Murder in Big Sky Country
This story takes Jessica to beautiful Waterton-Glacier National Park. She is joined there by good friend George Sutherland. As always, I would like to thank Donald Bain for creating the character George and I hope that my portrayal of him has not strayed too far from Mr. Bain’s. Finally, I would like to thank Anne for all of her help. She really keeps me on my toes.
While the setting for this story is one of nature’s true wonders, the characters and events are purely fictional. The Old Flathead Ranger Station however, is not fictional, but sadly, it burned down in a forest fire in 2003.
Eventually, I intend to write another story that takes place aboard the Queen Mary II and is more or less a continuation of the Deadly Diary. As that is the case, I hope that no one is too terribly confused by a reference here or there to something that may have occurred aboard the QMII. I hope that everyone enjoys this story and I look forward to reading any reviews and/or constructive criticisms that you may have.
After a lengthy delay in Chicago and a missed connection in Denver, Jessica was thankful to finally arrive at Glacier Park International Airport. Making her way through the concourse, she took a moment to browse several attractive display cases that exhibited Native American jewelry and “Made in Montana” products including pottery, sculptures, paintings and an interesting assortment of gourmet huckleberry sweets. Framed posters decorated the cool blue walls and advertised downhill skiing at Big Mountain in nearby Whitefish, fly fishing in the many lakes and streams of Big Sky Country, and Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which was where Jessica and her close friend, George Sutherland, would be spending the next week.
She had hoped to find George waiting for her in baggage claim when she arrived, but before she could find him in the large crowd of vacationers, a red light overhead began to flash and the baggage carousel slowly began to move. Seeing that her own suitcase was one of the first to be unloaded, she quickly slipped through an opening in the pack and retrieved her bag.
As she lowered the large gray suitcase from the carousel to the floor and prepared to lug it through the sea of people, she heard George’s unmistakable Scottish brogue from directly behind her.
“Why don’t I take that?” he asked as his grabbed the suitcase by the handle and lifted it effortlessly. “Anything else?” he asked.
“Oh, dear…yes! My fly rod case!” Jessica exclaimed, suddenly glancing back around and searching the carousel. “I think that’s it, right there,” she proclaimed, pointing to a silver and gray tube that was just beyond her reach. .
“Come, my dear, before we get ourselves trampled,” he said, after retrieving the case and tucking it under his left arm, which was already holding her suitcase. Taking her hand with his free one, he led her through the crowd to an open area near the exit, where he stopped and set Jessica’s suitcase and fly rod case on the tile floor. “Now, for a proper greeting,” he said before catching her in a huge hug. He took in a deep, soothing breath and murmured, “Laird, I missed ye, Jessie.”
“I’ve missed you, too,” Jessica offered before he finally released her. “When I didn’t see you right away, I thought that maybe you had gotten tired of waiting for my flight and decided to do some exploring.”
“Actually, I used the extra time to take care of a couple of errands and then I did do a bit of exploring,” he admitted. “I had planned to be back earlier, but encountered an unexpected delay.”
“What sort of delay?” Jessica asked as George picked up her luggage again and led her out of the terminal, where the late afternoon sun still shone against a clear blue sky that appeared to stretch forever in all directions.
“A herd of elk was blocking the highway not far from here,” he started to explain before being momentarily interrupted when a young boy, pulling his sister along by the hand, cut in front of them and nearly ended up being knocked down by Jessica’s mammoth suitcase. “The beasts…” George continued once the children were safely on their way. His comment immediately earned him a stern look from Jessica, which made him laugh. “No, Jess, I was referring to the elk, not the children.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she apologized. “Please, go on with your story,” she urged before taking his arm again.
“Mind you, I’m not complaining. They are very majestic creatures but they weren’t terribly interested in sharing the road with the rest of us nor were they concerned about anyone else’s schedule.”
“I bet not,” Jessica commented before they stepped off the curb and crossed the street to the short term parking area. George unlocked the doors of a silver Jeep Grand Cherokee, which Jessica noticed had two mountain bikes mounted on the rear hatch. Before loading her suitcase and fishing gear into the back seat of the vehicle, George opened Jessica’s door and helped her into the SUV.
Once he had joined her inside, she asked, “Are we planning on driving off-road?”
“When in Rome,” he responded with a mischievous gleam in his eye after starting the vehicle and revving the engine slightly.
Somewhat taken aback by his response, Jessica replied, “Please tell me you’re not serious.”
“Only teasing, Jess,” he assured her as he shifted into reverse, “although now that you mention it, it does sound like a jolly good time.”
After leaving the airport and turning onto US Highway 2 they drove north to Columbia Falls, where the highway curved to the east before eventually turning north again toward the small, scenic mountain village of West Glacier. They drove slowly through town and continued a short distance north until they came to the West Entrance of Glacier National Park, where George slowed to a stop before lowering the window and showing the ranger their receipt for admittance into the park.
“You’ve been very busy,” Jessica commented once they were under way again.
“I was afraid that the visitor center might be closed by the time your plane arrived so I made a quick stop there to purchase a topography map and a few other things that we are likely to need in the morning,” he answered just as they approached the Apgar Visitor Center, which was located on the southern tip of Lake McDonald. “Afterwards, I checked us into the lodge and picked up the bicycles and a few other necessities.”
“That couldn’t have taken you five hours. What else did you do while you waited?”
“Let’s see,” George answered thoughtfully. “I unpacked and took a cat nap, after which I went for a short walk and snapped a few pictures of the lake and the mountains,” he answered, glancing at her for a moment before turning his attention back to the road.
“Only a few?” Jessica asked, surprised as she now knew that George was quite an accomplished amateur photographer.
“Actually, I shot an entire roll,” he answered sheepishly.
“I can certainly see why,” she answered slowly as she took in the large, shimmering, glacial lake on their left.
“Tha’ is Lake McDonald,” George announced, his Scottish burr doing justice to the name. “It is ten miles long and was carved out by a two thousand foot thick glacier. The Kutenai Indians called this Sacred Dancing Lake and at one time they performed tribal ceremonies on the lakeshore.”
“You must have done some reading while you waited, too,” Jessica observed, taking in all of the scenery around them.
“Aye, a little bit,” he admitted as he turned into the parking area of the lodge, which bore the same name as the lake. “The lodge was built by John Lewis in 1913, as a hunting lodge,” George explained as he parked their vehicle in front of the rustic three and a half story hotel.
After enlisting the help of one of the hotel’s employees to take Jessica’s things to their cabin, George led her into the cozy lobby and up two flights of stairs that eventually led to the terrace.
“Where are we going?” she asked as they stepped onto the veranda, which overlooked the pristine, crystal blue lake. The veranda was massive and offered guests a choice of very comfortable, oversized deck chairs for lounging while enjoying a spectacular view of the lake with its evergreen frame and mountain backdrop.
Glancing back at her for a moment and smiling, he answered simply, “To watch the sun set.”
“And we’re just in time,” he added as they found a spot at the railing, which would allow them a good view without obstructing anyone else’s. Wrapping his arms around her from behind, he rested his chin on the top of her head just as the blue sky began to give way to the deep purple, wine red and vibrant orange and yellow that was created by the sun as it descended toward the horizon.
After all of the colors had finally faded, George led Jessica back inside, down the stairs, through the lobby and out a large set of doors, which led toward the lake and several private cabins that were also part of the lodge’s property.
In keeping with the era in which the lodge had been built, the cabin was small and offered no modern day amenities such as air conditioning or a television. The only exception was a telephone, which sat on the bedside table that was positioned between a pair of twin beds. All of the furnishings were made from knotty pine and the curtains and bedspreads reminded Jessica of the wine-red that had dominated the glorious evening sunset that they had just witnessed.
While Jessica unpacked her things and freshened up for dinner George reclined on one of the beds to read. When she emerged from the bathroom she caught a glimpse of him in one of the mirrors and realized just how small the bed was when compared to his long frame. After sitting down on the edge of the bed next to him, she said, “Thank you, George, this is exactly what I needed - peace and tranquility.”
He looked up over his reading glasses and smiled. “It’s not too rustic or antiquated?”
“Heavens no,” she answered, glancing around at her simple surroundings, “it’s nearly perfect. I could do with plenty of fresh air and scenery after spending the past few months doing nothing but teaching and writing.”
George removed his glasses and set them aside with the book and map that he had been studying. “You said it was nearly perfect?” he repeated before propping himself against the headboard.
“Actually, it’s perfect for me, but the bed seems to be a little too short for you.”
“Aye, a common problem, I’m afraid,” he explained before reaching up and gently brushing his hand down her cheek. “But it’s well worth the sacrifice to spend a week in your company,” he added before framing her face with both of his hands and kissing her tenderly on the lips. At length, he added, “It’s just unfortunate that the lodge doesn’t have room service.”
“Yes, it is,” Jessica agreed, fully comprehending the subtle invitation that accompanied his words and suddenly realizing just how much she had missed his company and his touch.
“And it is also unfortunate that the restaurant closes in less than an hour,” he said, interrupting her thoughts.
“Where are we dining?”
“Here, in the lodge,” he answered. “Russell’s Fireside Dining Room, after which I thought we might take a walk and enjoy some crisp, fresh mountain air, if that is acceptable to you.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Jessica agreed before standing and reaching for his hand to help him up from the bed.
Despite the darkness, they could easily make out several of the more prominent architectural features of the lodge as they approached it from the west. The rustic building had been built in a Swiss-chalet style with clipped gable roofs and jigsaw detailing. The foundation and first floor walls were made of stone and had been framed with heavy timber. The main gable was intersected at its north and south ends by two perpendicular gables, a feature which added greatly to the chalet feel. Extending from each end of the main lodge were one and a half story structures with low gable roofs and minimal detailing - an architectural feature that George explained was used to draw the viewer’s eye toward the main lodge. Also adding to the character of the building were the milled logs that had been used to create the lozenge patterns of the balconies and the veranda railings, which wrapped around the entire building.
From the lobby, they entered the south wing and quickly located the dining room, which was outfitted with the original furnishings and boasted a large stone fireplace and red, rough cut, cedar walls. Scenic paintings and hunting trophies adorned the walls of the restaurant, whose menu boasted a long list of wild game dishes and local favorites including apple bread pudding with caramel-cinnamon sauce.
After dinner, Jessica and George enjoyed a stroll along the lake shore before returning to their cabin. The combination of the clear, dark sky above, sprinkled with dazzling constellations, and the gentle waters of the lake, lapping quietly at the shore, created a feeling of serenity for them both.
Before getting ready for bed, Jessica inquired as to their plans for the following day.
“I thought we might take a little bike ride in the morning, if you’re up for it, and then wander up to McDonald Falls in the afternoon,” George answered.
“What do you mean, ‘if I’m up for it’?” Jessica asked, feigning insult at his comment as she removed her nightgown from her suitcase.
“It’s ten miles round trip,” he informed her from where he sat at a small table, which was covered by his topo map.
“Is that supposed to be a challenge?” Jessica asked as she turned toward the bathroom.
“If you like,” George answered rather smugly, a hint of a smile creeping across his lips.
Looking back over her shoulder at him before disappearing around the corner, Jessica replied, “In that case, I’m definitely up for it.”
Jessica returned to find a dejected looking George still sitting at the table, which was now empty except for the small cribbage board sitting in the center. He was shuffling a deck of playing cards, occasionally making them rise in the shape of an arch.
“And here I was sure that you’d be busy rearranging the furniture,” Jessica commented as she sat down on the edge of the bed closest to him.
“Believe me, Jessica, I fully intended to but the bloody beds are bolted to the floor,” he grumbled as he started to deal the cards.
“I guess we’ll just have to make do then, won’t we?” she responded as she reached over and turned off the bedside lamp, causing the entire cabin to become as dark as the night sky. “Unless, of course, you need to conserve your energy for our little expedition in the morning,” she added.
“Now that is definitely a challenge,” George answered, “one that I have absolutely no intention of begging off.”
Early the next morning, they parked in a small, empty parking area located just a short distance from what appeared to be the home of one of the park rangers. After unloading the bikes, George retrieved four bottles of water from a cooler in the back of the vehicle, placed one in its holder on each bike and the other two in his backpack.
“Would you care to navigate?” he asked, offering Jessica the map.
“Oh, no,” she declined, shaking her head. “You go ahead. I’m more than happy to follow.”
“As you wish,” George said. He tucked the map into his pocket and began down a wide, level, paved path that was bordered on both sides by soaring evergreens. After going a short distance they came to a small barn, where the road forked. Without consulting his map, George took the left fork, which eventually led them to the Quarter Circle Bridge. The bridge was made from broad, sturdy planks and spanned the lower end of McDonald Creek. The trail gradually became steeper and more primitive as they went, but provided impressive views of the McDonald Valley and the Flathead River.
George maintained a steady but easy pace, stopping regularly to enjoy the vistas that surrounded them. Their pace slowed slightly as the grade of the fire trail increased and when they encountered two very steep, rutted stretches of road, they were forced to continue on foot while pushing their bicycles instead of risking bodily injury. Finally, they reached an open hillside where George stopped and dismounted from his bike. After Jessica had done the same, he informed her that there was supposed to be an exceptional view of the river just another hundred feet over this hillside.
“I can’t imagine anything more spectacular than what we’ve already seen,” Jessica said as they walked over the hill, “except that,” she added when the bluff, rising above the confluence of the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River, finally came into view. At George’s suggestion, they sat on the hillside and enjoyed the view along with a well deserved rest.
“No wonder,” George muttered to himself after sneaking a quick look at his watch.
“No wonder what?” she asked absently as she watched the rapidly flowing river below.
“No wonder I’m starting to feel hungry,” he replied.
“How long did it take for us to come this far?” Jessica wondered as she watched a squirrel scurry along a fallen tree trunk.
“Three and a half hours,” he answered lazily before reclining fully onto his back. “That’s nearly two hours longer than we had planned and we still have a short distance to go to reach the ranger station.”
Eventually they resumed their search for Old Flathead Ranger Station. “I think we missed it,” George deduced when they came to a chain blocking their path and supporting a sign advising them to go no further. “What do you think?”
Jessica looked around. “How could we have missed a ranger station?” she wondered aloud. “Maybe we should go a little further?”
“There are bears up here,” George reminded her cautiously.
“We must be getting close,” Jessica reasoned. “I’d hate to give up after coming all this way.”
“Okay, Jess, we’ll go a little further,” George conceded. “There’s probably not much chance of actually running into one of them, I suppose.”
After going another half mile they still hadn’t found the station and decided to start back down the mountain. As they neared the hillside from which they had rested and enjoyed the view of the bluffs and river, they found it. The dark brown ranger station, which had been obscured by a thicket of pine trees when they had passed it earlier, was clearly visible when coming from the opposite direction.
“Finally,” George said. “I don’t know how we missed it,” he added as he parked his bike. The ranger station was locked but they were still able to make out the interior through numerous grimy windows.
“George, look at this,” Jessica said, waving him over to a small porch. “Is that blood?” she asked, pointing to what appeared to be a partial palm print on the window of the door.
“I can’t tell for sure,” he answered, taking a closer look. He removed a white handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed lightly at the edge of the window frame, where the hand print had extended beyond the window pane. When he inspected the piece of cloth, he found that it was stained a dark red color. “I think it might be,” he decided. “Is there another way in?” he asked as he began to walk around the building in search of another entrance.
“Here, George, this window is broken out,” Jessica observed before starting to climb through a window on the south side of the building.
When he joined her inside, George found her standing stone still in the doorway nearest the window. “I think he’s dead,” Jessica said simply.
When George reached the doorway, he saw a young man in his late thirties or early forties, lying on a small cot. He had wavy, blonde hair and was wearing hiking boots, khaki pants and an olive shirt, which had a large dark red stain coving the front. George stepped around Jessica to inspect the body. “It was most likely a shotgun,” he announced, having seen similar wounds in the past.
“An accident?” Jessica asked as she joined him to take a better look.
“I suppose it’s possible, but there shouldn’t be any hunters inside the boundaries of the park, so if it was an accident whoever is responsible was likely hunting illegally,” George said after pausing to consider the scenario. “Regardless, we need to report it.”
George took Jessica by the arm and led her back into the adjoining room, where they had entered through the broken window.
“You go. I’ll just slow you down,” Jessica suggested.
“Jess, you can’t stay here. There are wild animals out there. What if one of them comes looking for its next meal?”
“That’s even more reason for me to stay,” Jessica reasoned. “If I go, we have no way of covering up the window to keep the animals out and preserving the scene. If I stay, I can block the window from inside with some of the furniture until you return,” she continued as she started looking through the cabin for something suitable for the job.
“Don’t move anything just yet,” George cautioned her as he set down his backpack and removed his digital camera. “We’d better take some pictures before moving anything.”
Twenty minutes later, after leaving his backpack with Jessica and promising to hurry, George began to make his way down the mountain. As soon as he had climbed through the window, Jessica pushed a heavy desk in front of it. After several minutes of struggling with the desk, she managed to move it into place and then turn it on end, completely covering the window. Next, she walked into the adjoining room, where the body of the young man rested on the cot. She closed the door behind her and wedged a chair under the doorknob to secure it further.
If she was lucky, George would be back in no more than three hours. After resting for a short time, Jessica unzipped his backpack and rummaged around until she found his digital camera. He’d bought it the previous fall while they were aboard the Queen Mary II, and shown her how to use it – a lesson that would come in handy now. After checking the battery level and remaining memory, she took more photographs of the room including several of the body. When she had finished, she replaced the camera where she had found it.
It didn’t take long before boredom set in and Jessica soon found herself looking through George’s backpack for something to read. Inside, she found a copy of National Geographic’s Guide to Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. She settled in and began skimming the book, stopping to read several sections that she found of particular interest. After finishing, she set it aside. She opened the pack again and continued to search the main compartment, where she found a simple map of the park, the two extra bottles of water, a compass, a small first aid kit, George’s wallet and strangely enough a deck of playing cards.
