Written by: Lizz Browne
Email comments to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
You fill up my senses
Like a night in the forest
Like the mountains in spring time
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again
Come, let me love you
Let me give my life to you
Let me drown in your laughter
Let me die in your arms
Let me lay down beside you
Let me always be with you
Come, let me love you
Come love me again
Let me give my life to you
Come let me love you
Come love me again
You fill up my senses
Like a night in the forest
Like the mountains in spring time
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean
You fill up my senses
Come fill me again
*Words and Music by John Denver
Internationally known mystery novelist J.B. Fletcher got out of her taxi and looked around. She was in
Andrew came to the door and peered at Jessica through half-seeing eyes. "Wait a minute, don't tell me! I'll figure out who you are."
"Andrew, it's Jessica." She replied.
"Hello, Aunt Jess," his daughter said from behind him. She stepped around him and gave her aunt a hug.
"Now this is going to be confusing, with two Jessica's in the house." Andrew complained.
"Then I'll use my middle name." the younger Jessica said.
"Julianne," Andrew said aloud, trying it out. "Couldn't you shorten it at all?" He still had a horrible hangover from the night before, and he wasn't in the mood to think to much.
She rolled her eyes. "Annie?" she said after a moment, "Or do you want it shorter?"
"That's fine." He said glaring at her.
"I like Annie. I think I'll keep that permanently." She said. "Do you want to get out of the doorway, so I can give Aunt Jess a tour?"
"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, "Go get me some gin while you're at it." Then he wandered off, back to his threadbare and beer-stained recliner.
"You want to even bother with a glass?" she asked him sarcastically. He didn't hear her. She turned to Jessica. "You're going to have an interesting week, I can tell you that much."
"Does he drink?" Jessica asked.
"Drinking is an understatement. He's an alcoholic. He and my mother both need help, and lots of it."
"Why didn't you ever tall me in your letters?"
"I guess it's just a part of my life now. I don't really… well, I try not to think about it."
"Annie, are you all right here?"
"I'm physically all right. But I was much happier at school in
It wasn't until later that night when they were all around the dinner table that the topic of writing came up.
"Aunt Jessica, why is it that you continue writing so long after Uncle Frank's death? I thought you just did that to work through your grief." Rosemary asked.
"I enjoy it."
"So do I." Annie said.
"Yes, and from some of your pieces I've read you're quite good." Jessica said.
"Oh, don't tell her that. We're trying to discourage her from writing." Rosemary told her.
"Why would you do that?" Jessica asked.
"That isn't what we want her to do with her life." Andrew spoke up.
"Shouldn't it be her decision what she wants to do with her life?" Jessica replied.
"We'd liker to make sure that she'll always have a nice, reliable job…" Rosemary began.
"No, you want to dictate my life to me! That's so medieval." Annie cut her off as she entered from the kitchen with coffee.
Andrew looked into his cup. "What's in it?"
"Coffee." Annie replied.
"I know that! I will ask you one more time. What is in my coffee?"
"Nothing! It's black!"
"Well go fix it the way I like it!" he ordered.
"I already brought you coffee! Do I have 'Cinderella' written across my forehead?"
"Yes!" He snapped. "Now go get it!"
"Fine!" She went into the kitchen, grabbed the bottle of bourbon and slammed it down in front of him. The she turned on her heel and stalked out the front door and into the darkness of the front lawn.
A few minutes later, Jessica found her outside, sitting on an old wooden swing hanging from the single tree in their yard. She stood behind her and pushed the swing gently.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Jessica asked.
Annie was quiet for a moment. "No," she said finally, "I'm perfectly miserable. My parents are horrible, they could care less about me, we fight constantly, and they want to run my life for me."
"Is there anything I can do?" Jessica asked.
"Send me to
They fell silent. Suddenly, Jessica said,
"What if I sent you to
"I'd love to!" she exclaimed. "But my 'parents' would never let me."
"I'll talk to them." She brought the swing to a stop and Annie jumped off. Together, they reentered the house. Inside, they found Andrew and Rosemary drinking their 'after-dinner' coffee in the living room.
"Might we talk to you for a few minutes?" Jessica asked, sitting down on the sofa. Annie sat beside her.
"Go ahead," Rosemary said, her speech slightly slurred.
"Aunt Jess and I were talking about how miserable I am here, and how much a I want to get away from here." Annie began.
Jessica picked up the story. "So I came up with a solution. How would you feel about Annie coming to live with me for awhile, then if she liked it, she could stay permanently?"
"Well, I'm not sure I like that, but let me think about it…" Rosemary said.
