Jessica shut her cell phone
with a snap. “That was
Truman,” she announced. “Tipper
George looked up at her in surprise. “She is?” he said. “Whatever for?”
“He said something about her being on a mission to keep Seth from chaperoning us too closely,” she replied.
“What, because Seth wrung our location out of her? She needn’t have come all the way down here just to make amends for that,” said George.
“Well, she did. Anyway, according to Truman Tipper apparently has Seth well in hand, and will keep him occupied for the remainder of the evening.”
“I won’t ask what she has planned from him,” George said. “I shall merely hope that both of the good doctors have a pleasant time and take advantage of a well-deserved opportunity to unwind.”
Following their own dinner they had
returned to the
Jessica took Thomas’s keys out of
her pocket and placed them on the table in front of her. “Truman wasn’t exactly
sure what she had in mind, but he hinted that it might involve
“I’d like to go on record,” George said, knowing it wouldn’t do any good anyway, “by saying that I think this is a very bad idea.”
Jessica looked at him in wide-eyed innocence. “Why?”
“Because what you propose borders on breaking-and-entering, for one thing,” he pointed out.
Jessica brushed his concern aside. “We’re not doing anything of the sort,” she said. “We have keys, remember?”
George rolled his eyes. “Well, trespassing then,” he said. “Keys or no keys, we have no business being anywhere on that property after dark.”
“After dark and after closing is the only time we can count of having the House empty and quiet,” she pointed out reasonably. Then a new thought occurred to her and she fixed him with a piercing look. “You’re not actually afraid we’ll run into a real ghost, are you, George?”
“Don’t be daft,” he retorted, though if he were to be perfectly honest with himself, that possibility, however remote, did constitute at least a small part of the trepidation he was feeling. “No, it’s just that where you are concerned, Jess, lurking around empty buildings at night is often a preamble to a dangerous situation.”
“If I were doing this by myself, I’d tend to agree with you,” she admitted. “But that’s why you’ve come along for company, right?”
“Aye. Let’s get about doing this, then,” said George. “Just because I don’t think the place is haunted doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t give me the creeps!”
George left money on their table to cover the bill as they rose to head out on their quest. As they did, a figure that had been sitting off in a shadowed corner got up and followed them.
Security lights on the exterior of the house lit the immediate area with an orange glow, forcing them to keep to the bushes as much as possible as they approached the front of the building. Finally they risked leaving the cover of the shadows and made a quick dash for the front doors of the House itself, where Jessica used the second key on the ring to unlock them. As at the side gate she was rewarded with easy access, and they stepped inside.
The usual noises coming from the street were muffled as soon as the doors of the Hemingway House swung shut behind them, the sudden silence enhanced by the darkness of the foyer. Jessica pulled a penlight from her purse and switched it on, providing them with some illumination.
“Where do we start?” George asked her in a low voice.
“The breakfast room, I think,” Jessica responded, keeping her voice equally soft – something about the dark, empty house demanded it. “That’s where the tourists reported hearing the sounds they thought were coming from the ghost.”
They made their way through the drawing room in the front of the house, carefully picking their way past furniture and trying not to tread too heavily on the floorboards. They passed through the dining area and entered the smaller breakfast room, where Jessica shone the beam of the flashlight along the walls, the ceiling, and the floor, looking for anything unusual.
“I can certainly understand Mr. Berra’s willingness to believe that a ghost haunts this place,” George whispered. “Empty and dark like this, it’s quite spooky!”
There was a soft rustling outside the window as a light gust of the night breeze stirred the palm fronds next to the house. At the same moment a low moan, barely audible, echoed through the room.
Jessica, her senses already keyed up, jumped at the sound. “Did you hear that?”
George moved to stand next to her and put a calming hand on her arm. “Aye.”
“Good. I’m glad it wasn’t just my imagination running away with me.”
“If it is running away with you, it’s taking me along for the ride,” George commented.
Another moan floated through the room, slightly louder this time, but still audible over the rustling of the palms outside. Jessica could see the shadow of the leaves moving against the window in the dim light from the street.
“George, what’s making those leaves move?” she asked, inclining her head toward the window.
George gave a quiet chuckle. “I’m quite certain that it’s the wind that’s disturbing them, Elf, not some sort of poltergeist.”
