, I could be wrong.”
     “I doubt that very much, Jessica.  They found two sets of prints on the lip gloss – one is the victim’s and the other as of right now is unknown.  I’m sure they’ll have it pinned down by morning.  And now that I’m most likely in your debt, how am I going to repay you?” he asked, moving on to more pleasant topics.
     Jessica laughed.  “I’ll start a list.”
     “And what will the first item on your list be?”
     “Oh, that’s easy.  You’ll join me in Edinburgh and show me the city as only a policeman knows it.
     “All work and no play, I suppose?”
     Jessica smiled to herself.  “Well, it has been a couple of years since we last visited Sutherland Castle together.”
     “Aye, Jessie, it has.  Name the date and I’ll be there.”
     As soon as you wrap up this case.”
One week then,” George decided as he reclined on the bed.
     “You know, George, something just occurred to me.”
      “I’ve seen nearly every room in Sutherland Caste, but I’ve never seen your room.”
     Now, George smiled.  “Believe me, Jess, I’m well aware of that fact and I assure you I will remedy it as soon as humanly possible.”