Beauty to Die for
By Kath. © Sept 2010
Murder She Wrote, Jessica, Mort and the rest of the Cabot Cove gang are owned by Universal- The character of Tipper Henderson is owned by Anne, and used with permission. All other characters found in the story are my creation. The song “Somebody to Love” was written and preformed by Queen and the song “I feel Pretty” is from West Side Story.
The early summer breeze whisked briskly across the harbor and swirled around the small tables in front of Ye Ole Mini Mart. Tipper had elected to sit outside with her breakfast - it was the first day that it wasn’t raining or snowing, and she was going to make the most of enjoying the sunshine. A scrape of a chair beside her caused her to glance in its direction. Harrison, the Mart’s owner, paused. “May we join you?” he asked.
Tipper nodded, seeing Mort hover behind Harrison with a coffee and bagel on a small plate. Popping a piece of toast in her mouth she nodded. “What’s up?” she asked, still chewing.
The two men exchanged glances.
“It’s Molly,” Harrison began, referring to his daughter. “You know how she goes off on tangents? Well, she’s started a new one saying she remembered something that Ian said just before he stabbed that young boy last fall. With my recovery taking so long, and then getting through the winter, it sort of slipped her mind.”
Tipper waited while he took a sip of coffee and continued. “I don’t remember much about that day - I mean, I remember the kids being here, and doing laundry, but not much else than that.”
“What is she saying?” asked Tipper with interest.
“That he found it. Whatever ‘it’ is, or was.”
Tipper blinked a few times then took a delaying sip of her hot coffee. She could have said, “No idea.” But it wasn’t true. She had a pretty fair idea, but it might lead to more than what she wanted to tell anyone. Her eyes wandered to the building that now held the museum of healing arts, Willie’s legacy to the town, once known as the Nightshade headquarters. There had been a bad bit with gun smuggling a while back - it had been how Harrison had been shot, why Willie had gone into hiding, and how Taylor and the others moved back to her grandfather’s home to be safe from the outside world. She took a breath then let it out slowly. The rebuilding of the building had taken about a month. Now that summer was on its way, and Tipper knew Molly’s restlessness would cause the child to explore more than she had before.
“Harrison - I have a pretty fair idea what she was looking for, but are some things that are better left in the past. If you must know, Ian had become a bit mouthy with George, and he knew he was going to be punished for what he said, so he went to the shop to think. He told me Molly had come to the shop looking for pirate treasure and secret rooms, and he showed her the under-basement. It was flooding, and he called Jessica’s house for help. The girls came down - George was off somewhere as was Jessica - and your daughter got you.
“You helped to save Ian, and the sword. Molly called me and I came, and while the kids’ clothes were drying, Ian stayed up sitting on the dryer. We went down to the basement and found boxes of stuff, and spiders. Ian called Molly up to get him more hot cocoa, and Brad came in. You were shot, but whatever Ian found had to have been in the back room. She was looking for a secret room in the store. Knowing the previous owner, and what he believed in, whatever he had in that hidden area can’t be good. “
“Like, how not good?” asked Mort, curious.
Tipper regarded Mort. “People have died for what’s been hidden in the rooms, Mort. People have been murdered in their beds, and burned alive. You know that. Cabot Cove is an old town, with parts that are just the same as those back in those sleepy little towns where this all began.”
Harrison drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “Gretchen found some books in the back room of the store. The entries didn’t make any sense - because there were goods coming in, and nothing being sold for them. We turned it over to that inspector after the shooting, but he never said what if anything that they were. I was hoping that if we could answer this for her, maybe part of her curiosity would be tempered a bit, and not run rampant with her imagination again.”
“Okay, fine. I will help reconstruct what went on that day, if we can do it in under ten minutes, because I have to get to work,” she said, collecting her plate. Rising she went into the store and into the back stock room. She saw Gretchen and Molly sorting souvenirs in the back of the stockroom into small plastic boxes that would be placed for sale.
“Dr. Henderson!” Molly exclaimed with a smile. School had kept Molly busy, it had been a while since their paths had crossed, and Ian’s comments about Molly had been cryptic.
“Hello, Molly.” Tipper said with a smile. “I see that your getting your whatnots in order.”
She nodded, then, asking permission from her aunt for a break, she went to Tipper. “So, my Dad talked to you?” she inquired. She watched as Tipper nodded.
“Ian didn’t tell me anything about that day- things for him and his aunt and uncle went a bit frantic - it may have slipped his mind. Can you tell me what he said?”
Molly looked at her, then her dad, and then back to Tipper. “Well, I was upset, and he came up behind me and whispered, ‘I found ye second basement I think, but it can wait ‘til there are less people to see it found.’ I turned, and he picked up my hand and gave it a squeeze. ‘Things will work out all right, lass. Your da will be fine.’”
Tipper bit her bottom lip. They had been downstairs killing spiders. Molly had come upstairs to get him hot cocoa. “Where was Ian when he asked you about the cocoa?” asked Tipper.
“Still sitting on the dryer. I’ve sat up there a million times, but I didn’t see anything.”
Tipper nodded “Humor me, get back up on the dryer,” she said, and when Molly did, Tipper slid Molly’s shoes off of her feet. “Now you’re the same height as he would have been,” she said. “Hop down and see if anything is different.”
Molly did, bobbling when she landed. “Hey!” she exclaimed. She lifted her foot. “There is something here.” She said wiggling her toes as she stepped aside.
Tipper stopped Molly from digging her fingers around a small ring that was flush with the floor. “Molly - wait.”
“For what?” Molly asked, curious.
“Well, for starters, cupcake, pirates have a nasty habit of booby-trapping their treasure. Remember?”
Molly sat back on her heals. “Ohh, yeah, that’s right,” she said, a bit worried. She studied it for a moment. “Looks like there is supposed to be a key that goes into it.”
Harrison looked over his daughter’s shoulder. “Well, there were a lot of keys that were left behind for this place. I think we will have to go over them to see which one might fit, and if not, we can get a locksmith to look at it.”
Molly looked at her father. She was learning patience. “Okay, Dad.”
Tipper glanced at her watch. “I have to head to work. Please be careful with this, and let me know what happens, okay?”
Molly nodded. “Thank you, Dr. Henderson!”
The men watched her stride to her car. Harrison turned to Mort. “You didn’t ask her…” he said with a tone of bemusement in his voice. “Afraid she will cause you bodily harm for suggesting it?”
Gretchen came up between the two men. “I know if I found out what you all had planned I would…”
“It’s got nothing to do with being afraid…” said Mort with a swallow. “There is still time,” he said with more confidence than he had. The day had turned out not quite the way he had expected, though, leaving him with even less time, and desperate measures.
Evening arrived on the east coast in a swift judgment of the day. Far from Cabot Cove behind the cloisters of a library, time moved with measurable tension. The steady click of heal down a tile hallway drew closer to the room shrouded in the evenings darkness. Fragments of the sunset beyond the well dressed windows played the library in brilliant hues of deep rose and purples.
“She will do as we want her to do,” said a demure woman’s voice from the corner of the room. “She doesn’t have a choice.”
A tall, lanky man paced across the Persian rug. A cigar in his right hand, a tumbler of scotch in his left, he faced her, pointing with his right hand to the approaching footsteps. “I still don’t like it. You have gone far in the past, but this really cuts it. You can’t expect to do this, and not get caught,” he said waving his arms in the air and sloshing the scotch onto the carpet. “They have rules, they have ways of finding out these things. Nothing that you can do would make it foolproof!”
Her well-manicured set of fingers waved beyond the sculpted chair that she sat within. “I expect you to do as you are told if you wish to keep your financial affairs from coming out to the attorney general, my dear.”
Smoke curled around his fingers, illuminated by the brief glow of his cigar as he stubbed it out. “If that comes out, it will ruin you as well,” he said bitterly. He watched her gaze at a charm bracelet that dangled from her wrist.
“I have become very adept at hiding my skeletons,” she said with mirth in her voice as she regarded the triangle infinity charm that hung next to the wreath of ivy.
The footsteps came to a halt at the door, there was a timed knock, then the door opened backlighting the person briefly in the lamps which illuminated the hallway. Above the high heals draped a long leather coat. Atop a mass of long curly dark hair was a low brimmed fedora that hid the wearer’s face.
“Ah, there you are my dear. Please come in.” The door closed, returning the library to near darkness. “Your papers are in order, and everything has been arranged,” the woman said lightly.
“Everything?” the voice asked in a silken curious way as the figure stood in the doorway.
The woman in the chair’s voice contained a shrug. “If you wish to decline our offer, we would understand,” she said in a non-committal tone. “It’s up to you.”
The hat nodded once. “I’ll do it,” the voice said huskily. Striding forward a gloved hand reached out and picked up a pen that rested on the table, applying a fierce scribble to the paper beneath. “And when it’s over, it will - be - over,” the voice said in the same silken smooth tone. Without another word, the figure strode to the door opening it, then disappeared into the night, the pen still clutched in a gloved hand.
The man leaned against the table and regarded the signature. “That went better than expected,” he said hollowly. “At least she didn’t ask…” He turned at the sound of a hesitant footfall coming down the hall in the same direction as the first arrivals. Gazing questioningly at his partner he blinked several times as she strode across the room and removed the first paper from the table, to replace it with another clean sheet.
“I always see to every detail,” she said before returning to her chair.
The telephone at the vet clinic rang twice before Tipper was able to pick it up. She recognized Mort’s voice right away, asking if she could take an early lunch. Glancing over her caseload, Tipper agreed, and while Mort wouldn’t say what the subject matter was, she could tell it was important.
Lunch was a typical sandwich from the Mart with a cup of hot coffee and a Danish on the side. It wasn’t the lunch that she had envisioned, though the fruit cup was better than most. He had waited until she dug into her sandwich before saying in a rush what he had been trying for a while to work up the courage to say. Her reply was one that Gretchen had predicted.
“Are you nuts, Mort? I can’t do that!” shouted Tipper Henderson.
“Sure you can,” Mort said with a grin. He glanced at his watch. “The contest rules state that the contestant must be picked on the basis of talent, and caring for the community. This is the first time Maine’s Mud Fest Pageant has come to Cabot Cove, and we are expected to participate. Most of it will be held at the Joshua Peabody High School - they rented it to the pageant for the beginning of the summer ...” He caught Tippers frown. In the past, the Mud Fest pageant had been held earlier in the year. This year the program had been delayed to the beginning of summer for reasons that hadn’t been fully explained beyond that it was a bigger production than the years before. Not that it mattered much - unless they got network coverage, this was just a small town event that brought in maybe three hundred people at the most.”
“Mort, I’m not a beauty pageant material! Look at me! I hate makeup, I can’t stand nail polish…”
“And I can’t think of any one in this community that has touched more lives except for Mrs. F. or Doc Hazlitt. I’ve also seen you in that beer dress ...”
“MORT!” she thundered. “NO. N. O. means I am Not…” She stopped when she saw the look on his face. It was the sad, puppy dog look and she knew he had used it before to get what he wanted. She arched her eyebrow upward.
“How much did you bet?” she asked, leaning forward.
“ME? “ he gasped. But she saw the look on his face. The guilt.
“Yes, you, Mort.”
He swallowed. “Its not about that. I mean, it’s not even a tangible thing, so it doesn’t count.”
“Mort ...” There was a warning tone in her voice.
He let out a sigh. “It’s with Doc Hazlitt. I want him to come in and retake his driving test because he is over sixty, and he said he didn’t need to, and he said if I could convince you to be in the pageant that he would do it.”
“And what do you get out of it?”
Mort’s face became serious. “In a way, peace of mind. I won’t lie to you, Angela…There have been some not so funny pranks pulled at events like these over the last few years. I know that you being on the inside can give me a heads’ up. You won’t be alone in there. Mrs. F. has agreed to play the hostess for the press - you know, the one who stands in front of everyone and says, ‘And the winner is… Ms Cabot Cove.’ I checked with the rules, and because she’s not involved in the voting process, it’s allowed. Please?”
Tipper bit her bottom lip. She knew that Seth and Mort had been going head-to-head over Seth’s driving record, and that he had been caught rolling through stop signs at an alarming rate.
“If Seth loses his driving license, then what, Mort?”
“He goes to a safe driver’s class and they will assess him. If he can’t pass it a second time, well, that’s up to him.”
Tipper bit her bottom lip again. “What’s in it for me?”
Mort perked up. “Well, you don’t have to cook for yourself for two weeks, and your outfits are provided - stuff you can keep later on if you want. Think of it as a way to escape reality for a while and just have fun - a vacation. I’ve arranged coverage for you at the clinic so you get two weeks from dealing with things there. I can take care of the lads. There are a variety of social events that you get to go to, and you get to pick what charity your winnings go to.”
She scoffed. “My winnings?”
Mort shrugged. “If you make the cut for the top five, there is a prize of fifty thousand dollars. And its pretty much a given that the host town makes the top five because the local people are expected to turn out to see their contestant make it all the way through”
“I don’t… what charity do we have here in Cabot Cove?”
Mort turned some papers around. “The neonatal care unit of our hospital and the children’s ward have a free care fund that is always in need of donations, and seeing how you’re donating a chunk of your treasure findings to it every month, you’re established as a donor… Sign on the x,” he said, glancing at his watch again.
“What…?” she asked, noting that he seemed impatient for her to finish signing the documents.
“It has to be signed by noon, and in the registrars hands by then,” he said.
She paused her signing - there were fifteen minutes to go. “Oh really? And what would you have done if I hadn’t caved in so quickly?”
“Angela, please?” he begged.
“Oh, all right,” she said, sighing. “But you owe me,” she said evenly.
Mort held up his hands in surrender.
“When do I have to do this?” she asked, curious and trying to get a look at the dates on it.
“Tomorrow morning at six am, it begins. You will probably have to be at the school at five-ish. Just regular clothes, a bathing suit, and something fancy to wear, like that black beer dress.” He saw Tippers face cloud over a bit. “What?” he asked.
“It’s just that the beer dress is a part of my life that I’ve always kept separate from – this. The people of this town.”
“I don’t know why – you look drop dead…”
She held up a hand. “And people treat me differently when I’m in it. They don’t take me seriously.”
Mort gave her a grin. “Angela, you know the business end of a tranq gun. You have taken out desperate criminals with it, and you can hold your own in dangerous times. I don’t know of any one in Cabot Cove who doesn’t respect you, and who wouldn’t take you seriously.”
The notary regarded him as he slid into the doors and to her desk five minutes before the deadline. Her eyebrows arched as she regarded the papers, and then reaching for her stamp she began squeezing it to every paper. “You know Mort, you could have just made Seth take his test the next time that he went through a stop sign…”
“I tried that. He said I was not impartial.”
“Well, you are,” said Maggie behind the desk with a grin up at him. “You didn’t tell her that once she is in there that they are locked in for the whole time? I wouldn’t wish that cat house on any one.” Maggie glanced at the clock when she was done. “With a minute to spare,” she said, placing Tipper’s entry in the folder with the others. She regarded Mort. “I have my suspicions, Mort, that they brought in some ringers for this.”
“Eh, that’s expected. In a way, Tipper’s our ringer,” he said with a grin.
Tipper was too wired to eat anything. Mort had provided the list of items she needed - it had left her scrambling that afternoon while she tried to figure out what shoes she could possibly wear that were sensible. Sighing, she pulled out her garment bag. She paused. She wished she could bring her tranq gun with her. It wasn’t that she hated people - she didn’t - it was just she was more comfortable with animals.
The papers said they would face a series of interviews, and tests, and presentations of themselves, of their talents. She shook her head sitting on the floor of her room. She couldn’t sing. She didn’t play anything musical. She wasn’t even remotely talented in that way. She glanced over her shelves, looking for inspiration. Her eyes fell to the Red Sox pennant, and with a giggle all of the players and stats of the team came back to her with a rush. She shook her head. Baseball was hardly relevant. She knew she had a talent for sewing up injured animals, and she had a talent for field stripping her tranq gun, but those were hardly something she could do on the stage. They had said at the tavern that she had a talent for eating the Triple Decked Cabot Cove Bomber Burger in under four minutes, but that was something she knew the pageant people would shake their heads at.
Shoving her things into the garment bag she shook her head one last time. Something would come to her. At least she was as a doctor, and able to keep her cell phone with her - the other ones had to leave them at the desk or in their lockers. She would have to keep it off during events, but on her free time she could at least check up on how the lads were doing. She knew the school had pay phones in the lobby, but that was a little too public for her.
She set her alarm for four in the morning - it wasn’t the same time that she was normally up, but sleeping in by accident wasn’t an option. Normal time for her was more like six am on regular days.
Mort was at her door by 4:30 am, pushing a cup of hot coffee into her hands. “I want you to be careful in there. Maggie says she thinks they slipped some ringers into the competition.”
“Mort, about the entrance fee… I, I saw what it was…” she began.
Mort shook his head. “I didn’t pay it all. The whole town is behind you on this, Angela.”
“But I don’t have a scrap of talent! I don’t speak well around people. I don’t even like people,” she said with a shrug.
“You do when it needs doing. And saying. You will be fine. You won’t disappoint anyone, Angela - everyone who pitched in is just happy that Cabot Cove will be represented this year.”
“And if there is a snowball’s chance in Florida that I would win?” she asked.
Mort shrugged. “The grand prize is a scholarship for a four year degree. You could gift it to someone if you wished. There are a lot of kids who won’t get a chance at an education.”
Tipper sighed. “I still don’t know what my talent is,” she mused.
He grinned as they pulled into the parking lot. “It will come to you.” He opened the trunk of his car and waved to the porter to collect her bags. He turned her around. “Angela - thank you,” he said, his eyes getting misty.
“For what?” she asked, curious.