She set the playing cards aside and, after much internal debate, peaked inside the wallet. What could it hurt? The classic bifold wallet was made of well worn black leather and opened to reveal George’s driver’s license, which made him look more like a criminal than a police officer. Apparently not even a handsome Scotland Yard inspector was a match for the driver’s license bureau’s camera. Several credit cards, his Scotland Yard I.D., and a few business cards filled slots next to the driver’s license.
The section for bills contained not only British and American currency, but Canadian as well and tucked behind the bills, she found several receipts. The first two were from the visitor center and a supermarket but the third was from a local jewelry store and indicated a modest purchase, but to Jessica’s disappointment did not detail the items purchased. What could it be? she wondered. It isn’t my birthday and Christmas is six months away. Jessica’s next thought caused a moment of sheer panic – a ring? No, it can’t be a ring, she reasoned, as there were two items on the receipt. Thank goodness!
Relieved, she re-folded the receipt and placed it with the others. The only remaining item that had yet to be inspected was a photo insert that had also been tucked behind the bills. Like the wallet, the insert was well worn and the plastic, which had once been transparent, was now slightly opaque. Jessica turned it upright and found a photo of herself. That, in and of itself, was not surprising but what was surprising was that it was a photograph that she had no idea even existed. It was a candid shot of Jessica curled up with a book in the library at Sutherland Castle. The natural light that shimmered through the large windows that lined one wall of the room had softened the image and created a gentleness that Jessica imagined would be very difficult to recreate intentionally. Had George carried her picture with him ever since she first visited him in Scotland? It certainly appeared that way.
Jessica flipped to the next picture. It was another candid shot, this time of George’s late wife, Emily, who was laughing and holding her hands in front of what appeared to be a self-portrait that she had been sketching. An intimate moment shared between husband and wife, utterly priceless. The other pictures were more traditional and included formal pictures of nieces and nephews who had graduated, family photos and even a photo of George and his sisters as kids. After looking at each, Jessica returned the insert to its proper place and set the wallet aside.
Next, she unzipped the small front compartment of the pack. Inside, she found a Swiss Army knife, two rain ponchos, and a small box of matches, sealed in a Ziploc bag.
Always prepared, that’s George, Jessica thought. Although he would be returning soon, Jessica felt somewhat better knowing that she had dry matches with which to light a fire if necessary. It was still spring and once the sun set for the evening, the temperatures dipped dramatically. After replacing all of the items, Jessica removed the playing cards from their box and dealt a hand of solitaire.
After several games she heard the sound of a vehicle outside. Before she could remove the dresser and desk from in front of the window, a park ranger had unlocked the door and entered the building, followed by a second, younger man and George.
Glacier National Park Ranger Bill Sheridan was the first through the door. He nodded politely at Jessica and offered her a simple greeting of “Ma’am” before entering the adjoining room where she had just spent the past three hours alone with a corpse, a thought that suddenly gave her an eerie feeling. Sheridan was a man of medium height and build with no truly distinguishing features. He wore a brown ranger’s hat over his short hair, which Jessica guessed was dark brown, based on the color of his neatly trimmed goatee. His eyes were dark and deeply set and when combined with his weary expression, made him appear to be much older than his forty-two years.
“It’s Grant Wallace,” he said matter-of-factly. “I was afraid of this,” he added as he glanced over his shoulder in the direction of his colleague, Rhett Carson, who had stopped as soon as he had seen the body and was still standing in the doorway between the two rooms.
“I can’t believe it. I just talked to him yesterday afternoon,” the young man replied in shocked disbelief before reality struck, causing him to become physically ill. He covered his mouth and bolted for the door. Jessica’s first impulse was to follow him outside, but George suggested that she give him a few minutes of privacy before checking on him.
“I know,” Sheridan replied, not having noticed that Carson was no longer there. “I can’t believe that I’m going to have to tell Skye. It will devastate her.” He rubbed his brow at the thought of having to inform the victim’s wife of his death. After a moment of quiet, Sheridan remembered that Jessica and George were also there. He crossed the room to where they stood and apologized to Jessica for not having introduced himself. “I’m Bill Sheridan, the senior-most ranger on the west side of the park,” he informed her as he offered his hand.
“And I’m Jessica Fletcher,” she replied as she accepted his dry, course hand and shook it.
“Where is Ranger Carson?” Sheridan asked, suddenly realizing that his colleague was gone.
“I’m sure he’ll be right back,” Jessica assured him just as the young man in question, still looking quite ill, made his way back up the steps and into the ranger station. After Jessica and Rhett exchanged names, Sheridan asked her to explain to him exactly how she had happened upon Grant Wallace’s body. After doing so, and giving a nearly identical account as George had when he arrived at the West Glacier Ranger Station, she and George left the cabin while Carson began boarding up the broken window and Sheridan took photographs of the scene.
As they walked down the steps, George wrapped an arm around Jessica’s shoulders and led her to Sheridan’s pine green Ford Explorer, which was emblazoned with the arrowhead shaped badge of the National Park Service. He opened the passenger side rear door and retrieved a periwinkle blue fleece jacket that Jessica had left in their SUV. “I thought that you might need this,” he said as he offered it to her, “it’s starting to get fairly chilly up here,” he added before grabbing his own jacket.
Jessica donned her coat and zipped it up, reveling in the warmth that it provided against the sudden shift in temperature that had occurred now that the skies were overcast and the sun was beginning to set. As she tucked her hands in the pockets to warm them, she felt something that she hadn’t expected. A thankful smile crossed her lips and she laughed slightly when she removed the item and found a large chocolate candy bar in her hand. “George, I could kiss you right now,” she said as she began to peel the corner of the wrapper away from the chocolate, “I am famished.”
“I’ll be sure to take you up on that offer later tonight, but for now I suggest that you wait until I’ve had an opportunity to clean up a bit. The ride back down the mountain was a bit dusty,” he replied before reaching into the back of the vehicle again. “I just thought that you could probably use a bit of a snack by now.” He offered her a bottle of Diet Coke and before she could say anything he quickly explained why he had chosen a diet beverage for her: “Totally presumptuous, I know, but I couldn’t find any iced tea and that’s the only brand that I’ve ever seen you drink.”
“Oh, believe me, this is just fine. I was just going to thank you,” she said before kissing him on his cheek. Her resulting grimace made George laugh out loud.
“I told you I was dirty,” he reminded her before closing the door and suggesting that they take a walk.
As they walked around the front of Sheridan’s vehicle, Jessica noticed a set of tire tracks that extended well beyond the front of the vehicle and into the grass that surrounded the cabin. “What do you make of that?” she asked.
“It’s hard to say, Jess. They look fairly fresh, but we have no idea how often people come up here,” he answered, giving all options consideration. After walking around the cabin and seeing nothing else of interest, they walked the short distance to the overlook where they had rested earlier in the day.
“I believe that’s where your guide is taking you fly fishing tomorrow,” George commented as they looked down at the river, which was becoming more difficult to make out as the sun continued its nightly descent.
“On that!” Jessica exclaimed. “The current will carry me away before I wade in more than a few feet,” she predicted with no small amount of apprehension.
“As I understand it, love, you fish from a boat,” George explained. “I’ve been told that it’s quite safe,” he assured her, sensing her obvious anxiety at the idea of being swept down the river.
“Fly fishing from a boat?” Jessica asked contemplatively. “I hadn’t considered that. It sounds…interesting,” she finally decided.
“Good, because you leave before sunrise,” he said before slowly getting up and offering her his hand to help her do the same.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” Jessica asked as they walked back to the long forgotten building.
“I thought that I might hike up to Sperry Chalet,” he answered. “I had hoped that we might spend at least one night there, but it is undergoing renovations this year.”
“You should come fly fishing,” Jessica suggested.
“I considered it, but I haven’t had time to learn how,” George said, “and you’re likely to have far more fun without a novice tagging along.”
“I doubt that,” Jessica argued politely.
“Perhaps you can teach me the art of fly fishing sometime,” George suggested. “Until then, I believe I’ll stick to hiking.”
As they approached the cabin both rangers were exiting the building. “Finished for now,” Sheridan announced.
“Already?” Jessica asked in surprise.
“We’ve done what we can for tonight,” he explained. “Carson will spend the night up here and we’ll finish when the sun comes back up. I’ve already notified the U.S. Park Police and one of their men will arrive from San Francisco late tomorrow morning.”
“I see,” Jessica replied.
“It’s not that we can’t handle the investigation,” he continued a bit defensively, “but we deal primarily with poachers, burglars and the occasional heart attack up here. The USPP’s instructions for now are to leave everything as is until they can evaluate the scene for themselves and I’m not willing to risk my career by having a turf war with ‘em so, we’re done until they get here,” he finished.
“I didn’t mean to question your procedures,” Jessica said apologetically. “I imagine that there are plenty of politics to deal with in every law enforcement agency,” she offered sympathetically.
“There are,” Sheridan agreed, “but some of the USPP boys have pretty big egos. You’d think they worked for Scotland Yard or something.”
At Sheridan’s comment, Jessica gave George a questioning look, which he returned with a subtle shake of his head. “I’m on vacation,” he whispered before opening one of the passenger doors for her.
After George loaded Jessica’s bike, the trio made their way back down the mountain. Due to the darkness, the trip was made at a much slower pace than the ascent had been only an hour earlier. Several stretches of the road were extremely bumpy and both Jessica and George were forced to brace themselves against the resulting jarring. Between bumps and jolts, Jessica finally asked, “I’m sorry, Ranger Sheridan, but I was wondering about something.”
“What’s that?” Sheridan replied without taking his eyes off the darkened fire trail that served as the road to Old Flathead Ranger Station.
“When you first saw who it was, you said that you were ‘afraid of this,’” Jessica said. “What made you think that it was Mr. Wallace even before you confirmed it for yourself?”
“Because very few people hike up this particular trail and the last thing that I did yesterday afternoon before leaving for the day was to authorize and sign Grant’s overnight backpacking permit so that he could rough camp up there,” he explained.
Jessica nodded her head in understanding before inquiring as to who might have wanted to do Mr. Wallace harm.
“You sound like a cop, Ms. Fletcher,” he commented after glancing at Jessica in the rear view mirror.
“Actually, I’m a writer, and please, call me Jessica.”
“Thinking about writing a book about this?” the ranger asked, now slightly intrigued by her obvious interest in Grant Wallace’s death.
“I’m always looking for a good plot or an interesting character, like yourself,” she answered. “I’ve never used a park ranger as my protagonist before.”
Jessica’s comment nearly made George laugh out loud, but instead he sat quietly, doing his best to suppress a smile as Jessica continued to interrogate Sheridan.
At length, the ranger finally answered Jessica’s question with one of his own. “Do you want to know what I think happened?”
“Of course I do,” she replied enthusiastically. “I’d like to know how your mind works.”
Jessica, love, you’re laying it on a bit thick, George thought to himself as he listened.
“I think I have a pretty good idea who killed him,” Sheridan announced confidently as they reached the bottom of the mountain, where he slowed to a stop before turning onto Going-to-the-Sun Road. “You see, Jessica, Grant was being pressured to sell his family’s business and I happen to know that he got into a pretty heated argument with one of the representatives from Barrow Corp. yesterday afternoon. I figure it was one of them and if it wasn’t, he was also having problems with his brother, who also wanted to sell.”
“Who is Barrow Corp.?” Jessica asked.
“A big outfit from somewhere on the East Coast. They are trying to buy up the last few privately owned businesses within the park’s borders. They want to build a luxury hotel and a couple of high-class restaurants.”
“I didn’t realize that there were any privately owned businesses in the park,” George commented.
“We still have three of them. Wallace worked primarily as a guide, but he also owned a small hotel called the Wilderness Lodge. He inherited it from his grandmother some years back. Eddie’s is another one that it still privately owned. It is a grocery store and café here in Apgar Village - best hamburger in a couple hundred miles. The third one is a lodge and restaurant up near Crandell Mountain on the Canadian side. Normally, a privately owned business located inside the park must either be passed on to a family member or the National Park Service has the first opportunity to buy it. Unfortunately, with budget cuts, we can’t afford a full staff much less to buy any real estate, so if someone wanted to sell right now, an outsider would be able to buy property inside the park. Barrow Corp. has been lobbying very hard to entice all three businesses to sell now, when they are free to make an offer.”
“Was Mr. Wallace interested in selling?” Jessica asked.
“No, but his brother Jeff was. Grant gave him 25% of the business last year when Jeff agreed to manage it for him. Anyway, Grant was considering selling initially, but when he stopped by the ranger station yesterday, he was all bent out of shape. He said that he had just come from a meeting with his brother and the reps from Barrow Corp. He called them ‘a bunch of crooks’ and said that even if they had offered him what the property was worth, he would never sell because he didn’t agree with their plans. He said that if he or any of the other private owners sold, the park would begin to lose all of its character.”
“I can understand that,” Jessica said. “What will happen to Mr. Wallace’s hotel now that he’s gone?”
“I imagine that he probably left his share of it to his wife. She’s a local artist; has a couple of galleries in the area. She could hold onto it but with her own businesses and now being left to raise their son by herself, she won’t have much time to deal with it. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if she sells it.”
“Where are Mrs. Wallace’s galleries?” Jessica inquired as she balanced herself on the front edge of the seat.
“East Glacier and Whitefish,” Sheridan answered as he parked the Explorer next to George’s rental. Before departing he informed them that the USPP detective was sure to want to interview them sometime the following day. George provided the ranger with their hotel information and itinerary for the upcoming day and scheduled a tentative meeting for five o’clock in the afternoon at Park Headquarters.
“Eddie’s for supper then?” George suggested after Sheridan was gone.
“How did you know?” Jessica laughed. “Am I becoming that predictable?”
George shook his head before answering, “Nay, I would never call you predictable. I think ‘persistently curious’ would be more appropriate.”
Like nearly all buildings in Apgar Village and West Glacier, Eddie’s was fairly small and very rustic. The store offered four or five small aisles of groceries and the adjoining café contained approximately a dozen tables, which were bordered by another dozen booths, six on each of two sides. Much like the furniture in Jessica and George’s cabin, the tables and booths were made from sturdy, knotty pine.
The restaurant was buzzing with activity and only one table, a booth, was vacant when they arrived. Before the waitress left their table, Jessica inquired as to whether or not the owner was on the premises.
“Always,” the young woman answered, “but he’s in a meeting at the moment,” she added before glancing across the restaurant to a table where a graying man of about fifty-five was seated across a table from two men, both wearing very expensive looking suits. Chuck Edwards, the owner of Eddie’s, was dressed less formally. Wearing a dark green cap and white apron, he looked like he had come directly from the kitchen.
As they waited for their dinners to arrive, Jessica and George quietly discussed their impressions of Ranger Sheridan’s investigative prowess, the death of Grant Wallace and the role, if any, that the possible sale of the Wilderness Lodge might have played in it.
“Why didn’t you tell Sheridan that you work for The Yard?” Jessica finally asked, still curious about why George had failed to disclose that fact.
“Three reasons,” he answered, holding up the same number of fingers for emphasis. “First of all, it’s not important to his investigation. Secondly, we agreed that this was a vacation – no work allowed, remember?”
“Yes, I remember. What’s your third reason?” Jessica asked curiously.
“He never asked and after his comment about the Park Police, I thought that it might be better to not say anything, at least for now,” George answered just as the waitress arrived. She was balancing a large tray with more food than they could possibly eat, no matter how hungry they were. Each steaming platter was heaped with a mountain of delicious looking food. George had ordered a buffalo burger with everything, French fries and a side salad, while Jessica had chosen the fresh rainbow trout with coleslaw and home fries.
“Do you think that’s really buffalo meat?” she asked as she dipped a fry in ketchup.
“Aye, I believe it is,” George answered after swallowing the first bite of his burger. “And it’s incredibly tasty,” he added before taking a second mouthful. In no time he managed to polish off every bit of food on his plate. “That was the best burger I think I’ve ever eaten,” he declared as he set his napkin on the table before stretching, obviously pleased with his choice.
“I didn’t think that there was any way that you could possibly eat all of that,” Jessica commented before taking a final bite of coleslaw and pushing her plate to the side.
“I haven’t eaten since six o’clock this morning,” he reminded her, “and I did ride at least fifteen miles up and down that bloody mountain today,” he rationalized.
“You mean to tell me that you thought to bring me something to eat when you came back, but you didn’t eat anything yourself?”
“As I recall, you didn’t offer to share,” George said before taking a drink of milk.
“You don’t like chocolate,” Jessica pointed out as she too set her napkin on the table.
“I believe it was filled with peanuts, caramel and some other gooey concoction,” he reminded her while remaining as straight faced as he could.
After a moment’s contemplation, Jessica finally responded. “You’re teasing me, aren’t you?” she asked as she reached under the table and tried to squeeze his knee.
“Me? Never,” he answered, feigning innocence. “In all honesty, Jessica, with all of the excitement I forgot about being hungry until Sheridan drove us back down the mountain. Besides, you needed the calories in that candy bar far more than I did,” he said as he slid out of the booth.
“You’re starting to sound like Seth,” Jessica commented almost begrudgingly.
“What has Seth troubled now?” George asked as he helped her with her coat.
“My weight,” Jessica answered. “As usual, he claims that I’ve been working too hard and he seems to think that I’ll waste away if I miss a meal or two.”
“He is your doctor,” George pointed out diplomatically, “and he’s obviously concerned about your welfare,” he added as he held the restaurant door for her. Once they were inside the Cherokee, George turned to face her, kissed her on the cheek and then offered his opinion. “Jessica, love, I think that you look amazing.”
“Thank you, George, I’ll be sure to tell Seth that the next time he brings it up,” she said, relieved that she wasn’t going to have to repeat the same conversation that she had just had with Seth a few days earlier.
