As they headed across
“We need to hurry,” she said as she stepped off the sidewalk to cross the entrance to the Radisson’s brick-paved drive. “In the time it took us to get over here, Mr. Berra may very well have called Mr. Fairbanks to lodge a complaint, and I don’t know what he may do in response.”
The sudden roar of an engine startled both of them, and they turned to see a white SUV come out of the hotel’s parking garage at a high rate of speed. Halfway across the driveway entrance, Jessica was directly in its path.
“Jess – look out!” George jumped into the driveway and pushed her out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, barely in time to keep her from being hit. As they tumbled on to the coarse grass of the hotel’s front lawn, the SUV made a sharp left into the street, cutting off two cars and nearly sideswiping a moped. Horns blared and the moped rider shouted a curse after the retreating vehicle as it sped off into traffic and was lost to sight.
Jessica and George picked themselves up and vainly looked in the direction the SUV had headed, but it had long since disappeared.
“Are you all right, Jess?” George asked in concern.
“I’m fine,” she replied. “You?”
“Nothing’s broken,” he said. “What kind of fool driver was that, anyway? He nearly ran you down!”
Jessica was already reaching for her cell phone. “It was Lyle Fairbanks,” she said grimly as she punched in the number for the Key West Police Department. “I’m afraid I was right; he’s not about to stay in Key West now that hoax has been found out. His assistant was in the passenger seat. I had a good look at both of them … Yes. May I please speak to Lieutenant Brook Fernando? Thank you.”
She paced around in a nervous circle, waiting for the police detective to come on the line. When he did, she didn’t mince her words. “Lieutenant, Lyle Fairbanks and Nick Bradshaw just left the hotel they were staying at in a terrible hurry. I think you need to pick them up as soon as possible – they’re in a white Ford Explorer. I’m sorry, I didn’t get the license plate number.”
“Whoa, slow down, Mrs. Fletcher,” Fernando said. “Pick them up? We already talked to them the morning of the murder. Why do we need to pick them up?”
“Because Mr. Fairbanks committed fraud the night he performed his
investigation for the
“Wait a second, wait a second – who authorized you to be there at night?” Fernando asked.
“No one,” Jessica admitted, with a glance in George’s direction.
“That’s trespassing,” Fernando pointed out unnecessarily.
“That’s not what’s important right now,” Jessica told him impatiently.
“What is important is that Mr. Fairbanks pulled off a major
hoax just hours before Thomas Manchester was killed, something that I’m
not convinced is merely a coincidence. And now he appears to be fleeing
“All right,” Fernando sighed. “I’ll put out an APB on the vehicle and the occupants.”
Lyle Fairbanks gripped the Ford Explorer’s steering wheel and clenched his jaw in growing frustration. Traffic was terrible this morning – even worse than usual. It seemed as though they were making headway at a snail’s pace, stuck in the middle of a long line of cars poking along Route 1. In the lower Keys the highway was mostly two lanes, leaving little opportunity to pass. The road was straight enough, but a steady stream of cars heading in the opposite direction virtually eliminated any chance of nudging out into the other lane.
Nick was slumped in the passenger seat, silently watching the scenery pass
by without comment. The angry phone call
from Chuck Berra earlier that morning had been no surprise to him. Somehow he
had known it would come to this, which was why, he’d explained to his boss,
he’d had all of their equipment already loaded into the back of the Explorer
and their bags packed, ready to go the moment they realized they had worn out
their welcome in the
But there was a long way to go on the
To his great relief, the RV finally turned aside at a campground on Sugarloaf
Key, and he was able to pick up the pace for awhile as the cars that had been
stuck behind it resumed traveling at the speed limit. There was another
slow-down when they reached Big Pine Key – here the speed limit of thirty miles
per hour was strictly enforced on account of the endangered species of Key Deer
that sometimes wandered out of their wildlife refuge and on to the highway.
However, once they left Big Pine and approached Bahia Honda State Park the
traffic started to open up, and once again Lyle’s hopes for getting away from
“If we can get across
The western end of the bridge rested on Little Duck Key; from there the
concrete roadway ventured out into the shimmering turquoise waters of the
widest channel in the islands, paralleled by the older road and railroad bed
that had first pioneered ground transportation into the
As they crested the top of the arch and started down the other side they
were treated to an unmatchable view of the upper Keys and
“What the hell are you doing?” he shouted.
“Getting us out of here,”
“You’re crazy!” Nick said, sweat breaking out on his forehead. “You can’t outrun them!”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lyle fired back.
“The hell I don’t! Have you lost your freakin’ mind?”
