Byron was serene in the face of the protest being delivered to him by his first visitors of the day. He listened patiently while Jessica paced back and forth in front of his desk, letting Byron feel the full force of her icily polite fury while George stood back, arms crossed, his face a study of his own quiet anger.
“We came to
must admit, Mrs. Fletcher,” Byron said, “your involvement in this case is
newsworthy. That would be true regardless of whether you are supposed to be
here on vacation or not, in
Jessica ceased her pacing and stared at him. “Involvement?” she repeated. “Whatever made you think that we’re involved?” True or not, she resented that Byron had come to this conclusion so easily.
Byron leaned back in his chair, knitting his fingers behind his head and looking slightly smug. “You did ask for a copy of the photograph we ran the morning of the murder,” he reminded her. “And you told me that you were a friend of the victim. Draw your own conclusions.”
“I don’t need to draw my own conclusions,” Jessica fired back. “Can’t someone be curious without being involved?”
“Apparently not if that person is you, Jess,” George said from his vantage point.
“The fact remains,” said Jessica, aiming a pointed look at George before returning her attention to the journalist, “you printed information about Inspector Sutherland and me without our knowledge, and quoted statements made by us in your newspaper without our permission.”
Byron held up his hands in a sign of truce. “All right, all right, you have a point there,” he admitted. “I should have told you that I was intending to write up an article about you and the Inspector. I’m sorry, I apologize, and I won’t print anything else about either of you without consulting you first. Is that good enough?”
said Jessica. “I also want you to promise that we won’t have reporters hounding
our every step while we remain in
“I can’t speak for any other media outlets besides my own,” Byron said, “but … all right. No Citizen reporters following you around.” Jessica looked mollified, but Byron wasn’t finished. “On one condition – if you do happen to find out anything of interest in the course of your vacation,” – he put heavy emphasis on the word – “you share what you learn with me before you tell it to anyone else. Deal?”
Jessica and George exchanged a long look as they considered Byron’s offer. Finally George nodded, and Jessica turned back to Byron with a softer look.
“Deal,” she said as the faintest beginnings of a smile began to play about her lips. She extended her hand, which Byron accepted, sealing their agreement.
What Jessica wanted to “check out” was the
The entrance to the lighthouse museum and gift shop, run by the Key West Art and Historical Society, was set next to where the picket fence and the path ended, depositing visitors deep into the lighthouse property. Jessica and George stopped inside to pay the small admission fee, then went directly to the foot of the lighthouse itself and went inside.
George peered up into the interior of the tower. Its bricks had been painted white like the outside, to better reflect the natural light coming in through windows set at intervals along its height. In more modern times two strings bearing electric halogen lights running from top to bottom had been added, apparently meant to supplement the illumination provided by the windows. The center of the space was dominated by an open metal spiral staircase, coiled like a helix around its central support pillar as it ascended toward the unseen top of the building.
“Whew!” he said. “It looks like a long way up.”
“Eight-eight steps,” Jessica said, glancing upwards. “Ready?” Without waiting for his reply she set her foot on the bottom step and began to climb.
“Well, I suppose it isn’t getting any shorter,” George sighed as he began to follow her up.
It was, in fact, a long way up, and since stopping to rest only tempted them to look down – not a comfortable view on an open staircase – they kept their breaks to a minimum, pausing only twice to catch their breath.
At last they reached the door that led out to the balcony, and stepped out into the open air. The whole island, an emerald green gem set in the midst of a turquoise sea, stretched out before them under a cloudless blue sky.
“This view would be breathtaking,” George managed to say, “if I were not already quite out of breath.”
Jessica followed the balcony around the circumference of the tower, enchanted by the view afforded from their lofty vantage point. They were very high up, so high that they were well above the top of the canopy of the huge banyan tree that grew near the lighthouse’s foundation. About three-quarters of the way through her circuit, she stopped and focused on one particular building.
“George,” she said, “look – you can see the Hemingway House very clearly from up here.”
George followed her gaze. “Aye,” he said. “We’re just across the street, after all, and high up as well. What of it?”
“Well, from this angle at least someone standing up here would have an excellent view of the whole south side of the house, including the pool and the second floor veranda,” she told him. “See? That poinciana tree blocks one corner of it, but most of it is completely open to view.”
“Are you thinking that Thomas’s murderer shot him from all the way up here?” George asked dubiously.
“Maybe not all the way up, but possibly from somewhere in the lighthouse tower, yes,” she replied. “Come on – I noticed something on the way up, and I want to take a closer look at it on the way down.” She headed back into the tower and back down, her steps ringing on the metal staircase’s steps.