“Eh, you know, the whole ‘I never had daughter, but if I did, I’d want her to be like you’ thing. Be yourself,” he concluded, then watched as she walked to the door before driving off.
Tipper had chosen to wear a comfortable pair of jeans and flat shoes with a top that her parents had given her for Christmas. Going into the main lobby of the school, now turned Welcome Center, she saw that most of the girls milling about had worn dresses, some simple, some slinky, some a bit over the top, or too high on the bottom. They wore a sash that stated their town, and all seemed to know each other. Glancing about she saw she was the only one in jeans, or pants for that matter. They all had makeup on and she was by far the shortest one there. ‘Be yourself” Mort had told her. Squaring back her shoulders she went right up to the registration desk and looked the person behind the counter in the eye.
“Hello, I’m Angela Henderson, Cabot Cove’s entry,” she said.
The woman behind the counter looked over her glasses and for a moment didn’t say anything, then glancing down she typed in Tipper’s name and the sound of a printer rumbled beneath the desk.
“Welcome to Mud Fest” the woman said, handing Tipper the forms to check in.
“Thank you, Maureen,” Tipper said with a smile. The woman’s eyes flickered something, and she smiled back as she handed Tipper her sash, her locker key and a small welcome bag that had papers in it from behind the desk. It occurred to Tipper that it was the first time that the woman had ever smiled. For that matter, people seldom acknowledged service people, let alone use their name. When Tipper walked away, the woman went back into the computer and made a notation within.
Tipper set her bag down on the table and took a breath as she unfolded the bright pink sash. ‘Oh yes, Mort Metzger, you are sooo going to owe me,” she thought, slipping it over her head. She felt the sash twitch from behind her, moving it into place. Tipper turned and saw a tall, older man who wore a natty tweed suit standing behind her. His eyes worked their way over Tipper, in an appraising sort of way. “Welcome to Mud Fest. I am Lucas Murray.” The name meant nothing to Tipper. He held out his hand and she took it in a firm grip.
“Ms Cabot Cove,” she said, remembering what she had read.
His eyes flickered to her jeans. “You did read the dress code?” he asked her softly.
Tipper took a breath. “Yes, ‘where as the entry shall represent her community in the attire befitting her position within,’” she quoted back to him. “Except for the ladies of Loretta’s beauty shop, the majority of Cabot Cove as a fishing community lives in their jeans. As well, performing my duties at the clinic would be impractical in high heals, makeup, and well-manicured nails.” Tipper was still smiling when she finished. She couldn’t help herself. In a way, a perverse way, she felt a bit rebellious against the whole beauty pageant industry. There was no way that she could ever be tall, or like them, and she didn’t want to be.
She saw Lucas’s mouth open to give a retort, and then he paused. “An interesting introspective,” he said, looking past her at the other girls. He patted her on the shoulder. “Good luck,” he said.
To Tipper’s relief, Jessica was wearing an upscale pair of black denims that she had topped with a classic Alfred Dunner rose turtleneck and a tailored jacket. A simple strand of pearls finished her outfit. She winked at Tipper as their eyes met. Lucas swept from Tipper’s side over to Jessica, taking her hand in his. “Mrs. Fletcher, thank you so much for joining us.”
“How could I refuse to help when there are educational grants involved?” she responded, smiling. Lucas led Jessica away down the hall. Tipper took a breath, plastered on her smile and walked into where the girls had gathered for breakfast. Most of them were sipping water, or nibbling on tiny buns that Tipper recognized from the pastry shop. She knew what they tasted like. Moving down the line to where there were hot items she saw another familiar face.
“Good Morning Harrison,” she said with a warm smile. While his name was on the badge, she knew him.
His eyes flickered upward from the eggs. “Good morning, Ms Cabot Cove, what would you like today in your omelet?”
“One of your grand slammers, thank you, Harrison,” she said. Nodding, Harrison expertly cracked two eggs into the small pan. He had found that the store had done better with a breakfast bar, and had experimented with different omelets, as well as Pancake Mondays. Tipper had tried them all. It would stand to reason that the local people would be involved with the pageants behind the scenes running. Harrison had been prompted by Molly to create a bit of a show when he made the breakfasts - he could triple flip the pancakes, as well as the omelets, with out them spilling the ingredients right onto the customer’s plate. There were a series of gasps from the girls as the omelet took to the air, flipped four times and landed safely on Tipper’s garnished plate.
“Nice,” she said. ”Thank you.” She picked up her plate, grinning. He returned her grin and watched as she turned and walked to one of the tables to sit. Very few of the girls were sitting, and none of them had bothered to look in their welcome packets. Curious, Tipper dug in the bag and pulled out the material. She was as good as anyone with scan reading, perhaps better. She almost choked on her eggs when she read that the mayor of the sponsoring town had a hand in what events the girls would have to do for the pageants judges. The welcome breakfast was first, then the presentation to the media, and then right into the first event which was entitled “What Do You Know About the Lobsters of Cabot Cove?” The event labeled “Trap Race” in the afternoon raised her eyebrows. She knew of only one type of trap that was related to what they were doing, and a sneaking suspicion tickled at the back of her mind. She closed her eyes for a second. This could get very interesting. Reading further she saw that they had to practice for a “song and dance number.” She groaned. She was so going to fold Mort into a pretzel that by the time she was done Adele would have to take a week to get him unbent.
After the Trap Race, there was time to get ready for dinner with formal wear that would be provided for them. They would be staying in dorm rooms that had been created in the classrooms and they would use the lockers provided for their things. She saw movement, and saw Ms Augusta over by Harrison asking for one of the omelets. He nodded, and flipped one for her, and then several more of the girls came forward.
Ms Portland, a worldly sort, came over where Tipper was sitting. Ms Augusta was right behind her.
“May we join you?” she asked. Tipper nodded, pointing to the open chairs. She saw Ms Portland had opted for the one Molly had dubbed “The Bunny Melt:” two eggs and fresh veggies folded with mouth-watering sharp cheddar cheese. “First pageant?’ she asked.
Tipper shook her head. She didn’t want to admit the only other one had been when she was in kindergarten and it was Miss May Day. All of the girls had been in it , and everyone won. “You?” she asked tilting her head as she took a bite of her omelet.
Ms Augusta shook her head. “Too many to count.” She took a bite of her omelet. “This is really good,” she said, surprised and taking another quick bite.
Tipper slid her things into her welcome bag. “Don’t judge us by our muffins,” she said, watching Ms Augusta take another bite.
It took a second for what Tipper had said to sink in. She stopped eating to giggle, then she shrugged. “Most of the girls just poke at them anyway – you’re the first that I’ve seen really actually eat at a pageant. They would rather starve than give up on winning at any cost. “
Taking another bite, Tipper finished it off. “It’s going to be an energetic day, and lunch is a long ways away.”
Ms Augusta tilted her head as she took a larger bite of the eggs. She knew that some of the girls had just gone up to the egg station to “sample the local fair and do as the natives do” in a way, and she had been one of them. She hadn’t counted on the omelet tasting so good. Nor had the other girls who had taken a bite, with the expectation of tossing it in the trash before the second one. She looked over her shoulder. “Is he available?” she asked, raising an eyebrow as he did quad flips with the omelets, hitting the plates every time, even when the girl would keep it in motion.
“Every morning from five am ‘til eleven,” Tipper said, keeping a straight face. “Then the lunch crowd hits.”
When they were done with their breakfast, the girls followed the instructions to place their bags in their lockers and moved out into the gymnasium where Jessica stood on the stage. The seats were assigned. Tipper moved to hers and sat down, realizing that she wasn’t able to duck to a corner as she had with breakfast.
“Hello ladies, and welcome to the 209th New England Mud Fest. This year activities from traditional Mud Fests have been incorporated into the pageant…”
Tipper knew what Jessica would say - her welcome speech was part of the packet that they had received in their bag She also found a small bag at the bottom, fairly well hidden that was a small gold smiley pin. The instructions said to pin it on the sash to keep it in place. It was just a small pin, and something in her gut said, “follow every instruction, no matter how silly follow the program.” She could count perhaps three others that had found the pin and had placed it on the sash. Jessica kept her speech short then introduced the girls as they walked in order in front of the stage. Following the introduction were opening remarks by Lucas Murray and then the woman who had checked them in, his wife Maureen Murray. They were the pageant sponsors.
They introduced the judges - most of the names Tipper didn’t recognize, but two of them she did. Mrs. Beauchampra was of the old, Irish lace having been around almost as long as the pageants had been. The other was Mr. Andrews, a contributor to the school and community, as well as the chaperones for the thirty-five ladies entered into the pageant. Tipper had met Mr. Andrews over a year before when Jordan had blown into town creating havoc in her wake. He was not one to be bribed, nor did he do favors. At one time he had been a keen judge of character, becoming complacent for a while before regaining his zeal for the truth after his granddaughter Taylor and her children moved in with him. At least she could trust him to be impartial.
Tipper tried to pay attention to what they were saying, and her state of alarm grew when she heard them mention that the pageant was be filmed, and broadcast live on the final evening. She would have to have more of a chance to read through the events. They would spend time at different historical sites, the hospital visiting the children, and have some explore time of their local area. Tipper had been in the town long enough to know where all the good spots were, and thought about if she should decline going. How many times can you go on a whale watch when it was out of season? She realized the spots that were chosen were also most likely the places that were named as charities. They would be observed interacting with each other, as well as the locals. Tipper grinned. Anyone who had snubbed the food this morning had been seen - and it would have counted against them.
Each of their bags had their names on them, and they were to keep them in their lockers, checking every morning to see what was added, and any instructions for the day.
Presence of the media was evident shortly after the welcome speech. Large Channel 6 news cameras were set up and the crew ran around doing light checks. Tipper saw part of the crew head down to one of the classrooms.
The first event, “How Well You Know Your Lobster,” was an interesting exercise. Each girl had an allotted five minute interview with a local lobster fisherman. They went by alphabetical order, and as Cabot Cove, Tipper’s name was called fairly quickly.
There were several bags sitting on the table, with three lobster fishermen that regarded her with interest. She didn’t know any of them, which was just as well. She smiled and said hello to all of them, noting that like her, they lived in their jeans. Opening the first bag, she reached in and withdrew a lobster with its claws waving. She did a quick assessment on it.
“Just under the legal limit for size,” she said, almost scolding them. “He goes back.” She placed the lobster back into the bag and went on to the second bag. This one was bigger, much bigger than the first one. “Oversized,“ she said, putting the lobster back and reaching in for the next. She looked at it. Tilting her head she flipped it over. “This isn’t a Maine lobster,” she said, placing it back in the bag.
She heard the scratch of the pens. Taking a breath she reached in the final bag. This one was proper size, and from its markings she knew was a local catch. Holding up the lobster she said, “Thirteen minutes steamed, drawn butter.” She placed the lobster back into the bag and looked at them.
The men looked at each other then the first one asked about how lobsters began, and the second one asked about trapping methods. The third one asked about the number of lobsters brought in by specific towns. Tipper realized that this was a trick question because not all of the towns named were on the coast. They thanked her, and then dismissed her. She kept the door open for the girl coming in, and as it closed slowly she heard a wild shriek from the girl followed by, “IT BIT ME!”
“Score one for Cabot Cove,” she said to herself.
There was time enough for Tipper to take a quick look around the area of the pageant and to watch the comings and goings of the news media. One of the film team was in with the lobstermen, another one had set up an interview area for the girls, asking them stats, and what they did.
“Mort is going to owe me in so many ways,” Tipper thought to herself. Closing her eyes she leaned against one of the walls. “I can do this,” she thought.
Bits of conversation could be heard floating about the rooms. She recognized Jessica’s voice speaking to one of the contestants, but what caught her attention was something coming from down the hall. A silky voice arguing with someone.
“You didn’t say that this would be filmed in Podunk!” the silky voice snapped. The man’s voice that answered was Lucas Murray’s. It was low, and while it didn’t sound threatening, Tipper knew that it had to have been a warning for the woman to keep her voice down. “You’re not the only one who’s signed an agreement,” he said.
There was a pause from the woman. “Just be sure you keep up your end of it, or it will be more than a contract that’s broken around here!” The voices moved off down the hall before Tipper had a chance to discover who had been talking to Lucas. Sighing, she plastered on a smile as she joined the others milling about as they listened to each other’s interviews.
Tipper had a fair idea of what was going to happen that afternoon. As expected, they were taken by bus down to the harbor where a large crowd had gathered. The girls were given overalls, and large rubber boots to hold. A quick glance showed three strings of traps that ran from one side of the harbor to the other, as well as a pile of lobster traps that had lobsters waving their arms. There was also a large barrow of something that Tipper suspected was chum.
“All right, ladies, you all have a choice as to what you wish to do. You will be timed in this event, from start to finish, starting with placing your overalls on and your boots over your shoes.” The girls looked at him with dismay. “You may answer yes or no by stepping to the task of your choice, but you can not change your mind once you say no, and if you do not wish to do the first or second task, you must do the third.” He paused letting the girls regard the things set before them.
“The first task is to run across these traps strung across the harbor. You will be timed on how fast you get across to the other side in any way that you can.” Tipper took a breath - that meant that should you fall in, you could still swim across. She noted that there were boats along the traps, just in case some one fell in.
Well, of all the things Tipper suspected that the run in the water was going to be the least smelliest. She found Ms Augusta and Ms Portland stepping up to the traps with her. A couple of other girls wobbled with their stuff over as well. Some of the others shook their heads so at the end count of it, there were fourteen of the thirty-five.
Tipper knew that it would be hard. She had seen in years past, the men doing this at Mud Fest , but in its own way it felt, right. With the three rows, they lined up, watching for the signal. Tipper regarded the overalls and saw there were stirrups on the pants legs. Each of them had snaps, and were adjustable. They were one-size-fits-all, and whoever wore them had to get into them properly so that the water wouldn’t soak them.
“Ever do this before?” Ms Portland asked Tipper. She shook her head.
“First time for a lot of things,” she said.
The stop watches were pulled out. Tipper saw the flag drop and dropped her boots down, and placed the legs in each of the boots. Shoes and all she shoved her legs into the overalls and pulled them up over her shoulders, taking time to tuck her sash in. She sprinted to the dock and with a leap, landed on the first trap. It tossed her to the side, and she stepped down on it with her other foot to stabilize it before going on to the next one, hitting it dead center.
Giving a whoop of surprise Ms Portland ended up in the water beside her traps. It was followed by a string of very unlady-like language. Tipper kept running. She felt her breath come in ragged gasps as she neared the shore. It couldn’t have taken more than a full minute to get from the start of the traps to where she was just then, but it felt like an eternity. She saw she had five traps to go when her line went loose and she began to sink into the water, the line tension gone. She got her breath, then jumped into the water, sloshing her way to the shore where she was helped out. She saw concerned faces and turned to see her line adrift. “You okay, Tipper?” asked the man who had helped her up. She nodded.
The line had come loose. It happened a lot during the races in the past, but usually from wear. Both Portland and Augusta didn’t finish the race, but several others did when the lines were made secure again. The ones who had raced over the traps were given blankets and hot cocoa. The way that Tipper had placed her pants in her boots instead of on the outside prevented any water from getting into her overalls, so she was for the most part dry, yet still chilled from the experience. The second set of girls chose to remove lobsters from their traps and then judge them to see if they were to go back into the water, or to be used for dinner. She could tell who was doing well with that task. Those who had hung back got the task of baiting with chum all of the empty traps, which were loaded up on the boats and taken out.
Tipper looked at the ones who had gone in the water. Ms Bar Harbor looked worse for wear. Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking from the cold. Sighing, Tipper got up and went to her, wrapping her blanket around her. She picked some sea weed out of the girl’s hair. “How much of it did you swallow?” Tipper asked gently.
“Enough,” she said shivering. “The media is watching us, aren’t they?” Tipper glanced at the cameras. There was some live action of the girls trying to be brave with the bloody chum but it wasn’t working.
“How about I introduce you to Eric?” Tipper said, guiding the girl to her feet and over to where one of the EMTs was standing. They had done a quick assessment on those going in, and had handled a few cuts. “Eric, this is Ms Bar Harbor…”
“Hello,” he said in his soft, gentle voice.
“She’s swallowed some of Cabot Cove’s finest, and feels a bit shaky,” Tipper said in a low voice.
“I’m so cold…” Ms Bar Harbor said through chattering teeth.
Tipper located one of the chaperones and informed her of Ms Bar Harbors illness, and then rejoined the group.
The dance number rehearsal was before dinner. She had overheard some arguing with the choreographer that the expected number was to be “All that Jazz” from the Broadway hit Chicago. She heard Mayor Sam Booth’s voice rise over the other voice that she recognized as Lucas’s saying, “We will NOT be presenting that shameless display of flesh in Cabot Cove. Yes, I did watch the tape as you suggested, and the community leaders agree that something more appropriate to our community would make a better impression, like, “I feel Pretty” from West Side Story.” New York was much closer than Chicago was, he reasoned.
“And I suppose that you want Ms Cabot Cove in the lead?” The choreographer said, keeping a fixed gaze upon Sam.
Sam regarded the man. “Only if you think the role would be suited for her.”
The choreographer frowned. This was not what he had in mind at all. Sam hastily shoved the papers for the song and dance into his hands and smiled. “It will be wonderful,” he said. “They sing about Miss America in the number.” He beamed.
Dancing… didn’t go well. For the most part the pageant was an ongoing production with the same girls at each of the pageants, and they had fallen into a routine of standard production numbers. It was a given that much of the pageant was never seen by the State of Maine, allowing the choreographer to repeat the dance numbers each time. It allowed the girls to become proficient at the song and dance, and newcomers would stand out as missing steps in front of the judges. The host city did always reserve the right to suggest events they would like to see - something like this that would place all the girls in the dance number on equal footing. The dance and song that Sam had suggested was for just five girls and he had thirty-seven of them to work in.
