Why, Jessica wondered
forlornly, did cities have to be so grey? Especially in the wintertime,
the time of year when one needed a bit of colour the most. She lifted her head a little against the raw
wind funneling between the buildings as she trudged along the sidewalk, and
Jessica sighed and thought longingly of Cabot Cove. Not that the weather was much better there, but at least in Maine snow was brilliant white like it was supposed to be, not the dingy ashen colour that snow seemed to take on when it fell in the city. And if it was a clear day the sky would be bright blue, and the Sea a deeper azure beneath it.
Street lights were beginning to flicker on as she approached her apartment building. Lately, with mid-term examinations at the university approaching, Jessica had been leaving her apartment before the sun was fully up, often returning after it had set. The deepening twilight only served to leach what little colour was left out of the city, and gave the illusion that she was living in a bleak land of perpetual night.
Wearily she entered the building, greeting the doorman, Richie, with a wan smile and a wave as she passed his station on her way to the elevators at the opposite end of the lobby. Ordinarily she would have taken the stairs up to her apartment on the fourth floor, but this evening the prospect of climbing stairs seemed too daunting to contemplate.
Once the elevator doors slid shut Jessica allowed herself a moment of rest, leaning up against the rear wall and closing her eyes. Heavens, she was tired. The time between the end of Christmas break and February’s mid-terms had flown by in a blur of activity: between teaching, writing, and the inevitable travel, she’d scarcely had time to accomplish everything that needed to be done, let alone take any time for herself. Thank goodness midwinter break was about to begin; if things worked out and Ted Hartley didn’t come up with some last minute book promotion she simply had to do, she might just be able to sneak home for a few days of recuperation and rest.
The elevator chimed as it came to a stop at her floor, breaking her out of her reverie. She opened her eyes, pushed herself off the wall, and exited as the doors opened in front of her.
As she walked down the carpeted corridor toward her apartment, Jessica became aware that something wasn’t quite right. Sure enough, as she approached the flat she could see that the door was ajar, a thin beam of light from within spilling out into the hallway. Not only had she not left the door open when she had left early that morning, she also distinctly remembered turning off all the lights on her way out. Her weariness was instantly forgotten as she approached the apartment with all the stealth she could manage, every sense alert. Once she reached the door she flattened herself against the wall beside to it, straining to hear any sounds coming from inside. Hearing nothing, she very carefully reached over and pushed the door open with one hand.
Nothing happened, so Jessica ventured the next step and cautiously looked inside. Given past experiences with doors ajar, she expected to see a scene of destruction and chaos, the inevitable aftermath of breaking-and-entering. It came as something of a pleasant surprise to note that nothing in the apartment seemed out of place.
Feeling somewhat more confident that she wasn’t walking into the middle of a trap or a ransacking-in-progress, Jessica stepped the rest of the way inside and swept the apartment with her eyes, looking for anything amiss or unusual that would explain the mystery of the open door. After a moment she relaxed her guard, smiled, and said,
“All right, George – come out, come out, wherever you are.”
The door to her bedroom opened, and Chief Inspector George Sutherland of Scotland Yard stepped into the main room, looking somewhat sheepish. Jessica set down her shoulder bag and crossed her arms, leveling George with a reproachful stare although the smile still played about her lips. Handsome as ever, her unexpected houseguest had clearly made himself at home, having changed into a comfortable-looking ensemble of loafers, khaki slacks and an Oxford shirt left open at the collar. Whenever she saw him after an absence, Jessica was reminded acutely of how much she missed him, particularly the way he carried himself with an easy confidence even though he had reason, at the moment, to suspect that he was not in her good graces.
For a long moment they stood facing each other without moving, until George broke the stalemate by asking, “How did you know it was me?”
Jessica, her arms still crossed, replied, “Three things. One, there is a cup with a spent teabag of Earl Grey sitting in it next to the sink. Two, the British Airways envelope that lately held your boarding pass is in my paper recycling bin. And three …” here she relaxed her stance just a little – “I caught just the faintest whiff of your aftershave when I stepped inside.”
