Chapter 13


As they headed across Old Town toward the Radisson Gulfside Hotel where Fairbanks and Bradshaw were staying, Jessica experienced a sense of growing urgency that had her quickening her steps to the point that George had to expend some effort to keep pace with her. The feeling did not lessen even when, after they had walked several blocks, the hotel came into view at last.

            “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 Hemingway Museum – he likely faked the evidence that a ghost existed.” As briefly as she could she outlined what she and George had found out the night before on their return visit to the historic home.

“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 Key West – Lieutenant, if he manages to get out of the Keys and back on to the mainland, you may have a very difficult time finding him again.”

“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 Conch Republic. Lyle didn’t question Nick’s unfailing ability to read and measure the situation; he was merely grateful that they’d been able to make as fast a getaway as they had. All they had to do now was get out of the Keys – once they were back on the Florida peninsula, he was confident that any investigation of them would probably get bogged down in the perpetual bureaucratic turf wars between Monroe County’s officials and Miami-Dade’s.

But there was a long way to go on the Overseas Highway before then, and if the traffic was this heavy throughout the Keys, it would take hours before they reached the drawbridge at Jewfish Creek and the county line. Fairbanks squinted against the sun at the line of vehicles up ahead: as he had feared, a lumbering RV was at the front of the parade. No doubt it was driven by tourists that were gawking at every palm tree along the way. He settled into a more comfortable position in his seat, and tried to keep a lid on his impatience.

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 Key West free and clear began to rise.

“If we can get across Seven Mile Bridge, we should be fine,” he said confidently to Nick, who merely grunted in reply. Lyle didn’t take his lack of pleasant conversation personally; Nick had always been a man of few words.

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 Lower Florida Keys. It was always a surreal experience, to be driving through such a vast expanse of more or less open water. Before reaching Pigeon Key and Key Vaca on the eastern end, the span rose into a graceful arch, sixty-five feet high, to leap over the deeper waters of Moser Channel and the shipping traffic of the Intercoastal Waterway.

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 Florida Bay spread out before them. Unfortunately, they also had a good view of the blockade of police cars with flashing lights that waited for them at the end of the seven mile span.

Fairbanks grimly considered his options, and found them lacking. Unless you could fly, there was only one way off the Seven Mile Bridge – well, two, if you counted going back the way you had come.  Given the choices of certain surrender to the east and a chance to maybe lose the pursuit in the west, he made the regrettable decision to take his chances with the latter course of action. Fairbanks slammed on the Explorer’s brakes, almost causing the car following them to rear-end the SUV, and made a sharp turn to the left. The top-heavy Explorer wobbled unsteadily and threatened to roll over as he yanked the vehicle into a hard U-turn, causing Nick to suddenly sit upright and grab at the handle above the passenger side door.

“What the hell are you doing?” he shouted.

“Getting us out of here,” Fairbanks replied as the SUV found its center of gravity again and settled back on all four wheels. Fairbanks pushed the accelerator to the floor and the vehicle sprang forward, pushing Nick against the back of his seat.

“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?”

Fairbanks was too preoccupied to answer. Now pushing eighty miles an hour, he had his hands full with his driving. At this rate of speed the Explorer reacted much more forcefully to the bumps from the uneven pavement, and he didn’t want to lose control. Nick decided that his question had really been rhetorical anyway, and contented himself with hanging on for dear life, his fingers white-knuckled as they gripped the vinyl armrest.

A louder sound began to drown out the road noise of the tires on the concrete; Fairbanks glanced around, but couldn’t find the source. “Do you hear that?” he shouted to Nick.

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 Monroe County sheriff’s deputies leaped out of the helicopter and the police cars to surround the white Explorer. Seeing that Fairbanks was apparently unarmed, they dragged him out of the vehicle and soon had him handcuffed.

“He tried to get us both killed!” Bradshaw cried, pointing at him while a deputy tried to calm him down.

“Judas!” Fairbanks shouted at him in fury. “I was doing no such thing!”

“That’s enough out of you,” the officer that was escorting him said, opening the back of the nearest patrol car and pushing Fairbanks in. “You can explain it all when we get back to Key West.”


            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 Key West than it had to leave it.  When they arrived at the Key West Police Department they were whisked out of their separate police cruisers and escorted into the building, where separate conference rooms awaited them.

Brook Fernando was waiting for Fairbanks in the first, casually perched on a chair he had turned around backwards. Behind him stood Jessica, and George leaned against the wall at the back of the room, watching the proceedings with calm interest.

Fairbanks saw Jessica and rolled his eyes in exasperation. “I should have known,” he said. “It’s a pity I didn’t hit you when we left.”

“Watch it, ghost hunter,” Fernando warned. “You’re not exactly in a position to be making threats.”

“But I haven’t done anything wrong!” Fairbanks protested. “I don’t understand why I was prevented from heading back to Miami.”

“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,” Fairbanks replied.

“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 Monroe County deputies bring Mr. Fairbanks’ vehicle back to Key West with them?”

“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.

“Careful!” Fairbanks snapped. “That is a very delicate piece of equipment you’re manhandling.”

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.”

Fairbanks banged both of his handcuffed fists on the table in outrage. “This is completely unacceptable – I will not sit by idly while you demolish my personal property!”

“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 meter,” Fairbanks said flatly.

“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 Fairbanks. “As I told you when I made my first statement to you after the young man was found dead, after we finished our investigations at the House I returned to my room at the Radisson, where I remained until the next morning.”

“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.”

“He’s mistaken,” Fairbanks said stubbornly. “It wasn’t me. I never left the hotel!”

“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 – Fairbanks finally cracked enough to let the truth of his movements that evening leak out.

“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 him.” Here Fairbanks paused to collect himself – “I … I saw the body in the pool when I went around the side of the house.  I didn’t know who it was – hell, it could have been Berra himself, and his killer might still be lurking in the shadows! I panicked. I ran back to the cab, closing the front gate behind me, and got the hell away from there.”

“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 Fairbanks back to an awareness of his situation. “This is ridiculous,” he said, gathering the remains of his tattered dignity about him. “I’m not saying another word until my attorney is here.”

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 leave. But Fairbanks had one last thing to say just as they reached the door:

“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.”

After Fairbanks had been led away to be processed and to place a call to his attorney, Fernando asked George, Jessica, and Timothy to accompany him back to his office. Once they had settled in he closed the door, turned to Jessica and said, “So, Mrs. Fletcher, what do you think?”

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 Fairbanks told us?”

“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 Manchester doing there?” the detective asked, frowning.

“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 Fairbanks,” Fernando reasoned. “The caller claimed to be Chuck Berra, but I find it hard to believe that Berra’s capable of killing someone in cold blood from the window of a lighthouse. And wouldn’t it be stupid to tell Fairbanks who he was on the phone?”

“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 Key West with him of your own free will,” George pointed out.

            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 Manchester off that second story veranda had to know exactly who they were killing.”

            “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.”