“Not so fast,” George responded before laying his hand gently on her cheek and finishing his thought as gently as possible. “You do look incredible, but if you lose another pound I’m afraid I’ll be forced to side with Seth on this.” Before turning away and starting the engine, he kissed her softly once more, on the lips.
“It wouldn’t hurt you to gain a few pounds yourself,” Jessica commented as George pulled away from the curb.
“I’ve tried. It doesn’t seem to stick,” he explained as he checked the intersection for oncoming traffic, “but we were talking about you, not me?” he reminded her.
“Yes, we were. How about if we go back to the cabin, get cleaned up and then maybe we can share some dessert,” she suggested.
“Dessert?” George repeated, grinning slightly and raising one eyebrow at her.
“Ice cream…a great big bowl of ice cream…from the pizzeria,” she clarified, much to George’s disappointment.
After they had each showered, they made their way back up to Jammin’ Joe’s Grill and Pizzeria, which was located inside Lake McDonald Lodge, not far from Russell’s Fireside Dining Room where they had dined the previous evening. Once there they were seated at a small table for two, which was covered with a red and white checked tablecloth. George enjoyed a bowl of maple walnut while Jessica indulged in a bowl of Rocky Road as Jammin’ Joe’s offerings did not include her favorite, mocha chocolate.
As they started their walk back to the cabin the clouds above burst suddenly, releasing large drops of rain, and by the time they were safely inside their cabin, a torrential downpour pounded on the roof. After closing the door, George pulled a completely drenched Jessica into his arms. As he tipped his head down to look into her eyes droplets of water fell from his hair and onto her forehead. “Guid laird, Jessie, yoo’re e’en bonnie when yoo’re soakin’ dreich,” George observed before kissing her fully on the lips. “We’d better get you out of those wet clothes,” he suggested before unzipping her jacket, sliding it off her arms and kissing her again, this time along her neck.
“We’d better,” Jessica agreed faintly. “I wouldn’t want for either one of us to catch a chill,” she added before kissing him back and starting to remove the sweater that he had worn in place of a jacket.
Before sunrise the following morning, Jessica was met in the lobby of the lodge by her fishing guide for the day, Lee Hagen. Armed with their gear and two cups of steaming coffee, they were off for the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.
George was awake as well and after helping Jessica load her gear into the young man’s pickup, made his way to the Sperry Trail head, which was located across the road from the lodge. As soon as the sun began to rise he started the long trek from Lake McDonald to Sperry Chalet. Beginning at the cedar and hemlock lined southern edge of the lake, the footpath worked its way upward along the base of Mount Brown through a series of zig zagging switchbacks. After crossing aptly named Midget Creek it sloped upward again for another mile before changing its bearing and leading him downhill toward Crystal Ford, located on Snyder Creek.
After crossing the footbridge George continued toward the west ridge of Mount Edwards. As he continued to climb, the hemlock and cedars were gradually replaced by larch, firs and pines. White and purple wildflowers growing along the edge of the trail were beginning to bloom and according to George’s trail map, wild huckleberries could also be found in the area if the season was right.
He continued to work his way up the Sprague Creek valley, stopping occasionally to admire the view and to take photographs, until he reached a lengthy switchback which ran across the southern rock mass of Mount Edwards and afforded a spectacular view of Beaver Medicine Falls. A succession of shorter switchbacks took him further up the mountain and into a small valley surrounded by alpine forest and located directly above the falls.
As the forest thinned around him, he was able to make out two chalets perched high on a cliff above. The trail continued along Mount Edwards and eventually crossed Gunsight Mountain at the top of the valley. When he reached another footbridge that crossed Sperry Creek he was treated to a spectacular show of forceful head butting by two adversarial mountain goats.
After checking his watch he decided that he had made good time and could afford to explore the chalet, which was nestled in a glacial cirque, at a leisurely pace while taking plenty of photographs. The two-story hotel, a historic landmark, had originally been built during the Great Northern era. The hotel was crowned with a large gable roof and the structure’s random rubble masonry provided a rugged architectural feel.
The kitchen and dining room building, the only other structure on the site, had been built with smaller stones and was topped with a smaller roof, but had a similarly rugged look to it. After resting and snacking on beef jerky, an energy bar, and water, George began his descent. The hike up the mountain had taken four and a half hours and if he was going to make it back to the lodge in time to meet Jessica and still make it to their five o’clock meeting at the ranger’s station, he couldn’t afford to spend anymore time at the chalet.
While George hiked up Sperry Trail, Jessica found herself trying to adjust to fly fishing from a McKenzie River boat on the very fast, very powerful Flathead River. After struggling for the first hour, Lee recommended that she try to let her dry fly draw under the water at the end of her drift. While this was not a particularly attractive technique, and would be offensive to the purist fly fisherman, it worked and Jessica was rewarded with a large westslope cutthroat trout, which had snatched up her fly almost immediately.
Because piloting a boat on the Flathead River was a demanding and serious task given the river’s blind bends, rock-choked chutes and numerous downed trees, Jessica and her guide spent very little time discussing anything other than fishing and navigating the river.
Lee was a pleasant twenty-two year old man who had recently graduated from Montana State University in Bozeman with a degree in fish and wildlife biology. He had spent the past several summers working as a fishing guide in and around the park and planned to return to graduate school in the fall.
On the drive back to Jessica’s hotel, Lee drove past the Wilderness Lodge and suddenly became very quiet.
“Did you know Grant Wallace?” Jessica finally asked.
“Yes. He was a good guy and probably the best fishing guide in this part of the country. Whenever he’s booked, he refers clients to me. That’s how your friend, Mr. Sutherland, hired me to be your guide today.”
“I didn’t know that,” Jessica admitted. “I can understand why, though. You’re an excellent guide,” Jessica told him in all sincerity. “Were you and Mr. Wallace friends or just business associates?”
After a moment’s contemplation, Lee answered, “Both, I guess, but probably more than anything else, we both loved to talk fishing.” Lee slowed the vehicle to a stop, allowing three deer to cross the highway. Before continuing on, he sighed and looked at Jessica. “You and Mr. Sutherland were the ones who found him, weren’t you?”
Jessica nodded. “Yes, unfortunately, we were,” she answered gently, having noted that the young man was obviously grieving the loss of his friend.
“I guess I figured that,” Lee replied before pausing. He slowed the vehicle, waited for the opposing traffic to pass, and then turned into the parking lot of the lodge. “My friend Rhett told me a little bit about it and since there aren’t too many guys with Scottish accents around these parts, I figured that it must have been the two of you who found him.”
Rhett parked his pickup as close to the lodge’s entrance as he could and helped Jessica unload her gear. Lee insisted on carrying Jessica’s things back to the cabin for her. When she attempted to pay him for the day, he informed her that George had already taken care of it.
Jessica treated herself to a bottle of iced tea from the small cooler, which they had moved from the SUV to their room. Afterwards she showered and took a short nap while waiting for George to return from his hike. Dog-tired, George immediately dragged himself into the shower and they departed for their meeting as soon as he had finished and dressed.
When they arrived at Park Headquarters they were met by young Ranger Carson. He offered them each a cup of coffee and a place to sit while they waited for the detective to see them. As soon as they had seated themselves they heard a loud, booming voice coming from the doorway of one of the offices just off the main lobby. “Chief Inspector Sutherland, what are you doing in my neck of the woods?”
“Well, I’ll be,” said a surprised George before setting his coffee down on a small table located next to his chair. “Detective Crenshaw, a pleasure to see you again,” he said as he stood and walked toward the detective, his hand extended in greeting. “I thought that they were sending someone from San Francisco.”
“They did. I transferred there almost a year ago,” Crenshaw explained. “And you must be J.B. Fletcher,” he said as he approached Jessica.
“Yes, I am,” she answered as she stood and shook hands with him, still somewhat taken aback by the fact that the two men seemed to be fairly well acquainted.
Crenshaw motioned them into an office and closed the door before offering them each a seat. “So,” he began, sitting casually on the corner of the desk, “could someone please explain to me how a senior inspector from Scotland Yard and a world famous murder mystery writer happened to stumble upon a murder victim in Glacier National Park of all places?”
“Simply an unfortunate coincidence, I’m afraid,” George answered before Crenshaw asked him to once again walk through the events of the previous day. George did so, including everything that Sheridan had told them about Barrow Corp. and their attempt to persuade Wallace to sell the Wilderness Lodge.
“So, what do you think?” the detective finally asked, looking directly at George who merely glanced in Jessica’s direction. “Go ahead, Jess, tell him what you think.”
“I really don’t have a theory as of yet, just some questions,” Jessica answered.
“Go ahead,” the detective said when Jessica hesitated. “The inspector’s already told me what a great mind you have, especially when it comes to solving a murder,” he added, causing Jessica to glance sidelong at George.
“It seems to me that Ranger Sheridan might be narrowing his search a bit too quickly,” Jessica started. “The first questions that come to mind for me are ‘who else might benefit from Mr. Wallace’s death’ and ‘if Barrow Corp. was involved, how could they be sure that whoever inherits the hotel from Mr. Wallace would sell it to them.’”
“Fair questions,” Crenshaw observed, nodding his head slightly. “Please, go on.”
After pausing for a moment Jessica continued her line of thinking. “If the representatives from Barrow Corp. followed Mr. Wallace up the mountain yesterday afternoon, they would have needed a four-wheel drive vehicle to do it because if they had gone on foot, they would have had to wait for morning to find their way back down and George and I would have crossed paths with them on our way up.”
“That’s something to consider,” Crenshaw admitted. “Anything else?” he asked.
Jessica inched forward on her seat. “As a matter of fact, I am curious about several other things. I would like to know who had knowledge of the fact that Mr. Wallace was going hiking, and what happened to his gear? He must have had a tent or a sleeping bag…at a minimum you would think that he would have taken a backpack, especially if he was planning to camp overnight.”
Crenshaw rubbed his chin thoughtfully before answering. “As far as who might benefit from Grant Wallace’s death, the obvious answer is his wife. If she agrees to sell hotel, Barrow Corp. will benefit as will Wallace’s brother, who is a part owner of the hotel. His wife has an iron-clad alibi. She was in East Glacier.”
“And the Barrow Corp. reps are each other’s alibis?” Jessica asked presumptuously.
“That’s correct,” he answered. “I’ll have to check on their rental,” he said, jotting himself a note on a small yellow pad. “As far as who knew that he was going hiking - his wife and brother both knew and several of the hotel employees. I still have several people to interview, but I suspect that that list will only grow and may include some of the hotel guests. It doesn’t seem to have been a secret.”
“Sheridan mentioned that the victim’s brother wanted him to sell the hotel,” George reminded them. “Do you know if that is fact or purely rumor?”
“Fact,” Crenshaw said simply. “I interviewed him just after lunch and he admitted that he and the vic had argued about it that afternoon.”
“Does he have an alibi?” Jessica asked.
“I’m still trying to verify his whereabouts. He spent the morning in Kalispell taking care of some bank business for the hotel, met with the vic and the Barrow Corp. reps that afternoon, and then worked the front desk at the hotel from four until six that evening so that the clerk could drive to Whitefish for a dental appointment. That much I can verify. After that, he says that he picked up a pizza from Jammin’ Joe’s, went home, and fell asleep after watching a boxing match.”
“Ah, home alone?” George commented, “Often times very difficult to prove either way.”
“Exactly,” Crenshaw agreed before standing and beginning to pace back and forth behind the desk. “He lives in the manager’s apartment at the hotel, but says that he used the private entrance when he came back from the pizza place. The night manager says that wasn’t unusual, but still, none of the other employees or guests remembers actually seeing him return. The only proof that he came back was a Pay Per View order for the boxing match, which he placed at 6:38 p.m. Unfortunately, that doesn’t prove that he didn’t leave again after placing the order or that he didn’t place the order from another location,” he explained as he continued to pace.
“What about his vehicle?” Jessica asked. “Were there any guests who might have checked in or returned to the hotel after that time, someone who would remember seeing or not seeing it parked outside of the hotel?”
“That’s what I thought,” Crenshaw replied, “but the private entrance is located in the rear or the building as is the manager’s parking space and neither can be seen from the other parking areas.”
“You just reminded me of something, Detective Crenshaw. There were also what looked to be fairly fresh tire tracks that extended beyond the fire trail itself and into the grass, not far from the entrance to the cabin. Have they been identified?”
Crenshaw stopped suddenly and looked directly at Jessica. “Fresh tracks, are you sure about that?” he asked, now glancing at George for confirmation.
“Aye,” George answered, “they extended into the grass a good four or five feet in front of where Sheridan parked last evening.”
“I’ll have to check on that, too,” Crenshaw said, picking up his note pad and making another entry. “Hopefully they haven’t been destroyed. By the time I arrived this morning, there were already two park vehicles and the county coroner’s SUV parked up there.
“Is there anything else that struck you as unusual?” Crenshaw asked, hoping for another lead.
“Not that I can think of at the moment,” Jessica answered thoughtfully.
“Inspector?” Crenshaw asked
George thought for a minute before answering, “No, nothing that comes to mind.”
The conversation moved from professional to personal and they chatted briefly about their plans for the remainder of the week. George provided Crenshaw with their itinerary and the detective thanked them for their assistance and promised to keep them posted on his progress. When they were ready to leave, he escorted them into the lobby area, where Rhett Carson waited patiently, even though he was no longer on duty.
“Mrs. Fletcher,” he said, “I hate to intrude on your vacation, but my mother loves your books and I sort of missed Mother’s Day,” he began to explain, as his cheeks and ears became flushed with embarrassment. “And well, I was sort of wondering if you would mind autographing one of your books for her?”
“I’d love to,” Jessica said graciously, leaving George and Detective Crenshaw alone.
“Thank you so much,” Rhett said, relieved. “I have one right here.” He stepped behind the main desk and retrieved a hardcover edition of Jessica’s most recent novel from his backpack. He placed the book, The Venomous Valentine, on top of the desk along with a pen.
After signing the book she turned and noticed that George and the detective were now speaking in hushed voices. Once George noticed that she had finished, he wished Crenshaw luck and met Jessica at the door.
“A conference in Toronto several years ago,” he said after they were outside and the door had closed behind them.
“That’s how you know Detective Crenshaw?” Jessica asked.
“Aye,” George answered. “And how exactly did your name come up in our conversation?” he added, anticipating her next question.
“I must admit that I was curious about that,” she admitted as she buckled her seatbelt.
“We were debating the pros and cons of using civilians, such as psychics, to assist in murder investigations and a colleague from Glasgow asked about your role in solving Marla Tralaine’s murder aboard the QEII.”
Jessica shook her head in understanding and at length asked, “Was that an awkward discussion for you?”
“Of course not,” George answered as he turned north toward the lodge. “Why would it be? I have absolutely no problem with the fact that you are a woman of extreme intelligence, who possesses perhaps the most outstanding deductive reasoning skills of anyone that I know.”
“And Detective Crenshaw, what was his opinion about involving a civilian in police business?”
“Now that I think back on it, I don’t recall Carl rendering his opinion on the matter,” George answered thoughtfully.
“I’m not sure. That isn’t what we were discussing when you were signing Rhett’s book.”
“What were you discussing?”
“Nothing important,” he answered nonchalantly as he pulled the Cherokee into the parking lot. After climbing out of the vehicle, he walked around to open Jessica’s door and offered her his arm as they walked toward the lobby entrance.
Nothing important, Jessica thought to herself, we’ll see about that. “Did Detective Crenshaw ask for your assistance in his investigation?” she inquired as they neared the entrance to the dining room.
“No,” George answered politely, just before the hostess greeted them. The woman, whose name tag identified her as DeAnn from Minot, ND, greeted them warmly before showing them to a table.
“It had to be something,” she persisted after the hostess had left them. “You were fiddling with your collar when I turned around.”
“I was fiddling with my collar?” George repeated, looking at her very curiously.
“Yes,” she answered. “You do that when you’re nervous...or embarrassed.”
“I do?” he responded, somewhat skeptical of Jessica’s observation.
“Yes, you do,” she confirmed, “just before you loosen your tie.”
George considered Jessica’s observation for a minute. “In that case, love, I’ll have to remember never to play poker with you,” he joked good-naturedly before reaching for his glass of water.
Before she could interrogate him any further the waitress arrived with their drinks and menus. After explaining the specials for the evening, she left them alone to make their decisions and returned as soon as they had both closed their menus. Jessica chose the trout amandine while George, after considerable contemplation, settled on the venison steak with sausage filling.
“So, Jessica, my dear, you haven’t told me about your fly fishing expedition today,” George queried once the waitress had left with their orders.
“It was amazing!” she exclaimed. “I still don’t know if we were fishing or whitewater rafting,” she laughed, and shook her head.
“You enjoyed yourself then?”
“Very much so, it was an incredible experience,” she said before pausing. “I must admit though, it was very frustrating at first, but once Lee suggested that I alter my technique slightly, I caught my first cutthroat almost immediately.”
Even after their dinners arrived, Jessica continued to tell George all about her unforgettable day. “I’ve been talking a mile a minute and you haven’t told me anything about your hike up to the chalet,” Jessica realized as she set down her fork.
“I’ll show you when we get back to the cabin,” George assured her, “but for now, I’d like to hear more about your day.” George continued to listen attentively and couldn’t help thinking about how nice it would be to share the news of their respective days over dinner on a regular basis.
“We saw a mountain lion on the shoreline and a bear…a huge grizzly bear,” she repeated as she mimicked a large, menacing bear. “It swam across the river, right in front of our boat. I couldn’t believe it. I wish that I had taken my camera, but I didn’t even think of it,” she commented as they walked along the edge of the lake toward the cabin.
“Look at that,” George said with a laugh as he stopped and glanced upward. “It’s snowing!”
“It is,” Jessica said as she peered up at the snow flakes that had begun to fall. “It’s lovely,” she added wistfully.
A short time later, after she had finished getting ready for bed, Jessica entered the bedroom area of the cabin and noticed George, who was sitting on one of the beds, working on his laptop. “I thought that we agreed to a ‘no work allowed’ policy on this vacation,” Jessica reminded him in mock reproach.
