Chapter 14


That evening at Truman’s invitation, Seth, Tipper, Jessica, George and Timothy gathered at the Buckley residence to celebrate Timothy’s release from jail.

            “I’m going to put my climbing equipment away for the duration of the season,” Timothy vowed, raising his beer as if to emphasize the sincerity of his intent in front of witnesses. “After being the guest of the Key West Police Department for two nights, I don’t want to impose upon their hospitality again.”

            “Had you heard anything further about Fairbanks and Bradshaw by the time you left?” George asked.

            “Nothing specific – just that Fairbanks is still in custody,” Timothy replied. “But they let the other guy, Nick, go. It looks like he was just along for the ride on all of this. He was leaving the police station at the same time as I was.”

            “He was quite literally along for the ride, this morning, at least,” George said.

            “Where’s Tipper?” Jessica asked.

            “She’ll be down in a minute,” Seth said. “She said she wanted to plug her laptop in so it could recharge – oh, here she is.”

            Timothy turned to see the newcomer as she bounced outside, letting the screen door bang shut behind her, and nearly dropped his beer. Given the relative ages of the others present, he had expected an older woman, a doctor like Truman and Seth perhaps. Instead, the lithe young woman wearing the white tank top, breezy skirt and Teva sandals came as something of a shock to his system. She’d left her auburn hair loose to fly in long strands about her face, and her eyes … he really couldn’t say what color her eyes were, only that they were beautiful and expressive.

            “Timothy, this is our mutual friend from Cabot Cove, Dr. Angela Henderson,” Jessica said, taking the initiative to make the introductions. “Tipper, this is Timothy Lawrence. He’s from Canada, and lives and works in Key West part time.”

            Well, he’d gotten the doctor part right, at least. “Tipper?” he asked as he hesitantly offered her his hand.

            She flashed him a dazzling (to his eyes) smile as she casually brushed her hair back from her face with one hand and took his own in her other with a firm grip. “Everyone calls me Tipper,” she said.

            “May I ask why?”

            “Not until you know me better,” she laughed, with just the slightest hint of nervousness.

            Timothy had long ago learned to accurately read people at a glance. In the world of professional climbing and guiding, where trust between team members was paramount, it was important to be able to gauge a client’s state of mind – their level of confidence, their willingness to work as part of a team. Now he looked at Tipper, trying to size her up. This was a self-confident young woman, open and friendly, yet there was a guardedness about her as well that he could sense just below the surface. Interesting.

            At the same time Tipper was busy scrutinizing him, and what she saw was a daredevil hotshot who climbed buildings for … well, she couldn’t think of a single reason why anyone would want to climb a building. Not being a thrill-seeker herself, she didn’t understand what drove adrenaline junkies to such reckless extremes. Sure, he was good-looking, and he seemed very nice, but …

            Truman motioned for the others to come into the kitchen and help him carry the platters of drinks and refreshments out to the patio, leaving Tipper and Timothy relatively alone for a few moments.

            Timothy looked down at the ground and shuffled his feet a little. “So,” he said when the silence had stretched on a little too long for comfort, “you’re a doctor?”

            “Yeah, I’m a vet,” Tipper said.

            “A vet! Oh, I thought you were …” at a sharp glance from Tipper the words ‘real doctor’ died on his lips – “… a physician, like Dr. Buckley.”

            “No, my job is much more interesting than his,” she said. “And you … you drive a cab, and climb buildings in your spare time?”

            Timothy chuckled. “Some people might say that I climb, and drive a cab in my spare time,” he said. He glanced up at her and saw her biting her lower lip thoughtfully. “I guess you think that’s pretty weird, huh.”

            Tipper shrugged. “Everybody needs a hobby,” she said. “Some people do needlepoint. Some people collect stamps. You climb buildings. Whatever.”

            “Well, it’s not just a hobby, really,” Timothy replied. “When I’m not down here earning money over the winter, I am a professional climber back North.”

            “Professional climber? Like, people pay you to climb mountains?”

            Timothy nodded. “Companies endorse me to use their products. I’m also a licensed guide – I teach people climbing techniques, and take them on guided hikes geared toward their skill level.”

            “That sounds very … interesting,” Tipper said uncertainly.

            Timothy sighed inwardly – it didn’t look like he was going to win any converts to the sport of climbing here. “Have you ever climbed a mountain?” he asked anyway.

            “Well, sure!” Tipper replied, feeling like she was on firmer ground now. “I’ve hiked up Mount Battie several times.  And I went up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia once.”