To her credit, Tipper didn’t knock any one over. She was placed in the front line in a corner and managed to follow directions of which way to turn, and where to step. She was careful not to fall off the stage, and when they held up the cards for the girls to learn their lines, she spoke the words. She wasn’t a singer, and she was counting on the others’ singing to drown her out. They were given a break when dinner time came. Tipper took a breath. It hadn’t been any worse than an all-day surgery.
Most of the girls were too tired to eat dinner. Some of them picked at it, while some of them - the ones who had shoved chum in to the traps - couldn’t eat at all. Tipper hung her sash with her pin in her locker and placed her clothes and shoes in it, keeping out only a pair of fuzzy socks and her bedclothes. At nine lights out was called, but she didn’t hear it - she was fast asleep as were her roommates, Ms Portland, Ms Augusta, Ms Bar Harbor and Ms Freeport. Tipper had slipped her key into her pj’s inside pocket, pinning it there. It was something she had done during her college days, so as not to get locked out of her dorm room during the night.
Four a.m. found her wide awake. There had been voices in the hall - the matron’s, she presumed. She lay in the darkness for a moment, then got out of bed and went to her locker to get her next day’s clothing. She found all too familiar hospital scrubs, and sighing she gathered them and walked to the shower. She was used to in and out scrub-up at the hospital. Going back to her locker, she looked in her gift bag and found a lobster wearing a bib with a pick and knife as the background. A second pin was beside it, the shape of a lobster trap. “Cool,” she said, pinning them under the smiley face.
Breakfast was a bit more subdued than the day before. Most notably was the absence of five of their number as the girls staggered in. The ones from Tipper’s room were sore, but more on their feet than the other ones - even Ms Bar Harbor, who had recovered from her dunking. She too wore a trap pin, as did the girls who had completed the course. The girls that had chosen the traps had claw pins, and the ones who did the chum had dinner plate pins. A few of them couldn’t understand the logic behind it until some one pointed out that they were providing dinner for the lobsters. Tipper was the only one with the pin with the lobster with the pick and knife though, and it drew some questioning glances. She just shrugged.
Pancakes and waffles were on the menu this morning, and Harrison could judge what the girls needed. They didn’t argue with the choice of food, nor did they snub it. A lot of the glamour had worn off of the ladies leaving gritty determination. Some of them did manage make up, and more than one had slept in hair curlers. But Tipper could tell that they were tired. She started pouring orange juice for them and setting it in front of her roommates. “Drink, it will stabilize your blood sugars.”
A couple of them drank it down in a gulp, then went for seconds. One of them said, “Calories, ladies!”
Heads turned. “Stuff calories, if today is going to be like yesterday, I’m going to need all my strength,” quipped Ms Portland.
Tipper sat down as Jessica entered into the room. She saw Jess take a breath and begin to speak in her soft voice: “Yes, you will, but not from being on your feet. These scrubs should tell you that we will be heading to the hospital to tour the neonatal ward, and the children’s ward. Four years ago it was just a dream, an empty section of the hospital that didn’t have an incubator for preemie infants, or the tools to perform lifesaving micro surgeries. Your bodies hurt because of things that you have done that you are not used to doing. Their little bodies hurt because of infection, and trauma. You all have huge hearts, all of you believe in your charities, and that’s noble. But I don’t think any of you will be the same when you return from the tour at the hospital. Yes, we all have to have our strength. And we have to share that strength, no matter how hard it may be to face what is going on there.”
The bus ride to the hospital reminded Tipper of her days in school. The seats weren’t the best, but by holding on, one managed not to be flung to one side. She caught whispered words from behind her that the five had been suspended because they had been caught outside after curfew, but as all of the night life closed down after eight, there really wasn’t anything to charge them with, except being very stupid. The loss in points would hurt their chance of winning, though.
As the hospital drew near Tipper felt a tingle go up her spine, one that was, familiar in a way. The girls had composed themselves, found their inner strength and managed to become the beauty pageant contestants that they had arrived in Cabot Cove as. They had balloons for the kids and books for them and spent time reading to them and telling them stories. Many of the children knew Tipper as being their puppy or kitten’s vet and kept getting up to come over to her and sit beside her. She heard a very familiar, “Arr arr arr” behind her, and turned. There stood Margarita with an IV pole in tow behind her. She ran to Tipper and flung herself into her arms and for a moment everything else disappeared. Tipper allowed herself to hold the fluffy bundle of Margarita and closed her eyes, soaking up her infectious giggle.
“Arr, arr,” Tipper replied back to Margarita.
“Oohh, what a sweet little buttercup!!” cooed Ms Freeport.
Margarita turned to regard her a long time. Then she looked at Tipper and shrugged. “Bheith as do mheabhar.”
The phrase surprised Tipper. It was said in a normal voice for a child her age, and it was said in context. “Aithnim thu mo naire thu!” Tipper said to her, scolding her gently. Ian had taught her what she knew of the language. Over the school year via a web cam and conference calling Ian, Frank and some of the others got together, and Ian would teach her phrases. She would double check sometimes, to be sure he wasn’t slipping off-color comments in - but somehow she felt it important that the kids had a way of sharing what they had grown up with.
There was such mischief in her eyes, Tipper had no doubt that Margarita knew everything she was saying. The one-on-one time with Taylor teaching Margarita, the time listening with the kids, and no doubt time with tutors had finally broke through the years of confinement that she had endured. It didn’t explain why Margarita was at the hospital, but a quick peak at her IV showed that it was packed for antibiotics and hydration.
Tipper became aware that the other contestants were looking at the two of them. “This is Margarita,” she said with a smile.
Margarita turned around in Tippers arms and said, “Arr arr arr.”
“Means ‘Hello,’” Tipper said, explaining to the others.
“Like how my doggie says hello to me when I come back from school?” one of the little ones asked. Tipper nodded. With Margarita sitting on her lap, they participated in the activities that were planned for the group. Each of the kids wore an ankle bracelet of sorts, which informed the nurses where they were. Tipper noticed that Margarita didn’t have one. She did wear her name bracelet, and she seemed happy enough to stay on the floor where they were.
One of the nurses came by and checked her IV as she slept in Tipper’s arms. “What is she in for?” Tipper asked the nurse softly as she ruffled Margarita’s hair.
“Bit of the flu. Taylor was able to get her transferred here from their hospital. She’s been a little angel for us, except for wearing her ankle monitor. We’ve been able to make a deal with her to stay on the floor in sight of the nurses and she won’t have to wear it.”
Tipper nodded, thinking to herself, “As if they could keep up with her if she decided to escape on them.”
The media arrived and Tipper found herself being cornered by them, as the hospital was her charity. They directed her to the atrium of the neonatal wing and set up the cameras.
She said her name, and that she was Ms. Cabot Cove, where she was born, and how long she had lived in Cabot Cove. They dove right in - what did she do for a living, how did she pick the charity, and if she wasn’t married and didn’t have children, why did she happen to pick the hospital?
Tipper chose her words very carefully. “I’m a vet for companion animals - while there is a need for shelters for animals, more pressing was the addition of a children’s ward to this hospital, and a neonatal unit expansion. Several years ago the hospital had tried to build this wing, but it didn’t have funding. The infants, if they could survive the air lift, were taken to Portland’s hospital. A close friend of mine was able to get the project started, and when I came into some money, I placed the dividends into the free care fund for the children.”
“Ah, money from the treasure hunting expedition.” Tipper didn’t react. She knew that Molly’s find had made front page news, and as the map owner, Molly had decided to split the treasure up with everyone who was there. Tipper didn’t want to take any of it, but Molly insisted that she take a few bars that were quite heavy. It had turned out the bars were gold, and she had decided to place one of them on auction. The sum that was raised had caused Grady to quietly inform her of a way to divert some of the income to charity, and the rest into stocks that would pay out every so often. Of the gold from Ireland, she couldn’t bear to spend it. She kept that in a safe in hidden room under the museum, and everyone in the town presumed she had brought back just a souvenir piece like Frank did.
She gave a nod. “The money is earmarked for the hospital free care fund and held in trust, and provides a steady amount to help with the program. A single child that has a critical illness can incur debts of over a million dollars a year just in the staffing payroll. Many of the children have illnesses that are unique, and what is learned from their treatments might provide cures for others in years to come. We haven’t been able to save every child that’s come through these doors. But we have to keep trying.”
She heard a wild shriek and saw Margarita escaping from the nurse who was trying to change the IV on her pole. Giggling, she took off down the hall and turned, shrieking again as a nurse tried to catch her. Tipper unhooked her mike and went to the hallway where she crouched down. Giving a soft whistle, she saw Margarita turn and run into her arms. She held up something to Tipper, who met Margarita’s eyes. It was a charm bracelet held in her pudgy little hands. She stopped the nurse from placing the antibiotic bag on the IV drip and carried Margarita to the nurses desk where she paged Seth as she swiftly disconnected the line into her arm from the port. Seth came bolting out of the elevator over to them and looked at Margarita.
Tipper didn’t have to say anything, she only pressed the charm bracelet into his hands. A glance down, then back to Tipper told her he would take care of things. Gathering Margarita into his arms, he carried her out of view of the cameras. Tipper turned and saw one of the nurses taking the IV pole. “Don’t touch that,” she said a bit sharper than she intended.
Sighing she felt a poke at her side. The camera crew was regarding her intensely. “What was that all about?” one of the men asked her.
“Nothing you can put on the air, she’s a minor.” There were a few blinks of surprise from the men, and then the camera man nodded, agreeing with her. They managed to get her hooked back up again with the mike and continued to ask questions about Cabot Cove, her unconventional approach to the pageant wear, and they finished with asking about her talents.
“You mean about how I can field strip a tranq gun, and hit a charging wild boar at one hundred yards, or being able to dequill a pup in under half an hour?” she asked, a tone of teasing in her voice. “I’m not going to say that singing opera or tap dancing isn’t a talent, only does it matter in the world to someone besides gratification that it’s done?” She paused a moment. “Granted, with art, there is an understanding of beauty - and the expression of joy in the movements. Physiologically speaking, dance and singing are more of an exercise for one’s spiritual self. The movements used raise the endorphin levels in those performing. Equally so in the people watching the performance as the emotional response can produce the same endorphins which in turn, promotes better health.”
“If there was one thing in your life that you could change, what would it be?”
Tipper started to say something. She closed her mouth, lowered her head for a second, then taking breath said softly, “Everything that we have done in our lives has made us who we are, what we are. If we believe that events happen for a reason, if it directs us in a way that changes the future, then no matter how painful the event may be, we need to accept what has happened, and go on.”
“Your referring then to the young man who died during your treasure hunt fiasco in Ireland?”
Tipper raised an eyebrow. “I attended a friend’s wedding in Ireland, and yes, artifacts were uncovered, but Faraday’s death was because his stepfather shot at me. His stepfather was responsible for several murders in the community. Faraday saved my life. The bullet went through his heart and he died in my arms.”
“Surely you would wish him back, then… to be with his family.”
Tipper found herself shaking her head. “No,” she said softly. She saw the interviewer pushing for more information. Tears pressed against the back of her eyes, causing her to blink twice to stop them. “They all died a month after he did, in a house fire.” She shrugged. “It was an old house - they said it was the chimney in the kitchen. They were good people,” she ended on a soft note. She drew herself up with a breath, blinked to clear her eyes then looked at the interviewer. “Do you have any other questions relevant to the pageant?” she asked.
The interviewer was caught off guard. “Uh, do you expect to win?”
Tipper grinned. “I expect to have a great time trying my best for my community, and my friends. Should I win?” She shrugged.
“What’s more important, World Peace, or World Hunger?”
“Oh, that’s easy. Tell me, what’s more important, air or water?” For a moment the interviewer sat thinking then shook his head. Tipper smiled. “If you don’t have air, you can’t breath and you die rather quickly. Water, on the other hand - without it, you will die in time, just not as quickly. If World Hunger is air, and World Peace is water, then you realize we need both of them in order to survive, and one does not become more important than the other.”
They wrapped it up, and the time at the hospital was coming to a close when one of the camera men came over to Tipper.
“The way you responded to that little girl… her life is in danger, isn’t it?”
Seth’s voice behind him made him jumps a good three feet in the air. “Yes, it is,” he said softly. He looked at Tipper who was fighting hard not to laugh - it was a serious moment, but the jump was something that she would remember. “Good call,” he said.
“Wait, someone tried to hurt that child?” he asked, concerned.
Seth regarded him for a moment, then taking a breath he said, “Young man, perhaps its best if we had a small discussion.”
Tipper watched them go down the hall. For a moment she stood in silence and reflected on what her interview had covered. Sure, she had the talent for seeing the dead, and she could see angels as well as the shadows. But it wasn’t something that one discussed with anyone other than those who had seen it themselves, and those who understood. She would have to think of something. In two days began the talent event, and she was still clueless as to what her talent was. Mort was certain that she had one. So had been Harrison.
She was silent on the ride home. She could hear the girls chattering about how adorable the children were at the hospital. Tipper closed her eyes. They had only seen them - the children, after they had been admitted to the hospital - when they were at their best. Not everyone left there alive. She didn’t need to remind herself of that.
She felt the seat depress beside her and looked over at Ms Bar Harbor. “You okay?” she asked softly.
Tipper glanced at her. “Will be,” she said softly. “A lot of memories at that place.”
Dinner was a buffet, and Jessica managed to sit next to her at the end of a table. Her head low, Jessica filled Tipper in on what Mort and Seth had found.
“Someone had tampered with the bags marked for Margarita - she’s fine, Seth has arranged for a secured staff to take care of her. As for the charm bracelet, with that particular charm, we don’t know.”
“I keep thinking of all of the innocents that have been harmed in all of this, Jessica.” Jessica placed her hand on Tipper’s arm as she dropped her voice and added in a soft whisper, “And I have no clue about what talent I have to show everyone.”
Jessica regarded Tipper. “It’s been said that ‘Talent reflects how you're hardwired. That's what sets the concept apart from that of knowledge or skills. Talent dictates your moment-by-moment reactions to your environment - there's an instinctiveness, an immediacy implied. Talent results in consistently recurring patterns of thought or behavior. To deviate from those patterns requires conscious effort, and such deviations are difficult to sustain.’ You were not born with the knowledge of how to shoot your tranq gun, or to care for it - that was something that was learned with practice, much like the girls learned to tap dance and juggle. You have in you, however, a very special talent that no one else here has. Your talent of communicating.”
Tipper nearly blew her tea through her nose as she choked on her beverage. “I hate talking to people, Jessica! I strongly dislike people, for that matter! I have no clue what to say to them and fair better with sign language with a monkey!”
“Who said anything about talking to people?” Jessica asked, smiling.
Tipper shook her head. “The lads would never agree to an interview.”
“The lads are not the only ones in your circle of four-legged friends,” Jessica said, raising herself from the table. It was time for her to mingle, and see how the other girls were doing. She patted Tipper on the shoulder, confident that she would find her answers.
The girls were given a “Down Day” where they could choose their activity of either working on their talent presentation, or going on the whale watch followed by yet another dance workout. Tipper opted for the whale watch. It was unlikely that they would see a whale, but on the other hand, it felt right. She packed a note pad and pen with her, as well as her camera.
The girls walked down to the boat and boarded, followed by the news media. Tipper had worn her “trademark” flannel top over a white t shirt and was surprised to see most of the other girls wearing shorts and skimpy tops with their sashes. The wind was briskly blowing by the time that they arrived in front of the Mini Mart. At least her roommates had worn pants, not that they were blue jeans, but they were stylish Dockers that did give their legs protection. They looked a bit nervously at Tipper and asked her softly, “Is it going to be this breezy” (she noticed that they didn’t say ‘cold’) “on the boat?”
Tipper nodded then inclined her head to the Mini Mart. She stepped in front of the door, blocking the view of the other girls coming down the hill. When the girls came out, each of them were wearing a zip sweat shirt that said “CABOT COVE” on the front, and their sashes over the sweat shirts. It did make them look fatter, but they were at least warm.
Tipper winked at them as they walked up the gangplank and stood together for photos at the life preserver. It was pretty much for show that the others stood on the rail and waved to the media. En mass the girls went down to the lower deck inside to where they had hot coffee and hot cocoa. Tipper and her roommates made their way to the top deck where the seats were and sat down.
Ms Bar Harbor regarded the media as they boarded the boat. “Ohhh, guess they didn’t count on that,” she said, grinning.
“On what?” Tipper asked.
Ms Freeport leaned into them. “On the other tours, the media usually stays behind, or they drive to one or two of the spots on the tour to film as the bus rolls by. They really can’t snub the tour and not lose points, can they?” she asked, grinning.
Before the boat got underway, the news crew moved to the top deck where the chairs were. They were still setting up when the girls, realizing that they really needed to be where the cameras were, came up the steps and took their seats. Tipper heard a grumbling behind her from a silken voice complaining about how bloody cold it was going to get and whose idea was it to show the stupid local they were tougher than she was?
Tipper caught her breath. She had a pretty fair idea who the ‘stupid local’ was that they were referring to. She felt a nudge on her knee by Ms Bar Harbor, who wore a smirk and rolled her eyes that said, “Who’s the real stupid idiot here?” as she inclined her head towards the voice. Tipper found herself returning the grin. Just wait until they saw what was in store for the cod relay.
They saw lighthouses, and seals, and sea birds, the Rockefeller island, and then they headed out to deeper water to find the whales’ feeding grounds. Tipper found that once they were under way the girls soon re-migrated down to the cantina area. Tipper, followed by her roommates, made their way to the bow of the boat and gazed over the ocean.
“FOOTPRINT ELEVEN O’CLOCK!” Tipper found herself yelling.