"No! Absolutely not!" Andrew thundered.
"Why?" Annie spoke up, although she wasn't sure she wanted to know.
"Because…" he began but couldn't seem to come up with a reason.
"Because you'd lose your housekeeper, your slave, and someone you can verbally abuse to make yourself feel important?" Annie cried, tears threatening to spill down her cheeks. "Is that why?" She jumped up and ran from the room.
Upstairs in her bedroom, she could hear her parents and Jessica talking. She pulled her diary from underneath the mattress, and a pen from the bedside table, and began to write.
I wish I had a father. I like to think my biological one doesn't exist. I want someone who is sober more than five minutes a day, someone to talk to, someone that I could trust. Someone I could cling to and lean on. Someone…who loves me.
Jessica poked her head in the door.
"Can I come in?"
Annie nodded, and Jessica came to sit on the edge of the bed. She had in her hands, a small box.
"I don't know what made me bring this along. You know you were born shortly before Frank died."
Annie nodded again and Jessica continued. "He wanted to give you this himself, but he never got to. So he left it with me to give to you when I thought the time was right. I think that time is now."
Annie opened the box and pulled out a beautiful silver necklace, and a handwritten note that read:
My Dear Jessica, This necklace was my mother's and her mother's before her. It's been a symbol of inner strength in our family for years. Never having a daughter of my own, I wasn't sure who I would pass this down to. But when you were born, and named for my Jessica, I knew. I'm leaving this with her to give to you when the time is right, as I don't think I'll be able to myself. Remember that no matter what happens, I love you. Love, Uncle Frank.
Annie looked up at Jessica with tears in her eyes. Then she raised her eyes heavenward and said, "Thank you."
The next morning, Jessica came downstairs and found Annie in the kitchen making breakfast. She immediately started grabbing things to help.
"Should we wake your parents for breakfast?" she asked.
"No, not yet. If the smell of bacon doesn't get them up, then we will."
Andrew and Rosemary drifted into the kitchen a few minutes later. Annie handed each of them a mug of black coffee.
"What's in it?" Andrew asked.
"Bourbon." Annie lied.
"Good girl." He said patting her head as he walked by. She slapped his hand away and returned to the kitchen.
"Won't he taste that there isn't any liquor in that?" Jessica asked.
"I doubt if he can taste it at all." Annie replied.
As she was dishing out the eggs, there came a knock at the kitchen door. Without looking up she called, "Come on in, Cheeky!"
The door opened and a girl Annie's age stepped in.
"Hey Barbie! Want to hear what's happening tonight?"
"Absolutely, but first, you have to meet my aunt. Aunt Jess, this is Carrie McCallum. Cheeky, this is Jessica Fletcher." Cheeky opened her mouth but Annie cut her off. "And I'm Annie from now on, to avoid confusion."
"Nice to meet you," said Cheeky, and then turned to Annie. "How is it you always seem to know what I'm going to say before I say it?"
"Psycho!" she laughed.
"May I ask how you got the name, Cheeky?" Jessica asked, smiling.
"It's Jess…I mean, Annie's variation of chica. And she's Barbie because…well I guess you can figure that out."
"I don't have all day to sit here and wait for my breakfast you know!" Andrew bellowed from the dining room.
"Good morning, Mr. Fletcher!" Cheeky called. "You better get moving Cinderella. Meet me at the diner in about an hour okay? Then I'll fill you in on what's going on tonight."
"See you later, Cheeky!" Annie said grabbing her father's plate off the counter.
"Bye, Barbie!" Cheeky cried then ran out the door.
An hour later, Annie was at the diner in her favourite booth, waiting for Cheeky. She didn't have to wait long. Cheeky burst in a few minutes later.
"How's Napoleon now?" she asked.
"Drunk as…as…he usually is by this time. What's going on tonight?"
"We're going clubbing and shopping for older guys."
"Okay, the band is playing at some rich kid's 18th birthday party. When he called he was going crazy looking for someone who can make really good virgin drinks, since his parents will be there and won't let him have alcohol. We told him not to worry, we have the perfect bartender."
"Great! What time?"
"Party starts at nine."
"Okay, is he paying?" Annie asked.
"I'll be at your house at 7:30, and I'll sleep over."
"Okay," said Cheeky. "Come to my house dressed, we'll have to load the equipment and get over there so we can set up before it gets dark."
"Ten-four. See you later!" Annie said, then got up and left the diner.
When Annie arrived home, she went out to the patio and found her mother and Jessica talking.
"Good morning. Mom, I've got a job tonight. I'm bartending some kid's birthday party. It'll be late so I'll stay over at Cheeky's.