George smiled broadly and chuckled. “Impressive,” he said. “I didn’t scare you, did I?”
“A little, until I realized it was you,” she replied honestly. “How did you get in here anyway?”
George removed his Scotland Yard pass from his shirt pocket and showed it to her. “I just used this,” he said. “It generally gets me wherever I need to go.”
“I see,” said Jessica.
“Forgive me?” he asked.
“Absolutely.” She crossed the room, shedding her overcoat as she did so, and entered his waiting embrace.
“I’m sorry I frightened you, Elf,” George murmured as he held her close in his arms. “I didn’t mean to, of course. I just wanted to surprise you.”
“You certainly succeeded in that,” Jessica said as the warmth of his embrace chased away the last of the chill from her cold walk home. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“I came to take you away from this dreary weather for a short while,” George answered. “It seemed like an appropriate way to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day.”
“Valentine’s Day?” Jessica said, looking up at him in astonishment.
“What’s the matter?” George asked her, puzzled. “Did you actually forget that Valentine’s Day is coming up?”
“I … I guess I’ve spent so many years trying to ignore Valentine’s Day that I just blocked it out without realizing it,” she confessed.
“Well, that’s a habit we’re going
to have to break,” George said, bending down and kissing her tenderly. “This is
“I’m not committed at all,” she
said. The idea of getting away from
“I thought we’d follow the sun
George’s invitation to
While George prepared dinner for
the two of them in the apartment’s kitchenette, Jessica was on the phone
working through a list of necessary calls.
First she left a message at Ted Hartley’s office, informing him that she
would be out of town and basically unreachable for a week. After that she left
a similar message with the department secretary at
After that, it was time to call home to Cabot Cove. Whenever she traveled, Jessica was in the habit of phoning Seth Hazlitt with the details of her trip; Seth tended to worry about her, and providing him with contact information and flight numbers helped soothe his anxiety. With the sheet of paper listing their itinerary before her, she picked up the receiver and began to dial the doctor’s number in Maine, but before she had punched in more than the 2-0-7 of the area code, she stopped, frowned to herself, and then abruptly put the receiver back down again.
George, in the midst of scrambling eggs for the dinner omelet he was creating, looked up at her in mild concern. “What’s the matter, Jess?”
“It’s Seth,” she replied, chewing the end of her pen nervously. “He was hoping that I would be coming home to Cabot Cove for midwinter break. I warned him that there was a good chance I might have to travel instead …”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Well,” said Jessica, putting down the pen and sitting back in her chair, “there’s a big difference between giving up time at home for a book tour, and giving it up to go on a romantic vacation with you.”
George poured the egg mixture into the frying pan with a hiss. “You think his feelings would be hurt, then, by this rather abrupt change in plans?”
Jessica nodded. “He certainly won’t be happy about it,” she told him soberly. “And I won’t be able to hide the fact that this last-minute vacation was your idea.”
George did not need an explanation of the reasoning behind Jessica’s concern; quite the contrary, thanks to their mutual friend, Cabot Cove’s nosy young veterinarian Tipper Henderson, he had insight on the situation with Seth that not even Jessica was privy to. Although Jessica did not come out and say so directly, he knew that she was hesitant to provide her best friend with the exact details of their spur-of-the-moment trip lest she inflame the low-level jealousy she knew Seth harbored toward the Scottish inspector. George really couldn’t blame her for her reluctance.
Thinking about Tipper provided him with a possible compromise: “Why not leave the details of our trip with someone else in Cabot Cove?” he said as he deftly chopped up a red bell pepper on the cutting board and added it to the omelet. “Surely there is someone there you could trust to be discreet with the information – young Dr. Henderson, perhaps?”