“I agree. Listen carefully, then, the next time you see the leaves move.”
After a few moments of silent waiting, another puff of breeze stirred the palms, and as if on cue, the moan resumed its keening sound.
“It’s the wind,” said Jessica. “You only hear the sound when the wind blows against something resonant … of course, the fireplace!”
“What fireplace?” George asked, confused. “There isn’t one in this room.”
“No, but there used to be,” she said. “Do you remember when Thomas was giving us the tour of the house? He told us how Pauline Hemingway had the dining room fireplace blocked off when she divided the space to create this breakfast room we’re standing in now.”
“Ah, of course!” said George with sudden understanding. “And the flue is still there, in the walls - when the wind blows across the top of the chimney, it causes the column of air in the flue to vibrate …”
“And there’s your ghost,” Jessica finished with evident satisfaction. “It was probably breezy the days that the tourists reported hearing the sounds. They probably weren’t part of an official tour, either, because the noise from a tour group of several people walking and talking would easily drown out a sound as low as that. But one or two people alone might just have been able to hear it.”
Relieved, George followed her back toward the front doors. “Well, that’s one mystery solved, at least,” he said. “Now can we get out of here?”
Jessica carefully locked the doors of the house behind them after they exited, and took the same care with the side gate. “It makes sense,” said George as they walked away from the estate, bound for the Bougainvillea Inn. “Mr. Berra will be disappointed, of course – he wanted very much to believe that the ghost was for real. But it can’t be helped that all it was is the wind in the chimney.”
“No, it can’t,” Jessica agreed, looking back over her shoulder. “Furthermore, it casts some serious suspicion on Mr. Lyle Fairbanks, and his claims.”
George arched an eyebrow and gave voice to what she was thinking: “If the ‘paranormal activity’ that brought him here in the first place turned out to be a perfectly natural phenomenon, then it’s likely his ‘proof’ is no proof at all,” he said.
Suddenly Jessica stopped and tensed.
“What is it?” George asked her in concern.
“Listen,” she said. “Do you hear them?”
George glanced back the way they had come. “There’s no one there,” he told her.
“Exactly my point. I keep hearing the sound of footsteps, but every time I glance back, the sidewalk is empty. I think we’re being followed.”
“Someone knew we were inside the Hemingway House?” George asked.
Her eyes reflected her growing anxiety. “Maybe.”
Taking her arm, George started walking again. “Don’t look back,” he said quietly. “Look straight ahead, and keep walking.”
Jessica nodded, her ears straining for any sound coming from behind them. Sure enough, they had not gone more than a few steps when the quiet footfalls of another person behind them could be heard.
“He must be ducking behind the parked cars whenever we look back,” Jessica whispered.
“Aye,” George replied, keeping a steady grip on her arm.
The front door to one of the houses
up ahead opened, and there was the sound of laughter and shouting as a group of
ten or so revelers spilled out. As Jessica and George came closer, they could
make out snatches of conversation that made it plain that after a warm-up party
in the house, the group was bound for more night life on
“Where’s John?” one woman asked impatiently as the group milled about the front yard.
“He said he had to get his shoes on,” another answered, then shouted much more loudly than necessary, “John! Get out here! Everyone’s waiting for ya!”
“I’m comin’, I’m comin’,” an answering voice called from inside.
Seeing an opportunity, George spoke
urgently into Jessica’s ear: “Quick, Jess – we need to get ahead of that crowd
so that when they start off for
Lengthening their strides, they passed the house just as the tardy John came flouncing outside to join his companions with his sneakers on but untied.
“You’ll trip over those laces and kill yourself,” someone said, laughing.
“Aw, go to hell,” John replied. “Let’s go.”
The group moved into the street and started up the sidewalk. About ten yards ahead of them, George looked at Jessica and smiled. “Perfect timing,” he said.
“Yes,” she agreed. “It’s the first time I’m actually grateful to be in the company of a bunch of rowdy partygoers.”
Being careful not to get too far
ahead of their unruly escort, they reached
“That should do the trick,” George said once they had double-backed and made absolutely sure that they were no longer being followed. “We should be safe now. I say, but if there’s a better street on which to lose a tail than Duval, I haven’t found it.”
“I wonder how Seth and Tipper are faring,” Jessica wondered.