"Bartending?" Jessica asked.
"Well sort of. The kid's only 18, so I'll be doing virgin drinks instead of real ones. It's fun though, and I get to hear Cheeky and the guys play. She's the lead singer in a band that her ex-boyfriend and a bunch of his friends formed. He left after they broke up, but she stayed and they're really much better without him." Annie explained.
"Annie," Rosemary said, "I've given this a lot of thought and I'll allow you to go live in
"Your best bet would be to catch him when he's in that stage just before he passes out. He tends to be the most reasonable then." Annie said, smiling at Jessica then going upstairs to check her e-mail.
A few hours later, Jessica went up to Annie's room. The door was part-way open, and Jessica caught the last few seconds of Frank Sinatra's "
"Oh! You startled me! Come to see part of the other life that I lead?" Annie said, spinning like a model. She was dressed in a short black skirt, long-sleeved white peasant shirt, with a black choker, huge silver hoop earrings, a red flower behind her ear, and strappy black stiletto heels.
"You certainly look different." Jessica said taking her in.
"This is where Cheeky got Barbie from," Annie said tugging on her long blonde ponytail.
"Annie, I have good news. You're coming with me to
Annie stared at her with wide blue eyes. "For real? How did you…?"
"I guess your father still has a heart buried deep down. Your mother and I managed to convince him that you would be better off in
"Oh, my God! That's fantastic!" She ran across the room and threw her arms around Jessica. "Thank you." She said into her shoulder.
"I think you'll like Cabot Cove."
"I'm sure I will!" she glanced at the clock and gasped. "But I gotta get over to Cheeky's! See you later!" She grabbed her duffel bag and was gone.
"Come on, come on! You're late!" Cheeky yelled to Annie from her front porch. Annie ran down the walk, her heels clacking loudly on the cement.
"I know I'm late, but I have the best news!"
"Tell me on the way there." Cheeky said throwing Annie's bag in the mud room and hurrying down to the van loaded with band equipment.
"Hey guys!" Annie said as she settled in her seat. They all said hello and then continued talking loudly. "Yo, y'all want to shut up a minute? I have a story to tell."
"Uh-oh," Timothy, the lead guitarist said, "Is this a short story or a novel?"
"Funny, Tim." She replied. "It's a short story."
"Well, carry on, love." The comment came form Ricky, the drummer. His family had recently moved to
"It's common knowledge that I cannot stand my parents and they could care less about me. Well, my Aunt Jessica is visiting and she came up with a solution. I'm moving to
"What!?" everyone shouted. Eddie, the man behind the keyboard and the steering wheel, missed a green light and was scolded by half a dozen car horns.
"You're leaving?" Cheeky shrieked.
"Relax, Cheeky. I'll still phone you, and write letters, and… you're going back to school next semester, right?"
"Right." Cheeky had transferred out of her old school to the school Annie had attended in
"We'll see. But the point is, Aunt Jess has an apartment in
"That's wonderful, love. It's a second chance at life for you." Ricky said from behind her.
"Oh Annie, I hate you for leaving, but I'm so happy for you!" Cheeky said.
"What? Who's Annie?" Tim asked as they pulled in the driveway of a huge mansion.
"Me." Annie said getting out of the van. "Because Aunt Jessica is here, Napoleon thought he would get confused. So I shortened Julianne and I like it, so I'm keeping it.
The party went smoothly. Cheeky and the band were a huge hit and even managed to book another gig. Cheeky and Annie collapsed into bed well after 3am.
The next morning when Annie arrived home, her father was, as usual, in the living room watching television. Her mother was sleeping on the patio, but Jessica was nowhere to be found. Annie went up to her room and spent the next hour going through some old dance routines. She was reading on the patio when Jessica arrived home.
"Oh, hello Annie." She said.
"Hi Aunt Jess. Not to be nosy, but where were you?"
"I went walking around the neighborhood and did a little sight seeing. When did you get home?"
"A couple of hours ago."
"Annie, I was planning on leaving on Friday, but if you need more time to get ready to leave…"
"I don't!" She exclaimed, and the both laughed.
Two days later, everyone gathered at the airport to say good-bye to Annie and Jessica.
"Barbie, I'm going to miss you so much!" Cheeky exclaimed, hugging her best friend.
Then Annie hugged each of the other band members. They had all exchanged addresses the day before, and she had promised to write them all. Annie turned to her parents, and Rosemary gave her a quick hug. It was time for Annie and Jessica to leave. Andrew made no move to say good-bye, so Annie gave him a mock salute and said with a sad smile,
With that, she threw her friends a kiss and she and Jessica boarded their plane for
When they stepped off the plane in
"Annie, this is Seth Hazlitt. Seth, this is my niece Annie." Jessica said.