A louder sound began to drown out the road noise of the tires on the
Before he had time to answer, a shadow passed over the Explorer as a helicopter overtook them from behind. It sped away ahead of them before alighting on the road surface, leaving just enough room for Lyle to bring the SUV to a screeching halt that left rubber tire tracks on the pale concrete surface of the bridge. As soon as they were stopped, Nick flung open the passenger door, jumped out and bolted, running towards the group of trailing police cars with his hands in the air in surrender.
After that it was all over in seconds. Armed
“He tried to get us both killed!” Bradshaw cried, pointing at him while a deputy tried to calm him down.
“That’s enough out of you,” the officer that was escorting him said,
opening the back of the nearest patrol car and pushing
Now that they were riding in
vehicles that could use lights and sirens to make traffic move aside for them,
it took Lyle and Nick much less time to return to
Brook Fernando was waiting for
“Watch it, ghost hunter,” Fernando warned. “You’re not exactly in a position to be making threats.”
“But I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“Well, for one thing, you and Mr. Bradshaw were specifically asked to remain in Key West for the duration of the Manchester murder investigation,” Fernando reminded him. “So we’ve got you for fleeing a criminal investigation, for starters. Then there’s the matter of you coming up with fake evidence to support the notion that the Ernest Hemingway House is haunted, when in fact it isn’t.”
“You don’t know that it isn’t,”
“Come on,” the detective scoffed. “We know that the museum director, Chuck Berra, called you this morning demanding that you return the money he paid you for your so-called ‘scientific investigation.’”
“It’s true that Mr. Berra called me to discuss arranging a refund of my fee,” Lyle said warily, “but just because the noises that people were hearing on the first floor of the house turned out to be natural in origin does not rule out the possibility that the place is legitimately haunted!”
“It does if you manufactured the evidence to prove to the world that it
was,” Fernando told him. He paused and leaned back to press an intercom button
on the wall. “Barry, did the
“Yes, Lieutenant. The forensics squad is unloading it now.”
“Could you ask them to bring in the … hang on a sec.” He turned to Jessica and asked, “What was it you wanted us to look at?”
“The electromagnetic field meter,” she replied quietly.
“Right.” He turned back to the intercom: “The EM field meter. Have someone bring it in to me in Conference Room One.”
“Sure thing, Lieutenant.”
A few minutes later an officer brought the requested piece of equipment into the room, wrapped in a clear plastic bag. Fernando pulled on a pair of latex gloves and took the meter out of the bag.
The detective merely favored him with a look, then turned the monitor over in his hands. “What are we looking for, Mrs. Fletcher?” he asked.
“We need to look inside of it,” said Jessica. “If you have a small Phillips’ head screwdriver, the back should come off fairly easily.”
“Please, Mr. Fairbanks, calm yourself,” George said from where he stood, his voice soothing and yet dangerous at the same time. “No one is demolishing anything, I assure you. The Lieutenant is merely going to take a peep inside.”
The officer that had brought in the device handed Fernando a screwdriver, which the lieutenant used to remove the back panel. When the circuitry inside was revealed, Jessica approached the table to have a closer look at it.
“There, I thought so,” she said with a satisfied smile. “This has been jury-rigged, and expertly so. Look there, Lieutenant – do you see that little microprocessor chip taped to the side? And the green and yellow wires leading from it to the ends of that triple-A battery?”
“Yeah,” Fernando said. “What about it?”
“The microprocessor is from a remote starter device. It’s triggered by something using an infrared beam – most remote controls use one. Once activated, it starts a current flowing from one pole of the battery to the other, which would produce a weak electromagnetic field – and that, not the presence of Ernest Hemingway’s soul, is what made the needle of the meter move.”
George came over to see for himself. “Remarkable!” he exclaimed when he saw the set-up. “But how do you know what it is and how it works, Jess?”
Jessica blushed a little and glanced down. “I used a remote starter attached to a car bomb as a murder weapon in the book I’m currently writing,” she confessed. “I asked Seth to get me an automatic car starter for Christmas – a gift request he found somewhat strange, since I don’t even know how to drive – and then together he and I proceeded to take it apart to figure out how it worked.”
The police detective stared at her in open astonishment. “Now I really have heard it all,” he said.
Jessica shrugged his comment off. “It was educational,” was all she said. “Anyway, if nothing else it provided us with something fun to do on a dreary winter afternoon.”
Fernando turned back to Fairbanks, who had gone as white as a ghost himself. “Do you have anything to say, Mr. Fairbanks?”
“I have absolutely no idea how those items found their way into my EM field
“You don’t, huh?”
“Absolutely … no … idea,” Lyle repeated.
“Okay, then let’s try a different topic,” Fernando said. “What do you know about the murder of Thomas Manchester?”