“We did and I’m not,” he answered as he studied the screen thoughtfully and keyed something in before saving the file.
“What are you doing then?” Jessica asked as she sat down next to him on the very narrow bed.
“I’m just cataloging some photos that I downloaded from my camera and saving them to my flash drive,” he answered as he opened another file and double clicked the slide show feature.
As the first picture appeared on the screen, it caused Jessica to laugh out loud and place her hand in front of the screen. “When did you take that?”
“This morning when we were loading your gear. I figured that it might be my only chance to snap a photo of you wearing your fly fishing hat,” he added. “It’s very fashionable, you know.”
“Oh…now that is beautiful,” she commented after they had viewed several more slides.
George paused the program and slid the computer over to Jessica’s lap while he adjusted his position slightly. After placing one arm around her shoulders, he leaned down and kissed her on the forehead before quietly whispering next to her ear, “It gets better,” and then tapping a key to resume the program. As each photo was displayed, George offered a variety of narration ranging from a simple, “Beaver Medicine Falls,” to a comical story about the two sparring mountain goats.
“Do you see that?” he asked as he paused the computer once again and pointed to two rustic buildings perched on a cliff on the west side of Gunsight Mountain. “That is Sperry Chalet,” he said.
“And you wanted to spend a night up there?” Jessica asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
“Aye,” George replied. “You’ll see why before too long,” he added before resuming the show and letting his cheek rest against her head.
“Wow,” Jessica said as a stunning vista filled the screen. The panorama featured three large mountain peaks, separated by U-shaped valleys, which George explained had been carved out by glacial ice. “What’s that?” she asked as she pointed to a lake far off in the distance of one of the photos.
“Lake McDonald,” George replied.
“Way down there?” she exclaimed.
“Aye, way down there,” he chuckled.
“You must have hiked a good five miles and another half mile in elevation,” Jessica guessed.
“Six point seven miles with a 3300 foot change in elevation, I believe,” George said, quoting the guide book that he had just referenced while labeling his photographs.
“Nearly seven miles, poor baby, no wonder you looked so tired when you got back,” she said teasingly as she turned her head toward him slightly and tunneled her fingers gently through his hair.
“I believe it was closer to thirteen miles as I had to hike back down,” he pointed out as he closed his eyes, “which is why I’m not going to make you pay for the ‘poor baby’ comment until tomorrow.”
“I’ll count myself lucky then,” she decided as she once again ran her fingers through his hair, which she noted was showing a bit more grey than the last time that they had spent time together. “What were you and Detective Crenshaw discussing just before we left the ranger station?” she finally asked in a soft, soothing voice.
“You’re trying to take advantage of my weakened state, aren’t you?” George observed, his eyes still closed, as a slight smile crossed his lips.
“I thought it was worth a shot,” she admitted. “Is it working?”
“Aye, I believe it is,” he answered contentedly before sighing deeply and beginning to explain. “The good detective wanted to know if you and I were on our honeymoon.”
“What!” Jessica exclaimed as she pulled away and turned all the way around to face him, nearly knocking the computer to the floor in the process.
Suppressing a sudden urge to laugh, George rescued the computer and set it aside before continuing. “Apparently, Ranger Sheridan had come to the conclusion that because we are traveling together and sharing a hotel room, but have different last names, different home addresses and you wear a wedding band that you and I must be having an extra-marital affair.”
“You’re joking,” Jessica replied in disbelief.
“No, I’m afraid I’m not,” George answered. “Fortunately, Detective Crenshaw had a less licentious theory.”
“What was Crenshaw’s theory?” Jessica asked although she wasn’t completely sure that she wanted to know the answer.
“Crenshaw assumed that we had recently been married and were most likely on our honeymoon, so you hadn’t yet had time to update your identification yet.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Don’t worry, love,” George said with a slight laugh as he pulled her close again, “I was very discreet. I simply explained that you and I met many years ago, after having both been widowed; that we have numerous common interests and enjoy spending time in each other’s company.”
“That’s it?” she asked in surprise.
“A gentleman wouldn’t say anything more than that and the intimate details of our relationship are no one’s business but our own and they are certainly not vital to his investigation,” he explained before kissing her on the temple.
“Truthful yet ambiguous,” Jessica observed, nodding her head in approval.
“I’ve had plenty of practice over the past seven or eight months.”
“Does that mean that neither you nor Tessa has told your family?”
“My sister and I have a tacit agreement to not discuss each other’s personal relationships with the rest of the family.”
“Do you mind if I ask why you haven’t told your family?” she asked, finding it curious.
“Because the moment I do, they are likely to start planning our wedding and I would prefer that they not do that until I’ve actually convinced you to marry me,” he answered with unwavering confidence.
“You’re going to convince me to marry you?” Jessica asked, clearly amused by his candidness.
“Aye, that’s my current plan,” he answered as he peered down into her dazzling blue eyes.
“And if I say no?”
“I’m a patient man, Jessie,” he reminded her as he closed his eyes again.
“You’re a stubborn Scotsman,” she said, correcting him.
“I’m that, too,” he laughed.
They began the next day with an early morning walk to McDonald Falls before returning to the lodge for breakfast. After loading their things into the Cherokee and mounting the bicycles on their rack, they made their way north along Going-to-the-Sun Road. Along the way they stopped at Avalanche Creek and enjoyed a leisurely walk through the Trail of Cedars. Their next stop before reaching Logan Pass was the Garden Wall, a knife-edged ridge, which was part of the Continental Divide and which, according to George’s extensive reading, had been formed by two glaciers grinding down opposite sides of the ridge. They also made a brief stop to view Bird Woman Falls and the spectacular valley that surrounded it.
After reaching Logan Pass at the top of the Continental Divide, George parked and they walked down Hidden Lake Nature Trail until they arrived at the lake, which was surrounded by white, yellow and purple wildflowers and which was framed by dramatic mountain peaks. The lake was a haven for grazing mountain goats, golden eagles and marmots and as Jessica might have predicted, George was unable to resist taking numerous photos.
They continued along their route through the park, stopping to view Jackson Glacier. Their next stop was Sun Point, which offered picnic tables and a stunning view of St. Mary Lake. To Jessica’s complete surprise, George had somehow managed to plan a romantic picnic for two, complete with a blanket and wicker basket. They enjoyed a lunch of cheese and crackers, fresh fruit and vegetables, and cold fried chicken.
The Wild Goose Island overlook and Triple Divide Peak were their final stops before reaching the St. Mary Visitor Center, on the eastern border of the park. From St. Mary, they drove south toward East Glacier Park, where they would spend the night.
Glacier Park Lodge and Resort was located on the eastern gateway of the park. Like the other lodges built by the Great Northern Railway, it was styled after a Swiss chalet. The massive central atrium of the hotel, which was framed by forty foot tall columns of Douglas Fir, featured a massive stone fireplace and its large windows allowed guest to enjoy the scenic surroundings.
Jessica and George’s suite, decorated in an alpine wilderness theme, was located on the fourth floor of the lodge and like the atrium below offered a lovely view. Before unpacking, Jessica paused for a moment to enjoy the view from the veranda.
“Splendid view,” George observed when he joined her at the railing.
“You certainly look happy,” Jessica noted brightly.
“Shouldn’t I be?” he answered as he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close.
“Oh, I know that look. There must be a double bed,” she guessed.
“Nope,” he answered before bending down and speaking softly next to her ear. “It’s a king size bed.”
Jessica laughed. “Is that really what you were doing?”
“Not exactly, but I happen to be very observant,” he answered, bringing his head up again and catching her gaze. “I was making reservations at the restaurant. After which, I thought that we’d enjoy a little after dinner entertainment.”
“After dinner entertainment?” Jessica repeated suspiciously. “I can’t say that I’ve ever heard it worded quite that way,” she laughed.
“Jessica, I’m shocked,” George replied after releasing her slightly. “It just so happens that it’s Broadway night at the cabaret and we have reservations for the nine o’clock show,” he explained with complete sincerity.
“Really?” she asked, surprised and slightly embarrassed for having jumped to conclusions.
“Aye,” he answered before grinning mischievously. “You know, if you had mentioned this earlier, we could have planned some time for an appetizer before leaving for dinner,” he offered suggestively before suggesting that they freshen up for dinner.
The menu at the Great Northern Steak and Rib House complemented the restaurant’s Western theme. After dinner, which included rosemary chicken with wild rice for Jessica and barbecued ribs and baked beans for George, they settled into a table in the Glacier Cabaret. While waiting for the show to begin, they chatted and enjoyed another drink.
“Will you be flying back to New York before you start your quiet summer in Cabot Cove?” George inquired.
“No,” Jessica answered, shaking her head, “absolutely not. I’m flying straight home from here. Why?” she asked, her curiosity piqued.
“Well, I was hoping that I might be able to persuade you into disturbing your peace and quiet in Maine to join me in Philadelphia for a long weekend?” he asked before taking another drink of his beer.
Jessica was pleasantly surprised. “You’re coming to Philadelphia this summer?” she asked.
“Aye, for a couple of days in early July.”
“Are you coming for work or for pleasure?” she asked, clearly excited at the idea of seeing him again so soon even if it was only for a weekend.
“Primarily for work,” he answered, “although, if you agree to meet me in Philly, I may have to amend my answer,” he added quietly as he brushed his hand over hers.
“I’d love to. Just tell me when,” she answered enthusiastically.
“I have a meeting on July 3rd and I have to fly back to London the evening of the 5th.”
“The Fourth of July in Philadelphia, that should be fun. I imagine there will be quite a celebration that weekend,” she speculated before taking a sip of her white wine, which, like George’s beer had been made locally.
After a moment’s contemplation, George asked, “Your Independence Day?”
Jessica nodded. “I don’t suppose that you Brits celebrate that particular holiday?”
“No, I can’t say that we do.”
“In that case, you’d better let me plan the sightseeing,” Jessica offered.
“Are you sure, Jess? Cabot Cove must have an Independence Day celebration of its own,” George surmised. “You shouldn’t miss it.”
“We do, but I’ll be there for ‘Founder’s Day’ this year so I’m sure that they can manage without me on the Fourth,” Jessica said, effectively putting an end to the discussion. “Now, you haven’t told me why you’re coming to Philadelphia.”
George motioned for the waitress before answering simply, “A meeting of the Vidocq Society.”
“Are you presenting a case?” Jessica wondered inquisitively.
He shook his head “no,” just as the waitress arrived. He ordered another beef for himself and at a second glass of wine for her.
“Then you must have been invited to become a member,” Jessica deduced once the waitress had left with their orders.
“Aye,” George confirmed with a slight nod.
“Very impressive, Inspector,” Jessica offered in earnest compliment, before giving his hand a squeeze.
“The organization serves an important purpose,” he explained, “and I’m quite certain that it will be very educational as well.”
“That’s quite an understatement. From what I understand, their membership is very exclusive and it’s an honor to be invited,” she said before leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. “Congratulations, Sir George,” she added, speaking quietly next to his ear just as the overhead lights were dimmed and the curtain began to open.
“Ah,” George said with a smug smile, “I must be making progress.”
“What?” Jessica asked, clueless to what he was talking about.
“You just called me ‘Sir George,’” he explained in a quiet voice, “so, I can only deduce that I’m making progress.”
Jessica, still clearly confused, was about to speak when George leaned close and whispered next to her ear, “You’ll just have to think about it until you figure it out. Now, shhhh,” he said, placing his index finger to her lips, “the show is starting.”
After a morning of canoeing on Two Medicine Lake they returned to East Glacier for lunch and then a walk through the village. They stopped briefly in a couple of shops before coming upon the Blue Skye Gallery. The establishment was an old but well maintained building with large store front windows, displaying the work of numerous local artists and craftsmen.
“Striking,” George commented as they browsed a large display of pottery inside the shop.
“Yes,” Jessica agreed. “The red would complement your kitchen nicely.”
“To be honest, love, that hadn’t even occurred to me,” he replied as he picked up a cobalt blue maymo cup to look more closely at the quality of the craftsmanship, which he deemed to be excellent. After setting the cup back down he turned his attention to the antler chandelier that hung from the ceiling in the center of the room. As he looked back down he noticed an interesting collection of prints that hung on the opposite wall of the gallery.
“Brilliant,” George commented after Jessica had joined him.
Jessica pondered the print in question, Painted Bear #1. “Is that a photograph or a painting?”
“I believe it’s both,” George answered as he examined the grizzly portrait carefully. “Bloody brilliant,” he mumbled to himself before moving on to another display.
They browsed the other items on display including iron work, stained glass, Native American folk art, impressionism paintings and furniture, including a fly tying desk that interested Jessica. Once they made their way back into the main room of the gallery, they were approached by a young man who identified himself as Reid.
“May I help you?” he asked very politely.
“Aye,” George answered without hesitation. “Mrs. Fletcher is very interested in the pottery display.”
“You have very good taste,” Reid said, addressing Jessica. “The Blue Skye Pottery is actually made by the gallery’s owner, Skye Wallace,” he answered. “If you would like, I can get her for you,” he offered, “she happens to be in today.”
“That would be wonderful,” Jessica said, causing the young man to scamper away. Once he disappeared from view, Jessica gave George a half-hearted elbow to the ribs.
“What?” he asked innocently. “You know you want to talk to her, even if it isn’t about her pottery, which really is quite impressive by the way,” he said before giving her hand a quick squeeze. “I think I’ll go outside and enjoy my pipe while you finish shopping,” he added with a sly grin before leaving her to wait for Grant Wallace’s widow.
Hearing two voices coming from the back of the shop, Jessica turned. She had expected to see Skye and her employee Reid but to her surprise she found that she was accompanied by Bill Sheridan, who had his arm wrapped protectively around her shoulder. Skye Wallace was a strikingly beautiful woman, who Jessica judged to be in her late thirties. She had long blonde hair, high cheekbones and tear-filled green eyes. The grieving widow used a blue tissue to wipe away a fresh stream of tears before taking a deep breath in an effort to collect herself while her friend offered quiet words of comfort. After saying goodbye, Sheridan headed for the front door and nearly ran into Jessica as he rounded a display of bronze statues.
“Ranger Sheridan, hello,” Jessica said. “I almost didn’t recognize you in civilian clothes.”
“Oh…uh…Mrs. Fletcher,” he answered. “I’m surprised to be running into you here,” he admitted. “Where is Inspector Sutherland?”
“He’s around here, somewhere,” Jessica answered vaguely.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” Sheridan said, excusing himself, “but I really do need to be getting back to the other side of the park.” As he reached the door, he looked back over his shoulder to see his friend, who had just joined Jessica in front of the pottery display. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Skye,” he assured her before leaving.
“Yes, tomorrow,” she answered quietly before turning her attention to Jessica. “Hello,” she said, extending her hand to Jessica, “I’m Skye. Reid said that you had some questions about the pottery.”
“Yes, I do, and my name is Jessica,” she replied as they shook hands. “As a matter of fact, I was wondering if you might be willing to take a custom order. I was hoping that you might be able to make a set of four tall tumblers and a large serving bowl in the caramel and red pattern for my nephew and his family.”
“I have been working on a “popcorn” bowl,” Skye answered. “I have a couple of samples in the back, if you’d like to take a look,” she offered.
Jessica followed her through a door, past a small office, and into a large space, which seemed to serve two purposes. One side was lined with shelves that held merchandise that would eventually find its way onto the displays inside gallery. The other side also had shelves but these were filled with what appeared to be pottery supplies and an assortment of mismatched and imperfect pieces. A pottery wheel stood in the center of one end of the space and a kiln filled the other end.
Skye led Jessica toward her work area and retrieved three bowls from the shelves. One was similar in size to a large mixing bowl and was inscribed with raised, one inch letters, which spelled out the word “POPCORN.” The two other bowls, smaller versions of the original, read “Tommy’s Popcorn” and “Grant’s Popcorn.”
As Jessica examined the bowls, Skye began to explain that she had made the set of bowls for her husband and her son, but before she could get all of the words out, she began to choke up and fresh tears trickled down her cheeks again. “I’m so sorry,” she apologized as she tried to wipe away the tears with her now disintegrating tissue.
“Oh, no, there’s no need to apologize,” Jessica said, trying to comfort her. After setting down the bowls she guided Skye to a chair and retrieved a small packet of tissues from her own purse. “I understand all too well what you are going through.”
After wiping away her tears and steadying her voice, Skye asked, “Did you know Grant?”
“No, I’m afraid I didn’t, but my friend and I were the ones who found him,” Jessica explained as gently as she could.
“You’re the mystery writer then?” Skye asked. “Billy told me…” she started before reaching for another tissue.
“Can I get you a glass of water or something?” Jessica asked.
“Actually,” Skye answered after taking another deep breath, “would you like to join me in the office for a cup of tea?”
“If you’ll allow me to make it,” Jessica agreed.
“I would really appreciate that,” Skye said before leading Jessica into a small, cramped office.
While Jessica heated two cups of water in the microwave Skye found a chair for her before rummaging through a cabinet for something to compliment the tea. “I’m afraid I don’t have any biscuits,” she apologized when she was unable to find anything that would do.
“This will be just fine,” Jessica assured her. After setting a box of tea bags on the desk she retrieved the cups of hot water from the microwave and sat down in the chair that Skye had provided.
They both sat quietly as their tea seeped. “My mum always served tea at times like this,” Skye commented at length.
“You must be British,” Jessica observed.
“Yes, I was born in London, but we moved to Canada when I was eight,” she explained. “How did you know that?”
“You still carry just a hint of an English accent,” Jessica answered before blowing softly on her tea.
“Most people don’t notice it,” Skye commented, holding her cup in both hands as though warming them.
They chatted for a bit and eventually the conversation turned to the death of Skye’s husband.
“Billy,” Skye said before pausing, “I mean Ranger Sheridan. He said that they have a few leads that they are investigating.”