"Hello," Annie said smiling.
They collected their bags and on the ride to Cabot Cove, Jessica and Annie took turns telling Seth what had led up to Annie coming to live with Jessica.
Upon entering Cabot Cove, Annie immediately fell in love with the little town. She adored the cozy, homey feeling the town radiated, and how everyone knew everyone else, and always had a smile on their face. Seth dropped them off with the promise that he'd be back for dinner.
"Why don't you see if Mort and Adele want to come, also." Jessica called after him. "Mort is our sheriff, and Adele is his wife. I think you'd like both of them a lot." Jessica explained to Annie.
They went inside and Jessica showed Annie around, then left her in her room to unpack.
Later that evening Annie, Jessica, Seth, and Mort were all gathered around the table talking and laughing. Adele had already made plans to have dinner with some of her friends. Annie and Mort had instantly clicked and she was fitting in as if she had been there forever. Talk finally turned to the variety show that was being planned. Mort was the head of the committee responsible for putting it together. Jessica and Seth were also on the committee.
"What can you do Annie? Sing, dance, tell jokes?" Mort asked.
"None of the above," she replied smiling.
"But, I thought you were dancing in your room the other day, before you went to Cheeky's." Jessica said, puzzled.
"I don't dance." Annie said softly, but firmly. Jessica let it go.
"That's too bad. I could use a few more acts." Mort said.
"Is there some other way that I could help?" Annie asked him.
"Well you could help me hang up advertisements in the morning, and I could show you around town."
"Sounds like fun."
The next morning, Mort and Annie were walking around town talking about family.
"How come you never had children, Mort?" Annie asked him.
"Children didn't fit into our lifestyle. I kind of regret it now though. I think I would have liked to have a daughter. And I'd want her to be something like you."
Annie smiled and held up a nail for him to hammer the poster into the pole with.
"You know, you're very trusting to hold that while I hammer. How do you know I won't hit your fingers?"
"I don't. And you're wrong. I'm not very trusting at all. But there's something about you that makes me feel so safe." She replied. "Please don't ask me to explain that."
"I won't." Changing the subject he said, "What do you think of Cabot Cove?"
"I adore it. And..."
She was interrupted by a boy and girl her age coming up to them.
"Hi Sheriff." The girl said.
"Hi," The boy said to Annie. "You're Mrs. Fletcher's niece, right?"
"Wow, word does travel fast. Yes, I'm Annie Fletcher."
"I'm Ian Dalton, and this is Emily Wilson."
"We're going to the beach. Would you like to come with us?" Emily asked.
"Are you okay on your own?" Annie asked Mort.
He smiled. "I'm fine."
A few hours later Emily, Ian, and Annie burst through the doors of the community center laughing hysterically, like best friends often do. They had come to watch the rehearsal for the variety show. So far it was coming along terribly. The comedian was forgetting punchlines, the singer's voice cracked on every high note, and the juggler dropped a bowling pin on his foot.
Annie caught movement in the lobby out of the corner of her eye and turned to see a women looking hopelessly lost. She quietly got up and went into the lobby.
"Excuse me, can I help you?" she asked.
"Yes, I'm Joan Culpepper. I've just moved to Cabot Cove and I read about this variety show. I worked as a professional ballerina in
"That's wonderful! He's desperate for more acts. Follow me."
They entered the auditorium and found Mort backstage in a chair, looking more than a little stressed.
"Mort?" Annie said putting her hand on his shoulder. "What's wrong?"
"I have three people with lousy acts that show up for rehearsal, and the ones that don't show up aren't much better!"
"Well then, I have good news for you. This is Joan Culpepper. She's just arrived in Cabot Cove and wants to try out for the show. She was a professional ballerina in
"You were?" he asked Joan.
"Can you dance a little for me right now?"
"Oh, yes." Joan replied.
She took her place in the center of the stage and Mort and Annie stood in the pit. Joan quickly went through a very beautiful routine. When she was finished, Mort and Annie applauded along with Emily and Ian who were still sitting the back row.
"That was great!" Mort said. "You're in!"
"Thank you! I'll go back home and start working on a routine for the show." She said climbing down off the stage and exiting the auditorium.
Mort grabbed Annie and hugged her tightly. "You are a lifesaver. Thank you."
"Anytime." She smiled up at him.