“I know nothing about it,” said
“Not true,” Jessica interjected. “A cab driver claims that he picked you up, brought you to the Hemingway House, asked him to wait while you entered the grounds, and then drove you back to the Radisson after just a few moments.”
“It should be easy enough to check,” George commented mildly. “Lieutenant, you do still have Mr. Lawrence in custody, don’t you?”
Fernando quickly picked up on where George was headed. “I sure do,” he said. To the officer that stood by in the room he said, “Baker, go ask Timothy to come join us, would you?”
It was a small department, and Officer Baker returned accompanied by Timothy in no time at all. The young man looked like he hadn’t been sleeping well, but otherwise seemed none the worse for wear. When he saw Jessica, his attitude brightened noticeably.
“Timothy,” Jessica said gently, “is this the gentleman that you told us about – the one you were late in picking up at his hotel, and who asked you to take him to the Hemingway House and back in the middle of the night?”
“Oh, yeah, he’s the one, all right,” Timothy replied, his Canadian accent coming across thicker than usual because of his fatigue. “No chance I’d forget his face, not after the way he reamed me out for having to call a cab twice, eh?”
Jessica smiled. “I didn’t think you would forget,” she said. “Thank you.” She turned to Lyle and said, “Perhaps, Mr. Fairbanks, you should reconsider some of the previous statements you have made to Lieutenant Fernando.”
Confronted with Timothy – Jessica suspected that he’d never expected to see
the young cab driver again –
“All right, fine,” he said, leveling a malicious look at Jessica. “I lied
in my original statement. After I had retired to my hotel room, I received a frantic
telephone call from Chuck Berra, who said that he’d gone back to the House to
check on the security lights and had seen an actual physical manifestation of
the ghost. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go see for myself. So I called
for a cab – twice – and returned to the House, expecting Mr. Berra to be there
waiting for me. When I arrived, the
front gate was open, but there was no sign of Chuck, so I went in to look for
“And you didn’t tell anyone – not Timothy, not the police – what you had seen,” George concluded for him.
“No,” Lyle admitted reluctantly. “You must understand, I was very shaken up. And I knew that just being there at that hour would make me a suspect.”
“Well, you got that part right at least,” Fernando muttered.
The lieutenant’s comment seemed to bring
Fernando sighed, replacing the cover on the back of the EM monitor with the screwdriver and sliding it back into the plastic bag. “Fine,” he said, handing it back to Officer Baker and stripping off the latex gloves. “You can call your lawyer. But once he’s here, we’ve got a lot more to talk about.”
Since the interview was clearly over for now, Jessica and George turned to
“Mrs. Fletcher,” he called, causing Jessica to pause at the threshold. “The wind may have been responsible for the sounds, and a battery may have compromised my EM meter, but unless you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the photograph we took was faked, you cannot completely dismiss the possibility that the Hemingway ghost exists … and I still have the upper hand in our little battle of evidence.”
Jessica, who was still smarting from the ‘Angel of Death’ title the detective had bestowed upon her, was surprised to be asked what she thought, and said so: “What do I think?”
Fernando saw the mingled hurt and confusion in her eyes, and sighed. “Look, I’m sorry about the remark I made on the street the other night,” he said. “You were right about the location of the shooter – we found the marks from a rifle barrel on the sill of one of the lighthouse windows – and I’m not sure how long it would have taken us to figure out that trick with the EM monitor. Gelber was right: you do know you stuff. Accept my apology?”
For a moment Jessica stared at the detective with wide eyes, having not expected to hear him say what he had just told her. Then she softened and smiled. “Apology accepted, Lieutenant.”
“Good. So now that we’ve got that behind us, what do you think about what
“He’s more showman than scientist, and probably guilty of fraud – perhaps several times over, as I suspect that’s why he chose flight – but he did not kill Thomas.”
Fernando sat down heavily in his chair. “I figured that much,” he said. “There wasn’t time for him to leave the cab, go on to the grounds, somehow scurry across the street to the lighthouse, shoot Thomas, return to the grounds – unseen, mind you – and get back to the cab. Unless the shooting took place earlier.”
“No,” George said, shaking his head. “If that were the case, under no circumstances would he have returned to the house later, knowing full well that Thomas’s body was there.”
Fernando turned to Timothy. “Timothy, you’re absolutely positive you saw no one lurking around the House while you were climbing?”
“No one, until I heard the footsteps coming along the second story veranda,” Timothy said. “And once I heard that – well, as I told you before, I didn’t stick around to find out who it was.”
“I would say that under the circumstances, Timothy has been cleared,” Jessica said, anxious to be sure the young man was released. “Even though you still don’t have the real killer, at least Timothy’s whereabouts can more or less be vouched for at the time of the murder.”