George hastened to catch up with her, acutely aware that going down was, if anything, more nerve-wracking than the climb up. Jessica seemed unmindful of this, however, as she came to a stop about a third of the way down, next to one of the lighthouse’s windows. It was small and square, cut directly through the thick brick walls to create a sill about a foot deep. It contained no glass; instead, a wooden shutter attached to the exterior frame could be closed and latched shut from the inside in inclement weather. Today, however, it was wide open to let in the breeze and sunlight.
“I thought so,” Jessica said, looking through the opening. “This window shares the same line-of-sight as the place where we were standing up on the balcony. And look, George – you get that perfect view of the veranda, patio, and pool from here as well.”
George, a step above her, bent down to look over her shoulder. “It’s still a fair distance from here to there,” he said.
“I know – but he was shot with a high-powered rifle. I can’t imagine that this would be outside of the range of a professional weapon such as that.” She glanced down at the window sill, where something caught her eye – metallic marks, hardly more than scratches really, marring the whitewashed surface of the bricks at the edge of the window opening. “Marks made by the barrel of the rifle?” she asked.
“Here, let me get to the step you’re standing on so I can have a look,” George suggested. Jessica went down a couple of steps, allowing George to take her place to examine the marks more closely. “It would seem that you’re right,” he announced. “It looks like the marksman rested the barrel of his gun on the edge to steady it.”
“So this is where the murderer was – perched in this window, with the veranda in his sights,” said Jessica. She took a breath. “Well. I guess we can go to the Key West Police Department to see Timothy now – I’ve seen what I came to see.”
“Good,” said George with evident relief as they resumed their decent. “I’ve always thought I had a good head for heights, but this bloody staircase is not to my liking!”
They reached the bottom and headed back out the pathway to
Jessica and George kept to their side of the street and paused to watch the
impromptu press conference without being noticed.
“Mr. Fairbanks,” a woman reporter said, stepping forward with her tape recorder, “do you have any theories as to why Ernest Hemingway has come back to haunt this house so many years after his death?”
“It’s impossible to say for sure,”
This comment drew a babble of follow-up questions, the loudest of which was, “So you’re saying his appearance here is only temporary?”
“Of course not,”
“Did the ghost say anything to you?” another reporter asked.
“No. That’s not unusual, really. Most authentic ghostly apparitions are mute.”
“Mr. Fairbanks – how much did the
“I can’t comment on that.”
Jessica sighed and shook her head.
“Heard enough?” George asked her.
“More than enough,” she said, hooking her arm through his as they started back towards downtown. “Let’s go see how poor Timothy is faring.”
The consultation room at the Key West Police Department was actually a relatively pleasant place compared to similar rooms Jessica had seen in other cities. Although it was windowless, the brightly painted walls and high ceiling gave the room a feeling of airiness. A ceiling fan, its blades shaped like palm fronts, kept the air from becoming stagnant. The furniture in the room was showing its age, but it was sturdily built and in good repair. At the moment Timothy was seated in an upholstered chair on one side of a wide wooden table; Jessica and George sat opposite him. A uniformed officer stood discreetly at the door, arms crossed, keeping an eye on the prisoner. After escorting Timothy in, the officer had stuck a pair of earplugs in his ears so he would not be privy to their conversation.
Jessica got right to the point. “All right, Timothy, the truth – how did your carabiner come to be clipped to the rail of the veranda at Ernest Hemingway’s house?”
Timothy took a deep breath, and spread his hands flat on the scarred surface of the consultation room table. “I was buildering there,” he said. “After everyone left.”
“It’s a word related to ‘bouldering,’” Timothy explained.
George and Jessica looked at each other, obviously still at a loss. “I’m afraid that doesn’t make things any clearer,” said George.
Timothy grinned. “Okay, let me back up, then,” he said. “’Bouldering’ is climbers’ lingo for scaling short rock faces without equipment or aids. ‘Buildering’ is essentially the same thing, except that instead of climbing a natural rock face, you’re climbing a man-made structure.”
“I get it now,” said George. “So you were practicing climbing at the Hemingway House – and doing it at night, I assume, because it’s considered trespassing.”
“Right again,” Timothy admitted. “Building owners tend to frown upon people ascending the exterior walls. Insurance companies frown upon it too. And law enforcement especially doesn’t like it.”
“If buildering, like bouldering, is done without aids, why do you have climbing rope in the trunk of your cab?” Jessica asked. “And why were you using a carabiner at the House?”
“Because I’m, ah, not quite a purist,” Timothy admitted. “I like to use safety equipment whenever it’s feasible to do so, so I don’t needlessly crack my skull open if I fall. At a place like the Hemingway House, with that nice, solid iron railing, it would be stupid not to take advantage of an opportunity to run a safety rope.”