Later that evening, before her rehearsal, Joan was in the pharmacy looking for some antacids. She was about to head for the cash register when she heard a familiar voice. Her heart skipped a beat, and fear spread throughout her body. She dropped her Tums and hastily made her way to the door, but it was too late. He had seen her.
Joan fairly ran the whole way to the community center. With a sigh of relief, she entered her makeshift dressing room. She hadn't been in there 30 seconds, when there came a knock at the door. She glanced at the clock. It was only 7:45. She wasn't due onstage for another fifteen minutes. She opened the door and looked up at the man she thought she had left behind.
Jonathon Welby barged into the room. Joan closed the door and turned to face his rage.
"What are you doing here Joan? Have you come to ruin my life again?" he shouted at her.
"I came here to escape the big city, and retire in peace and quiet. And for the record, I never ruined your life. You did that on your own. You should have been more careful." She replied icily.
"Don't give me that! I know you engineered that accident! All because you knew I was better than you! All because I would have been more famous than you!"
"I did no such thing! It was an accident, nothing more!" she shrieked.
Neither one heard the knock on the door.
"Oh, yeah, an accident! You were clever Joan. You convinced everyone else that that's what it was. But not me! You never convinced me! I always knew!"
"After all these years, you're still blaming other people for the downfall of your career! It was your own fault! You should have been more careful!" she repeated.
The door swung open and they both turned to stare at Annie.
"Sorry, Ms. Culpepper, but you're on in two minutes," she said, then shut the door with a quiet click.
Both were silent a moment. Then Joan opened the door and said simply,
"Get out, Jonathon. Get out and don't ever come back."
"I'll go Joan. And I'll leave you with these three words: You'll get yours." He said menacingly, then turned on his heel, and left before she could respond.
* * *
Joan took her place onstage for what seemed like the millionth time in the past half an hour. It was the day of the dress rehearsal and for some reason, she could not get her routine right. After another failed attempt Mort called for a ten minute break. Joan and the rest of the company went into the lobby for a cup of coffee and brought it back to her dressing room. Jessica, Mort and Annie, who had become his personal assistant, went backstage and found a bunch of volunteers painting the walls.
"This day has gone from bad to worse!" Mort exclaimed in frustration, sitting heavily on the steps leading to the stage. "My best act can no longer get her routine right, and I specifically asked the painters to come after the rehearsal!"
Annie, who had been watching Jessica chatting with Sarah Welby, one of the volunteers, came to stand in front of him.
"A bad rehearsal means a good performance you know."
"Well then we're going to have a phenomenal performance."
"Exactly, so why don't you stop worrying?"
He held out his hand to her. "Come sit here, and put yourself in my shoes." She did so. "Everything seems impossible from here." He added.
"Well of course it does. You're basically sitting on the ground looking up at everything. It's going to seem big and impossible." She stood up and took his hands, pulling him to his feet and leading him up the steps to stand on the stage. "There. It doesn't seem so bad from up here, does it?"
He put his arm around her shoulders. "Where would I be without you?"
"By now, an insane asylum."
"You read my mind!" he laughed.
"Does that surprise you?" she asked.
He thought for a moment. "No, actually it doesn't."
She slipped her arm around his waist. "Doesn't surprise me either."
Mort called Joan back out to the stage. She tried, and failed again.
"Let me finish my coffee and get my concentration back." She said, and disappeared backstage.
She paced her dressing room, talking to herself, "Get a hold of yourself! Just because he is here, and he knows what you did, doesn't mean that he has an ounce of proof! Now, concentrate on dancing, get the routine right, and tomorrow night you show him, and this whole town who the better dancer really is!" Joan stopped pacing, quickly drank the last of her coffee and hurried back onstage.
She was doing marvelous when suddenly she gagged and collapsed on the floor, twitching horribly and gasping for breath like a fish out of water. Annie ran to call an ambulance while Mort, Seth, and Jessica hurried onstage. By the time Annie came back, Joan was dead. The rest of the performers sat frozen in their seats, petrified by what they had just witnessed.
"This is more than just a bad rehearsal Annie," Mort said softly as she came to stand beside him. The ambulance arrived and the paramedics took the body to the morgue for Seth and the coroner to take a look at.
Mort, Jessica, and Annie went backstage to Joan's dressing room to see what they could find. They turned up nothing out of the ordinary, just her clothes, shoes, make-up, and her coffee cup with a little yellow smudge on it.
Later that night, Jessica and Annie were talking in front of the fire when the door burst open and Seth entered. He looked worried.
"What's wrong Seth?" Jessica asked, moving her feet to make room for him on the sofa.
He sat beside her. "I have never seen so much Cyanide in a person's blood before."
"Cyanide?" Jessica and Annie said together.