“It sounds as though you know Ranger Sheridan well,” Jessica observed.
“Yes, very well. We’ve known each other since high school,” she explained. “He went by ‘Billy’ back then. We’ve seen each other through a lot over the years – break ups, hangovers, his divorce, the loss of my parents and now this,” she said with a sigh.
After a moment Jessica asked, “You said that they have a few leads? I was only aware that they were looking into the group that wants to buy your hotel.”
“They are also looking into the possibility that Grant might have stumbled upon a poacher,” Skye explained. “Billy thinks that he probably climbed through the broken window of the ranger station to seek shelter until one of the rangers came through on patrol. Unfortunately, they only patrol that road every second or third day.”
“Is there anyone else who might have wanted to harm your husband?” Jessica asked, deciding that it was safe to do some digging.
“Billy thinks that Grant’s brother, Jeff, could have been involved, but I don’t think so. Jeff may have had his troubles in the past but he would never murder his own brother.” Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Skye answered.
“I hate to interrupt, but I could really use some help,” Reid said apologetically as he poked his head into the room.
“I’ll be right out,” Skye assured him.
“Would you still like me to make those bowls for you?” she asked as she began to collect their cups, which had been empty for some time.
“Yes, but you certainly don’t need to concern yourself with it just now,” Jessica said.
“To be honest, Mrs. Fletcher, I need something to keep myself busy. Just let me find my order book.” She opened the top drawer of the desk and found the book immediately. After flipping to a fresh page, Skye wrote down the specifics of Jessica’s order - one popcorn bowl and four small bowls with the names Grady, Donna, Frank and Marie.
After leaving the shop, Jessica stood on the sidewalk and looked up and down the street for George. Foot traffic had certainly picked up and it took a minute before she found him. Butterflies began to flutter in her stomach when she noticed that he had just exited a jewelry store. Why does that make me so nervous? she asked herself as she walked toward him.
As soon as they met on the sidewalk, George noticed the worry in her eyes. “Jess, is everything okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Why do you ask?” she replied, trying to mask her concern.
“Your eyes,” George said. “They always turn gray when you’re worried,” he observed.
“They do?” she asked in surprise.
“Aye, and this time, I’m fairly certain I know why,” he explained. “Would it make you feel better if I told you that I wasn’t shopping but rather having the battery in my watch replaced?”
“I feel fine,” Jessica repeated unconvincingly.
“No, you don’t. You’re nervous because you thought that I might be shopping for an engagement ring,” he guessed.
Bullseye, Jessica thought.
George offered his arm and they began down the street. “You needn’t worry, love, I bought your engagement ring more than a year ago,” he announced. His words caused Jessica to stop immediately.
“No, you didn’t,” she said very confidently.
“Believe what you like,” George said with a hint of a smile before taking her hand. “Here, this is exactly what you need. You’re looking a little peaked,” he commented as he opened the door to a small building and ushered her inside.
The shop was long and narrow with a high tin ceiling. The front of the old-fashioned store was filled with a dozen small table and chair sets, each of which was made of wrought iron and highly polished wood. The three walls surrounding the back half of the shop were lined with very old, but well maintained wooden booths. A traditional soda fountain counter complete with stools and a large mirror coving the wall behind it took up a large portion of one of the longer walls and the opposite wall featured the largest offering of “penny candy” that either of them had ever seen.
“It’s like stepping back in time, isn’t it?” Jessica commented as they seated themselves at one of the tables.
“Aye,” George agreed. “I thought that you might like it.”
The waitress, carrying two glasses of water and menus, arrived almost immediately. She returned again a few minutes later to take their orders - an authentic banana split for George and a Turtle sundae for Jessica. Although neither finished their entire dessert, George insisted on making an additional purchase from the candy counter. They were, after all, on vacation. Along with the traditional “penny candy” that they both remembered from their youth, the two found a wide selection of nuts, chocolate and huckleberry treats.
After dinner in The Lounge, where Jessica told George about her visit with Skye, they returned to their suite for a quiet, relaxing evening. Jessica tried to read, but was unable to concentrate and got up and down several times with no specific purpose. After getting up for the third time George finally asked her to sit next to him on the bed, where he was reclined, trying to read a book about the Great Northern Railroad.
After she sat down next to him, George placed his hands on her head and pretended to look into her ear. “Aye, the wheels are turning alright,” he said as seriously as he could. “It won’t be long before steam starts coming out of your ears.”
“Stop that,” she said, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a laugh as she gently swatted his hands away.
“Well, spit it out then because if you don’t you’re going to wear a hole in the rug with all of that getting up and down.”
“All right then,” Jessica started, stalling for a moment. After getting her courage up, she asked, “Did you really buy me an engagement ring more than a year ago?”
“Aye, shortly after I arrived home from New Hampshire.”
“But why? We weren’t even…”she asked, letting her words trail off.
“…romantically involved?” George asked, to which Jessica nodded.
“I admit that it was impulsive but it was the first time that I was reasonably sure that you were in love with me, and when I saw it, I had to buy it for you,” he explained.
“I didn’t even know myself until last year in London,” Jessica revealed.
“You didn’t know, or you didn’t want to admit it to yourself?” George asked candidly before gently tucking a strand of Jessica’s hair behind her ear.
She considered his question for a minute but didn’t admit that he was probably right. Instead, she gave into her curious nature and asked, “Where is it?”
George couldn’t help laughing. “That’s my girl, inquisitive as ever,” he said before kissing her on the cheek. “Now, go read your book,” he added before shooing her off the bed.
Instead of returning to the couch to read however, Jessica decided that it was time for bed. After washing her face and brushing her teeth she climbed into bed and cuddled up next to George, who was still reading. He looked over the top of his reading glasses suspiciously. “I’m not telling you where it is and I’m most definitely not going to let you see it, especially after you laughed at me last year when I did ask you to marry me.”
“I did no such thing and you never asked me to marry you. If you had, I would have declined your offer very politely because as you know, I don’t want to get married, but I would never have laughed at you.”
“You don’t want to get married…yet,” he replied as though he welcomed the challenge. After setting his book aside and turning off the bedside lamp he turned toward her and playfully pinned her to the bed. “You really don’t remember, do you…Lady Jessica?” he asked, emphasizing her name.
Instantly, Jessica recalled the conversation in vivid detail. “You did!” she exclaimed with a gasp. “Oh, I feel horrible,” she offered in sincere apology.
“If you’re truly feeling horrible about it then this is the perfect opportunity for you to make it up to me.”
“We’re not getting married,” she repeated unwaveringly.
George simply shook his head. “I’m not asking. I was thinking about the ‘after dinner entertainment’ that you were so interested in last night,” he reminded her before nuzzling her neck.
The view from atop Red Rock Falls was magnificent. Jessica and George stood on a narrow projection of rock that reached out over the cascading water. “This is glorious!” Jessica exclaimed as she turned in a circle. “The perfect end to the perfect day.”
“Aye, it is perfect,” George agreed.
Jessica sat down and dangled her legs over the edge while George stood a fair distance back and peered out over the rugged ledge.
“It’s completely safe,” she assured him. “Sit down with me. The sun is beginning to set.”
George knelt down onto one knee before stopping.
“Aren’t you going to sit down?” she asked.
“In a minute, love. I believe I’m supposed to do this while on one knee,” he answered before reaching into his pocket to retrieve a small velvet box. He looked directly into her eyes and smiled before speaking. “Jessica, my dear,” he started to say as he took one of her hands in his, “as there are no words to fully express how much I love you, please bear with me if I stumble through this a bit.” He paused and took a deep breath.
Momentarily confused, Jessica remained silent just long enough for George to get his second wind.
“Jessie, you are by far the most intelligent, beautiful, intriguing woman that I know. Every telephone call, letter and email reminds me how lucky I am that you are in my life and every single moment that we spend together leaves me wishing for another.”
George paused again and turned his palm up the reveal the box but before he could utter another word Jessica felt a chill, and goose bumps instantly covered her arms. Whether her reaction was one of excitement or fear, she didn’t know. Her trembling was noticeable enough to wake George, who had been sleeping peacefully beside her. He pulled her close and noting her anxiety, comforted her. “Jess, are you alright? You’re shaking.”
It took a few moments before Jessica was fully awake and sure of her surroundings, but finally she answered. “Yes, I’m fine.”
“Bad dream?” he asked.
Still encircled in his arms, she turned toward him. “No…not a bad dream, just a dream.”
George stroked her hair and continued to speak in a soothing voice. “You’re still trembling a bit. Are you sure you don’t want to tell me about it?”
Jessica shook her head. “We’ll see, perhaps in the morning.”
Code for “fat chance,” George thought, but rather than press the issue he simply held her until she fell asleep again.
The following morning neither of them mentioned Jessica’s dream and after a brief stop at the East Glacier train depot to admire the gardens, they drove north again. Their route took them through St. Mary and further north yet before turning west. They drove past Lake Sherburne toward Swiftcurrent Lake and Many Glacier Hotel, where they would be spending the next two nights.
The historic hotel, which rested on the eastern shore of Swiftcurrent Lake, was five stories tall and fashioned from a series of chalets that stretched along the lakeshore. Like the other lodges in the park, Many Glacier Hotel was built with a Swiss alpine theme including large verandas and jigsaw patterns, seen in the window framings and balcony railings. The massive lobby offered cozy sitting areas for fireside chitchat, reading or writing a postcard or letter. Like their previous accommodations, the hotel rooms did not offer modern amenities but their lakeside suite did have a fireplace, balcony, sofa and two bedrooms, one of which George was very pleased to see contained another king size bed. At six foot four inches tall, he did not look forward to the thought of encountering another twin bed at any time in the near future.
After unpacking and having a light lunch they enjoyed a leisurely walk on the Swiftcurrent Nature Trail. The three mile long trail took them through a 400-year old spruce-fir forest and 60-year old lodge pole pine forest, which had been planted after a great fire in 1936. The trail offered lovely views of the mountain peaks and glaciers, but also provided fine examples of area plants and wildlife. After their walk, they took a short nap before showering and changing for dinner in the Ptarmigan Dining Room. Like the hotel, the restaurant had a Swiss Alps atmosphere and offered patrons a spectacular view of the lake with towering mountain peaks as its backdrop.
The next morning they had an early breakfast and decided exactly how to spend their day.
“What’s on our itinerary today?” Jessica asked as she spread a small amount of huckleberry preserves onto a piece of whole wheat toast.
“Well,” George said thoughtfully as he broke off a piece of his croissant, “we could check out the boat tour of Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes if you would prefer a leisurely outing or we could hike up to the edge of Grinnell Glacier if you’re in the mood for a little exercise.”
“How exactly do you define ‘a little exercise’?”
“Eleven miles round trip. The park newspaper says that the hike is led by a naturalist and it’s not nearly as steep a climb as the Sperry Chalet Trail. Are you game?” he asked, eyeing her closely.
“Oh, yes. I’m more than game,” she answered, “and I plan to beat you to the top.”
The trail head was located at a picnic area not far from the hotel. It followed the shoreline of Swiftcurrent Lake before emerging onto neighboring Lake Josephine, where it gradually increased in elevation and offered beautiful views of Mount Allen, Mount Gould and the lake itself.
As they continued toward Upper Grinnell Lake, the trail began a gradual, steady ascent. Several open areas provided incredible views of their surroundings including stunning views of Lower Grinnell Lake, Angel Wing, Grinnell Falls and the continental divide. From a distance they saw several mountain goats, bighorn sheep and a black bear.
They hiked another half-mile up the trail and over the rocky moraine after reaching a picnic area, which they were informed was commonly mistaken as the end of the trail. The final two tenths of a mile was the steepest part of the hike and although it was very physically challenging, it was worth the effort to be rewarded with a spectacular panorama including a retreating glacier and a milky white, high alpine lake. Also from their vantage point they could see two other glaciers, a long meandering one called the Salamander Glacier and a small, square one called Gem Glacier. After enjoying the scenery and having their picture taken while standing on the glacier, the hike’s leader, a naturalist by the name of Danette Paulson, led them back down the trail to Swiftcurrent Lake.
They returned to the hotel just in time to enjoy Après Fondue, which was served each afternoon in the Interlaken Lounge. Jessica’s love for chocolate was enough to outweigh her dislike for whiskey and with a little encouragement from George she was enticed to try the Whiskey Chocolate Fondue. Despite her initial reservations it proved to be almost addictive. Even with Jessica’s glowing review, George opted for the Three Cheese Fondue and was not disappointed.
Before returning to their suite they stopped in the gift shop to browse. While there, Jessica bought several post cards to send to friends and family and George admired a wonderful collection of Glacier National Park images taken by the famed photographer Jim Stamates. Later that evening they once again enjoyed dinner in the Ptarmigan Dining Room before retiring early.
The following morning they headed toward Waterton Lakes National Park, located on the Canadian side of the border. As they drove north on Chief Mountain International Highway, their view to the West was dominated by a solitary, awe inspiring peak, Chief Mountain. According to George’s guide book, the Blackfoot Indians still, to this day, tie a traditional offering of colored cloth to the trees at its base when seeking spiritual guidance.
A short distance after stopping at the US-Canada customs station, they took time stretch their legs and enjoy the view of Waterton Valley. Their next stop was at Waterton National Park’s main information center, after which they continued toward their hotel.
Jessica suddenly grasped George’s arm when she caught her first glimpse of the Prince of Wales Hotel. A dramatic curtain created by the Canadian Rockies surrounded the majestic structure, set high on a bluff overlooking Waterton Lake. “Stop!” she finally exclaimed.
“Jessica, what’s the matter?” he asked as he pulled over to the edge of the road.
“Look at that! Have you ever seen anything so breathtaking,” she said as she stared ahead at the hotel and its scenic backdrop.
“Every time I look at you,” he answered before turning her head toward him and kissing her tenderly on the lips. “Every single time.”
“You have quite the silver tongue, don’t you?” Jessica replied.
“Sterling,” he answered teasingly.
“Be serious,” Jessica told him. “Where’s my camera?” she asked as she reached into her open purse, which was sitting on the floor next to her feet.
“I’m very serious,” he replied without taking his eyes off of her. “Do you have any idea how absolutely adorable you are right this minute?”
“Hold that thought,” Jessica said as she opened her door and got out to take pictures.
I guess I have no choice, he thought to himself as he waited for her. “Jess, the lighting…” he started to say before deciding that she wasn’t likely to hear him.
After she finished George pulled the vehicle back onto the road and drove a bit further down the road before pulling over again to take his own pictures. “The lighting is much better here,” he explained.
“Did you know that this is one of the most photographed hotels in the world?” George asked after climbing back into the vehicle.
“I can certainly see why,” Jessica observed. “It’s like something out of the Sound of Music.”
They proceeded toward the hotel, where they started to unload their luggage. “Jess, can you take this,” George said as he held out his lap top briefcase. “Jess?” he repeated as he turned to find her watching a white SUV pull into a parking spot a few cars over.
“George, are those the representatives from Barrow Corp., the ones that we saw at Eddie’s Café?” she asked.
“Aye, I think they are,” he answered after the men climbed out of the vehicle and began unloading their own suitcases.
“Do you think that their vehicle could make it up the fire trail that leads to the old ranger station?”
“I imagine it could, depending on the driver,” he decided after a moment’s contemplation.
“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” Jessica agreed as she watched the two men carry their things into the hotel.
After checking in a uniformed bellman escorted them to their 3rd floor suite. The hotel, which had been named for Prince George VIII, was idyllic and offered a traditional British atmosphere, which made George feel very much at home.
Before leaving, the bellman informed them that the dining room was presently serving dinner and would close at 9:30. If they preferred, they also had the option of eating dinner in the Windsor Lounge, which offered traditional English pub fare and a full bar.
After unpacking and freshening up, they walked down to the lobby level of the picturesque hotel with the intention of dining in the Royal Stewart Dining Room. “On second thought, why don’t we eat in the lounge tonight?” Jessica suggested as she noticed the two men from the parking lot enter the lounge.
Having not noticed them, George was caught a bit off guard by her request. “Are you sure? The dining room is supposed to be very charming.”
“Yes, I’m positive,” Jessica said, as she took his arm and steered him toward the Windsor Lounge. Jessica chose a cozy booth, which offered a view of the lake with its mountain backdrop. After settling in they ordered drinks and perused their menus. George ordered sausage and fried potatoes and Jessica chose the seafood salad. George noticed almost immediately that Jessica was noticeably distracted and remained so throughout the entire meal.
“What do you think about biking tomorrow instead of hiking?” he asked.
“Sure,” she answered absently as she tried to listen to the conversation taking place in the booth directly behind her.
“Well, that leaves us several options then. From what I’ve read, the best trails for us are probably the Crandell Mountain Circuit and the Red Rock Canyon Trail.”
“Mmm, hmm,” Jessica answered.
“Why don’t you choose,” he suggested. “Crandell Mountain is a beginner-level trail, 22 kilometers long and Red Rock Canyon is a little more challenging, but only 16 kilometers long.”
“Mmm, hmm,” she replied again.
“Which would you prefer?” he asked patiently.
When she failed to answer, he asked once more, “Jessica, do you have a preference?”
“Um, no, whichever one you would prefer,” she finally replied before picking up her wine and taking a sip.
“In that case, I think I would prefer that we have an autumn wedding in Cabot Cove followed by a reception in Scotland sometime closer to Christmas,” George answered in hopes of getting her attention.
“That sounds great, George” she said as she adjusted slightly to relieve the strain on her neck.
As she was clearly not listening to him, George decided to sit patiently and enjoy his scotch. He had just begun to contemplate the possible repercussions of swapping his glass of scotch for her glass of wine when the two men seated behind her slid out of their booth and left the restaurant. Jessica quickly but casually turned her attention back to George, who asked, “So, Sherlock, what did you learn?”
“What do you mean?” Jessica asked innocently.
“You were eavesdropping. What did you learn?” George asked again, not willing to let her off the hook.