The suggestion appealed to Jessica, who sat up straighter in her chair looking pleased. “That’s a good idea, George,” she said, reaching for her address book to look up the veterinarian’s home phone number. “I’ll just let Seth know we’re going, and that if there’s an emergency, Tipper will know how to reach me.”
George began slicing up an onion, grinning to himself, as Jessica placed her call. Tipper answered on the second ring.
“Doctor Henderson speaking.”
“Tipper? It’s Jessica.”
There was an audible sigh of relief on the other end of the line. “Jessica! Thank goodness. I thought you might be an emergency case of porcupine quills. How are you?”
“I’m fine, thanks. Look, Tipper, I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Anything. What is it?”
George Sutherland is here with me in
Tipper emitted a dramatic groan. “Oh, no. I should have qualified that ‘anything’! Don’t tell me you’re bringing him home with you for your midwinter break. You and George have caused me more trouble …”
“No, no, it’s not like that,” Jessica said, hastily reassuring her friend. “I’m not bringing him home and you don’t need to meet us at the airport. In fact, you don’t need to do anything except take some notes.”
“All right,” Tipper said warily. “I’m listening.”
I are going to
“Say no more, Jessica,” said Tipper, cutting short Jessica’s unnecessary explanation. “When are you leaving?”
Jessica quickly filled her in on the details of the trip. “I don’t really expect you’ll need any of this information,” she concluded. “I just feel better when someone knows how to get in touch with me … just in case.”
“Right. Sounds sensible enough to me,” said Tipper. “My parents always insist that I do the same
when I travel, even if it’s just an overnight continuing ed
“Yes, I’m going to call him next. He’d never forgive me if I didn’t tell him I was going at all – it’s not like I’m trying to hide anything from him.”
“Of course. Well, say hi to George for me, and have a good time. Oh, and Jessica?”
spend too much time on
Jessica laughed. “I won’t,” she promised, and hung up.
While George diced up some potatoes for home fries (or “chips,” as he called them), Jessica took a deep breath and placed her last phone call to Seth.
he said. “I thought I’d be hearing from you. What time does your flight land in
“Er, it doesn’t,” said Jessica. “Seth, I’m sorry – I’m not going to make it home for midwinter break after all.”
me that slave-driver publisher of yours is sending you on some promotional
“Well, then I have good news for you,” Jessica said brightly. “I’ll be getting plenty of rest where I’m going – and lots of good sunshine, too.”
A note of suspicion crept into Seth’s tone. “And where would that be?”
there’s more to
“George?” Seth’s suspicious tone deepened. Jessica looked up helplessly at George, who folded his omelet and shot her an encouraging wink. “What’s he got to do with it?”
“Well … he
paid me a surprise visit here in
“And you said yes.”
I did. Why shouldn’t I?
“I’m sure it will.” Seth’s voice was heavy with poorly-concealed irony.
“Anyway,” Jessica said, anxious to bring the phone call to a quick close, “if anything happens while I’m away, Tipper Henderson knows how to reach me. All right?”
“I s’pose it’ll have to be. Jessica …”
sensed the lead-in to a lecture, which she moved quickly to pre-empt. “I hate
to cut you short, Seth, but George is signaling to me that dinner is just about
ready. I’ll call you when I get back to
George came to the table as she pushed aside the phone, carrying two plates laden with omelet and home fried potatoes. “I think you handled that very well,” he said with approval as he set one of the plates down in front of her.
“Perhaps so,” she replied, “but I’m still going to catch it when we get back. Still, that’s a problem for another day.” She took an experimental taste of her dinner. “This omelet tastes as good as it looks!” she exclaimed.
“I was hoping you’d say so,” George said with a smile. “It’s an old Sutherland recipe. And if you think that’s good, wait til you see what I have prepared for dessert.”
“You made a dessert, too?”
“Not yet,” George said, giving her a decidedly suggestive look. “I was rather hoping … that we could make dessert together.”
Jessica caught his glance, and ducked her head to hide her smile.