"Yes, and that much of it would have to be deliberately planted." Seth said.
"Then it was murder." Jessica said softly.
"Appears that way." He replied.
All was silent for a moment as they each reflected on this.
Jessica shuddered. "That poor woman. Cyanide poisoning is such a horrible way to die."
"What does it do?" Annie asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer.
"Enough of it in a person's blood causes convulsions and respiratory failure. The person would suffocate." Seth told her.
Annie didn't know what to say, and was grateful for the knock on the door. She jumped up to answer it. Mort stepped in out of the wind.
"Sorry to drop in like this. Seth I saw your car outside and was wondering if you found out what killed Joan Culpepper."
"Ayuh, I did. Sit down." Mort sat in Annie's chair, so she perched herself on the arm next to him. "Cyanide, Mort."
"The coffee," Mort said. "I have to send her coffee cup to the lab."
"I don't know if this means anything, but yesterday when I went into Joan's dressing room, she and Jonathon Welby were in the middle of a screaming match." Annie said.
"Jonathon Welby, the pharmacist?" Mort asked.
"Yes. I thought it was a little odd, since she'd only just moved here." She replied.
"What were they fighting about?" Jessica asked.
"It was something about an accident and the downfall of his career. He said that she convinced everyone else it was an accident, but he always knew that it wasn't."
"It's someplace to start at least." Mort said. "Tomorrow morning, we start digging into Jonathon Welby's background. I guess I should head home now. Adele will be wondering where I am."
"I should get going too," Seth said kissing Jessica on the cheek, and standing up.
* * *
Early the next morning, Mort headed down to the community center to prepare for his rehearsal. The show had been postponed a few days, since the performers were a little rattled by the events of the previous afternoon. As he stepped into the lobby, he heard music coming from the auditorium. He peeked in the door and to his surprise, saw Annie dancing a beautiful ballet routine to the Mandy Moore song, "Only Hope." He watched in amazement until the end of the song. When it was over, he applauded. Annie looked up, startled.
"How long have you been there?" She asked.
"Not long," He replied.
"It's not nice to sneak up on people." She said.
"I didn't mean to. That was beautiful, but I thought you didn't dance."
"I used to. I don't anymore." She said, a touch of regret in her voice.
Mort walked to the front of the auditorium and sat on the stage steps. He held out his hand to her, and after a moment, she took it and sat beside him.
"I took dancing lessons for years." She began to explain; "I was really good. When I was twelve, my dance class performed "One," from A Chorus Line. My instructor gave me the solo routine. It was all going so well, then in the middle of my solo...I fell. I've never danced in front of an audience again." She looked up at him with tears in her eyes.
He pulled her close to him and hugged her tightly. "I'm sorry." He paused, "Please don't cry."
"What am I crying for anyway? Self pity?" she detached herself. "C'mon, we have a variety show to organize."
"Annie, will you do something for me? Well, for both of us?" he asked suddenly.
"What?" she asked, although she thought she could see it in his eyes.
"Will you dance at the show?"
She was right. "Mort, I can't..."
He stood up and pulled her to her feet. Guiding her up on stage he said, "It doesn't seem so impossible from up here does it?"
She couldn't help but laugh. "I'll think about it." Changing the subject she asked, "What have you found out about Jonathon Welby?"
"Turns out, he was a dancer in
"And his ballet company was the same that Joan Culpepper just retired from?"
"How did you know that?" he asked.
"Lucky guess. The accident with his ankle must be what he was yelling at her about."
Just then, people began to arrive for the rehearsal. The rest of the conversation would have to wait.
Later that night, over dinner at Jessica's house, conversation revolved around the murder.
"How hard would it be to find out if Joan and Jonathon were married?" Annie asked.
"Not hard at all." Mort said. "In fact, that's what I was going to do tomorrow. All I have to do is call
"And if they were? What then?" Seth asked.
"Then we question him about their life together, why they divorced, why she came here, and hopefully we find something useful," Jessica said getting up to clear away the dishes. Seth stood to help her. When they were finished, they moved to the living room. Jessica sat on the couch, with Seth close by her side. Mort sat in a chair, and Annie took her customary place at his feet.
"So let's say they were married. Now, this is pure speculation mind you. But if they were married, and she did engineer that accident..." Annie began.
Seth picked it up. "Then he would have motive, and Annie saw him in Joan's dressing room so he had a way to do it. He could easily get the cyanide. That would make this whole thing very easy, and you my dear," he said turning to Jessica, "wouldn't have to get yourself into trouble."
"It's too easy." Jessica said simply.