“Not much really,” she admitted, feeling slightly embarrassed at having been caught. “They’re meeting with the owners of the Crandell Mountain Lodge tomorrow afternoon and then they are returning to Apgar Village to sign a sales agreement with the owners of Eddie’s Café.”
“Are you finished investigating for the evening then?” George asked as he prepared to slide out of the booth.
“For the time being,” she answered before following his lead.
Once they were back inside their suite, George decided to enjoy his pipe on the deck and after donning a sweater, Jessica joined him. When she stepped onto the deck she found him sitting comfortably on a glider style loveseat and looking extremely relaxed. “You look comfortable. This hotel must remind you of home.”
“Aye, a tad,” he answered, as he tamped down his pipe and set it aside. “It does have a distinctively British air to it.”
“Do you miss London already?”
“No,” he said as he took her hand and kissed it softly before releasing it. “At the moment, I don’t care if I ever go back.”
Jessica laughed warmly before asking, “What’s gotten into you today? I never knew that you could be such an incredible flirt.”
“I’m not flirting,” George corrected her before asking, “Do you happen to know what tomorrow is?”
“Wednesday?” Jessica answered tentatively.
“The date, Jessica,” George replied. “What’s tomorrow’s date?”
“June 4th, I think.”
“Aye, it is, and do you know what June 4th is?”
After a moment’s thought, she answered, “The one day every year that you send me flowers regardless of where I am and you know…I’ve always wondered why that is?”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out eventually,” he replied as he glanced up at the stars above.
Jessica looked out over the lake before asking, “What’s on our agenda tomorrow?”
“I think we’ll try biking the Crandell Mountain Circuit,” George answered. “But if you don’t mind, I’d like to start early so we can be back in time for afternoon tea,” he added.
“Afternoon tea,” Jessica repeated thoughtfully. “June 4th, Brown’s Hotel in London, the day that we first met,” she said, finally putting the pieces together.
“You do remember,” George said, clearly pleased, as he took her hand again and pulled her gently down onto his lap. “And I’ve been head over heels in love with you ever since,” he said with a broad grin as he gazed deeply into her beautiful blue eyes.
“Then why did it take you so long to tell me that you were in love with me?” Jessica said as she quickly scooted off his lap. “It took nearly three years,” she teased.
“Me?” George exclaimed in utter disbelief.
“And why did it take you so long to convince me that I was in love with you?” she asked coyly.
“What?” he asked as he grabbed her again, this time picking her up and carrying her back inside the suite, where he gently dropped her onto the bed and plopped down beside her.
“Do you know what I’d really like to do right now?” Jessica asked as she turned her head to look at him.
“I certainly hope so,” he replied, “but I’d love to hear you tell me anyway,” he added, whispering softly next to her ear.
“I’d like to go back outside and gaze at the stars with you.”
“Are you sure? It’s a bit chilly tonight,” he warned her in the hope that she would change her mind.
“Then I’ll count on you to keep me warm,” she said with a smile before kissing him on the cheek and getting up from the bed.
“I guess we can do that, if you really want to,” he agreed reluctantly.
“Do you remember the first time that we gazed at the stars together?” Jessica asked once they were cuddled up together on the deck.
“Aye, like it was yesterday,” he answered as he searched the sky for an interesting constellation. “It took every ounce of restraint that I had not to kiss you that night,” he added as an afterthought.
“It was an incredibly romantic evening,” she recalled as she closed her eyes. “I don’t know if I could have resisted if you had.”
“Oh, Jessie, don’t tell me that,” George said with an audible groan, making her laugh.
“Ah, there we are,” he said, having found an appropriate grouping of stars. “Do you remember Draco, Jess?”
“I think so,” she answered. “The dragon. It’s right there,” she said pointing up into the sky.
“Very good,” he answered. “Look directly below Draco and you’ll see a quadrangle of stars. That is Hercules’ head and you can probably make out the club that he is holding above his head.”
“Yes, I see it.”
“Now, look to the right and you’ll see a crescent shaped group of stars. That is the Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, if you like,” he added before pausing. “Would you care to hear the story of Ariadne?”
“I was counting on it,” Jessica answered as she snuggled closer.
“All right then, let’s see how much of it I remember. Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, the king of Crete. Each year, fourteen young people…I think it was fourteen. Anyway, fourteen young people were delivered to Minos as a sacrificial tribute and they were fed to the Minotaur that he kept in his labyrinth. When Ariadne’s lover, a young Athenian named Theseus, was chosen to be sacrificed, she offered to help him escape from the Minotaur if he would promise to take her back to Athens as his bride. He agreed, of course, and Ariadne provided him with a sword and a spool of thread. As Theseus progressed through the labyrinth in search of the Minotaur, he unwound the thread so that he could find his way back. After slaying the monster, he returned to his beloved Ariadne and they sailed away from Crete.”
“A love story, why am I not surprised?” Jessica asked with a chuckle.
“Not like you think,” George answered. “Theseus deserted poor Ariadne after stopping briefly on the island of Naxos.”
“Why?” Jessica asked.
“One version of the story says that she fell asleep and was left behind by mistake and the other version says that she became ill-tempered on the return voyage to Athens and he left her behind intentionally. Regardless, as Ariadne sat forlornly on a group of rocks, Dionysus, the god of wine, came upon her and tried to comfort her. He was so overcome by her beauty that he proposed marriage. Not knowing that Dionysus was a god, Ariadne responded by telling him that she was disillusioned with mortal men and wished to be left alone.”
“I don’t think I blame her,” Jessica commented.
“Shush,” George said, pretending to be annoyed. “When Dionysus assured her that he was a god she demanded proof, so he threw the gold crown that he wore into the skies. It hung there and one by one seven bright stars danced around it until the entire ring sparkled. ‘That is your wedding gift,’ he said, pulling it down. He told her that she was to wear it as an everlasting token of her beauty and after a long and happy life together, Ariadne died and Dionysus honored her by placing her crown among the stars.”
After a moment’s silence, Jessica wondered, “Why did you pick the Corona Borealis and the story of Ariadne tonight?”
“Probably because it’s neither a well known constellation nor a well known myth. I supposed I could have told you the story of Hercules, but everyone knows that one,” George answered.
“So, you didn’t pick it because it was a love story?” Jessica asked.
“Of course, I did,” George replied. “So, if I kiss you right now are you going to be able to resist?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t we find out?” Jessica suggested as she turned look up at him.
As they neared the end of their fourteen mile trek along the Crandell Mountain Circuit the following afternoon, they came upon Mount Crandell Lodge, a small country style inn located on the beautiful shores of Crandell Lake. “I don’t think we’re going to make it back to the hotel in time for tea,” Jessica decided after checking her watch.
“That’s quite alright, love,” George answered very pleasantly. “This happens to be Plan B.”
“You have a Plan B?” Jessica asked, surprised.
“Almost always,” he assured her.
The pair enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the lodge’s outdoor Gazebo Café. After taking a stroll along Emerald Bay, Jessica excused herself to go inside the lodge to use the ladies powder room before departing for their hotel.
When she made her way back outside, she found George, who was ready to leave. “Would you mind terribly if we stayed here tonight?” she asked.
He regarded her curiously for a moment before answering, “If you’d like. I’ll go inside and see if they have a vacancy.”
“I already booked a room for tonight and tomorrow night,” she informed him. “Someone called and canceled while I was in the lobby,” she explained.
“Jessica, is there something wrong with the hotel?” George asked as they walked up the stairs to their suite at the Prince of Wales Hotel.
“No, not at all,” she answered. “It’s lovely,” she added as George unlocked the door.
“You didn’t happen to see anyone familiar when you went inside the other lodge today, did you?” he asked as they packed their bags.
“As a matter of fact, I did. The gentlemen from Barrow Corp. happen to be staying there while they negotiate with the lodge’s owner.”
“I should have known,” George answered, shaking his head.
Their room at the Mount Crandell Lodge was nothing short of romantic. A beautiful eiderdown comforter adorned the antique bed and the room offered a partial view of the bay. Fortunately, they were able to get a last minute reservation in the Lamp Post Dining Room for a romantic dinner for two. After dinner they had planned to return to their room, but when they entered the lodge’s unique library lobby Jessica suggested that they spend the evening in front of the fireplace, reading or playing a board game instead.
“Chess?” George suggested, once he noticed the now familiar faces of two men who were using one seating area and who looked to be discussing business.
“I was thinking Scrabble,” Jessica suggested. “Maybe we’ll even invite some of the other guests to join us,” she added as she took his hand and led the way into the cozy library. They chose two chairs that were positioned in front of a fieldstone fireplace, next to a large circular coffee table, and Jessica retrieved the Scrabble box from one of the shelves.
“I’m afraid we have a small problem,” George said. “Which dictionary are we going to use? American or British?”
“Both,” Jessica eventually decided, “but absolutely no Gaelic,” she added as an afterthought. “That would give you too great of an advantage.”
“I have a feeling that I am going to need every advantage that I can get,” George commented before helping Jessica set up the board.
After extending a casual greeting to their fellow guests, Jessica suggested that they join their game. Deciding that they were finished with their business for the evening, they agreed. Everyone introduced themselves and Jessica and George now had names to go with the men’s faces, Richard Barrow and Keith Brach.
“Ladies first,” Richard suggested once everyone had drawn their tiles.
Jessica looked at her tiles, rearranged them a couple of times and then laid down five of them. “Shaky for thirty-four,” she said before reaching into the burgundy bag to replace her spent letters.
“Ouch,” Brach said as he recorded Jessica’s score.
“Perhaps I should have warned you that Jessica is a writer and a former high school English teacher,” George said before scrutinizing his own tiles more closely.
“Frost, for ten,” Barrow said after placing his tiles on the board. “And what do you do for a living, George?”
“I work for the British government,” he answered, purposely being very vague.
“Kite for sixteen,” Brach announced before writing down his score and reaching for the bag of tiles.
“And you, gentlemen, what do you do?” George asked as he considered his play.
“We’re in the hospitality business – hotels, restaurants, that type of thing,” Barrow replied.
“Favor, for eleven,” George said after playing his word.
“Thank you, George,” Jessica said pleasantly before picking up four tiles. “Favorable for thirty-four,” she said after placing them on the board.
Brach tallied Jessica’s score. Sixty-eight points in two plays. No kidding she’s a former English teacher, he thought.
“Is this a business trip for you then?” Jessica asked Brach, while his friend studied the letters that filled his tray.
“Yes, we’re negotiating on a few properties here in the park,” he explained.
“Well, this isn’t much, but it’s all I’ve got. Bur for five,” Barrow said, a bit dissatisfied with his word. Brach followed up with “thaw” for eighteen, and George played, “zone” for thirteen.
Jessica scanned the board and then her letters before looking at George and offering him a small smile before making her play. “Ozone for twenty-eight.”
George’s jaw nearly dropped when he looked at Brach’s score pad and watched as he added Jessica’s third word for a total of ninety-four points. Barrow had also been watching and all three men suddenly experienced the same sinking feeling.
“Point for seven,” Brach said sullenly before replacing his tiles.
“Is this one of the properties that you are interested in purchasing?” Jessica asked after he had finished his turn.
“Yes, we just have a few minor details to iron out and we should be able to close the deal tomorrow morning if all goes well. We have come to a verbal agreement with a small restaurant in Apgar Village, but are having a bit more difficulty with the hotel that we are interested in purchasing over on that side of the park.”
As they chatted, Brach played “needs” for a respectable ten points and George followed with “egress” for a triple word score plus the added bonus of forming a second word, “points” for a grand total of thirty-two points.
Jessica evaluated her options and just before the timer ran out she played, “Jump for thirty-one,” which earned an audible groan from all three men.
“Does she always beat you this badly?” Brach asked, glancing in George’s direction.
“Apparently so, we’ve never played before,” he answered.
“Dig for fifteen,” Barrow said happily after taking advantage of a triple word score. Brach managed “ajar” for another eleven points.
George looked at Jessica suspiciously for a moment as he contemplated the possibility of leaving her a potential triple word score, which would use a “Q.” Deciding that she had extremely limited options he played his tiles, spelling out “quail” for twenty-eight points.
To everyone else’s relief, Jessica ended up with a mere nine points for “dew.”
“What kind of trouble are you having with the hotel in Apgar Village?” George asked Brach as they waited for Barrow to play.
“Well, we made an offer on a property that happens to have a fair amount of unused acreage that would be perfect for our plans, but the owner rejected it,” Brach began to explain.
“Grow for eight,” Barrow announced after laying down his tiles.
Brach considered his tiles and his partner picked up his end of the conversation.
“So, you must be planning to increase your offer,” Jessica guessed.
“Yes, we are, but we’re now negotiating with his wife instead,” Barrow explained.
“She’s the one who actually owns the property then?” George asked.
“Clan and grown for twenty-three,” Brach said, sounding rather pleased with himself as he recorded his score.
“She does now. He was killed while hiking up to some old watch tower or something like that, just a few hours after we met with him last week,” Barrow explained.
“Oh, how awful,” Jessica said. “I understand that you are probably pressed for time, but how horrible for her to have to make such a major decision at such a stressful time,” Jessica added sympathetically.
“But business is business, right, gentlemen,” George offered in the hope that they would be able to provide a bit more information about the murder of Grant Wallace.
“Exactly,” Barrow said, giving his partner a sideways glance. “We can’t just sit back while someone else swoops in and takes advantage of the situation.”
“Of course not,” George agreed. “Who would expect you to?”
“Qat, for 36,” he added as he laid down two tiles, taking advantage of the triple word score that he had been concerned about leaving open for Jessica on his previous play.
“That’s not a word,” Brach said. “There’s no “U” in it.”
“We might have to challenge that,” Barrow agreed.
George rested his gaze on Jessica and asked, “Are you going to make it a unanimous challenge, Jess?”
“No,” she replied, much to George’s disappointment. “It is a word. It’s a shrub.”
Jessica picked up three tiles and added them to the board, spelling “axis” for another twenty points before asking, “Aren’t you afraid that someone might think that you had something to do with Mr. Wallace’s death? I can certainly see how they might.”
“Fortunately, we were in our hotel and the desk clerk can vouch for the fact that our rental was in the parking lot right outside the lobby window from four o’clock in the afternoon until eight o’clock the next morning,” Brach answered.
“But one could argue that you might have followed him on foot,” Jessica suggested.
“You sound more like a cop than an English teacher,” Barrow commented, “but to answer your question, yes, I suppose one or both of us could have followed him up the mountain, but like I said, we were both in our hotel the entire time. We returned to our room right after our meeting with Mr. Wallace, had dinner in the hotel’s restaurant and then watched the nine o’clock news on the television in the lobby. Plenty of people saw us, so I’m not overly concerned.”
They finished their game with a series of two and three letter words before declaring Jessica the winner without bothering to tally the scores. After pouring the tiles into the bag and putting the box back in its place, they wished the gentlemen good luck with their business ventures. The two men decided to have a nightcap and Jessica and George returned to their room for their jackets and then went for a walk around the resort’s grounds.
“That was fun, wasn’t it?” George asked as he offered Jessica his arm.
“Yes, it was, but I’m not sure which of us was the good cop and which of us was the bad cop,” Jessica laughed.
“You were the bad cop, love,” George informed her. “So, what did you think of Mr. Barrow and Mr. Brach?”
“Something tells me that neither one of them would be likely to hike ten miles up and down a mountain on foot,” Jessica said.
“Maybe it was the immaculately polished $800 shoes, the custom suits and the extra fifty or sixty pounds that each of them is carrying,” George suggested.
“I was thinking more about their perfectly manicured hands,” Jessica observed. “If they had hiked up that mountain or had an altercation with Wallace, I would have expected to see some knicks or cuts of some kind. Also, as I recall, it was rather warm and very sunny the day that we arrived. You would think that if they had hiked up the mountain that afternoon that they would have gotten sunburned.”
“You have a point. I don’t imagine that most murderers include applying sunscreen to their plan.”
“No, I doubt if they do,” Jessica agreed.
“So, are you leaning toward the poacher theory?” George asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Jessica said as they arrived back at the main entrance to the lodge. “I just don’t know. What do you think?” she asked, curious to hear his theory.
“I think that it’s not likely that I will ever again play Scrabble with you,” George replied as he opened the door and ushered her into the lobby of the hotel.
The following day they started out early with the intent of biking to Red Rock Canyon. Colorful wildflowers flourished along the length of the trail and George seriously considered picking a small bouquet for Jessica, but remembering that they were inside the boundaries of a national park, decided against it. Still, it had been tempting.
It was a cool, overcast morning and before they had gone far enough to enjoy the magnificent views of the hanging valleys, alpine meadows and jagged mountain peaks that the trail was famous for, a light drizzle began to fall. While considering whether to continue or return to the lodge, the rain began to fall in earnest and by the time they arrived back at the inn, they were both cold and soaking wet. As they approached the stairs they passed the lounge, where George stopped for a moment to watch a soccer match that was being televised.
“George, what are you looking at?” Jessica asked when she noticed that he had stopped.
“Oh, nothing,” he answered absently before glancing back again in hopes of catching the score.
“A soccer match,” Jessica observed after joining him at the entrance to the bar.
“So completely American of you, Jess. It’s a ‘football’ match and it’s not just any match, it’s the World Cup,” George informed her with a note of excited interest as he strained slightly to see the screen better.
“Why don’t we clean up and you can come back down and watch the rest of it,” Jessica suggested.
“You don’t mind?” he asked.
“Not at all,” she replied before George kissed her and then hurried her up the steps to their room.
After a quick shower and change of clothes, he was eager to get back downstairs for a brandy and the remainder of the match. Jessica suggested that he go ahead without her as she was planning to take a long hot bath and a short nap before joining him for dinner.