“They’re probably doing just fine, if I know Tipper,” George replied. “Come, Jess – let’s get back to the inn. It’s well past our bedtime.”
It was decided over breakfast in the inn’s courtyard the next day to return the keys from Thomas’s apartment to Chuck Berra that morning, since they no longer needed them after their successful nighttime adventure. Jessica was keen on finding out why Berra had been so cagey about his true motivations for visiting Thomas’s room, as well as confronting him with the results of their “research” the night before.
“He won’t be happy about it,” she said to George, “but he needs to know the truth of what’s going on. He is the president of the museum as well as a historian – he can’t continue to operate under the false belief that the place is haunted, when it isn’t.”
After breakfast George showered first, then headed down to the registration desk to inquire about a restaurant they had seen in his guidebook that they were thinking of trying for dinner that night. While he was away on this errand Jessica took a quick shower of her own, then slipped on her satin bathrobe and began to brush her damp hair. As a child her mother had taught her that she should give her hair a hundred strokes with a brush after washing. Even though she wore her hair much shorter now as an adult than she had as a little girl, she had never broken out of the habit, nor seen any reason to try.
The small bathroom was filled with steam from two hot showers in close succession; in the humid tropical air it was slow to dissipate, and made everything slick to the touch. This was true for the handle of Jessica’s hairbrush as well, and in the middle of a particularly vigorous stroke, it slipped out of her hand and clattered to the tile floor. She bent down to retrieve it, and emitted a groan when she saw that the handle had snapped off on impact, leaving her with two useless bits of plastic.
“That’s what you get for buying a cheap hairbrush to bring on vacation with you, Jess,” she scolded herself as she picked up the pieces.
Jessica bit her lower lip in thought as she regarded the two halves of the hairbrush in her hands. She wiped away the condensation on the mirror with the sleeve of her robe, glanced at her reflection, and sighed at what she saw: there was no question but that it was important – nay, imperative! – that she finish brushing her hair before it dried completely. Then she remembered that George also used a brush for his hair; it was probably somewhere it his suitcase. She doubted he would mind if she borrowed it, and in the unlikely event that he did mind, she knew of several clever ways that she could make it up to him later.
She went back into the bedroom, where George’s suitcase was on a luggage stand in the corner, and knelt down in front of it to begin her search. As she felt around the recesses of the suitcase, her fingertips grazed something she didn’t expect: it was small, cube-shaped … almost in spite of herself, her hand closed around the object and withdrew it from the suitcase.
Jessica’s heart skipped a beat when
she saw the familiar little box. Even without opening it she knew what was
inside. She recalled in vivid detail the
moment when she had seen it the first time, at a departure gate in
She was still staring at the unopened box, transfixed, when George returned to their room.
“Jess?” he said in confusion when he saw her kneeling on the floor next to his luggage.
Caught red-handed, Jessica abruptly turned to face him, her eyes wide with mingled surprise and guilt.
“Jess, what’s the matter? What are you doing?” Then he saw the ring box, still sitting in the palm of her hand. “Oh.”
For a long moment they looked at each other in silence.
“Am I in trouble?” Jessica asked at length.
George stuck his hands in his pockets. “Maybe,” he replied. “And I … am I in trouble as well?”
Jessica continued to gaze at him steadily. “Maybe.”
George crossed the room and held out his hand. Jessica surrendered the ring box to him, placing it in his upturned palm. He then offered her his hand again, this time to help her to her feet, and led her over to the bed, where he sat down beside her and put his arm around her shoulders.
“You’re trembling,” he said in concern. “Does the sight of such a little trifle really instill you with that much fear?”
“It’s hardly a ‘little trifle,’” Jessica told him. “Why did you bring it with you?”
“I could just as easily ask, why were you searching my suitcase?”
Jessica dropped her eyes. “I was looking for your hairbrush,” she said. “Mine broke when I dropped it on the bathroom floor.”
“Ah. So, your finding this was accidental,” he said.
“Quite accidental.” She cocked her head to give him an accusatory look. “Forgive me, but I don’t think you can make the same excuse.”
“For having your
ring here with me in
Jessica repeated her earlier question: “Why did you bring it with you?”