The boat’s engines came to a stop and the boat drifted a bit.
“Footprint?” someone asked, confused.
“Water displacement when the whale goes down - there are no waves in the area.”
Thirty seconds went by, then a minute. There was a thud on the side of the boat, then a second one. The captain came on the speaker: “No one move.” A third thump, then something surfaced right below where Tipper was. She found herself looking directly into the basketball-sized eyeball of a whale, a baby one at that.
“Hello there, little one,” she said in a high-pitched voice she reserved for animals. It sounded a bit cartoony, but the baby whale responded to her with happy clicks and whistles.
“Regular Dr. Doolittle?” the silken voice said out loud in a droll humorless tone meant to mock Tipper.
Tipper turned and saw the silken voice belonged to Ms Rockland. According to her sash, she didn’t have any pins at all, one of the few who didn’t.
“How did you know?” she asked sweetly with a smile.
“Know what?” Ms Rockland asked, becoming confused.
It was Ms Portland’s turn to speak up. “Like, duh, she’s one of the East Coast’s premier vets…”
Ms Rockland looked uncertainly between Ms Portland and Tipper, who was standing now, a bit flushed from a different type of embarrassment. Pulling herself up straight, Ms Rockland turned and flounced away from the rails.
“Who told you that?” asked Tipper quietly to Ms Portland.
“Oh, that cute guy who makes breakfast for us - Harrison. He says his daughter thinks the world of you, as does pretty much everyone in the town. So exactly what are you doing that gets that type of attention and admiration from your community? Like, they know you by name …”
Tipper found herself blushing harder. “I just am their vet…”
Ms Bar Harbor had been listening to them. “A pretty talented one at that.”
Tipper remained silent most of the trip back after they had cleared all the whales that had come to investigate what was going on. She wandered down below and found a strange quiet in the cantina. Most of the girls had gone down there, but at the same time, they were sitting in their chairs, straight up - Tipper realized they were fast asleep. There was a perverse pleasure as she pulled out her camera and set it on video mode and started filming the sleeping girls. She zoomed in on a couple who were snoring, and one or two were drooling like little kids.
Not all of them, though. Tipper heard the sound of Ms Rockland’s distinctive voice telling someone to pack it in or else. Sliding the camera into her pocket, but not turning it off, she followed the sounds to its source.
There was the sound of someone being struck, and a squeal. Curious, Tipper went to where the stairwell was and saw Ms Rockwell aiming a blow with something in her hand at Ms Bar Harbor’s head. She recognized it as one of the buoy weights that they had on the walls for decoration, and pulled Ms Bar Harbor down the steps out of the way before the blow could connect. Sharp eyes told Tipper that Ms Rockland had grasped the sash of Ms Bar Harbor and two of her pins were missing. She caught Ms Rockland by the ankle as she intended to flee up the steps.
“Hold it right there,” she said, guiding the woman back down. “Hand them over,” she said, holding out her hand.
“Or what? You’ll break one of my nails?”
“Ohh, I think a few days sitting in a jail cell for assault with a deadly weapon would pretty much kill your chance of ever being in any pageants ever again. Hand over her pins, and anyone else’s you’ve taken today.”
“They won’t do anything to me,” she scoffed, but still handed over the pins she had taken from Ms Bar Harbor. “You have no proof,” she added.
Tipper pulled her camera from her pocket. “Actually, I have this on video record, and while it got the corner of my pocket, it also captured you trying to smack her head in.”
She saw the deadly malice brimming in Ms Rockland’s eyes before she banged passed Tipper and stomped back along the lower deck area. Tipper turned off her camera and, sighing, guided Ms Bar Harbor back into where the others were and got her a cup of hot cocoa to steady her nerves. She told Ms Bar Harbor she was getting a cup of hot coffee for herself and would be right back. While she had her back turned away from her she took the chip out of the bottom of her camera and slid it into her pocket, before replacing it with another chip. Feeling a bit paranoid she made another purchase, and slid it into her upper pocket while slipping the camera into the front pocket of her jeans. She didn’t want to lose the evidence that she knew Mort would be very interested in. She knew sitting would be impossible, but at this point, she wanted to keep her back to the wall.
Upon arrival of the boat to the dock, they were told that they still had a few hours of free time. Most of the girls went straight back up to the school where they went to their rooms, showered and then took a nap before dinner - some fell asleep across their beds, utterly exhausted. Tipper and her roommates had lingered at the Mini Mart as the others trudged up the hill. Tipper picked up some rubber neoprene gloves and a bottle of liniment that she knew that they would be needing after the race tomorrow. When she pulled out her money, she slid the camera chip in with the packet of bills and gave it to Harrison, who looked up at her then nodded. The other ladies picked up some warmer socks, and t-shirts with long sleeves.
As they walked up the hill in silence Tipper knew something was going on by the looks they were exchanging. “So, we sort of figured you know what this cod relay thing is for tomorrow, and we were hoping that you could, well, tell us what to expect. It said in the packet, well, that each of the dorm rooms would be its own team for it and some other events, so …” began Ms Freeport.
“Why are they making us do gucky stuff like this?” blurted Ms Bar Harbor.
Tipper sighed. “It’s a man thing.” All of the girls giggled with her. “a misguided notion perhaps that women, aren’t capable of doing what men can do, but men do some pretty odd things, and in proving that they might be better, they want the women to do the same,” she said, shrugging. “Like when your mother asks you if all of your friends would jump off the roof, would you do it too? They might even be finding humor in our discomfort.”
The women looked at each other. “So… they are laughing at us?” asked Ms Freeport.
Tipper looked at her and met her eye. “I think they know better than to laugh when we can hear them.”
“Well, we can’t not do what the competition asks,” said Ms Portland.
Tipper grinned at her. “You’re right, we can’t, and if a guy can do this, we can do this too, and we can do it better than they ever could, namely by getting better scores than the guys do. This is Mud, ladies. There is no glamour in it, only grit, and determination, and we will add the style.”
“So, you’re a professional, you don’t need to do this or prove anything to anyone here - why are you doing it?” asked Ms Freeport.
Tipper let out a slow breath. “It’s just a favor for a friend,” she said simply.
When they arrived at the school Tipper was surprised to see Mort and Andy there. Off to the side there was an ambulance. He eyed Ms Bar Harbor and asked Tipper, “Have all you ladies been together?”
Ms Freeport nodded. “We stopped at the Mini Mart on the way back. What happened?”
“Lucas Murray was found at the bottom of a flight of steps, holding this.” He held up a small plastic bag that had a lobster with a pick and fork on it. Tipper blinked and looked down at her sash. Hers was still there. “He is still alive, but it’s iffy. Witnesses say that they saw you -” he indicated Ms Bar Harbor - “having an argument with him a few minutes before he was found. Something about a contractual disagreement.”
At first Ms Bar Harbor looked confused. There was a flicker of something in her eyes that both Tipper and Mort saw. Mort met Tipper’s gaze then sighed. “Alright, you ladies go on in, it’s near dinner time and they said something about all of you getting together in the dining hall for some announcement of teams for tomorrow before your dance number.”
Tipper looked at Mort as the four ladies went in. She waited until they were out of ear shot. “You might check the award list for the pins Mort. I’m the only one in the group that got the lobster pick pin. There had to have been extras. Harrison has my camera chip - there is a video that you will need to see, and I overheard the same voice on the video having a disagreement with Lucas about a contract dispute. Don’t we sign the same contracts?” she asked, puzzled.
Mort shook his head. “There is another one, called a Rigging Sheet. They set it so that they promise one girl to win, and she turns over the money from the event, she gets the title, and the car and any of the other donated prizes, or vice versa…”
Tipper crossed her arms in front of her chest. “You knew that there would be a song and dance number in the pageant, didn’t you.” She saw the guilt in Mort’s eyes. He couldn’t answer her. She leaned forward. “Mort, it’s only dumb luck so far that I haven’t banged into someone or knocked them off the stage during this. What were you thinking? This is a disaster in the making!”
She saw a flicker of something in Mort’s eyes as he struggled with a way to respond to her and calm her near-hysterics.
“What is it?”
“Uh, you know that plant that you had on the back porch? Well, with the storms that were coming, I sort of placed it on the kitchen counter.”
She nodded. He paused for a moment. “The lads sort of… decimated it… then went on a curtain rampage.”
Tipper sighed, shaking her head she placed her palm against her forehead and shook her head again before she walked into the school. She was still shaking her head when Ms Bar Harbor came to her. “Your boyfriend do something wrong?”
“Ah, he’s just watching my cats and they decimated my curtains,” she said with a shrug. “Didn’t know that catnip should have been left outside,” she finished, then saw the expression on Ms Bar Harbor’s face. “What? Just because I’m a vet doesn’t mean my cats don’t get into things they shouldn’t… I know better, but they don’t.”
Dinner was a somber affair. Tipper kept sneaking glances around the room to see who was eating, and who may be missing pins. She had a pretty fair idea where those pins went, though bringing it to the attention of anyone except Jessica - and Mort at this point - would look petty.
They would have to get through the cod relay tomorrow before the first of the eliminations would happen. Even if she was eliminated, she would still have to participate in the events, or forfeit half of the returnable entry fee if the person didn’t make it to the top twenty. Tipper bit the bottom of her lip. Something didn’t add up. She waited until after dinner to seek out Jessica as they walked down to where the stage was and realizing that she was being watched she started with, “Mrs. Fletcher…”
Jessica stopped. She knew that ordinarily Tipper would call her Jessica, but this was different.
“Yes, Ms Cabot Cove?” she asked with a tease in her eyes.
“Sheriff Metzger brought in the tub of catnip from the rain, and he says the lads have decimated my curtains. Would you…”
“Be able to stop by and see what the damage is?”
Tipper nodded and then said softly to Jessica, “The math of the money doesn’t add up.”
Jessica nodded and patted Tipper’s hand. “I will make sure that things are in order.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Fletcher.”
Tipper went up to her room and pulled her shoes off. She still had the rubber gloves in an unopened box and quite frankly, she knew they were a liability.
Looking around her room, her eyes settled on the tissue dispenser cover on her night stand. Lifting it up, she saw that there was enough room for the glove box, and by pulling tissues out she was able to thread them through to disguise the glove box. She put the opened box in the closet in the room face down with the other extra boxes so that it would look like it was unopened.
Sighing, she laid down on her bed and closed her eyes.
Jessica shook her head at the interior of Tipper’s home. Mort had Andy there and both men looked up from the pile of feathers that had once been part of Tipper’s futon arm rest pillows. Long scratches were on both of their hands and their faces but the lads were now safely tucked in a cat carrier.
Mort looked up, guilty. “It’s not as bad as it looks…” he said, his eyes bearing a nervous puppy dog expression.
“I can see that you have it well under control,” she said as she placed her hands on her hips. “However, your greater risk is if something happens to Tipper while she is in that competition. “
Mort straightened up. “I would never put her in danger.”
“Be that as it may, Mort, Tipper’s stumbled onto something…”
He nodded. “I saw the video that she took on the ship, and we checked out Ms Rockland. She’s in serious contention to be picked as Ms Maine for the Ms America beauty pageant, but none of her final stats seem to be consistent with what a winner should have for this pageant. She hasn’t won anything.”
He saw Mrs F. think a moment. “Tipper told me that the math of the money doesn’t add up. I did some calculations, Mort, and the prize money verses the income that they have generated from the entry fee as well as the sponsorship money doesn’t seem to be enough to cover all of the expenditures.”
Mort nodded. “I asked Lucas about that myself, but he assured me that the scholarship was a government grant, and that the big named sponsors, like the car and the boat people, not only had given him the items, but they paid big money to have their names on the air.”
“But surely it can’t account for all of the money that is being spent on this? Especially since it’s considered a local event.”
Mort shrugged. “They got the rental of the school for free, and the tour for the whale watch was a promo. Most everything that they are doing in town is at cost, and even Harrison has said that they did pay him in advance to feed the ladies for breakfast. Unless they are running a rigging sheet deal to get back some of the money, they will probably just break even. Unless something happens or someone gets hurt - the event is insured to the bouffant hairdos.”
Andy came up for air covered in feathers. “Don’t think the mattress on this is salvageable, Sheriff.”
Jessica looked from Mort back to Andy and then back to Mort. “I’m going to go back and do some investigating into the whereabouts of Ms Rockland in all of this.”
Mort straightened up. “Be careful. According to Tipper’s video, that woman has no hesitation about whacking someone.”
“Do you think she was the one who harmed Lucas?” Jessica asked.
Mort shook his head. “Her roommates gave her an alibi.”
Jessica arrived two hours before lights out. She knew that she had no official reason to be there, but decided she could bluff her way in on the pretext of informing Tipper about the condition of her house. It was pretty subdued in the school. Most of the girls were asleep, though Tipper was up with a mug of coffee in front of her, sitting at the table with a pad and pencil. There was doodling on it.
Jessica poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down across from her.
“How bad was it?”
Jessica took a sip and said. “Mort and Andy were taking care of things. I am afraid the futon mattress is a total loss, as well as the living room curtains. The kitchen and the upstairs curtains are fine. The lads gave them what-for as well.”
“Ah, well, I got those at the flea market a few years ago. No biggie,” she said, shrugging.
Jessica studied her. “Something else the matter? You don’t normally doodle unless your stuck on something.”
Tipper leaned forward and whispered fiercely, “I don’t have enough talent to bail my way out of a sinking canoe with this crowd - and the competition is in two days! What am I going to do?”
Jessica smiled at her. “Webster's definition of talent is ‘any natural ability or power.’ Knowledge and skill are things that are learned, but natural talent is something that you are born with, that which you eat and breath and incorporate into your every day life.”
Tipper waved her hand in the air in a dismissive gesture. “I’m hard-wired to knock people over when I carry groceries…” she said, shaking her head.
“You know, you may use any prop you wish, and of course there is the Tall Tayles by the wharf.”
Tipper regarded Jessica. “With everything I have been through, the Tall Tayles is a cake walk, if I can get over …” She hesitated when she saw Jessica looking at her intently. “Public speaking is something that - well, I’d rather wash every pet in Cabot Cove after a skunk battle than speak in front of a crowd of people.”
“You will do fine, Tipper. It’s not a matter of luck, rather perseverance.”
Tipper straightened in her seat. “Maybe it is about luck after all, Jessica,” she said softly. She leaned closer to Jessica and said, “Could you do me a favor?”
Nodding, Jessica listened to what she had to say.
It was near curfew when Tipper made her way up the steps and saw her roommates sitting on their beds all looking at Ms Bar Harbor.
“She won’t say why she is here,” said Ms Freeport, inclining her head to Ms Bar Harbor.
“I don’t understand.”
“You’re here as a favor for a friend, Ms Portland’s here because her grandmother’s bridge club sponsored her, I’m in this for the school scholarship and Ms Augusta is a pageant lifer - old school, you know - but,” she continued, pointing to Ms. Bar Harbor, “she’s just clammed up, and word is that there is a rigging sheet contestant in this pageant. It could be her - and those types don’t care about the teamwork aspect of the pageant.”
Tipper saw Ms Bar Harbor hang her head. She looked like she was ready to cry. Standing up, she went over to Ms Bar Harbor’s bed and sat down. Looking down at her hands she saw a thin white band of skin on her left ring finger that Ms Bar Harbor fidgeted with.
“How long were you engaged?” Tipper asked softly.
A gasp came from the other girls as Ms Bar Harbor whispered, “Two years. Two years I waited for it to be the right time - and it never happened. He was just playing me along for a fool. Said I wasn’t pretty enough for any other man to want me, so, I cleaned out my savings account and started the circuit to maybe prove him wrong.”
Ms Freeport sat on the other side of Ms Bar Harbor. “Oh, honey, you don’t have to do anything to prove him wrong, he was wrong.”
Tipper moved back off the bed as Ms Bar Harbor’s water works began. Ms Freeport hugged her as she cried and looked over the young girl’s shaking shoulders to Tipper.
By the time lights out had been called, Ms Bar Harbor was fast asleep, a look of relief on her face. Ms Freeport was the next to fall asleep, but Tipper couldn’t. She got up and padded her way over to the window where she leaned against it looking out over the moonlit night.
She felt a brush against her shoulder and looked at Ms Portland, who had joined her. “Arm chair detective on the side?” she asked.
Shaking her head, Tipper continued to look out over the town. “I sometimes wonder what was the single moment of my life that changed everything for me… and I’ve concluded that it happened in front of the Mini Mart, about ten years ago… when I found myself picking egg out of a young woman’s hair and saying, “Ohh that’s going to leave a stain.’ She has six kids now.”
“And you regret not being busy in the way that she is?”
“Oh no no no… no little busies for me,” Tipper said, grinning.
She saw Ms Portland grin as well. “Yeah. I can relate to that,” she said “So, any other regrets?” she asked, curious.
The look of pain that flashed in Tipper’s eyes, the flinch at the memory of the gunshot, brought tears to her eyes. She closed them and bit her bottom lip. “One or two,” she said finally.
Their attention was directed to a taxi pulling up to the school and from the angle that they stood, they could just see that it was Lucas returning.
“Should be an interesting morning, it seems?” quipped Ms Portland. Sighing, both she and Tipper returned to their beds.
The morning was abuzz with Lucas’s return. He made a brief announcement that he had simply slipped and fell, nothing more. Tipper was on her second waffle when Jessica entered and gave her a nod. For the first time since her arrival Tipper felt relief.
They were dressed in the overalls, the same ones as before, though Tipper had taken time before she had returned hers to wash them in the laundry facilities of the school as well as her roommates’. They were the only ones who did - the others got back their things as they had left them, with bits of chum and other material stuck to them. There was a mad dash to the laundry, and wails from the girls when they realized there wasn’t going to be enough time to get them washed and properly dried.