Mort groaned. "And pray tell, Mrs. F. why is that?"
"Because it's too easy to tie them together. It wouldn't be smart. He should have at least hired a killer."
"Jessica, a murderer is not smart." Seth argued.
"What do you mean? A murderer has to be smart. How can they attempt to plot the perfect murder if they aren't smart?"
"Has anyone ever committed the perfect murder, woman?"
Mort and Annie watched in amusement as they continued to banter back and forth.
"Well, no..." Jessica replied.
"Ha! You see!"
Jessica drew herself up as tall as she could, and glared at him. Then, without warning, she grabbed the nearest throw pillow and whacked him with it. He retaliated by reaching behind him for a pillow of his own. It wasn't long before they were in the middle of a mad pillow fight. Jessica eventually surrendered and leaned on Seth's shoulder, to catch her breath. He hugged her to him, and they finally managed to stop laughing and concentrate again on the dilemma they had been discussing.
Jessica looked up at him. "You're still wrong."
He sighed. "Then who killed Joan Culpepper?"
"I haven't the faintest idea."
"Yeah, me neither." Mort grumbled. "Well I better get going. Adele will start to worry, and I have to get an early start looking into Jonathon Welby's background." He stood up, and stretched. "Good night." He leaned over to hug Annie.
"Good night Mort." Jessica said.
She looked up at Seth, who was staring off into space. "Seth?" When he didn't respond, she reached up to touch his face.
"Good God you have cold hands, woman!" he exclaimed and they all laughed.
"What are you thinking about?" Jessica asked him, sitting up. Seth took both her hands in his, in an attempt to warm them up.
"I just can't help thinking that we are overlooking something completely obvious," he said.
"Yeah, I had that same thought." Mort said. "Keep thinking, and let me know if anything hits you."
"You mean besides a pillow?" Seth joked.
Mort smiled. "Yeah, besides a pillow." He grabbed his hat and headed out the door.
"Do I detect wheels turning Jessica?" Seth asked after a few minutes spent in silence.
"What if Jonathon Welby isn't the only person in Cabot Cove who knew Joan Culpepper?"
"What do you mean, Aunt Jess?" Annie asked.
"I mean, what if someone else in town was from that ballet company and knew Joan, and had a reason to kill her."
"Fabulous...but who?" Annie said.
* * *
"What's on your mind, sweetheart?" Sarah Welby asked her husband.
"Joan, what else?" he answered and continued to stare into the fire.
"Why are you so worried about her?"
"It's only a matter of time before Metzger finds out we were married, and that we didn't exactly part the closest of friends."
"Lots of people have nasty divorces. I mean, you didn't kill her did you?"
"Then you have no reason to be worried."
"But people are going to think I did."
"Well if you keep looking so guilty, of course they're going to think you did," she snapped. He looked up at her, wondering what had possessed her to turn on him.
"I'm sorry, darling. I didn't mean to yell. I just don't want to see you so stressed about all of this," she said softly.
* * *
"All right! So they were married. And they were divorced," Andy said, reading the words on his computer screen to Mort and Annie.
"Why?" Annie asked.
"Why what?" asked Mort.
"Why did they divorce?"
"We could ask him." Andy said.
"Would he give you a straight answer?"
"All we can do is ask." Mort told her.
Mort and Annie set off to talk to Jonathon Welby. Sarah Welby answered the door.
"Can I help you Sheriff?" she asked.
"Yes, I'm looking for your husband. May we speak with him?"
"Speak with him about what?"
Sarah decided to play dumb, and see how much they knew. "Ex-wife? Jonathon doesn't have an ex-wife."
"I'm afraid he does, ma'am. You didn't know?"
"Why, no! No I didn't! Who is this woman?"
"Joan Culpepper." Mort said.
"Oh, my goodness! Isn't she the dancer who just died?"
"I'm afraid so." Mort told her, "Now may I please speak to you husband?"
"Yes, of course, come in!"
* * *
"He beat around the bush a little, but eventually told us that he was married to Joan, she did rig an "accident," he did go to see her the night before she died but he swears he didn't kill her." Mort said. Mort and Annie we telling Jessica and Seth about their visit to Jonathon Welby's house that afternoon.
"If he didn't kill her, who did?" Seth asked.
"Mort did you get the report back on the coffee cup?" Jessica asked.
"Yeah, it's right here. The lab found traces of cyanide in the cup, but the only fingerprints on it were hers. And there was a little smudge of yellow paint." He replied.
"That doesn't help much, does it?" Annie asked.
"No," Mort sighed.
Seth arrived for dinner a little early that night, and found Jessica and Annie sitting at the table with a little bottle of nail polish between them.