That made sense to Jessica. “So what exactly happened that night while you were there scaling the outside of the house?”
“Well, I was shimmying up one of the posts supporting the veranda,” Timothy said. “I’d just reached up to clip my carabiner on the upper rail and was about to run my harness rope through it when I heard footsteps – someone was coming around the corner of the veranda! Well, obviously I didn’t want anyone to find me there, since I wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place. I grabbed my rope, slid back down the support, and booked it out of there, double-time.”
“And left behind the carabiner?” Jessica asked.
“Well, it was small enough that I figured it wouldn’t be noticed by whoever was up there,” said Timothy. “I figured I could retrieve it later that night, or early in the morning.”
“That explains the carabiner,” George said. “What happened after that?”
“Well, when I got back to my cab, which I’d parked on a side alley a couple of blocks away, the radio was squawking. Apparently a fare had called for a ride, everyone else was busy, so they’d called on me to go pick this guy up.”
“But you weren’t in your cab to get the call, because you were otherwise occupied,” Jessica figured.
Timothy nodded. “Right. When I didn’t answer the radio call, everyone assumed I’d gone to pick up the fare. Well, obviously I hadn’t, and in the meantime the guy had called for a cab a second time. Now he’s getting irate, because he’s in a hurry and it’s been twenty minutes since he called the first time.”
“So what did you do?” asked George.
“Ditched my rope and harness in the trunk in record time and beat it over to the Radisson Gulfside to pick up that fare.”
“What time was that?” Jessica asked.
Timothy thought back. “Had to be around twelve-thirty,” he said. “A church bell was ringing as I was stowing my gear.
“And your fare – was it Mr. Fairbanks?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Timothy acknowledged. “He
was pretty hot under the collar, let me tell you – and he wanted to be taken
back over to the
George, who had been following the story with intense concentration, asked, “Was he acting strangely?”
“He seemed excited, I guess,” Timothy replied. “I couldn’t figure out why he wanted to go over there when the Museum was obviously closed. I think he had some second thoughts about it too, because when we pulled up to the front gate he asked me to wait for him.”
Here Jessica paused Timothy in his tale. “Timothy – was the front gate open or closed?”
“Oh, it was open,” Timothy said decisively. “I figured that must mean someone was expecting him, except that the house itself was all dark – not a light on to be seen. Anyway, I waited, just like he asked me to, and after only a few minutes he came back. He closed the gate shut behind him, jumped into the back seat, said that the person he was supposed to meet wasn’t there after all, and asked me to take him back to the Radisson. He seemed shaken to me, like he’d seen a ghost or something.”
“Maybe he did,” George mused.
Jessica was still thinking about something the young cabbie had said earlier. “You said that when you brought Mr. Fairbanks back to the House, the front gate was open?”
“Was it open when you came by to, er, practice your climbing?”
“Actually, it was, now that you mention it,” Timothy said. Then he chuckled: “Not that it would have mattered. That brick wall is ridiculously easy to climb without aids – a child could scale it, no problem.”
“Timothy says that he did hear someone coming around the corner of the veranda while he was making his ascent,” Jessica told Fernando when she and George met with the lieutenant in his office after their visit with the young cab driver. “He says that’s why he took off in such a hurry, and left the carabiner behind – but he never saw who it was that was approaching.”
Fernando sighed and rubbed his temples. “All right,” he said. “So maybe the climber’s just an unwitting witness to the prelude to whatever was about to go down at the House. It doesn’t change the fact that the only physical evidence at the scene belongs to him!”
“There isn’t any physical evidence on the veranda pointing to someone else because the killer was never on the veranda,” said Jessica.
“Then where was he?”
“Across the street,” Jessica said, “watching the movements on the veranda from the Key West Lighthouse.”
“There is a perfect view of that side of the house from a window about half way up the tower,” George added.
From the look on his face, it was clear enough that Fernando had not considered this possibility. “Well,” he said at last, “it bears checking out …”
“If you find any signs that a shooter was perched up there – a shell casing, marks on the windowsill, anything – I think it’s pretty safe to say that Timothy is telling the truth, and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Jessica asserted.
“Yeah, well, we’ll see,” the lieutenant said grudgingly.
“Cunning vixen,” George said to Jessica as they exited the building back into the intense sunlight of the Keys. “You know full well that he’ll find the metal scrape marks on the edge of the lighthouse windowsill from the rifle barrel. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because,” Jessica said, taking his hand as they set off down the street, “I have found, in my experience, that sometimes it’s best to let the officials take the credit for little things like that. I have no wish to ‘show up’ Lieutenant Fernando, who is a perfectly capable law enforcement officer. And the less obvious we are about our guidance, the more likely he’ll be to continue sharing information with us.”