Some took a bolder way out, and shoved them in the laundry tub with some soap and dunked them a half dozen times before shoving them in the dryer.
Ms Portland leaned on Ms Freeport’s shoulder. “We feed the town tomorrow, don’t we?”
Ms Freeport nodded. “I have this figured out, ladies. The men are looking for wives.”
The five of them were the only ones laughing when they made their way to the track for the Cod Relay. Tipper pulled the neoprene gloves from her pocket and gave a pair to all of the girls.
“It said for us to wear gloves, it didn’t specify which ones. In the other races, they use the biggest cod they can - hence the big gloves – but knowing this group, we probably are going to get the bait-sized ones. Best way to hold and pass them is to grab them by the gills,” she said in a low, confident tone.
“And you’ve done this before?” asked Ms Bar Harbor.
“Nope, Eric told me when he was asking how you were doing…” said Tipper with a bit of a grin in her voice. She saw Ms Bar Harbor blush, then her whole face broke out into the biggest grin.
“Now you look beautiful!” said Ms Freeport to Ms Bar Harbor.
“Oh shut up!” she giggled.
Jessica watched the five girls from the booth with Lucas and his sister watching at the far corner of the booth. The media was quick to focus on them, lingering on the smiling Ms Bar Harbor.
“She’s a bit green to represent the state…” Jessica over heard Lucas say to Maureen
“Would you rather have one with an uncontrollable temper who hasn’t worked to get a single point? Just be thankful I went over the wording even if you didn’t.”
The barrel of cod was rolled out. Thankfully they had been placed on ice, and were still fresh. They would run them in groups of five - each girl had to run a quarter mile around the track before passing it off to her teammate. She saw Tipper reach into the barrel and pull out a fish in front of the media. They saw her puzzled expression as she opened up the mouth of the fish and reach down its throat to pull out a string of weights.
“Hang on…” she said, raising her eyebrow. “What’s up with stuffing the fish?” she asked. A weighted fish would mean more difficulty in carrying it the distance, as well as the chance that the gills would rip away from the jaw while they were running.
“Just makin’ them the same weight as what we normally have…” one stammered.
“I dunno, seems a bit fishy to me…” said Ms Portland.
“Holy Mackerel!” intoned Ms Freeport.
“Guess they did it for the halibut…” replied Ms Bar Harbor.
“ Caught - hook, line… and sinker,” finished Ms Augusta.
Mumbling, the men quickly removed the lead weights that were hooked to the jaw and handed them out to the first set of teams. Ms Freeport cradled the fish, one hand tucked in the gills, the other hand holding its tail. She didn’t want to give away the stratagems that they had decided on, and as the other walked to their positions, she saw that Ms Rockland wore a look of pure contempt for Ms Bar Harbor and Ms Cabot Cove.
Jessica heard the sound of the starter’s pistol and watched the girls begin the race. Harrison had informed her that several of the girls had shopped at his store, the ones from Tipper’s room the day of the whale watch, and then some others looking for flat shoes, or tennis shoes like what Tipper was wearing. He didn’t have shoes, he had explained - sweat shirts and baseball caps, yes, but shoes, no. After they had left, Molly had said to him, “That ugly went to the bone Dad…” Harrison agreed, and had privately told Jessica that he really felt that the lifestyle up here was positively influencing Molly.
The first hand-off went smoothly enough; it was at the second hand-off that something made Ms Bangor bobble as she started her jog. She did manage to get the fish to Ms Rockland before going to the center of the field and sinking to her knees. It was enough of a bobble to give Tipper a few seconds’ head start and she ran with her heart pounding in her ears. Passing her fish off to Ms Bar Harbor she watched her sprint off in the lead then turned her head to see a blur just before Ms Rockland slammed into her. She managed to grab onto Ms Rockland as they tumbled to the ground and as they rolled, she felt Ms Rockland’s nails dig into her arm through the sleeve of the overalls. Tipper used the momentum to roll both of them off of the track out of the way of the other girls to where the grass area was. Glancing down she saw that all of her pins were accounted for, though it was evident that Ms Rockland had made a grab for her sash. Tipper looked down at Ms Rockland, who had hit her head pretty hard. The cod had been passed. She didn’t know who had won - nothing was posted.
Eric and the other EMT’s were beside them in a second. “You okay, Tipper?” Eric asked her. “Cripes, your bleeding…” he said pushing her to a sitting position.
She looked at her arm where he was pointing. “She grabbed my arm ...” Tipper mumbled, watching them lift Ms Rockland on to a gurney.
Several hours later Tipper sat on her bed in her dorm room. Mort knocked, then entered the room and regarded her bandaged arm.
“How is she?” Tipper asked, seeing the grim expression on Mort’s face.
“Well enough to call a foul on you, claiming that you crossed into her lane. Except she wasn’t counting on the news crew filming each of the handoff points. You were still in your lane, and she crossed into yours, with intent to harm you. She used pieces of a box cutter glued to the underside of her fake nails - she said it was to get a better grip on the fish, but when she accepted the handoff from Ms Bangor, one of the nails cut her hip through the suit. It’s why she went down in the center field. She will be all right. Ms Rockland, though… Well, the Murrays don’t see anything wrong with what she did. She is saying she only grabbed your arm when she was falling, and maybe that’s true. Andy sort of told her that you have taken out people who were less of a bother than she was, then asked me, ‘What’s her count up to now, Sheriff? Twenty-seven?’ I had to think and then told him, ‘If you count the ones she’s bumped off for getting in her way, then it’s thirty-four.’”
Tipper placed her hands over her face. “Oh, Mort!”
He grinned. “Oh, come on, Angela. I was teasing. You’ve only bumped off thirty.”
“Not funny,” she said, but couldn’t help but to grin herself.
Mort patted her hand and stood up as Ms Bar Harbor entered the room. She cast a nervous glance at Mort then came up to Tipper’s bedside.
“The Cod Relay is finally finished. We have the fastest score by about fifteen seconds, but Ms Rockland’s room has contested the results - they would have come in fifth anyway, but if it’s upheld, we lose ten seconds. She keeps saying you fouled her, and now she’s saying you threatened to bump her off, and the judges are taking it very seriously!”
Tipper hit Mort with a spare pillow.
“I will speak with the judges,” he sighed.
Mort had a heck of a time convincing the judges, and Ms Rockland had been in a state of hysterics until Mort called her in and sat her down and asked if she wanted to fill out a police report against Tipper. He saw a gleam in her eye as she recounted her version of what happened on the boat, and she said that with Ms Cabot Cove’s reputation for bumping off people, it was only a matter of time before she came after Ms Rockland.
“So, she didn’t that she was going to hurt you on the field - you were knocked out when the EMTs came to you it would have been a little hard to hear what she was saying…”
“She threatened me before, on the boat!”
Mort sighed, and pulled out a chip from his pocket as well as his own camera. “Seeing how I have a recording of that incident, let’s let the judges decide it for themselves…”
The words out of Ms Rockland’s mouth were decidedly unlady-like and she took a swing at Mort, striking him as she grabbed for the camera. Mort caught her before her second blow hit, and twisted her arm around to her back, pulling out his handcuffs.
“Assaulting an officer is a class one felony, Ms Rockland. So is falsifying a police report. You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney…”
“You can’t do this to me! I have a contract!” she yelled. Mort saw the judges look amongst each other nervously.
“Is this really necessary, Sheriff? The publicity…” the first one said.
“Page 15, paragraph 3, line 17. ‘Any contestant found with intent to do harm to another contestant via physical harm or verbal abuse shall forfeit all claims to the competition, as well as voiding any and all previous contracts. Any said contestant arrested during the issue of competition for any grounds shall be excluded in any and all events and shall forfeit her right to compete in events for her state in excess of ten years.’ I did a background check on you, Ms Rockland. You pulled this stunt four times already in as many states, two of which led to permanent disfigurement of the contestants involved. I am not going to allow that to happen here.”
Somehow, Mort knew that the judges were not going to argue with him anymore.
Tipper was glad that she had decided to wear long sleeves the next day. Her roommates knew about what had happened, and the judges had awarded their room as the first place winners. Mort had promised that Ms Rockland would be locked up at least until after the competition was over, and the circuit judge, after reviewing the evidence, agreed. He also informed Tipper that her one call was made to Lucas Murray, who had told her tersely that she had broken contract and she was on her own.
After the talent competition, they would announce the fifteen runners-up. Tipper looked about the breakfast room. Word was that they had switched the talent competition to the field so that they could accommodate everyone who wanted to purchase a ticket. Tipper opted to be wired for a mike, and spent time going over in her head what she hoped to do.
They were going alphabetical, leaving Ms Augusta with her tap routine, and Ms Bar Harbor who was going to sing, ahead of her. Glancing at her watch, she realized she hadn’t seen Jessica all day, and threw a questioning glance at Harrison. He shrugged. Breathing deep, Tipper knew she could pull it off with out the prop she needed, but it would be more difficult.
“Time, ladies!” said Maureen, sweeping in the room. She looked at Tipper who, while she wasn’t wearing jeans, was dressed in dockers and a nice blouse, and she had a white jacket over her arm with her sash over it as well. No sense in giving away what she was doing, but Maureen didn’t say anything. She glanced around the room, and as she departed she asked one of the people in the hall, “Have you seen Lucas?” there was a negative response.
Tipper was in the first five that went down to the field through the tunnel from the school. When Ms Augusta went out, followed by Ms Bangor who was busy brushing her long brown hair ‘one last time,’ Tipper took a breath, and placed her lab jacket on, then the sash. The news crew member who was fussing with the mikes looked a bit surprised. “You really are a real doctor?” he asked.
Tipper nodded. Her heart was pounding in her chest. To her relief, she heard Jessica outside introducing Ms Augusta. The sound man moved on. She saw Ms Bar Harbor looking distressed, and her pacing was only making Tipper’s own nerves even worse.
“Hey, hey… It’s okay. You will do great,” she said, patting Ms Bar Harbor’s hand.
“But, there are so many people … I don’t know any of them.”
Tipper gave her a warm smile. “I know most of them. And they are really good people. Even when you totally flub this, which I know you will, they’ll still give you a standing ovation.”
“Me? Flub this? I have practiced this in my sleep! Flub – THIS?!” Then she saw Tippers grin. “Oh…” she said, giggling now. “Thanks.”
Tipper thought to herself, “They don’t have to live here, or make a living seeing these people each day. If I flub this…” She bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes as Ms. Bar Harbor went out and Ms Bangor came in brushing right past Tipper as if she wasn’t there.
It was the longest nine and a half minutes that Tipper had ever had to endure. She took a final deep breath and as Ms Bar Harbor was thanking people, she headed to the entrance of the tunnel. The place was packed. There were several news crews parked in the outfield, and a quick scan of the crowd didn’t tell Tipper anything. Taking another breath, she walked to the stage area and up the steps. Jessica was there and she was smiling at Tipper. Aware that the cameras were on Tipper, she flashed Jessica a smile, with a questioning glance. Jessica gave her a little nod, and Tipper’s grin became bigger as relief flooded through her. While she didn’t see the requested prop, Jessica’s nod had informed her that it had arrived. Crossing the stage she went to Jessica and formally shook her hand.
A table had been placed on the stage. Tipper went to it, and for the first time, she turned to the audience.
“Hello everyone, I am Ms Cabot Cove, and I would like to share with you tonight something that someone has informed me is my talent, and that is communication. As many of you know, while I am a vet, my charity is the children’s ward. They say a true healer can see beyond what is spoken within the world, and see what is beneath to heal with their hearts. Tonight, I will require, the assistance of a member of the audience…” she said, walking to the edge of the stage. Looking down, she saw in the front row Grady, Ruth, Donna, and Frank Jr, whose hand held a leash that was tucked under the chair.
“You, young man, would you and your companion like to assist me tonight?” she asked, pointing to Frank. He nodded, and wearing a grin he got up and gave a tug on the leash. Lucky came out from behind the chairs and looked at Tipper. For a second Lucky wagged her tail, then she froze. Her hips went down, and she refused to budge. There was a nervous chuckle from the audience.
Frank didn’t tug on her leash, he just looked to Tipper. “She’s knows she’s due for her s – h – o – t –s,” he spelt out.
Tipper focused on Lucky. Her voice went up several octaves as she bent down a bit. “Has Lucky been a good doggie? Yes she has!! Yes she has!!” Lucky’s ears perked up. Her hips rose from the ground and she fell into step with Frank as he went up the stage steps. While waiting for them, Tipper explained. “This is Frank Fletcher, Mrs. Fletcher’s great nephew, and his dog Lucky.” She paused then continued, “Dogs like high noises, in short durations. Yips of excitement tell more to a dog than a deep warning bark. She knows that if I tell her that she’s been a good doggie, its not all bad.” Lucky walked over to where Tipper was, and allowed herself to be picked up and placed on the table. Her tail went between her legs for a moment, then she settled down and laid on the table.
“I would like to introduce you to Lucky, She is a Springer spaniel born to Midnight and Beasley several years ago, being the runt of the litter. When she survived the first forty-eight hours, she was named Lucky by her owners Louise and Bert Davis. She is classified as an indoors companion dog who has her good citizenship papers and is working on her service dog certification. Lucky is perhaps the most, outstanding reason why I am here tonight. Not only because she’s a dog and I’m a vet, but also because of her first owner, Callahan Davis.”
Methodically, Tipper’s hands moved over Lucky in a practiced fashion checking her ears, her eyes, opening her mouth to look at her teeth and moving down her legs to feel for any displacements. Taking a breath Tipper continued. “There are weeks where nothing goes right. There are days that the clinic smells like skunk, or the floors are littered with porcupine needles as we dequill countless mouths, paws and backsides. Lucky, by the way, holds Cabot Cove’s record for being dequilled seven times in one summer. It is suspected it was the same porcupine. Lucky’s bragging rights also include four wallets, a screen door, two sets of wooden steps, a watch, and the complete set of Dynasty VCR tapes, surprisingly leaving only the cat fight between Krystle and Alexis intact.” Tipper waited for the chuckling from the audience to settle before she moved on.
“As in most professions we are taught a level of detachment in dealing with both people, and animals. We are there to see the animals born, we are with them throughout their lives, and we are most often there to judge the final passage of life - issues such as are they in pain, are they eating, can they move without distress and do they have a quality of life that is best for them. In all of this, we, as vets, have learned how to communicate with the animals who cannot speak for themselves. We must ask the questions, we must find the answers, and it is up to us to know when it is time to say goodbye . “
Taking another breath Tipper looked at Lucky. She had rolled over and laid on her back for her tummy to be rubbed. “No fleas today, thank you very much please,” Tipper said in the same high cartoon voice. Lucky sneezed twice before rolling back over to put her legs under her.
“I know you’re all curious, how could a dog be a reason why I am here.” She stopped, and looked at the audience. “Callahan Davis was forever bringing Lucky into the clinic because of all the things she got into, and because she was the runt, she was special in his eyes. She was little, like he was, and where he went, Lucky would follow. They ate together, they played together, and they slept together. They even shared the summer of the flea baths. No matter what the hour, no matter how many days we had worked straight, if Cal thought something was wrong with Lucky we would see both of them right away. He would sit up on the table beside her, telling her it would be okay while we checked her out, and his giggle was infectious. The only time that they were apart was when they traveled, and they would reluctantly place her into a kennel where she would howl until they returned. It didn’t stop her from eating five kennel doors and getting into the containers of kibble that they had for the other dogs, though.”
Tipper paused, and felt tears sting the back of her eyelids as she continued with a soft firm voice. “Callahan Davis was five years old when a tractor trailer crossed lanes without warning, causing his family’s car to go end over end eight times. His head struck the door, and the seat belts that were to protect his body instead caused massive internal injuries when they didn’t give enough to absorb the impact. Cal was aware of what happened, and that his parents were in the OR ahead of him. He lived for three hours while waiting to be taken into surgery, but given the extent of the injuries, and the hospital needing specific child sized instruments, tubes, and life saving machines, Cal died. I knew, then, that if I could change one thing, it would be to see that never would happen again.”
Lucky looked up at Tipper and gave a mournful howl. Tipper breathed in and scratched Lucky on the ribs. “I miss him too, Lucky,” she said softly, Lucky laid her head on her paws and gave a small whine that was picked up by the mike.
“Lucky reminds us all about love, and devotion, and the unspoken language that exists between pets and their owners. That nothing is impossible if we try, and we must try each day to see the world through the eyes of the innocent, through those who can’t speak for themselves. We must be able to hear what they say.”
Tipper was about to continue when her hand that continued to pet Lucky’s side encountered something. “Frank… did, Lucky get outside by herself awhile back?”
Frank looked at Lucky then at Tipper. “Only for a little bit… she took off after Skipper, the Johnson’s dog, when he got into our yard… She wasn’t gone too long, though…”
Tipper picked up Lucky’s muzzle from her paws and looked directly at her. “ I see you have very good taste in young men, Lucky, but we did discuss this before…”
Frank looked at Tipper a bit confused, then he looked at Lucky, seeing her changing figure for the first time. “Uh oh…”
Lucky looked at Tipper with a ‘well, he was cute, what do you expect?’ look and then she rose to a sitting position, pressed next to Tipper and standing on her back legs, gave Tipper a hug while licking her face. “I love you too, Lucky,” she managed to say. Then looking over Lucky’s shoulder she said, “And that… says it all. Thank you,” she said to Frank as she helped Lucky down.
“Puppies? Really?? How soon?” Franks excited voice was picked up by the mike.
“Soon,” Tipper said as they cleared the stage. Frank went back to his parents, who were deep in conversation amid the clapping from the audience.