“Why? Because I was waiting for an appropriate opportunity to give it to you again.” He turned the box over in his hands. “I suppose that since you managed to find it on your own – something I should have anticipated, knowing you – there will not be a more appropriate time than now.”
In response George put a gentle finger to her lips. “Shh, Jess. I know what you’re about to say. But I’m not asking you to marry me this time.”
Her bewilderment was mirrored in her blue eyes. “You’re not?”
He smiled at her, amused by the way he could practically see the wheels turning in her mind as she tried to fathom is intentions. “No. Although that may have been the case the first time you saw this box, it is not my intent now. I am wiser now than I was then. This time I am merely offering this as a symbol of my love and commitment to you, not to bind you to me in any way. I expect no vows or promises from you in return.”
Still Jessica hesitated, uncertain as to what to do. George sighed. “You’re thinking too hard about this, love,” he told her. “It is as simple as this: you can accept it as my gift, or it can continue to gather dust on the top shelf of my wardrobe. It is a very beautiful ring – the stone is well-cut, the setting is exquisite, and the band is made of the finest quality white gold. Personally, I think it would be a shame for it not to be worn and appreciated.”
His words had the desired effect of overcoming her reticence, and even made her smile. “Beautiful things should not be shut away,” she agreed. She accepted the box – finally – and opened it, once again marveling at the way the diamond caught the light. Wordlessly she watched as George removed the ring from its velvet nest, took her hand in his, and slid the ring on to the ring finger – of her right hand.
“There,” he said, leaning forward and kissing her softly. “A perfect fit. How does it feel?”
Jessica held up her hand and looked at it in wonder. “Like it was made for me,” she said. She then fixed him with a sharp look. “Was it?”
George looked uncomfortable as he sought to avoid her gaze. “Speir nae questions an ye'll be telt nae lees,” he said, reverting to his native tongue.
“And what does that mean?”
“Perhaps it would be better if you look that one up for yourself,” George suggested.
Jessica decided to let the matter drop for now, and resumed admiring her ring. “It is beautiful,” she said. “What it represents is even more beautiful.” She looked up at him with sparkling eyes. “Thank you.”
George let his lips brush hers again. “You’re most welcome, Elf,” he told her. “Wear it always, for me?”
“For you,” she replied, and kissed him back. “George?”
He drew back a little to look at her, his hands halfway down the sleeves of her satin robe. “Yes, my love?”
“May I borrow your hairbrush now?”
He chuckled and began kissing her again, intent on working his way down her throat toward her collarbone. “Do you really want to be brushing your hair at a time like this?” he murmured.
Jessica put the palm of her hand against his forehead and gently pushed him away before he could go any further. “Yes, I do!” she laughed. “And trust me, you want me to as well. If I don’t finish my hundred strokes before it dries, it will look like a bird’s nest.”
George groaned and relented, lying back on the bed with a sigh of exasperation. “Go on, then,” he told her. “I can wait, if I must.”
Jessica jumped off the bed and resumed fishing around his suitcase for his brush, which she quickly found. “Yes,” she said with a sly look at him as she returned to the bathroom, “you must.”
Chuck Berra was under a lot of stress that morning. As yet he hadn’t had to divulge to anyone exactly why he was experiencing so much stress, but at this point he had just about given up hope that he could keep it his secret for much longer. The board would have to be informed of this indiscretion, and its members were not going to be happy. In despair he pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes in a feeble attempt to ward off the headache he was sure he’d have by noontime.
A voice interrupted the dark night of his soul: “Looking for these, Mr. Berra?”
He snapped his head up in surprise and saw Jessica standing in the open doorway of his office. In her hand she held the keys she had appropriated from Thomas’s apartment, dangling from the leather fob.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, brightening immediately when he saw them. “Uh …”
“When you came to Thomas’s apartment yesterday, these are what you were looking for,” Jessica told him as she walked into the office to stand before his desk. “I think I know how they got there, and I’m pretty sure I know why you were so anxious to get them back.” When Berra still seemed unable to do anything other than open and close his mouth in embarrassment, she continued: “What I’m not clear on is why you didn’t simply tell us what you were after.”
“Because …” Berra began, then stopped. A flush colored his normally pale face.
“Because … you didn’t want the word to get out that you had loaned out a set of keys to the property, in clear violation of the museum’s policy?” Jessica finished for him.