“You’re as wise as you are beautiful, Elf,” George said. “You’re right, of course – it matters little who found the marks first, so long as young Timothy is exonerated and released.”
The double doors of the hospital’s conference rooms opened and their audiences spilled out into the lobby. It was noon, and the seminar was taking its midday break, giving the participants an opportunity to browse the vendors’ booths, catch up with what was going on at their practices back home, and of course get a bite to eat for lunch. Seth was near the back of a group leaving one of the lectures, having just finished listening to a presentation about the benefits of aromatherapy. Truman, who had attended the same lecture, was waiting for him near the doors and clapped him on the shoulder as he emerged.
“Well, Boomer, what did you think?” he asked.
Seth, his head swimming with essential oils, infusions, enfleurage pommades and aqueous extracts, looked at his friend and said, “I would never have guessed that there were so many uses for lavender.”
Truman grinned. “If you think lavender’s impressive, wait ‘til you see what we do with jasmine!”
They headed off in the direction of
the hospital cafeteria, passing displays of acupuncture needles, shiatsu
massage equipment, and books on meditation and hypnosis. Although Seth’s
pretext of being in
“So,” Truman said amicably, “are you enjoying the conference so far?”
“It’s … er … been very interesting,” Seth replied, trying to sound non-committal. “I don’t think I’m ready to throw out my anti-inflammatory agents for acupuncture needles, though.”
“It’s not about throwing out Western medicine, it’s about expanding the options we have to offer our patients,” Truman countered. “That’s why we call it ‘complementary medicine.’”
“Right,” Seth muttered.
“And it’s not as if these therapies are new or revolutionary. Most of this knowledge has been known to traditional healers in certain societies for centuries, even millennia.”
“Of course.” It was obvious that Seth’s thoughts were elsewhere; otherwise, he would not have been agreeing with Truman as easily as he was.
“Seth, you haven’t heard a word I’ve said,” Truman said in exasperation.
“Huh? … Ah, no, I guess I haven’t,” Seth admitted. “Sorry. I was thinking about something else.”
Truman stopped him in the middle of the corridor. “She’s all right, Boomer,” he said, grasping his friend’s arms in earnestness. “She can take care of herself.”
“I know.” Seth took a breath and seemed to collect himself. “Come on, I’m starved,” he said as they resumed their course for the cafeteria. “Are all the roots and vegetables confined to your ‘traditional healers,’ or do they have a decent salad bar in this place as well?”
After leaving the police station, George and Jessica had found their footsteps drawn back down to the waterfront, looking for lunch but in the mood for something more in tune with the local population, not the tourists.
The Village Market, set inside a former warehouse at the end of the Harborwalk, fit the bill exactly. It was part grocery store and part deli, and catered to both the boaters in the adjacent marina and the year round residents. As would be expected it had an extensive selection of fresh seafood set out on ice, but some of its other offerings were more surprising: a sushi bar, for instance, and a centrally placed corkboard where anyone was welcome to post an advertisement for an apartment to sublet, guitar lessons, yoga classes, anything.
The deli portion of the store had come up with an ingenious method for taking orders for sandwiches: at the counter were pads of paper listing the choices for bread, meat, vegetables, and condiments, and an assortment of pens and pencils. Customers simply checked off what they wanted on their sandwiches, wrote down their name, and tore off the slip to place in a waiting basket. The workers behind the counter took the slips out and duly made the sandwiches to order, wrapping them in waxed paper and calling out the patron’s name when it was ready. There was very little opportunity for confusion, and unless a customer was particularly sloppy in how they marked their choices, and little chance that anyone got anything besides what they had ordered.
After moving smoothly through this process, Jessica and George took their lunches out to the Harborwalk deck, where the Village Market had provided some stools and a makeshift tabletop set atop the handrail for people to sit down and eat.
“What did you get?” Jessica asked.
“Watercress on pumpernickel bread with mustard, tomatoes, and pickles,” he replied. “You?”
Jessica, who thought his choices were interesting to say the least, answered, “Swiss cheese, spinach, and sprouts on whole wheat.”
“That sounds good. Want to try a bite of mine?”
“No, thanks – maybe some other time,” she demurred.
For awhile they ate in companionable silence, watching people working on their boats in the slips. Finally, George asked, “Do we have any plans for the afternoon?”
“Nothing certain,” Jessica said. “Except … I was wondering if you’d be interested in going over to the Green Heron Guest House with me.”