Tipper made her way through the tunnel where the media guy unclipped her mike, then she joined Ms Augusta in what had been made the green room. The two of them were alone in the room throughout the following act, then were joined by Ms Freeport when she had finished, and Ms Bangor who looked like she had dunked her head into a bucket to cool off. Her long flowing hair was now in a tight knot on the top of her head, and it looked like she had sweated off all of her makeup, which she took the opportunity to re-do.
“Where is Ms Bar Harbor?” Tipper asked.
Ms Augusta shook her head. “I think she’s throwing up in the ladies’ room. She was okay until after she made it into the tunnel, then she sort of hyperventilated and made a bolt there.” She indicated to one of the monitors where Ms Ellsworth was playing the flute. “He really likes you,” she said, pointing to the crowd shot of the front row.
“Frank?” Tipper gave a smile as Ms. Augusta nodded.
“He couldn’t take his eyes off of you the whole time you were speaking.”
Tipper looked at Ms Augusta. “Frank is alive because the medical help he needed was available when he needed it,” she said evenly.
Tipper checked her watch. Not that she was worried, but they were told that when they were done, they had to either be in the ladies’ room, or in the green room and be available for any and all post-event interviews. Ms Bar Harbor hadn’t returned.
Bringing herself to her feet, Tipper moved across the room to the door and went down the hall to the ladies’ room. She was about to go in when she saw something dark under the door of the men’s room. She took a step to knock and then open it, but the splash of red pooling under the door caused her to step back. Tipper slipped her cell phone from her pocket, and dialed Mort’s number with shaking hands.
Mort had been in the audience when the call came in. A few people gave him looks for having his cell on, but he ignoring them as he stood up and strode to the back of the bleachers where he knew he could access the school’s side door and join Tipper by the men’s room. He had dialed Doc Hazlitt on the way across the field and knew that it would be a good five minutes before he could get there.
Tipper did everything she could to preserve the evidence, and to determine what had happened without causing alarm. When Mort arrived, she pointed to the door, and the puddle which had begun to leak out. Mort took a breath and carefully pushed open the door without touching the handle.
The light was off in the bathroom. Mort turned on his flashlight and Tipper heard something like someone crying coming from the room. There was blood on the floor, and the shattered body of Lucas Murray sprawled between the door and Ms Bar Harbor, who was huddled under the sink with her arms wrapped about her legs but her hands over her eyes. Using the edge of his flashlight Mort found the light switch and turned it on. Lucas had been shot twice in the chest, and once in the head. Judging from the position of the body, he had entered to wash his hands and been surprised from behind. Mort found a safe path past the blood and scanned the rest of the room for the gun. Not finding it he turned and found Tipper had moved in to Ms Bar Harbor, whose hands were still over her eyes. Her cell phone had fallen from her pocket and laid out of reach for her. Sighing, Tipper picked it up and tucked it into Ms Bar Harbor’s top pocket.
“Hey, its okay…” Tipper said gently.
“It hurts,” she whimpered.
Tipper carefully pulled Ms Bar Harbor’s hands away from her face. Her eyes were tightly closed and there was evidence of powder burns from a gunshot that had sprayed across her face and her eyes. “Can you tell me what happened?” Tipper asked gently.
“I felt sick, and I didn’t want the others to see me .. so I came in here. I heard someone else come in, and the sound of a stall door banging. The lights went out, and I came out to find out why when there was an apple sound and a flash.. It hurts,” she began to whimper into her hands again. “I got down, and backed into here and the apple kept falling…”
“Great, all of Cabot Cove is here…any number of girls could have done it.”
“Mort, this area was closed off to the public. Only the people who were called to be on stage, and who had already been on stage, have access to this area, and that’s just four contestants, not including the media or Maureen.”
Mort looked at Ms Bar Harbor. It was doubtful that she would have pulled the trigger in a way to flash blind herself, and there was no trace of the gun.
“The media travels in packs - it’s doubtful that one of them would have time to slip away and do this.” Mort got on his phone and called Andy to notify the EMTs that they had someone who needed medical help. Carefully Tipper lead Ms Bar Harbor out of the men’s room to where Eric was waiting for her with a gurney. The first thing he did was place a cool wet towel over her eyes.
“If any one asks, you’re recovering from a migraine,” he said into her ear. She nodded and let them wheel her into one of the rooms for more private care.
Mort looked at Tipper as the door was closed between them and Ms Bar Harbor.
Tipper took a breath. “I know this is a live event, Mort - I know that these girls’ livelihoods depend on this, and a scandal would finish everything for them. In a few minutes they are going to have a twenty minute intermission where Maureen is going to give the sponsorship speech, and that frees up Jessica to help figure this out. Yes, I might have an idea.”
Mort had Andy string the crime scene tape in the area of the rest rooms, then closed the fire doors so that the media wouldn’t see what was going on, blocking that area off.
Jessica was just finishing introducing Maureen when she saw Frank get a phone call, and look at her. When she was done, she walked off the stage and went to Frank to give him a hug, and pat Lucky on the head.
“Tipper said since we don’t have Oliver here, we need Lucky…and asked if you could take her to where the tunnel is.”
Tipper met Jessica at the entrance of the tunnel, and gave Lucky a pat on the head. Quickly Tipper filled Jessica in on what had happened. Nodding, Jessica let Tipper return to the green room that now had almost a dozen girls in it. The girls were chatting about who had dropped things, and how someone was off key. Tipper’s eyes swept the room. Ms Portland was sipping coffee, Ms Bangor had buried herself into a book that someone had left on one of the tables. Ms Freeport was doodling on a napkin. Ms Augusta was looking out the window, a far away look in her eyes.
Tipper moved over to where she was. In the light of the window, Tipper noticed for the first time the lines on Ms Augusta’s face, the peeking of gray hairs worked into her blond, how thin the skin on her hands looked , and the smudges of something that chipped her impeccable nail polish. She was beautiful, but like a rose, her glory was beginning to fade.
“Did you find her?” she asked quietly. Tipper nodded. “Eric’s with her now. I don’t think she’s going to be continuing the pageant.”
Ms Augusta sighed. “She’s lucky - if she had any sense, she should get out while she can.”
Tipper nodded. Looking about the room she saw that Ms Bangor hadn’t turned the page. The chat in the room ebbed when Jessica and Lucky with Mort entered the room and asked the media if they would step outside for a moment. Mort went to the front of the room. “Ladies, I have some bad news… Lucas Murray has been shot, and from our determination, it was someone in this room. The other ladies have been accounted for, and as this was a closed in area, that pretty much narrows it down to you. I’m just going to do a simple paraffin test on your hands to rule you out. You all will be fingerprinted, then you will go with Mrs. Fletcher to the room next door to have a scent comparison done with Lucky, She’s had a proper scent pad that was created at the crime scene. “
Mort pulled a role of wide clear tape from his pocket and some index card that he had borrowed from the supply room. Ms Bangor stood up and walked over to him. “What are you going to do next, Sheriff? Frisk us?”
He regarded her. “As you are volunteering to be the first one, print your full name, then sign the card with your signature.”
She curled her lip at him, then sighing she picked up the pen and wrote her name before holding out her hand. Mort took the tape, placed it on the side of her hand and pressed it in before pulling it off. Mort did one across her nails as well before fingerprinting her and pointing her in the direction of the door where Andy stood.
Tipper couldn’t help grinning to herself as Ms Augusta murmured softly to her, “My money’s on her…” She saw the look of bitterness on Ms Augusta’s face for a moment, then she grinned. “You don’t think that I could do something like ... murder?” she said privately to Tipper.
Tipper studied her face. “Not without a really good reason.”
There was a commotion outside the door. Tipper heard Lucky growl as she never had before, and then there was shouting. Mort reached the door before she did, turned and said to Tipper, “Stay with them.” He sprinted down the hall, where she could see Ms Bangor racing barefoot past the startled media. Andy was helping Jessica up, and Lucky was going nuts trying to go after Ms Bangor.
“Lucky, PLUTZ,” Tipper said firmly. Lucky’s backside hit the floor and she stayed where she was, shaking and whining. Knowing Andy would take care of Jessica, Tipper closed the door to where the girls were now in a state of uproar. Raising her voice she told everyone to sit down, and that they would continue to do the fingerprinting and paraffin test. When she was done, she handed the results over to Andy in a bag, then sat down next to Ms Augusta, who looked troubled.
Except for Ms Bangor being taken away by the Sheriff, and Ms. Bar Harbor being taken to the hospital, the media was unaware of anything else happening. The girls finished their talent routines and then headed inside the green room where food now had been laid out.
Jessica came in and went to Tipper. “Mort found out after he chased Ms Bangor down the hall that she was on probation for stalking other pageant winners and illegal drug use and had been banned from competing for ten years, something the Murrays overlooked on her application. No gun has been found, and no one had gun powder residue on their hands. It was smart thinking to bluff with Lucky as a police dog. Maureen has been adamant about keeping the pageant continuing, even with her brothers death. She’s asked Mort not to release the information to the press just yet. He’s agreed, only because he would rather keep everyone here until he’s able to arrest the murderer, or murderess.” She paused for a moment to study Tipper. “You know as well as I do, that there is only one person who had a reasonable explanation for having gunpowder residue on them,” she said gently.
Tipper looked at Jessica as if she had been struck in the chest. For a moment she thought about what Jessica had said. “There wasn’t a gun in there, Jessica - we searched everything, all the bins, even the tanks. Nothing. The only thing I did see in there was her cell phone that had fallen out of her pocket.”
Jessica looked puzzled. “Why would she risk carrying a cell phone?” she asked.
Tipper shrugged. “I presumed that it was her cell phone. Maybe it was Lucas’s. You’re right, she wouldn’t have gone onstage with it on, and risk it going off, or being caught with it and losing points.”
“If she does have it, it would be in her personal effects at the hospital,” Jessica said. “They are keeping her at least overnight. I will let Seth know to keep an eye out for it.”
The tired girls wandered up to their rooms. Most of them didn’t have a clue as to what had happened. Mort and Jessica had done their best to keep the events quiet. In Tipper’s room though, with the absence of Ms Bar Harbor, the girls knew Tipper had the answers.
They sat on their beds, waiting for her to come in, then Ms Portland said, “So somehow you have an ‘in’ with the local police and Mrs. Fletcher… I would expect the great JB Fletcher to have a handle on things, but according to what you have told us, you’re just a vet. We honestly don’t think your just anything.”
Ms Augusta came over and sat on the other side of Tipper. “So, we can’t sleep, we know your not in the regular circuit, and we want to know who you are, and what the heck you’re doing here. Why did the Sheriff call you ‘Tipper’ when your name’s Angela, for starters.”
Tipper bit her bottom lip. “ Oh… that. Well, it’s simple enough - I guess it was an inner ear thing that was throwing off my balance, and I had a habit of banging in to people and things and my parents started calling me Tipper. The name stuck. And it’s not like I get involved with stuff, but, well, Mrs. Fletcher is an author, and she’s solved a fair few mysteries, and sometimes I sort of get sucked into some of it. Not willingly, of course. But for a quiet town, a lot of stuff has happened that’s not been good.”
“You were involved in a treasure hunt… someone died during it, didn’t they?”
Tipper made a face. “If I got into that tonight, you wouldn’t be able to sleep. How about I save that for the morning light?”
Dawn came a bit too early for Tipper’s liking. It was an overcast day that threatened rain, but with New England at this time of year you could never tell. While the girls had been a bit persistent for more details, they had respected her decision not to go into too much detail. It was about six in the morning when she got out of bed and headed to the showers, then back to her room to change. In her bag was a star that was new. It had a number on the back - the number 4. Looking at all of the other pins she had, all of them had the same number on them. Pulling on her shoes, Tipper went down to the dining area. Not surprisingly she was the first one in for breakfast.
Harrison had his eggs ready to go. He regarded her and handed her a cup of coffee, then said quietly as he prepared her usual, “Ms Bar Harbor will be fine. They didn’t find the cell phone in her personal effects, though - Mort had the area searched in the hospital, and here, and found nothing. The only other person she came in contact with before she was placed in the ambulance was Maureen Murray. I know you like her, Tipper, but…”
Harrison hung his head. “She’s a lot like my ex-wife. Mort’s looking into who her ex-boyfriend is - he may be able to shed some light on what’s really going on.”
“I am usually pretty good at being a judge of character, Harrison…”
He held up his hands. “I know. But my ex-wife would have had even Jessica fooled – it’s just something that I’ve got a bad feeling about. The only good thing is that she’s done for the competition - the doctors are going to keep her under observation for the next week, to determine how extensive the damage is. They did say that the direction of the powder was different than what she said. But it’s not like she was holding a gun when it was done. That’s what has Mort so puzzled.”
The conversation moved on to Molly’s continued treasure hunt. The locksmith who had come out had taken a look at the lock and said that there was a specialized key for that type of lock, and that he remembered that you could get the key if you wrote to the company with a picture and the numbers off of the lock itself. The company had agreed to send them a copy of one, but it would take about ten days to get it. Molly was crawling up the walls with anticipation. Gretchen had a pretty fair idea that it might be the money mentioned in the second set of books, and Mort had said that chances were it was money from when the previous owner was charging for the reloading fees of the darts, and for black powder reloading. Mort had checked with the local circuit judge who said that depending on the amount, while they would probably have to declare it on the income taxes, because the money was sold within the building itself, the money would be able to be claimed. Then again, it could be anything. He looked seriously at Tipper. “Chances are, it was what Brad was after when he came into the shop the day he shot me.”
Molly came into the room carrying a box of condiments and napkins to refill her father’s stock. “Hey dad!! Guess what they are making in the center of the field?? A huge mud pit!! Hello, Dr. Henderson!”
“Well, it is the Mud Festival,” said Tipper.
Molly shrugged. “I guess, but the men doing it were acting, well, goofy.”
Both Harrison and Tipper looked at each other, then Harrison asked, “Goofy – how?”
She shrugged again. “Like it’s, well, funny. They said something about wrestling.”
Harrison heard Tipper make a noise in her throat. It wasn’t quite a growl, or a roar, but if anything, he recognized it as a sound that meant extreme danger to any male. His wife had often made those sounds before she would fly into a rage. Molly had heard it too - her eyes got big as she backed up a step. She swallowed. “Uh… I have to go and help Aunt Gretchen.”
Tipper realized that the sound she had made had alarmed Molly. She stood and went to her. “It’s okay, Molly. I am not upset with you.”
Molly nodded “I know… and I know you’re not upset with my dad, either…I sorta understand the whys, though.” Tipper nodded, then Molly gave her a hug before heading out the door.
She turned and went to Harrison, her eyes narrowed. “Harrison, please tell all the men who thought that mud wrestling between contestants here was a good idea, that should their wives find out what they had planned, they will have more trouble than they can handle. And I will personally call every single one of the numbers I have on speed dial, starting with the ladies of Loretta beauty shop…”
He held up his hands in surrender. “I will let them know, and suggest that they come up with a compromise, one that they should demonstrate that they would be willing to do themselves.”
Tipper nodded. A few girls straggled in, including her roommates who all smiled at Harrison. Ms Augusta sat down next to Tipper. “One of the other rooms was passing a message along. Because of Lucas’s death, they are cutting short the pageant - pretty much today and tomorrow will be it. They have dropped a few of the events, and combined others. They couldn’t get specific on things, but they said that after breakfast we will be having a meeting with Maureen, and go from there.”
While the girls ate, Tipper glanced around to see how many pins they had, and how many stars were on them. Granted, Tipper had every single pin - it wasn’t for points, though: the votes would come from the judges, and the people who were voting online. There was the popular vote that held fifty percent of the chances that the girls had to win this, and she had no idea where she stood.
They would take a day to finish rehearsing the dance number, and the final day of event schedule. It would start off with their dance number, then the bathing suit competition where they would have the first round of voting. All the girls would wear the same bathing suit style. After that they would announce the top ten, and then they would have the event in the field, followed by time for the girls to shower and dress for the evening gown competition, and the naming of the winners. They had about half an hour before practice began.
Sliding out of her chair Tipper found herself walking in the direction of the field. She was all the way to the steps down when she heard the click of high heels behind her. Ms Augusta hurried up to her. “I am so in,” she whispered excitedly to Tipper.
“Pardon?” Tipper whispered back.
“You know something,” she said, pushing the door open for Tipper then pulling her into the stairwell before anyone could see them.
“Maybe,” she said. The two of them worked their way down the steps to the lower level, then down the hall to the stairwell to the outside tunnel to the field. She backtracked down to the men’s room and opened the door, which was now free of police tape. The blood had been cleaned up, and the repairs done to fix the tile. Using a pen light, she looked down the drain for a glint, but saw none.
“What is it?” Ms Augusta asked.
“There should have been shell casings… there wasn’t enough time to clean them up, and the gun wasn’t found… and no one heard anything,” she said, puzzled.
“Maybe it was the type of gun that didn’t use shells. You know, the ones the gang members make out of a bar of soap? A… oh, what’s the name they use… A zip gun. It’s pretty much a rubber band that propels the bullet,” Ms Augusta mused.
“How on earth do you know that?” asked Tipper, curious.
Ms Augusta hung her head. “My younger brother had a creative child hood,” she said simply.
“Can other things be used to make these zip guns?” Tipper enquired.
Ms Augusta nodded. “Anything, really - lipstick tubes, makeup cases, even cell phones, that’s why the airport x-rays them.”
Together the two of them walked to the field where Mort was overseeing the last of the mud being put in place. She strode to him.
“Now Tipper, I can explain…” he said, backing up upon seeing her expression.
“Later,” she said as the rain began to fall. “I have something you should know.”
Outside, the mud got muddier as the girls rehearsed the dance number. Things were going well until Tipper turned a bit too early and the girl next to her, who was in the middle of a song, missed the cue to turn altogether. While Tipper hadn’t actually touched them, three of the contestants went over the edge of the stage into the band pit, including the singer. Amid the shrieks and moans of the girls and the choreographer yelling, “CUT – CUT” Tipper found herself backing up out of harm’s way.