“Yeah, Timothy, you’re free to go,” Fernando said reluctantly. He rubbed his face wearily with his hands. “Just call me if you remember anything, okay?”
“I will,” he promised. Fernando beckoned an officer through the window of the office, who met Timothy at the door and took him away to reclaim his belongings and sign the paperwork for his release.
“You know, Lieutenant, there is another possibility that has yet to be examined,” Jessica said after Timothy had gone. “What if the actual intended victim was Mr. Fairbanks, and not Thomas at all? What if the phone call purportedly from Mr. Berra was actually placed by the killer, to lure Mr. Fairbanks into a trap?”
“If so, what was
“Possibly to take the blame for his death. It may be that the fact that Mr. Fairbanks had to call for a cab twice delayed his arrival just long enough to save his life.”
“So we need to find out who actually placed the call to
“On the other hand,” George pointed out, “if Jess is right, whoever it was that called Mr. Fairbanks that night didn’t expect him to live to tell his tale.”
Fernando thought about this for a long moment. “Good point,” he conceded.
While Lyle Fairbanks was being interrogated by Lieutenant Fernando, Nick Bradshaw had been taken to a separate room, where a uniformed sergeant had taken his statement regarding the events of the morning, as well as going over points from his previous statement made following the discovery of Thomas Manchester’s murder. When it was over he left the room feeling drained, and leaned against a wall in the hallway with his eyes closed to collect himself. It was here that George and Jessica came upon him after finishing their own session with Lieutenant Fernando.
“Mr. Bradshaw, are you all right?” Jessica asked him in concern. “You look rather pale.”
Nick passed his hand briefly over his eyes. “I’m fine, really, but thanks for asking,” he replied. “It was just one hell of a ride, that’s all.”
George disappeared for a few moments and returned with a paper cup filled with water from a cooler down the hall. “Here,” he said, urging Nick to take it. “You look like you could use this.”
“Perhaps you should sit down.” Jessica placed a hand on his arm and guided him to a nearby chair.
“Honest to God, I don’t know what happened to Lyle,” Bradshaw said between sips of water. “I’ve never seen him flip out like that before! It’s like he’d lost his mind or something.”
“But you left
He nodded. “Yeah. Hell, I didn’t think there was any reason to stay. And with Berra making a stink about wanting his five grand back, I knew it was only a matter of time before the media came down on us in all their fury, regardless of the facts.” He smiled ruefully. “Lyle’s an expert and whipping up the press,” he said. “Back in our circus days, that was what he did: marketing and public relations. But there’s a downside to drawing media attention to yourself – if things go south, they’ve already got your number.”
“Do you think Mr. Berra’s accusations have merit?” Jessica asked. “Could Mr. Fairbanks have manipulated his equipment to give false readings of a ghost?”
“I suppose anything’s possible,” Bradshaw said thoughtfully. “I mean, I’m just the assistant – Lyle’s the one who has the most to lose if he repeatedly comes up empty-handed. A ghost hunter only has work so long as he keeps finding ghosts. But I just can’t quite believe that he did it. I mean, tampering with the monitors to make them give believable readings – that’s pretty delicate stuff. And Lyle – well, he once told me that when he was in college, he flunked out of his electrical engineering 101 class.”
“Did he have any enemies that you know of?” George asked him.
“Oh, lots – skeptics, rival ghost hunters, property owners upset when he found a ghost, property owners upset when he didn’t find one … lots of people,” Bradshaw said. “The list goes on and on.”
“And what about Thomas Manchester?” Jessica asked. “Did Mr. Fairbanks know him prior to the night of the Hemingway investigation?”
“Never,” Nick assured her.
“It makes you wonder, then, what motive Mr. Fairbanks would have to kill him, if indeed his is the murderer,” Jessica mused. “Unless … unless Mr. Fairbanks thought that the person he was shooting was someone else? Or perhaps the shooter was another person entirely – one of Mr. Fairbanks’ many enemies – and they thought the target they were aiming at was Mr. Fairbanks himself.”
“Nah,” Nick said, waving away the
suggestion with a shake of his head. “When we were leaving Chuck Berra locked
the front gate and turned the security lights back on. The place was flooded with light for the rest
of the evening. So whoever popped
“He’s got a point about the security lights,” George said. “They were a bit of a problem for us last night as well, remember?”
“Yes, I remember,” Jessica sighed. “But if that’s so, then it means Thomas was the intended target all along … and if no one connected with the Hemingway ghost had a motive to murder him, where does that leave us?”
“Right back at square one, I’m afraid,” said George. “And as much as I hate to admit it, that bleck Fairbanks is right – we can’t prove that the ghost was faked until we know how all of the evidence was manufactured – including the inconvenient photograph that showed up on the front page of the newspaper.”