A couple of hours later, Jessica found George in the Bear’s Claw Lounge. It was obvious that he had struck up a friendship of sorts with the bartender, who happened to be an Irishman who most recently hailed from Gloucester, England. “Nigh, thar's a bonny doll if Ah've ever set me eyes on wan,” the bartender remarked in a thick Irish accent when he noticed Jessica enter the bar.
“Aye, that she is,” George answered with a smile when he turned and saw that the woman in question was Jessica. “Watch yourself, Irish, that particular lady happens to be spoken for,” he added in friendly warning before standing to greet her. After being introduced to Patrick, the bartender, Jessica suggested that they have dinner there, in the bar, and after a half-hearted attempt by George to convince her otherwise they placed their orders for dinner and drinks and moved to a table, where a large picture window offered an unobstructed view of the lake and through which Jessica first noticed gently falling snow, which now created a pristine blanket over the grounds.
The waitress soon delivered their drinks and Jessica was happy to have a hot cup of tea. George had switched to ale after finally warming up with a brandy and had decided to try a Killean’s Irish Red. As they waited on dinner, he returned to watching the second match of the afternoon, which happened to pair up Great Britain with favored Brazil. After an overview of the rules, Jessica soon became swept up by George’s enthusiasm for the sport and watched the match with him until their food arrived. They shared a piece of cheesecake for dessert and after the waitress cleared their table, Jessica began scribbling notes onto a paper napkin.
“I hope that you’re not working,” George said without taking his eyes off the match.
“I’m just making a few notes,” Jessica replied as she began to write a detailed description of the Prince of Wales Hotel, which she had decided would make a wonderful setting for a murder mystery.
The match was soon interrupted by a commercial break and after sneaking a glance at her notes, George snatched away the napkin. After folding it neatly, he tucked it into his shirt pocket and addressed her very seriously. “We agreed no work,” he reminded her, challenging her to deny the fact that she had indeed been working, which she didn’t.
Not wanting to be impolite by continuing to watch the game while Jessica was clearly becoming bored, George stood, reached down for her hand and suggested that they go for a walk.
“It’s snowing outside and the match isn’t over yet,” Jessica argued.
“You’re not afraid of a little snow, are you?” he asked as he gently pulled her to her feet.
“No, but it’s rather entertaining to watch you,” she replied. “You’re quite animated when you’re watching a ‘football’ game,” she teased.
“There is no such thing as British reserve when it comes to football, my dear, especially the World Cup. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the lads are likely to come back at this point, so why don’t we go for a walk?” he suggested again, before leading her toward the lobby.
“I don’t think that either of us packed for winter,” Jessica reminded him.
“I promise not to let you get too cold,” he assured her as they turned a corner and started up the stairs to their room. Five minutes later they were dressed in sweaters and fleece jackets. They walked to the shore of Emerald Bay and then along a trail that skirted its perimeter. They stopped at the gazebo to enjoy the tranquility and quiet of their surroundings a bit longer. George wrapped his arms around Jessica from behind and spoke softly next to her ear. “Now, this is a holiday.” Jessica had to agree.
When they returned, the lodge, too, was very quiet. The dining room was closed for the evening and only a few patrons remained in the bar. A pleasant fire crackled in the library and George suggested that they warm up there before returning to their room. After excusing himself for a few minutes, he returned with two cups of hot chocolate, which Patrick had been more than happy to whip up for them.
Seated on a love seat facing the fire, George wrapped his arm around Jessica and she laid her head against his shoulder as they watched the flames dance.
“May I ask you something,” Jessica said.
“Certainly, what is it, love?” he replied affectionately as he rested his cheek against the top of her head.
“Have you spoken with Charles Ross recently?” she asked.
“No, I haven’t,” he answered, suddenly wondering if he had detected an uneasiness on Jessica’s part or if it was just his imagination. “He rang me a few days before I left for the States, but unfortunately, he wasn’t available when I finally got round to ringing him back,” George explained. “Why?”
“He called me just before I left New York City,” she answered.
George lifted his head and looked down at her. “Why would Charles Ross call you in New York?”
“He asked me to fill in for him temporarily at his university for a portion of the summer,” she answered after lifting her head and looking up at him.
“He did?” George replied, pleasantly surprised.
“Yes, he did. He would like to be in New Hampshire for Teresa Castleman’s trial and he needs someone to take over his summer class for its duration,” Jessica explained.
“I thought that the trial took place this past winter,” George asked.
“It did, but it ended in a mistrial. One of the jurors failed to disclose the fact that she had taken a class from John Osman. They are retrying the case beginning in late July and for obvious reasons, Charles would like to be in the court room when they do.”
“That’s completely understandable,” George said, knowing full well that if his own niece had been murdered that he would do the same.
“You really didn’t know that he planned to call me?” Jessica wondered.
“No, I didn’t know anything about it.”
“And you had nothing to do with Charles asking me to fill in?” she asked.
“No, although if he had consulted me, I certainly would have recommended you for the job, but only after receiving your express permission to do so,” George promised her. “You don’t think that this is some sort of ploy to get you to visit me in London, do you?” he asked as he adjusted his position to face her.
“Well,” Jessica said, “the idea wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility.”
George looked at her thoughtfully before finally giving her a gentle kiss on the forehead and asking, “What did you tell him?”
“I asked for a week to consider it.”
“What’s to consider?” he asked enthusiastically. “You’ve told me yourself that you have no commitments for the entire summer and I can’t tell you the number of times that you’ve told me how much you love London and how you wish you could visit more often.”
“I do love London,” Jessica agreed, “but I don’t think that I know enough about British law enforcement to be comfortable teaching criminology there.”
“Well, this must be your lucky day because it just so happens that I’ve a very good mate who works for Scotland Yard. I’m quite certain that he’d be willing to answer any questions that you might have and if he is unable to do so, I’m equally certain that he would know someone who could.”
“Very funny, George, but what am I going to do when I’m not teaching?”
“What do you mean, ‘what are you going to do’?” he asked as he placed both of his hands on her arms and looked her squarely in the eyes. “You’re going to enjoy yourself and the city. You’ll finally find some time to spend with your cousin, Emma, who you haven’t seen in years. You’ll go to Ireland for a long weekend to visit friends. If you’re tired, you’ll rest. If not, you’ll go for a walk and enjoy everything that London has to offer. If you miss your garden, you’ll visit one of the many in the city. If you feel the need to get out of the city, you’ll visit the countryside and if it’s raining, I imagine you’ll curl up somewhere with a good book. You’ll do whatever you want to do, Jess.”
“But I assumed that you…” Jessica started, before pausing a moment.
“You assumed that I would want to monopolize every moment of your free time?” he asked knowingly.
“No, of course not,” she answered, though, at the moment, she wasn’t exactly sure what she had thought.
“Good, because while I am very intent on marrying you, I do realize that it may take a rather long time for you to come around to the idea, which by the way I’m willing to wait patiently for you to do. In the meantime I plan to make the most of the time that we do spend together, but I have absolutely no intention of smothering you,” he explained.
“I think I knew that,” Jessica said at length.
“I’m glad. Now, if you don’t mind, may I tell you what I was thinking when you brought up the possibility of coming to London,” he said as he took her hands in his.
“By all means,” Jessica answered.
“My first thought was that it would be a wonderfully challenging opportunity for you to teach in London and my second thought was how much you would enjoy living there, even temporarily, instead of just visiting.”
“Those are really the first two things that came to mind?” Jessica asked.
“Aye, but I must admit, that the next one was purely selfish,” he confessed.
“What was it?”
“Nothing important,” George answered, shrugging off her question.
Jessica wiggled her hand loose and placed it gently on his cheek. “I’d really like to know.”
“No, it’s not important, just something that I’ve always wanted to do with you,” he replied, now starting to feel slightly embarrassed.
“What is it?” Jessica persisted.
“It’s silly, really,” he confessed, “but I have always thought that it would be nice to spend a lazy weekend together, just the two of us, no schedules, no commitments.”
“And how do you envision this lazy weekend?” she asked, giving the idea ample consideration.
“I’m not exactly sure.”
“I thought that you always had a plan?” Jessica reminded him.
“Usually I do,” he admitted. After a moment’s thought, he continued. “I guess it doesn’t really matter what we do. Perhaps we’d take a long walk through the park, have a picnic in the countryside, or if it’s raining, we could cuddle up on the couch and read or take a nap.”
“A nap?” she asked as she noticed that he was starting to look a bit flushed.
“Aye, I’ve always thought it would be nice to wake up from an afternoon nap with you in my arms,” he admitted, as he began to fidget with his collar before catching himself, which Jessica noticed immediately, too.
She reached up and loosened his collar before answering. “I think I can commit to a lazy weekend.”
“Yes, really,” she promised.
“So, when do you start teaching?” he asked hopefully.
“July 27th, I guess,” Jessica answered with an easy laugh.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he replied before kissing her lightly on the lips. “Would you like me to ask my niece, Elizabeth, if one of her realtor friends has a sublet available for you?” “Actually, Charles and his wife offered me their house,” Jessica explained.
“That’s probably better as it’s located within walking distance of the university,” George decided.
Jessica looked at him with a strange expression before replying. “I assumed that you’d want me to stay with you,” she said, surprised that he hadn’t mentioned it.
“Aye. There’s no question that I would prefer that you stay with me, but it would have been presumptuous of me to think that that’s what you would want,” he explained.
“If it wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience, I would prefer to stay with you.”
“You’re sure you want me for a flat mate?”
“Yes, I’m positive. I can always move into your guest room if I change my mind,” she threatened.
They left at sunrise the following morning and drove south to St. Mary and then west again on Going-to-the-Sun Road. The snow that had fallen the previous evening had transformed the park into a “Winter Wonderland” despite the fact that it was June, but by the time they reached Logan Pass and the continental divide, nearly all of the freshly fallen snow had melted, creating rivulets that ran across the highway and down the rock walls, through which the road had been cut.
Shortly after nightfall they approached Lake McDonald Lodge, but instead of turning into the parking area, George continued past it.
Knowing that he was probably tired from driving all day and simply missed the turn, Jessica spoke up. “I know I’m the last person in the world who should be a back seat driver, but I think we just missed our turn,” she pointed out as she turned and looked back at the lodge.
“Actually, we didn’t,” George corrected her. “I thought that we might try the Wilderness Lodge tonight, so I changed our reservations last night.”
“Why?” Jessica asked. “The Lake McDonald Lodge was wonderful.”
George looked at her quizzically before answering. “Aren’t you the least bit curious about the place?”
“Well, now that you mention it, I have been wondering why someone might be willing to commit murder in order to get their hands on it,” Jessica confessed.
“Does that mean that you think that Mr. Barrow and Mr. Brach were involved in Grant Wallace’s death, at least in some capacity?” George hypothesized.
“I’ve definitely considered the possibility, but if that is the case, I haven’t quite figured out who else is involved,” she admitted before considering the limited possibilities. “We really don’t know much about Grant’s brother, Jeff, other than the fact that he has had some trouble with the law in the past and that he wanted to sell.”
“As I recall, Jeffrey Wallace is not the principal owner of the establishment,” George reminded her as they approached Apgar Village, where he slowed at an intersection, checked for traffic and turned left.
“You’re right, of course. I met Mrs. Wallace and my gut feeling is that she had nothing to do with her husband’s murder, but that doesn’t mean that she couldn’t be manipulated into selling now that he is out of the picture.”
As it came into view, Jessica pointed to the three story hotel and announced, “There it is.”
“Where?” George asked, looking around in all directions.
“Right there,” she repeated, still pointing to the historic building, which sat two blocks off Main Street. “There’s a sign on the corner, next to the gas station.”
George stopped at the indicated intersection and turned left again, finally coming to a stop directly in front of the main entrance. After turning off the engine he turned to face Jessica. “Please tell me that you didn’t just happen to run into Jeffrey Wallace here when I was hiking back down from Sperry Chalet.”
Jessica shook her head. “Oh, no, of course not, but Lee didn’t take the main highway back to the lodge. He took a back road and we drove right past here,” she explained.
When he only shook his head, she added, “I’m completely innocent, Inspector. You’ve got the wrong man…oops,” she laughed. “I guess that’s woman.”
“You know, Jessica, there ought to be a law against mocking a police officer,” he replied before opening his door and getting out of the SUV. They entered the lobby and were greeted by a college-aged girl, who Jessica noticed had been reading a Steven King novel. After checking in, Yvonne, the desk clerk, gave them a small map showing the location of their room and additional parking areas for the hotel’s guests.
At Yvonne’s recommendation, they walked back to Main Street and then several blocks south, where they found the Fire House, a restaurant and bar that were located in a refurbished fire station. After being seated in a booth, they ordered drinks and browsed their menus. George closed his and as he set it aside he noticed several familiar faces seated together on the opposite side of the restaurant. “Well, now, that’s rather interesting,” he observed.
“What?” Jessica said before closing her menu and looking around the room.
“Our friends, Mr. Barrow and Mr. Brach, seem to be having a dinner meeting with Skye Wallace and another man, who I can only guess is probably her brother-in-law.”
“They told us that they were planning to meet with her again before leaving,” Jessica reminded him before taking a sip of her wine.
“Aye, they did, but they didn’t mention anything about Ranger Sheridan being involved in the negotiations,” George observed, intrigued by Sheridan’s presence, considering the fact that Jeffrey Wallace was also there.
“Skye mentioned to me that she and Bill Sheridan have been good friends since they attended high school together,” Jessica explained before looking around the room again in an attempt to find the quintet.
George couldn’t help but smile and chuckle just a bit at Jessica’s obvious display of curiosity. “Jessica, love, you’re likely to injure your neck, twisting it like that. Why don’t you allow me to provide the play by play - unless, of course, you would prefer to swap seats with me?”
“No, I’m fine,” Jessica assured him. “Skye is very fortunate to have such a good friend to support her through this ordeal, especially considering the fact that she is probably caught between the wishes of her husband and those of her brother-in-law. I can’t imagine having had to make such a major life decision so soon after Frank’s death,” she ended sympathetically.
“I tend to agree with you,” George concurred as the waitress approached their table with their entrées. The menu had been dominated by beef and wild game, which Jessica decided simply reflected the fact that they were in Montana. She had ordered a petite filet mignon and George, being more adventurous, had chosen the stuffed bear chops. “It looks to me like he’s providing more than a bit of friendly support. He looks to be one of the primary negotiators,” George observed.
They enjoyed their meal and chatted good-naturedly with George providing an occasional update. “Looks like they’re finished,” he observed as the group said their farewells.
“Well?” Jessica said once Barrow and Brach were well past her and George’s table and headed for the exit.
“I would have to say that it was an amiable enough meeting,” he replied before pausing for a moment, “but…something seems just a bit off,” he added after some thought on the matter.
“What do you mean by ‘a bit off’?” Jessica asked.
“Are you sure that there is nothing more than friendship between the two of them?” he asked before giving Sheridan, who was now looking in their direction, a friendly nod.
“She seemed genuinely distraught to me when I spoke with her the other day,” Jessica answered, “but not knowing either one of them, I have no way of knowing for sure.”
“Whatever you do, don’t turn around,” George said under his breath before standing and extending his hand to greet Sheridan, who was followed closely by his friend. Jeffrey Wallace was not with them as he had chosen to extend the evening and had taken a seat at the bar.
“I’m afraid I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Wallace,” George said rather formally after Sheridan had neglected to introduce them. “I’m George Sutherland, a friend of Mrs. Fletcher’s,” he said before accepting the hand that Skye had offered in greeting.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she answered politely, even though she appeared to be quite distressed.
Jessica and George both noted her demeanor and Jessica offered her sympathies for what was obviously an extremely difficult time.
Skye laid her hand on Sheridan’s arm and looked up at him. “I don’t think I would ever be able to get through this without Bill.”
“You’re very fortunate to have such a good friend, especially at a time like this,” Jessica agreed, remembering how much she treasured her own friendships and how much more difficult life after Frank would have been without them.
Jessica suggested that the pair join them for a cup of coffee, but Sheridan declined. “Thank you, Mrs. Fletcher, but what I think Skye really needs right now is a glass of warm milk and some rest.”
“I think you’re probably right,” Jessica agreed.
Before they departed, he suggested that Jessica and George stop by the ranger station to see him or Detective Crenshaw before leaving for home, just in case they might be able to add something more to the investigation. After they had gone, Jessica voiced her opinion of the pair: “An intimate friendship, but not romantic,” she concluded.
“I agree, but did you notice his restraint? He has a great degree of self-control,” George observed. “I’d say he wishes that it were more than friendship.”
“I’m afraid I have to disagree with you,” Jessica argued. “I didn’t see anything to indicate that.”
George offered his credit card to the waitress, who had returned with their check. “You haven’t had the benefit of watching him all evening,” he reminded her. Once the waitress collected his card and left for the cash register, he continued. “Trust me, Jess, he loves her and it’s definitely not brotherly affection that we’re talking about. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say she isn’t even aware of it.”
“I’d have to agree that she isn’t,” Jessica decided, “but how can you be so sure?”
“I have a little experience in this particular area,” he answered. “The situation is obviously very different, but it’s clear that he’s feeling a great deal of internal conflict. He’s probably been in love with her for years, but he can’t act on his feelings, at least not right now, not so soon after she has lost her husband. It wouldn’t be appropriate and he probably values their friendship too much to risk damaging it.”
“I suppose you could be right,” Jessica decided after considering his words carefully. “He did have a certain look in his eyes,” she added.
“A look?” George repeated.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, now that I think about it, I’ve seen that look before.”
“You have?” George asked, intrigued by her comment.
Jessica smiled as the waitress returned with the receipt. “Yes, numerous times. Shall we go?” she suggested after he had signed the slip of paper. She gathered her coat and purse and slid out of the booth before adding, “I just didn’t know for sure that that’s what it was until hearing your explanation just now.”
George grabbed his own jacket and followed. “I certainly hope that I wasn’t nearly as obvious about it as Sheridan?” he asked as he caught up with her.