“That’s Thomas’s old address, isn’t it?” George asked. “The police are certain to have been there and carted off anything of interest to the case by now, Elf – what do you hope to find?”
She shrugged as she folded her wax paper into a neat square to deposit in a nearby trash receptacle. “I don’t know, really,” she admitted. “But it’s possible that you or I would notice something still there that the police overlooked.”
“Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m game if you are,” George said. “Do you know the address?”
“I do, actually,” Jessica said. She looked a bit embarrassed as she slid off her stool. “I, um, looked it up this morning before we left the inn.”
“Ah,” said George with a knowing smile.
After lunch Truman announced, “Well, Boomer, I don’t mean to abandon you, but the first of the lectures I’m scheduled to deliver starts in twenty minutes. Coming?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Seth said, although in truth he didn’t even know what the topic of Truman’s lecture was supposed to be.
“Afterwards I’ll be busy setting up a reception for some of our honored speakers,” said Truman. “That will keep me tied up until five-thirty at the earliest. Fortunately, one of your fellow conference attendees contacted me this morning and offered to guide you through the rest of the afternoon’s activities.”
Seth tried to demur. “That’s very thoughtful, Truman, but I really don’t think that’s necessary …” Spending time with Truman was all right, but the idea of having to endure the company of some aging hippie flower-child extolling the virtues of crystals and yoga was unappealing to say the least.
Truman gave him a friendly clap on
the shoulder, laughing at what Seth was obviously thinking. “Don’t worry,” he
said. “I wouldn’t hand you off to just anyone. This person is a friend of
yours, and hails from the State of
“Really?” Seth asked, his interest piqued.
“That’s right. She’s meeting us over in the hospital’s atrium.”
“She?” Seth’s interest was instantly transformed into suspicion as a horrible thought began to form in his mind.
“Yes!” Truman replied as the hallway ended and they entered the soaring, plant-filled glass enclosure of the atrium. “She was very anxious to catch up with you – ah, there she is now.”
A young woman with auburn hair drawn back into a ponytail was standing in front of one of the conference’s many notice boards, studying the posted schedule for the afternoon. She was casually dressed for the warm weather in a t-shirt and cargo shorts, with a pair of sports sandals on her feet and a backpack slung across her shoulder. When she turned from the notice board to face them, Seth’s worst fears were confirmed.
“Hi, Seth,” Tipper said brightly. “Enjoying the conference so far?”
“It’s been full of surprises, Doctor Henderson,” Seth replied in a growl.
Truman looked at his watch. “Well, I must be off. Tipper has attended the conference before, Boomer, so she’ll be able to tell you which lectures you should attend. I’ll meet up with you here, as soon as I get that reception stuff under control. Have fun!” And he strode off toward the lecture halls with a backwards wave.
Seth and Tipper were left regarding each other – he with disgruntlement, she with poorly-disguised amusement.
“All right,” Seth said at last, “which god did I offend to get saddled with you on this trip?”
“Given that yesterday was Valentine’s Day, I’d say that Cupid heads the list,” Tipper replied mildly.
“Well that’s just great,” said Seth with sarcasm. “What are you doing here, anyway? You’re a veterinarian, not a physician.”
“Very astute, Dr. Hazlitt,” Tipper said. “Since you’re so sharp on the pick-up, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that this conference doesn’t just cater to human medicine.” She waved her hand to inclusively indicate the sponsor booths that lined the perimeter of the atrium. “Many of these companies make animal health care products in addition to their human product lines.”
“Hrmph,” said Seth, who hadn’t really paid that close attention. As they began walking toward the lecture rooms, he cast an appraising eye at Tipper’s chosen attire, noticing the front of her t-shirt for the first time: it featured the logo of the Hog’s Breath Saloon and the slogan “Hog’s Breath is better than no breath at all.”
“For someone attending a professional conference, you seem somewhat underdressed,” he said stiffly.
Tipper gave Seth an equally appraising
look before responding. “No, you’re overdressed,” she retorted, referring to
his button-down shirt, slacks, and bowtie. “This is
Seth looked around, and saw that she was right. “Hrmph,” he said again. “You never answered my question: what are you doing here? And don’t tell me that it’s only to attend this conference.”
“Well, I may have had an ulterior motive for coming down here, yes,” Tipper admitted.
“And that would be …?”
Tipper laughed and adjusted the strap of her backpack on her shoulder. “I’ll tell you later,” she said. “First, we have some continuing education to pursue – and there are a couple of good lectures starting in five minutes. Would you prefer to learn about ‘Contemporary Applications for Acupuncture,’ or ‘Massage Techniques for the Post-Surgical Knee Patient’?”