"What on Earth are you doing?" he asked, watching Jessica paint Annie's nail with a tiny little brush.
"Aunt Jess is helping me, because I can't do my left hand by myself." Annie replied, smiling at the expression on his face.
"There." Jessica said handing the brush to Annie so she could do her right hand.
"Thank you." She said.
Seth sat down in the chair that Jessica had vacated to tend to dinner and watched Annie. She looked up at him, amused.
"Want me to do yours?" she teased.
"No!" he exclaimed, and Jessica and Annie laughed.
Annie finished the final nail and waved her hand to let the nails dry faster. She wasn't paying attention though, and accidentally hit the bottle, toppling it and spilling nail polish across the table.
"Oh, no!" she exclaimed and jumped up to get paper towels. Jessica was looking at the bright green spot on the table with a faraway look in her eyes.
"It'll come right off, Aunt Jess." Annie said.
Jessica shook her head and Seth said, "I know that look. You've just figured it all out haven't you, dear?"
Jessica nodded. "We have to talk to Mort."
"We? Jessica, would you mind filling us in on this?" Seth asked.
"Of course, I'll explain on the way." She turned off the stove, and grabbed Seth's hand, pulling him out of his chair and towards the door. Annie trailed behind.
Mort, Jessica, Seth and Annie walked up the path to Jonathon and Sarah Welby's front door. Jonathon answered it.
"Have you come to talk to me again, Sheriff? I swear I told you everything I know."
"Actually, Mr. Welby, we'd like to speak with your wife." Jessica spoke up.
"Oh, come in then." He held the door open for them. "Sarah!" he called.
Sarah Welby appeared at the top of the stairs. "What is it, dear?"
"The Sheriff wants to talk to you." He told her, and she hurried down the stairs.
"We just have one question for you, Mrs. Welby." Mort said and looked to Jessica.
"Why did you kill Joan Culpepper?" Jessica asked her.
"What are you talking about? I didn't even know the woman!" she cried.
"That's not true. You were a dancer too, in the same ballet company as your husband and Ms. Culpepper. The Sheriff checked it out."
"All right," Sarah said coldly, "So I knew her, and yes, I hated her, but I didn't kill her!"
"I'm afraid that isn't true either. You were scared that Joan was going to ruin your lives again, so you got some cyanide, using your husband's position as a pharmacist to your advantage. Then when Joan was onstage, you took a break from painting the hall, and dissolved it into her coffee cup. It was the smudge of yellow paint on the cup that gave it away. I didn't pay attention to it at the time, but when Annie knocked over the bottle of nail polish this evening, I remembered, and it all came together."
Sarah Welby seemed to literally collapse in on herself. "Yes, I did it. I hated her for ruining our lives in
The next night, Mort, Seth and Jessica sat in the front row of the auditorium, watching the variety show. Somehow, the performers had managed to pull it all together and the show was going smoothly. Mort glanced at the empty seat beside him. Annie had gotten up about half-way through the show and she hadn't returned. Jessica leaned over and whispered, "She probably met up with her friends."
Mort nodded and turned back to the person on the stage. According to his program, this was the last act of the evening. When the singer finished, he applauded and then started to stand up to give the final thank-you speech that would conclude the evening. However, Jessica held him back and got up to stand on the stage.
"What is she doing?" he asked Seth. Seth just smiled.
"I know that your programs tell you the show is over, however, we have one more act that was left out. May I present, Miss Annie Fletcher." Jessica said smiling.
Annie entered down left, wearing a chorus girl's costume as the music began. Mort recognized it as "One" from A Chorus Line. Annie danced the routine she hadn't done in nearly five years, flawlessly. When the last strains of music died away and she held her final pose the audience burst into applause giving Annie the first and only standing ovation of the night.
After that she disappeared backstage, and people began to file out of the auditorium. The performers changed back into street clothes and went out to celebrate with their friends. Mort was the last to leave. He locked the community center and turned to find Annie sitting on the front steps, lost in thought.
"Any room for another person?" he asked.
She looked up. "You? Always." She told him, sliding over on the step. He sat down beside her.
"That was amazing." He said. "I knew you could do it."
"I want to thank you, for believing in me, and giving me the courage to get back up there."
"I'll always believe in you," he said hugging her tightly. Annie rested her head on his shoulder and for the first time in her life, she felt she was exactly where she belonged. They sat in silence for a long moment, then Mort began humming softly. Annie looked up at him, at once recognizing the familiar John Denver tune.
"Isn't that…?" she asked.
Mort nodded. "Annie's Song."