He threw his papers down. “There goes the lead singer,” he steamed. Somehow, Tipper knew that the lead singer had been too easily picked for the number.
“I know this song,” Ms Augusta said, coming forward. She had been across the stage when it had happened, relegated to the chorus.
“Oh, do you?” Claude the Choreographer said in a simpering voice. Tipper saw Ms Augusta tighten her jaw.
“Yes, she does,” Tipper spoke up. “And she has an excellent range.”
Claude the Choreographer regarded Ms Augusta. His eyes narrowed in contempt. Tipper could see what was going on in his mind. Ms Augusta was – old, perhaps the oldest contestant there. Like a faded rose, she had been pushed to the back to forget her presence. Her time of blossoming had long since withered away and her expectations were at risk of dying altogether. Tipper could see the uphill battle that Ms Augusta had fought.
“Your job is to present the best voices possible to showcase this event. You never even took the time to listen to Ms Augusta sing. If she can’t sing her way out of a paper bag, then I stand corrected, but in the meantime sit down, shut up, and let’s take this from the top.”
It would stand to reason, Tipper thought, that someone who had been in the convention circuit forever would actually know how to sing, how to dance, and how to pull off all of the social graces that were expected. It was with absolute faith that Tipper took her spot with the others and then looked to Ms Augusta for her cue. The music began again, this time with Ms Augusta’s soprano lilting through the auditorium. To be fair, opera was perhaps more of what Ms Augusta’s voice was ranged for, but she was note perfect for the entire number.
It was perhaps the best rehearsal they had had. Claude stood up. He had been prepared to make cutting remarks that would reduce her to tears and send her running off the stage. She hadn’t surprised him, though. He had known all along about her voice and her skills. But it was a competitive world, and he was counting on one of the other girls to come forward asking to claim the Prima Donna spot. To his surprise and dismay, no one did. They crowded around Ms Augusta, congratulating her. She had made it look effortless. Waving his hand, he dismissed them. “Practice is done,” he said, then stormed out.
The girls looked at each other, a bit confused. Practice was to have been several hours, at least past lunch, and they had only been at it for two. They still needed more times to go through this, and he had dismissed the band. Tipper sat down on one of the boxes.
“What should we do?” asked Ms Freeport.
“Keep practicing. We don’t need him to yell at us; we know when we make a mistake, right? We could even add stuff,” said Ms Acadia. She tilted her head. “I bet that’s not the only song you know note perfect.”
“You want to change what they have planned?” a couple of other girls said, horrified.
Tipper saw the glint in Ms Augusta’s eyes. She shrugged. “Why not? Better that than having been written off before we even try on our evening gowns,” she said.
Ms Waterville folded her arms. “Okay, Agatha - we all know you know how to do this, but you’re hardly an expert on dance numbers…”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. From her leg muscle development, and the way her toes are blocked, I would say Ms Augusta has been on the stage since she was about four…” said Tipper.
“Three and a half, actually,” Ms Augusta - Agatha - said softly. “An entire lifetime.”
“Which explains why you’re not the person who signed the rigging sheets. If you had, you would have won by now,” Tipper said suddenly. The girls gasped.
Ms Augusta shook her head. “No. I’m old school, remember? You do good, you get the brass ring. So, you think that Mr. Murray’s death was related to the rigging sheets?”
“It’s entirely possible.” Tipper shrugged. “Let me get Charlie so we have at least some music to dance by,” she said, slipping off of the crate. She was able to catch up with Charlie before he went out the door. After explaining the situation to him, they walked back to the auditorium together.
Jessica came into the auditorium and found a seat. She had seen the discussion between Claude and Maureen - a heated one at best. Maureen had kept her voice down and watched as Claude stormed out of the school to his car. Deciding to see what the fuss was about, she had followed her ears down to the auditorium where she saw Charlie sitting at his piano and the girls going through their dance number. Tipper was still bobbling. She couldn’t help it - where she was at, there was very little room to dance.
“Wait wait wait…” said Ms. Augusta. “Angela, how much room do you need to dance?” she asked. Her tone was curious, and yet exasperated.
“More than I have in this corner,” she said, pointing to the two square feet she had been pushed into by the choreographer.
Taking a breath Ms, Augusta pushed three of the crates together that were on the stage, and then on the other side, repeated it. “With all this stuff, we don’t have enough room for everyone – unless we stack them…”
Tipper steadied herself as she climbed on top of the crates. “I have never fallen off a table,” she said with a grin.
A few of the braver girls pushed the boxes together in other areas and got up on them as well. Over all, it changed the look of the set. They would have to have cinder blocks as a step for the dance, but that wasn’t a problem.
Jessica saw an older woman move down the aisle and slide in beside her. “Where is the choreographer?” Mrs. Beauchampra asked.
“Off in a snit, I suppose. Ms. Augusta has taken over for him, and the girls seem happier for it.”
“Oh.. her… no surprise there. Though one does wonder why she hasn’t given up already.”
“Why would she?” Jessica asked, curious
“She has no hope of ever winning, not after what her brother did.”
Jessica blinked a few times. “I would hardly hold whatever her brother’s actions were against her.”
Mrs. Beauchampra turned and regarded Jessica. “Whomever is chosen must be above reproach for the press. They are the representative of our state, of our values and of our community standards. Any, and I mean ANY stain upon the girl reflects in a negative light upon the pageants all across America, and the world. If she was picked and went on to become Ms Maine, and then Ms America, and then Ms Universe, and it came out that we knew about her brother’s actions, the scandal would make us lose our credibility. “
Jessica blinked once. “Yet you allow the scandal of rigging sheets to overshadow the same pageants.”
She was given a withering look by Mrs. Beauchampra. “Do you really believe anything that the girls do here makes a difference? That we don’t know who is going to win, or should win, before they even come through the door?”
“Is that why Ms. Rockland was so confident that she was going to win this that she didn’t even bother to try to win at any of the competitions, and when she did participate, she cheated with the rigging sheet?”
Jessica’s question was met with cold silence.
It was an hour later that Mort slid into the seats behind Jessica and slipped her a piece of paper. “It wasn’t her cell,” the paper said. Nodding, Jessica folded the paper and handed it back to Mort after making a notation on it.
Jessica saw Ms. Augusta take over the afternoon of rehearsal with the girls, guiding them in what would happen with the bathing suit and evening gown shows. There was no sign of any one else to coach them, and while they had been doing some practice, the work that she had been doing fine-tuned everything. Dinner was called before they knew it, but before Jessica got up she leaned over to Mrs. Beauchampra and said, “If I was looking for someone to represent my state, I would hope they knew how many beans made five.”
Rising, Jessica went down to where the girls were. They all looked exhausted, yet happy. She walked with them to the cafeteria, and had dinner with them before bidding them goodnight. Once in their rooms Tipper pulled out a tube of lineament and began to rub her sore feet. Soon the whole room smelt like peppermint. She tossed the tube to Ms Augusta who was doing stretching exercises.
“Thanks,” she said, stopping and rubbing it on her calf muscles.
“So, who wins, if no one has signed a rigging sheet?” Tipper asked.
She saw Ms Augusta sit up. “This pageant is based on merit, and popular vote. Technically, if there was no popular vote, you would probably be in the top three because you have all of the pins for completing all of the tasks. Well, except the dance number thing, and we don’t have the results from the bathing suit or evening gown competitions - and those numbers count for over thirty percent of the score. You can still win, if you have all of the points, but it’s the popular vote that can swing it. That’s what has been so screwy for the last few years. Girls have worked their hearts and souls out, only to place in the top ten - well like me for example. Other girls like Ms Rockland go on to win, just from the popular vote. We don’t see the actual voting process - people go on to a web site, register and then place their votes. It’s supposed to be one per household, but its doubtful that it’s even accurate. When they first started to have this voting system, my family was right there, and were the first ones to vote, but nothing showed up on the web site for me. My neighbors and relatives tried and it finally showed a 1 to 10 ratio. They called about it, and were told that the numbers don’t update right away. The system is whacked.”
Tipper grew thoughtful. “Do they still vote for you?” she teased. She saw Ms Augusta smile, and nod.
When the girls grew sleepy from the evening, they tucked into bed and turned out the light. Tipper lay in the dark for a while before pulling her cell phone out of her pocket and sending a text message to Mort.
It was still raining, hard and cold, and the mud in the field looked more muddy than ever. She hadn’t got an answer from Mort, and simply put, she knew she wasn’t going to be able to keep her cell on her through out the competition. She knew locking it up wasn’t safe, though when she went down to breakfast, her answer was to give it and her camera to Harrison, just in case.
“Mud has been postponed until tomorrow - it will be after ‘Tales from the Wharf,’” he told her as she scarfed down a pancake and a three egg omelet. “Nervous?” he asked gently.
“I’ve faced worse.”
Tipper rose, then thanking Harrison, she made her way to the changing room where the girls were getting things lined up. Makeup chairs and mirrors had sprung up. Swallowing Tipper grabbed her bag and pulled out a comb. Her hands shook as she tried to get the hair to do a graceful top knot. ‘I will not lose it now,’ she thought.
She felt a warm hand on her shoulder and looked up. Ms Portland stood behind her. “Okay, kiddo, lets get you in your war paint,” she said to Tipper with a grin. The dark two piece bathing suit made Tipper’s skin seem almost translucent behind the pink sash.
Getting in the line up, Tipper tried to remember to breathe. She knew that the people in their homes were watching some of the events, and the pouring rain on the roof sounded like a thousand drums. All Tipper remembered from that moment was hearing her name being called as she walked down the steps, the thunderous applause from the crowd and the flash of bulbs. She didn’t fall, or stumble, and after they finished the line up, the names of the top ten were picked.
No surprise, for Tipper at least, as she was the last name called. She heard squeals from Ms Freeport, Ms Portland and Ms Augusta and some others that she didn’t remember just then. What had Mort said? She would be making the first cut, that was the given. As they headed into the changing room Tipper felt giddy. She could hear Jessica telling the crowd about the girls, and what they had been doing, and how Ms. Augusta had stepped up and stepped in to the role of choreographer for the evening. She slipped her dress over her bathing suit, and winced as she twisted around to zip it up. She felt a hand on her shoulder to steady her, and then the hands got the zipper and tugged it up.
“Two min before the dance number,” said Ms. Augusta. She wore a sad expression on her face. Tipper caught her hand and said looking into her eyes.
“Look, Cabot Cove, isn’t like other towns. We fight for what’s right, and fair. No matter what the cost.”
She saw Ms. Augusta smile. “I know,” she said, giving Tipper a honest smile.
Going out on the dark stage Tipper found her mark. ‘I can do this,’ she thought. She watched Ms Freeport move into her spot, and Ms Augusta. The spotlight followed Jessica as she moved off of the stage and the plaintive piano plunked out the first few notes. The stage was bathed in blue followed by a single spot on Ms Freeport. In a quavering voice she began:
“Can anybody find me somebody to love?
Each morning I get up I die a little
Can barely stand on my feet
Take a look in the mirror and cry
Lord what you're doing to me
I have spent all my years in believing you
But I just can't get no relief, Lord!
Can anybody find me somebody to ….”
“... love,” the rest of the girls sang, letting the note linger out a bit.
A second spot fell upon Ms. Augusta and the piano tempo changed as she had been trying on hats:
“I feel pretty
Oh so pretty
I feel pretty and witty and gay
And I pity
Any girl who isn't me today
I feel charming
Oh so charming
It's alarming how charming I feel
And so pretty
That I hardly can believe I'm real.”
She froze in the spot as it switched back to Ms Freeport, who continued her song:
“I work hard every day of my life
I work till I ache my bones
At the end I take home my hard earned pay all on my own -
I get down on my knees
And I start to pray
Till the tears run down from my eyes
Lord - somebody - somebody
Can anybody find me - somebody to love?”
“He works hard,” Tipper heard herself singing as she saw Mort move down the aisle to Jessica with determination on his face. Tipper didn’t miss her cue to walk up the cinderblock to the top of the crates. As the spot light switched back to Ms Augusta who was closest to her, she saw Mort look pointedly to someone on the stage, and then back to Jessica as he whispered something in her ear. She saw Ms. Freeport miss a half step, while the spot light was on Ms. Augusta.
“See the pretty girl in that mirror there?
Who can that attractive girl be?
Such a pretty face
Such a pretty dress
Such a pretty smile
Such a pretty me!
I feel stunning
Feel like running
And dancing for joy
For I'm loved
By a pretty wonderful boy.”
The girls waved pieces of scarves about as they danced. Tipper could see that something had unnerved Ms. Freeport, but she managed to continue with the song.
“Everyday - I try and I try and I try -
But everybody wants to put me down
They say I'm goin' crazy
They say I got a lot of water in my brain
Got no common sense
I got nobody left to believe ...”
Tipper and the others raised their arm in the air waving it as they sang, “Yeah - yeah yeah yeah ...” She saw Mort take a last look at the stage before going over to the judges and pulling out something. She knew what it was. Proof. She could tell Ms. Freeport was beginning to lose what nerve she had left. Tipper shot Ms Augusta a look as the lights for the whole set came up. It was supposed to continue as a solo for Ms Freeport, but, taking a cue from Tipper, Ms Augusta, Tipper and the other girls continued the song, improvising.
Somebody - somebody
Can anybody find me somebody to love?
Got no feel, I got no rhythm
I just keep losing my beat
I'm ok, I'm alright
Ain't gonna face no defeat
I just gotta get out of this prison cell
Someday I'm gonna be free, Lord!
Find me somebody to love
Can anybody find me somebody to love?”
It was met with thunderous applause. Tipper saw Mort moving to where Maureen was standing. She was looking straight at Ms Freeport, who was frozen on the stage as the curtain began to close. Tipper saw Maureen raise her hand to point at Ms Freeport, and saw her holding her cell phone. A cold shock washed over Tipper as she took a flying leap off of the boxes and pulled both Ms Augusta and Ms Freeport to the stage floor as something whizzed by. Turning her head she saw Mort wrestle with Maureen, bringing her to the ground. As Tipper helped them sit up, she knew with certainty that she knew who had signed the rigging sheet.
“Clumsy me…” she said, helping the two girls up off of the stage floor.
“She…” Ms Freeport began.
Tipper gave her a shake. “She’s in custody now,” she said, pulling Ms Freeport off of the stage with Ms. Augusta’s help.
“We have five minutes before the evening gown,” said Ms. Augusta. “Buck up, Carol!” she said, giving Ms. Freeport a shake. “You can do this.”
Tipper knew that the audience was watching a screen that held clips from the different events that they had done, narrated by Jessica. The girls had years of practice changing for these events. Five minutes gave them time to get completely dressed and redo their hair if they needed. Tipper slid on her shoes and took a step. Her ankles wobbled. “Not good,” she murmured to herself. Taking off the shoes, she straightened up and found all of the girls looking at her. “What?”
She saw Ms. Augusta regarding her. “You’re not just a vet,” she said, crossing her arms across her chest.
“Okay… I … admit it. I was planted in here to find out what was going on. Mort- had a hunch something wasn’t right, and yes, it was still an unrelated favor that got me to do this. He just had a gut feeling something was going to go wrong, and he wanted someone on the inside to make sure no one got hurt.”
“You’re a police officer?” gasped Ms. Freeport.
“Uh, more like an unpaid deputy upon occasion. I am still a full time vet.”
“Have you ... shot any one?” someone else asked.
Tipper hesitated. “Yes…” she finally said. “But only with my tranquilizer gun.”
Someone called into the room, “One minute, ladies!”
“Look, whatever does or doesn’t happen, at least we know that it’s going to be a fair deal,” Tipper concluded.
Tipper walked with the others to the back of the stage area and slipped on her shoes. She could see Maureen was missing, and Jessica working her way across the stage as the screen went dark and slipped upwards. They would have to walk up the steps, then down to their spots. She stood behind Ms. Augusta. “Good luck,” she whispered to her as she slipped on her shoes.
The curtain came up, the band swelled, and Jessica’s clear voice re-introduced the girls as they came down the steps in their evening gowns. ‘I can do this,’ thought Tipper as she carefully navigated the steps.
When the girls were in place, Jessica turned and smiled at them, and returned her attention to the audience. “Each girl has been given points by the judges for their interactions with the community and with other girls during this pageant. These results helped us determine the top ten contestants, and then the points are cleared to allow tonight’s voting. All through the competition the viewers have been able to cast their votes for their favorite, and these votes are compiled by the auditing firm of D & G Inc.”
‘D& G?’ Tipper mused to herself. Who D&G were came to Tipper with certain shock. They had to have found something else then, to bring Donna and Grady into this. There would be the technical matter that she was related to them in a round about way that would disqualify her, but if the results were audited, they would still come out clean.
Tipper shook herself into paying attention to what Jessica was saying about the total point review.
“… will continue on to represent the State of Maine based on the number of points achieved during this pageant.”
‘So this isn’t just a backwater Podunk competition,’ Tipper thought to herself. She saw the girls glance about nervously as Jessica was handed an envelope by Donna.
“The results have been tallied…” she said.
“WAIT!” cried Ms. Freeport.
She took off her sash, walked over to Jessica, and handed it to her. “I signed a rigging sheet… it wasn’t right. Give my votes to Ms. Augusta. She should have been the winner before - and all along. It’s people like me that prevented her from getting the crown when she deserved it. I don’t,” she began. “I don’t deserve any of this…”
Looking at Ms. Freeport kindly Jessica said, “We know. It was taken care of before the final voting began.” There was relief on Ms. Freeport’s face.
She turned and went to walk off the stage and was met by Ms. Augusta. “I’m so sorry,” she said to her.