Berra looked up at her with a rueful smile. “It could very possibly cost me my job,” he explained.
“I see. So your superiors on the board of directors had absolutely no idea that Thomas had a set of keys so he could come and go as he pleased?”
“Absolutely none,” Berra confirmed.
“Well,” said Jessica, “all I can say is that it’s lucky that I found them at Thomas’s place after the police overlooked them.” She handed the keys over to Berra, who accepted them gratefully.
“Thank you,” he said with evident relief.
“Actually, I should be the one thanking you,” she said. “I came here not just to return the set of keys to you, but also to make a confession: my friend George and I used the keys last night to get into the House and have a look around.”
“You what?” Berra yelped. “Why?”
“To find out once and for all what was causing the unusual signs that everyone was attributing to Ernest Hemingway’s ghost,” she explained.
The museum director massaged his temples. “I assume you found what you were looking for?” he said wearily.
“We did,” Jessica said.
Jessica glanced at the floor for an awkward moment. She hated to dash the man’s hopes for a chance to be close to the supernatural, but the truth was important, and best he hear it now, from her in private, than later, after it had been laid bare in public by the press. “The bricked up fireplace in the dining room,” she said at last. “When the wind blows from the right direction and with the proper speed, it blows across the top of the chimney and makes the closed column of air between it and the fireplace vibrate with a resonance that sounds like a person moaning.”
Chuck Berra sat back in his chair and sighed. “I should have thought of that,” he said. A new thought occurred to him then, and he frowned. “If what you say is true, and all along what everyone was hearing was just wind in the chimney, how is it that Lyle Fairbanks was able to find ‘proof’ of the ghost in the same room?”
“I suspect that he didn’t,” Jessica told him as gently as she could. “The whole thing was probably faked, and more for Mr. Fairbanks’ benefit than for yours in all likelihood.”
“There were the photos in the newspaper …”
“Altered somehow, I suspect,” she said. “How they did that, I haven’t the faintest idea. But if we can figure out how that was done, then the entire case will fall apart.”
Berra wasn’t quite ready to give up all faith just yet. “But – we all saw the needle on the electromagnetic field monitor move,” he pointed out. “How could he have faked that?”
“That’s another thing I’m not sure about, at least not yet,” she replied. “But things may become clearer once Lieutenant Fernando has a chat with him – which I’m sure he will want to do, once he learns that the ‘ghost’ Mr. Fairbanks was chasing was nothing more than the wind.”
After Jessica had gone, Chuck Berra sat for a long moment in silence at his desk. He felt like a fool. Worse, he’d wasted several thousand dollars of the museum’s money, an offense that was far worse than breaking the rule about not loaning out the keys. But unlike the situation with the missing keys, this was something he actually had a chance to do something about. He sifted through a pile of papers on his desk until he found the one with the phone number he was looking for on it, and dialed.
“Hello,” he said when the other person answered. “We need to talk.”
Jessica left the museum offices and went looking for George, finding him standing on a small footbridge that arched over a man-made water garden at one end of the estate.
“How’d it go?” he asked when he looked up and saw her.
Jessica joined him at the rail at the center of the span. “He took it about as well as I expected,” she said. “But he also brought up a valid question that we still need to address: if the ghost doesn’t exist, and Lyle Fairbanks has committed fraud, how did he manage to fake the photographs and the other evidence the night of the investigation?”
“Furthermore,” George added, “what does all of this – or even any of it – have to do with young Mr. Manchester’s murder?”
Jessica gazed down into the murky water of the pond as if the answers might be found submerged there. “I don’t know,” she said unhappily. “For all the progress we’ve made regarding the mystery of Hemingway’s ghost, it seems as though we’ve gotten nowhere in the pursuit of poor Thomas’s killer.”
George put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a gentle squeeze. “Chin up, Elf,” he said consolingly. “We don’t know that we haven’t made progress on that part of the case. If the two events are in fact connected, we may be closer to the solution than it may seem.”
“Perhaps.” She took a deep breath and let it out again. “Now that we’ve returned Thomas’s keys to Mr. Berra, I think it’s time that we had a little chat with Mr. Lyle Fairbanks.”
“Aye,” George agreed. “I believe that he has considerable explaining to do.”