“No, you weren’t. As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for your eyes I might not have suspected anything,” Jessica informed him after they were outside.
“I could say the same about you, Jessica,” he told her once they were inside the SUV. “You have very expressive eyes,” he added before framing her face with his hands and kissing her gently on the lips.
The next morning, Jessica awoke to the smell of fresh brewed coffee and breakfast in bed. After sitting herself up, she fixed George with a quizzical look. “You told me last night that the hotel’s restaurant only serves lunch and dinner.”
“You’re quite right. It does,” he replied as he carried the large tray of food to her side of the bed.
“You are resourceful, aren’t you?” she offered as the aroma of freshly ground coffee wafted toward her from a midnight blue mug, displaying the logo of a restaurant that she had no recollection of them having dined at.
“Aye,” he answered simply as he arranged the tray over her lap. “Happy belated birthday, Jessie,” he said before kissing her on the forehead.
“But my birthday was nearly two months ago,” she pointed out.
“And I was a complete cad and didn’t even manage to ring you, much less send flowers or a gift.”
“You were in Dublin, in the middle of a major case,” she rationalized. “And you did call me as soon as you returned home.”
George nodded toward Jessica’s tray, which contained fresh fruit, buttery croissants, eggs and bacon. “Well, if you’re going to let me off that easily, I could just return that…and this,” he threatened as he withdrew a small box from his pocket and opened it to show a stunning natural red coral and sterling silver pendant and a matching pair of earrings.
“You are nearly two months late,” she decided.
“I thought that you might see it my way,” George commented before joining her on the edge of the bed and presenting her with the gift. “They’re neither fancy nor particularly expensive, but I wanted to find something for you that you could wear for everyday affairs.”
“They’re absolutely beautiful,” she said as she caressed the smooth surface of one of the small hoop earrings.
“I’m pleased that you think so, but you’ll have to wait to wear them as they probably aren’t appropriate for hiking.”
After eating breakfast, Jessica showered and dressed, taking a moment to try on her presents and then reluctantly placing them back in their box.
They drove north to Lake McDonald and enjoyed a long, leisurely walk around the southern end, which they had not yet explored. When they returned to the Wilderness Lodge Jessica noticed that Jeffrey Wallace was seated at the front desk.
Their plans for the remainder of the day included having lunch, returning their rented mountain bikes and finding a one hour photo lab - George didn’t mind using a digital camera when necessary, but much preferred his trusty 35 mm. They returned to their room, where he collected all of the film that he had shot during the past week and then headed back downstairs.
“Will we be stopping to see Detective Crenshaw?” Jessica inquired.
“That would be prudent,” George decided, “especially as we are leaving tomorrow.”
Jessica stopped suddenly. “Why don’t you get the car and I’ll ask the clerk where we can find a photo lab?”
Suspicious, George glanced at the clerk and knew immediately what Jessica had in mind. “Why don’t we both ask the clerk where the photo lab is?” he asked in a hushed voice.
“Because you can be intimidating,” she replied. “I’ll meet you outside in a few minutes,” she assured him with a smile before making a bee line for the front desk.
Deciding that she couldn’t get into too much trouble with several other guests lounging in the lobby, George did as she asked.
It took a moment for Jeff to notice that someone was waiting to be helped and when he did, he seemed to be annoyed at having been disturbed.
“Excuse me, my name is Jessica Fletcher and I am staying in room 214. I was wondering if you could tell me where I can find a one hour photo processing center?”
“I know who you are Mrs. Fletcher, and I doubt very much that you really want to talk to me about having a roll of film developed,” he replied very rudely as he stood from his seat and leaned toward her, placing both hands on the top of the desk. “Crenshaw told me that you and that guy from Scotland Yard were the ones who found my brother. He also told me that you have solved more than your fair share of murders, but what he didn’t tell you is that I had nothing to do with Grant’s murder and I don’t know who did.”
“I see,” Jessica said, slightly taken aback by his aggressive posture.
“No, I don’t think that you do,” he continued, more quietly this time. “Everyone in this town thinks that because I have a record and Grant and I never saw eye to eye about this place that I killed him. Well, you’re all wrong,” he finished before kicking the chair out of the way and stomping into the adjacent office.
“Well, Jess, what did you learn?” George asked once she was inside the SUV.
She let out a breath. “I think I just learned that Jeffrey Wallace is an angry man with a very short fuse.”
After assuring him that she was fine and that she really hadn’t been in any danger, Jessica suggested Eddie’s for lunch. They chose a booth and ordered hot sandwiches and iced tea. With her grilled chicken midway between her plate and mouth, Jessica stopped suddenly. “You’re not going to put jam on your grilled cheese, are you?”
Pausing with his knife only an inch above his sandwich, George, clearly amused, responded. “I’m not?”
“You’re really going to do it, aren’t you?” she responded with a noticeable grimace.
“Aye, but only a wee bit,” he assured her before proceeding to spread a thin layer of jam on top of the sandwich and offering her the first bite, which Jessica turned down before mumbling something about the fact that he didn’t care for chocolate or sushi.
They managed to finish lunch without any further discussion of food preferences, but to Jessica’s disappointment, Barrow and Brach didn’t make an appearance before they were ready to leave.
“You were hoping to run into the gentlemen from Barrow Corp., weren’t you?” George asked as they left the restaurant.
“Yes, I was,” she admitted. “I wonder if they have left for the East Coast yet.”
“Detective Crenshaw will know,” George said, “and hopefully he’ll be narrowing in on the perpetrator.”
When they pulled into the parking lot of the ranger station they were met by Detective Crenshaw who had also just arrived.
“Inspector Sutherland, Mrs. Fletcher, I have to apologize for not touching base with you over the past week. I’m glad that you ran into Ranger Sheridan last night and had time to stop in before leaving the area,” he continued before holding the door open for them to enter the building.
After checking with Ranger Carson for telephone messages, Crenshaw escorted them into a conference room that had been converted into his work area. A large bulletin board dominated one wall and was covered with crime scene photos and numerous documents. A portable dry erase board sat next to the bulletin board and a time line of the events surrounding the death of Grant Wallace was scrawled across the top. After closing the door behind them, Crenshaw offered them coffee. George accepted, but Jessica, who had been immediately drawn to the photos on Crenshaw’s case board, didn’t reply.
“Mrs. Fletcher?” Crenshaw repeated.
George simply smiled and shrugged when she failed to answer. “Jess, would you like some coffee?” George asked again when he and Crenshaw joined her in front of the case board.
“No…thank you,” she answered as she regarded each picture closely.
“Do you see something of interest?” George asked.
“The lighting in these photographs is different,” she responded curiously.
“Yes, that’s right, Mrs. Fletcher. These were taken the evening that you found Mr. Wallace,” Crenshaw said, pointing to a group of photos that had been taken inside the old ranger station. “Sheridan took the rest of these the following morning shortly after sunrise.”
For a moment, the three of them contemplated the photographs. “Good thing he has a day job, isn’t it?” Crenshaw commented. “He’s not much of a photographer.”
“Did you ever find the vic’s camping gear?” George asked.
“Yes, Sheridan found it about a half mile off the main trail a couple of days ago.”
“The ranger station is your secondary crime scene then?” George queried as he, too, browsed the board.
“Most likely, but we still haven’t located the primary scene,” Crenshaw grumbled. “As near as I can tell, Wallace hiked up one of the more primitive trails, not the same one that you and Mrs. Fletcher used. After he was shot, he must have thought that his best chance was to make it to the ranger station. He had to ditch the backpack before he got there. He managed to climb through the broken window…you can see his blood here on the outside of the window frame,” Crenshaw concluded, and tapped his finger on a close up of the window. “He was safe from the elements and any bears or mountain lions, but bled out before anyone found him.”
George nodded as he considered Crenshaw’s theory.
“I’ve interviewed everyone I can think of…friends, relatives, employees and every known and suspected poacher who lives within a hundred mile radius. Some of their alibis are weak…home alone in bed, like Jeff Wallace…but I don’t have anything to justify a search warrant on any of them.”
The men continued to talk shop while Jessica worked her way from one end of the board to the other, reviewing each document and photograph. “Would it be accurate to say that Jeffrey Wallace is prone to sudden outbursts of anger, detective?” she asked as she read a rap sheet for the man in question.
“Certainly, but even with two assault convictions and a history of anabolic steroid use, I don’t have enough for a grand jury investigation.”
“He was also convicted of possession with intent to distribute,” Jessica reminded him. “Is it possible that drugs were involved?”
“There’s nothing to suggest that he’s involved with what you would call recreational drugs. The conviction that you’re referring to was from his college days. From what I can make out, he played college football and not only used steroids, but supplied them to many of his teammates.”
“And the assault charge?” George asked.
“Wallace and some of his teammates got into a bar fight one night and when they were hauled down to the local jail the arresting officer found the steroids on him. Frankly, I’m surprised that the judge didn’t just give him a slap on the wrist, but instead she gave him the maximum. He lost his scholarship and was expelled from the university. After serving a short sentence, he came back home.”
“George, do you still have the photos that we took of the crime scene?” Jessica asked as she looked carefully at the exterior photos once more.
“You took photos of the crime scene?” Crenshaw repeated hopefully.
“Aye, just in case the scene was disturbed before someone could get up there to investigate, but I doubt if you’ll find anything more than what you already have here,” George cautioned him.
“At this point, I’ll take any help that I can get, unless you’re as bad a photographer as Sheridan.”
“He’s an excellent photographer,” Jessica answered before George could reply, “and he had far better light than Ranger Sheridan did.”
“Please, tell me you still have them,” Crenshaw pleaded.
“I was using the digital that day, so they should still be on one of the memory cards. We were headed to the one hour photo shop next. We can have them processed and bring them back to you later this afternoon,” George offered.
“Perfect,” Crenshaw agreed thankfully. He walked to the door, opened it and looked around the lobby for Ranger Carson. After waving him into the room he explained the situation and asked for the petty cash box to cover the cost of developing the photographs.
“I’m sorry, sir, but Sheridan keeps it under lock and key and like pretty much everything else, he has the only key. He should be back from White Fish within the hour, though.”
George assured Crenshaw that it wasn’t necessary for him to pay for the photos, but the detective insisted that George bring the receipt back with him so that he could be reimbursed.
They returned to the Wilderness Lodge to retrieve George’s digital camera before heading for the photo shop. Jessica offered to take care of the photo processing while George returned the mountain bikes. As the photo lab was only a short walk from the ranger station, they agreed to meet back at the station when they had each finished their individual errands.
Once inside Jessica was greeted by an eager young woman who bounced from one task to another, blowing bubbles with her bright pink gum as she went about her business. Jessica removed nearly two dozen rolls of film from her handbag and placed them on the counter. Frowning, the young woman informed her that she couldn’t guarantee one hour service on that many rolls of film.
“I believe that tomorrow morning should be soon enough, but I do need to get 8 x 10 inch prints of these photos,” Jessica informed her as she set a memory card on the counter, next to the film canisters.
Happy to oblige, the technician showed Jessica how to use one of the computers to select and print the necessary pictures. As she waited for each photo to print, Jessica scrutinized the one before it. “That’s it!” Jessica said out loud, although she wasn’t talking to anyone but herself.
“Can I help you with something?” the young woman asked.
“Yes,” Jessica answered. “May I use your telephone…and I’ll need the telephone book also,” she added after the young woman handed her a cordless telephone.
While Jessica waited for the last of the photos to be processed, George patiently explained to the clerk that he wished to return the mountain bikes that he had rented a week earlier. When the young man was unable to find record of George having rented the bikes, he was forced to search the SUV for his customer copy. After finally finding it under the driver’s side sun visor, he went back inside the outfitters shop to complete what should have been a simple transaction.
Jessica returned to the ranger station where she was met by Rhett Carson, who indicated that he was leaving for the day. He informed Jessica that Detective Crenshaw had been called out, but that she could wait in the conference room until he returned. Jessica let herself into the room, where Ranger Sheridan was seated at the conference table.
“Mrs. Fletcher, Detective Crenshaw said that you would be returning and that I should see that you are reimbursed for the photographs,” he offered after closing and quietly locking the door behind her.
Jessica removed the receipt from her pocket and handed it to him. “I’m afraid that I’m going to need the photographs and memory card, too,” he insisted.
When Jessica hesitated to hand them over, he grabbed the envelope from her hand.
“You staged the crime scene, didn’t you,” Jessica alleged.
Momentarily ignoring her accusation, Sheridan turned on a document shredder that sat on a small desk in one corner of the room and proceeded to shred the envelope and its contents.
“The memory card, Mrs. Fletcher, before I’m forced to hurt you,” he added.
Jessica clutched her handbag and stepped backward before furthering her accusations. “You planted the backpack and the blood evidence on the window frame to make it look like he had been shot by a poacher and climbed through the window to wait for help, but that isn’t what happened, is it?”
“The memory card, now,” he repeated, his temper beginning to rise quickly.
“You signed his back country camping permit and then must have offered him a ride up to the ranger station. You invited him into the station and then killed him,” Jessica surmised.
“You can’t prove that, Mrs. Fletcher,” Sheridan replied as he stepped toward her.
“You’re the only one with a key and Inspector Sutherland’s photographs clearly show that there was no blood on the window when we found Mr. Wallace. You planted it there the following morning and then took more pictures. You were the only one with a key, the only one who could have let him into the station, but what I don’t understand is why? Why would you kill your best friend’s husband?” Jessica continued.
“He didn’t deserve her,” Sheridan replied matter of factly before angrily ripping Jessica’s purse from her shoulder and then emptying it onto the conference room table. He rummaged through the contents, picked out the memory card and dropped it on the floor, where he smashed it with the heel of his boot.
“She’ll be a wealthy woman now, won’t she?” Jessica asked.
“You have no idea,” he answered with a wicked grin. “That idiot husband of hers turned down $2 million for that crappy little hotel of his…but I guess that’s okay now because we’ll be getting nearly $4 million for it.”
“We?” Jessica repeated. “I would never have guessed that Skye was involved in murdering her husband.”
“Of course she wasn’t. That is one of Skye’s few faults. She loved him, completely.”
“And now?” Jessica prompted.
“She owes me. I’ve always been there for her and she’ll see that soon enough,” he declared before grabbing Jessica’s arm and dragging her toward a rear door that led to the parking lot behind the building.
“Detective Crenshaw?” Jessica pleaded, hopeful that he had heard Sheridan’s confession.
With his weapon drawn, the detective shouldered his way through the main door. “I got it all, Mrs. Fletcher,” he assured her before instructing Sheridan to let go of Jessica’s arm. He then instructed the ranger to place both hands on the table before reading him his rights and putting him in handcuffs.
“Carson,” he yelled toward the rear door.
“Yes, sir,” the eager young man answered as he rushed into the room from the back parking lot.
“Would you please escort Mr. Sheridan to my car?”
“Yes, sir,” Carson answered enthusiastically. As the rookie ranger led Sheridan out of the conference room and through the lobby toward the front door, George pulled into the parking lot. They met at the front doors and George, not realizing that Sheridan was in handcuffs and being escorted from the premises, opened the door for him. “Smart lady you’ve got there, Inspector,” Rhett offered as they passed through the door.
George watched Carson escort Sheridan to Crenshaw’s car, where he placed him in the back seat. When he entered the lobby he found Jessica and the detective chatting amiably. “Inspector,” Crenshaw said, greeting him with a fervent hand shake. “Thank you so much for loaning me your top civilian consultant.”
“You’re welcome, but I’m almost afraid to ask what’s going on,” George answered, eyeing Jessica suspiciously. “Jess, care to fill me in?”
After she had done so, the trio walked back to the photo lab to pick up the memory card that actually contained the crime scene photos and a second copy of the pictures.
Crenshaw insisted on treating Jessica and George to dinner that evening. He also invited Rhett Carson, Skye, her son Tommy and Grant’s brother, Jeff to join them for a delicious dinner at Khan’s Mongolian Barbecue in Columbia Falls.
George was seated next to Tommy, who regarded him very closely. “You talk funny,” he observed. “Are you really an Inspector with Scotland Yard, sort of like Detective Inspector Barnaby from Midsommer Murders? I like him.”
“You’ll have to forgive Tommy,” his mother said, excusing her son’s curiosity about George. “He spent the past week with his grandmother and she loves all of those shows.”
“Mommmm,” the boy protested. “I’m the man of the house now and I’m too old to be called by that name. I turned seven last month,” the blonde haired boy announced proudly to everyone at the table.
George found the boy to be a delightful lad and before explaining that he was indeed an inspector with Scotland Yard, he leaned over and whispered something into the his ear, something that prompted him to apologize to his mother.
“I’m sorry, mom. You can still call me Tommy, but when I turn ten I want to be called Thomas,” he decided.
“Thank you,” his mother mouthed to George, who nodded ‘you’re welcome’ in response.
After dinner Jessica and George returned to the Wilderness Lodge and as they walked, arm in arm, up the stairs to the second floor, Jessica queried, “What did you say to young Tommy at dinner tonight?”
“Ah, yes, young Thomas. He’s a very pleasant lad, isn’t he?” George commented thoughtfully as he removed the room key from his pocket. “I told him that ‘Thomas’ was a good, solid name for the man of the house, but that it was okay for him to hang onto ‘Tommy’ for a bit longer,” George answered. “I think his mother would prefer to see him remain a little boy for a few more years,” he added.
“It is a good, solid name,” Jessica said, patting George on the arm, which he found curious.
“I also bribed him,” he confessed after opening the door.
“You bribed him?” Jessica repeated. “How?”
“I told him that I’d send him his own inspector’s badge if he allowed his mother to call him ‘Tommy’ for the time being,” he divulged after closing the door and removing his jacket.
“You’ve never offered to get me an inspector’s badge,” Jessica teased.
George wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close. “Knowing you as I do, love, you’d likely use it and get yourself into trouble, but...I’m willing to let you try to convince me otherwise,” he flirted before falling onto the bed, still holding her in his arms.