Ms. Augusta took her into her arms and gave her a hug. “It’s okay,” she said softly.
Resigned, Ms. Freeport walked to where Mort was, and then out with him.
Tipper stood with the others in their beer dresses on the wharf listening to the stories told by her fellow contestants. It had been a mixed surprise of winners. While Ms. Portland had claimed the title of Ms Mud Fest, Ms Augusta (with Grady’s and Donna’s help digging through past votes) was determined to have enough points to qualify her to represent the state as Ms. Maine. Tipper had placed fifth. She had them make the check out to the hospital, and they told her she could keep the pins and sash as a keepsake. Technically she would have placed sixth if Ms. Freeport had stayed in, but with her withdrawing, it bumped Tipper up a notch. The voting had been tripled checked. Tipper had honestly placed where she did and not because, as Mort had said, “it was a given.” The thing with the Mud, whatever the town decided, would be done after the Tales from the Wharf.
“Your turn, Tipper,” she heard one of the locals tell her. Taking a breath to steady herself she moved to where the open mike was and stood in the spotlight.
“In a land, far away, there dwelt the wee folk who spent their days in peace learning the healing ways of the lands,” she began. She glanced over at Grady, who nodded. There were times that there should be silence, and times when the silence should be broken. “Their leader was called a Mac, a name that in itself some noted with shame, but was known with pride by the clan.
“In time, the locals began to come to the wee folk asking for cures, which were sold for the cost of gold, and later the bride’s price of their own daughters. The cures would last only awhile though, before they would have to return and be cured again. The villagers became angry, taking it upon themselves to take the cure by force, but when they opened the jars and tipped out the liquid, it ran blood. Some of the kin of the wee folk remained hidden, and in time, all that they were had almost been forgotten except by a few who continued to hunt the wee folk.
“Ages passed, and that which was thought to had withered sprang up in the new world. The wee folk had found a home in an unlikely spot along the coast of Maine, in a tiny village founded by Captain Cabot. Using the tunnels that the pirates would later inhabit to hide their treasures, the wee folk built a complex network underground that would allow them to travel anywhere they wished without being seen by what they called the large people.
“Here, in Cabot Cove, was called the Gathering spot - where all of the wee ones would come to be born, and to die, our names recorded at birth on the great wall of truth. They brought with them the secret cure that they had worked so long and hard to protect. It was not magic, you see, rather the cure came from water that was pure and unspoiled foods that gave strength to the body to resist the ills of the world. Truth fell into Myth, and Myth fell into Legend and Secrets until all but a few remembered the ways of old. Their children’s children were told of the white stones and tall mountains where the graves of those who had passed before now reside. The secrets of the ways, now common practice, were left unsaid to all but a few of us who went on with the art of healing learned so long ago.
We are marked, you see, in ways that are unseen by others. We hear silence and see the wind…” she paused, looking past the crowd, and for a second she let a troubled thought cross and furrow her brow. “We see death, and shadows, and hear the cry of the damned as it is drawn to hell, and yet the same seeing grants us to see the light, and the good upon the earth, Angels, ghosts, beasties. Aye, I’ve seen them. I’ve breathed the cure, and looked into the past through the door of death to the gate of heaven and watched my beloved pass through.” She stopped, and pulled a small white worry stone out of her pocket and held it in her hands for a moment. “I accept this as truth told to me by my blood clan just as surely as I know my name was placed on the wall the moment I came into this world, and will remain past the days I join the others preserved for all times in the depths of the place of gathering…”
Tipper’s story left them enthralled and on the edges of their seats, and looking over their shoulders. At the conclusion to her story, she saw a few of them nodding their heads. Parts – enough parts, for the residents, would make sense. They were given enough of the back story by Tipper to understand now what had happened, why it had happened, and that it was over now. It was a tale that would be retold, one best not forgotten, yet it put the ghosts to rest. Turning the hot seat over to the next girl Tipper grabbed a drink and faded to the back where the ocean met the dock, and felt a gently bump behind her. It was Ms Augusta.
“Thank you, for everything you’ve done,” she said softly.
Tipper shrugged. “Eh, it was interesting,” she said with a grin. “I understand the sponsors of the pageant are a bit red-faced about gypping you out of your prizes.”
Ms Augusta shook her head. “I’m not to worried about it. I’m just happier that a gray cloud seems like its been lifted off of me. You don’t know how hard it’s been, being blamed about what happened with my brother. It wasn’t his fault.” Ms Augusta saw Tipper’s patience. “He was twelve years old and at a party, and his girlfriend gave him pills that he thought were energy pills. He overdosed, and it’s been a nightmare trying to get him better. He’s spent years in physical therapy and, well, part of me needed the pageant to forget what had happened - but then it became a mission, to prevent it from happening to other kids. I guess my cause struck a few nerves in people.”
“They were black listing you for that?” said Tipper, shocked.
Ms Augusta nodded sadly, then she saw Harrison come into the Wharf area. Her eyes brightened. “So, did you say he was available?”
Tipper was about to tell her that he was a sweet guy, and a great cook, but that she would have to wait a year before they could even begin to get serious and that he had a daughter who was challenging and more of a pain… then stopped herself. She turned to Ms. Augusta and took her by the hand. “Come on, I will make introductions.”
She led her right to Harrison and said, “Harrison, this is my friend Agatha… Agatha, Harrison… My gut is telling me you two should get to know each other, as in –” She broke into a grin. “Well, it feels right,” she said at last.
“Okay….” Harrison said, regarding Agatha closely. He turned his attention to Tipper. “It came, by the way, if you want to stop by after all of this. Molly’s pretty eager…”
Tipper gave him a nod before moving away from them and seeking out Jessica.
“Not to shabby of a tale,” Jessica said to Tipper, smiling.
“Truth is strange,” she said, returning the smile before asking, “Why did she do it? Why did Maureen shoot her own brother? She knocked him down the steps, didn’t she?” She watched Jessica nod.
“Grady had been looking into how the voting system worked long before the pageant started. The attorney general had called him several months ago. His firm that he worked for when he was in New York was where it had been developed. It was simple, then, for him to get into the system and check the past records of what had been registered on the web site. Grady spotted the discrepancies right away and gave them a heads’ up. It wasn’t coincidence that the pageant was placed here - it took a lot of doing to corner the places that would have been able to hold the pageant and have them refuse the event.
“Maureen said her brother got wind of the investigation when he tried to log onto the web server to enter the girls’ names and was denied access for two days until Grady was able to implement a key stroke program that would track what he was doing. He panicked and informed Maureen during the talent show of his suspicions. He was going to find Ms Freeport and tell her they were breaking contract with her, but Maureen couldn’t let him do that, so, she followed him into the men’s room not knowing Ms Bar Harbor was coming out of the stall and shot him. Ms Bar Harbor had her hands outstretched in the dark so she wouldn’t bump into the wall, which is how the powder residue got on her hands. She’s not a mousy person, however - maybe a bit short on the temper occasionally,” Jessica said, shrugging. “People are like that sometimes. Her temper, however, came from low blood sugar that the doctors are looking into.”
“Will she be alright?” Tipper asked as she looked at all of the other people gathered around. They were happy, and relaxed. It didn’t seem fair.
Jessica didn’t answer right away. Tipper shot her a look, and saw she was grinning. “Not that you’re going to get a reputation as a matchmaker, but…” she began.
“No way… She – and Eric?” Jessica nodded.
“Are rather smitten with each other,” she said, smiling. “He isn’t like other men, and she’s not letting her temporary blindness stop her from helping others. I understand that she spends her time in the children’s ward telling them stories… She’s got a long journey ahead of her.”
“Wow.” Tipper said, shaking her head. “But why did Maureen go after Carol? And- at the hospital – Margarita - was Maureen responsible for that?”
Jessica shook her head. “It was actually Ms Rockland’s prints found upon the bag, and a thumb print on the bracelet. She wanted to discredit your charity, and frame Maureen at the same time. Margarita was chosen simply because of her responding to you, nothing more. Maureen was in a conference with several of the sponsors encouraging them not to withdraw their support and was supposed to be there. Maureen wasn’t of the clan.”
“But the charms? The bracelet…”
“Was actually part of a sponsor packet for the girls about ten years ago from Sutton House publisher. She had no idea the significance of it, and it was the first tangible proof that the rigging sheets were happening. Sutton House only gave them one bracelet, for the winner. It would have been unlikely that Maureen was the winner in any pageant. Maureen knew that Carol was close to the breaking point and to everyone who was around her, it just looked like she stood up to take a cell phone photograph, or make a call as the curtains were closing. She didn’t count on Mort to be watching her, or for your talent of being tippable.”
Mud. Maine had four seasons. It started the year with the dance of the snowflakes, followed by the season of mud that covered the earth in relentless fury. It was followed by a shy, blissful kiss of summer, leading into the dazzling fashion show of the leaves people came from every state to see before slipping into its winter dance once again. People celebrated each of the seasons, including doing something with the mud.
Jessica wore boots down on the field, and noticed that at least the area on either side of the mud was dry enough. The men had come to a compromise as to what to do with this particular pile of mud and as the spectators filled the bleachers on the field and the television crew took up their spots she saw the men of the community gather on one side, and the ladies of the pageant on the other side of the field, still in their dresses and high heals. With the promise to pay the dry cleaning bills, and for all of the men to participate in this event, the ladies had agreed to a tug of war. Jessica came down to the center of the field and saw someone had laid a rope down that had three bandanas tied to it. they couldn’t grab the rope before the first bandana, and they had to drag the other team at least 15 feet before they would be pulled into the mud pile.
Mort came to the side, as he was chosen as the captain of the team and Sam Booth his second. Jessica saw Tipper and Agatha come forward and face off with the men. Beyond Mort the men of the town - the firemen, all of the deputies, Cabot Cove’s Councilmen, and a few others who were roped into this - stood behind Mort and Sam acting like teenaged boys who had seen girls for the first time. In contrast, the girls behind Tipper and Agatha were regarding the men with silence as Tipper and Agatha went forward.
Jessica held out a note card, read it then said into the mike, “Competition rules: if no one wins in thirty minutes, it becomes a draw.” Jessica regarded Sam. “The men of Cabot Cove outweigh the ladies of Mud Fest by over a ton and a half.” She saw a few of the men flexing their muscles. Shaking her head, Jessica stepped away, stopped and turned back to Mort. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked.
Mort grinned then said with some concern after clearing his throat, “Yes. If I back out now, Adele said I have to arm wrestle her for the whole weekend, and I don’t want to pull my rotator cuff out again.”
Holding her hand up she looked at the girls, and saw they were standing a bit taller. Half of them winked at her and the other half gave her a nod.
“This should prove to be interesting. Short… but interesting,” she said as she dropped the red handkerchief to the ground.
Some people said later that if you sneezed you missed it. The media played the tape in slow motion to see exactly what happened, and, of course to get the expressions on the faces of those who slammed in the mud. At best guess, confirmed by the instant replay, both teams held onto the rope, and as the handkerchief fell, the men pulled hard on the rope to catch the women off guard.
Except the ladies had anticipated the first tug, and let the rope slide through their hands. The men, now off balance lost their footing and plunged forward into the mud as the ladies pulled together backwards, and ran with the rope.
Mort pushed himself up by his elbows. “Two out of three?” he asked.
Tipper shook her head. “We don’t want to bruise your egos any more than we have to,” she said, turning back to the girls as they high-fived each other.
“I can’t believe its done - all that is left is to change, and pack, and go home,” said Ms. Augusta, shaking her head.
Tipper looked at her. “Almost. Feel like a trip down to the Mini Mart after we check out here?”
Ms Augusta nodded, curious.
“Harrison got the key, Mort,” she said as she and Ms Augusta walked off the field.
Mort sat up, wiping mud off of his face. “He couldn’t have said so earlier?” he asked as he tried to stand, and went down hard in the mud.
Molly sat on the washer while they waited for Mort, watching her father talk to Agatha. “Does she snore?” Molly asked Tipper quietly.
Tipper shook her head. “Not too loud.”
After a moment Molly whispered to Tipper, “ He’s been talking about her all week, said she really should win… now she has, so ...?”
“She’s a good person. The rest you and your dad will figure out.”
Mort finally came in with gloves and two hazmat suits, and a shielded object that had mechanical waldos. “As we don’t know what is down here, I am suggesting that everyone move back into the store area.” He tossed one of the suits to Tipper. “Care to join me, Dr. Henderson?” he asked. She nodded.
Fifteen minutes later they were kneeling on pads in front of the space where the dryer was with the waldo shield between them. To appease Molly, Harrison had rigged the video camera to watch what they were doing. “What is the worst that could happen?” she had asked.
Tipper had shrugged. “Poison, Darts, things that lop off limbs…”
It took a bit of tricky movement to get the mechanical waldo to open up the lock and more for it to lift it up. The dust that settled in showed fine strings that were stretched across the opening. Using a flashlight to peek down, Mort saw the hole was packed with cash that was wrapped in plastic bags, gold coin, gems, and a curious white stone box that had a carved area on top a bit larger than a thumb print. “What do you think he used?” Mort asked.
Tipper took a breath. She recognized the stone that was in the box. “I have to put it in.” she said digging in her pocket. Mort held his breath as she slowly placed her small hand into the opening past the strings to push the worry stone into place on the lid of the box. There was a click, and the strings slid aside.
It took the better part of half an hour to extract all of the items, the last one being the box. The moment that it cleared the opening, the strings snapped back into place, followed by a swoosh of a blade that sliced across the opening.
“Yes, Earl was a charmer,” Mort said, studying the box. “Any idea what is in it?”
Tipper looked at Harrison. “It’s your property,” she said, nodding to the box.
Harrison regarded Angela, then his daughter. “What do you think, Molly?”
“Oh, that definitely belongs in your museum,” she said. “It fits with all of the other stuff you have there.”
“You haven’t even seen inside…” said Agatha.
Molly looked at Tipper then back to Agatha. “If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from Ian, it’s that if you see that white stone, leave it to the clan leader to deal with, and that’s Dr. Henderson.”
Agatha’s head turned to look at Tipper. “Then, your story…”
Tipper didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. She watched Agatha relax as Molly went on about donations to charities if Mort said they could keep what they found, and that maybe the mart could use a new roof. Harrison closed the Mini Mart and the group of them went up the street to the museum. Placing the box on the glass show case Tipper picked up the stone again, then hesitated. It didn’t feel right to use the stone. She placed her hand on the top of the box and used her ring finger that held the silver ring on it to push in the spot again. She knew, by the pressure upward, that something had come up to come in contact with her silver ring. There was a click, then the box opened. Earl wouldn’t have had the ring, wouldn’t have been able to reach down, and wouldn’t have wanted to risk losing a limb by moving the box out. Tipper opened the box. It held a small book that was wrapped with white cord and several silver rings identical to hers, as well as seed packets.
Mort regarded the top packet. “Isn’t that ...?” he asked.
Tipper nodded. “Belladonna.”
“But, didn’t that start the whole mess?” he asked as she removed the seed packets to place them on the counter. She would have to get them to Jessica’s friend to be preserved, but for now she wanted to know what else was in there.
Under a separate section were a few gems that she guessed would have been used to cast augers, if anything; a few coins dating back and at the very bottom, several thin gold bars. She saw Agatha looking around the museum before she turned to Tipper.
“The story - this, this box - and this place - the seeds ... you’re them… You could heal my brother…”
“Agatha, I am a vet. Not a person doctor.”
“But you’re them…” she said, deflating a bit. “Your not just a vet.”
She shook her head. “It’s not how it works. Everything in the healers bag is already known to medical doctors, it’s just in a different form. There is no magic, no spells. People got healthy because they ate better, and drank better water. When they stopped, they got sick and died. That’s all.”
“He’s my brother… and he hasn’t spoken since he was twelve…” she said, tears in her eyes. “Help him…”
Tipper moved closer to Agatha. Leaning next to her she whispered, “I am not the only one…” into her ear. Taking the sobbing woman into her arms Tipper told her perhaps they could take a look at him at Cabot Cove’s hospital.
Wrapping themselves about her legs the lads did their best to tell Tipper how much they missed her. Tipper regarded her living room and saw the replacement furniture that Mort had purchased. The moon chair cushion and the futon cushion actually matched. The pillows that she had broken in just right had been trashed. The newer ones… well, a slip cover could change bad decorating sense. The curtains were on order, he’d said, though the blinds were enough to give her privacy. She got a bowl of ice cream and a spoon while she untied the white ribbon on the book. For a moment before she opened the book, she laid her ring hand on it.
Seth had honored the conditions of the bet, and had reported to get his senior driver’s exam. His reflexes were fine, though his glasses prescription needed to be updated. The matron who had given him his test had badgered him about how many people were killed because another person didn’t stop, and as a doctor he should have known better. With some guilt, he had agreed with her.
Tipper opened the book and saw the date. It corresponded with the date on the walls, decades before Captain Cabot had landed and settled the cove. It didn’t matter, not really. It explained how things had been put into place before the shop and the wharf were built, as well as a detailed map of the caves, of where other places were and the connection between it all as how to disarm the traps set. The gems were to be used as weights for some of them.
Tipper closed the book and wrapped it with the white ribbon again. She would have to get with Grady, to discuss with him what they should do - if anything. There were some secrets that were best left unsaid, and forgotten.
Placing the book back in the box and closing it, she locked it securely then took it down to her basement where she moved a few stones and slid it up under the rafters of the first floor. She replaced the stones, and came upstairs to wash her hands.
There would be time enough tomorrow to sort through it all. She sat back down on the sofa and picked up a book. The lads were fed, she wasn’t hungry, and if anything, the last week had shown her how quiet her life had been.
She scooped up the lads into her arms and hugged them as they purred against her chest.
It was great to be back home.