            “Okay, well, that’s a good start.”

            Tipper frowned. “A ‘good start’? What do you mean, a ‘good start’?”

            “Well, have you ever done any of the higher peaks in the Northeast?” he asked. “You know – Katahdin, Washington, Marcy?”

            “Uh, no,” she admitted.

            “Those mountains take a lot more skill. That’s where a guide like me would come in handy.”

            “Well,” said Tipper, “if I ever decide to take on the Appalachian Trail in my copious spare time, I’ll call you.”

            It was as clear a dismissal as Timothy had ever heard. Fortunately, at that point the others came back outside, and they were swept up in the general social atmosphere.

            Unfortunately, the guest of honor couldn’t stay very long. After about an hour or so he looked at his watch, drained the last of his beer, and sighed.

            “Truman, I really appreciate the spread you’ve set out on my behalf,” he said as he set the empty bottle aside and got to his feet, “but my shift starts in half an hour, so I need to be going.”

            “You’re working tonight, just after being released from jail?” Jessica asked in astonishment. “Shouldn’t you be getting some rest at home?”

            “I probably should,” he admitted, “but making a living’s important too.”

            Before leaving, on impulse he took Tipper’s hand and kissed it. “It was a great pleasure meeting you, Dr. Henderson,” he said.

            Tipper blushed faintly and smiled. “Um, same here,” she stammered, clearly surprised by his gesture.

            Once Timothy had gone the others settled back into conversation. Tipper quickly put Timothy out of her mind and shifted her attention to Seth – this was, after all, the first time she’d had a chance to watch him interacting with Jessica and George since her arrival in Key West. So far he seemed to be behaving himself.

            Then out of the corner of her eye, Tipper saw Seth’s eyes go wide with shock. With an inward groan – What now? she thought – she followed his stunned gaze to see what had upset him so, and noted the sparkling diamond ring on Jessica’s finger. Being a woman, she recognized the significance of it immediately – but Seth, although he thought he knew what it meant, had clearly misinterpreted it, and unless she did something soon he was liable to say or do something he would undoubtedly regret later.

            At the first brief pause in the conversation she abruptly rose from her chair. “Seth, why don’t you show me those flowers Truman has planted ‘round back of the dispensary now?” she said, fixing the physician with what she hoped was a meaningful look.

            Her voice at least had the effect of dragging Seth’s attention away from the ring. “Flowers?” he said, frowning at her in obvious confusion. “Behind the dispensary?”

            “That’s right,” said Tipper, nodding vigorously as she planted herself right in the middle of Seth’s line-of-sight. “You told me what the Latin name for them was earlier, but now I can’t remember. This would be the perfect time for you to tell me again.”

            “Well, I’m sure that Truman knows …”

            “… knows that you have as deep a background in horticulture as he does,” Tipper finished for him. She picked up his wrist and gave his arm a tug. “Come on, it’ll just take a minute. If you’ll excuse us?” she said over her shoulder to George, Jessica, and Truman, who were looking at her in astonishment.

            Unless he wanted to make a scene of resisting her insistent invitation, Seth had no choice but to get up and follow Tipper to the other side of Truman’s dispensary, out of the view of the others.  The other three watched them go, Truman with a bemused smile on his face.

            “I guess Boomer noticed it,” he said to Jessica as he took a sip of his mint julep.

            Jessica, who had been trying not to make her new ring’s presence obvious – successfully, she had thought – looked at him in surprise. “I guess you noticed it too,” she replied.

            Truman shrugged. “You keep glancing at it when you think no one is looking,” he said neutrally. “And it wasn’t there a few days ago.”

            George laughed. “He’s got you there, Jess. Have you ever considered a career in police investigations, Doctor?” he asked.

            “Oh, no,” Truman said emphatically. “I’ll stick to healing, thank you very much!”


As soon as they had turned the corner of the little dispensary, Seth grabbed Tipper by arm. “What the hell are you doing?” he hissed at her.

            “Keeping you from making a right fool of yourself!” Tipper fired back, but keeping her voice equally low.

            “But didn’t you see it? She’s wearing a ring, girl! An engagement ring!”

            “It’s not an engagement ring!”

            “How do you know?” he demanded.

            “Because it’s on her right hand, that’s how!”

            Her words pulled Seth up short, and for a moment all he could do was stare at her with his mouth hanging open.

            Tipper crossed her arms and looked at him. “If Jessica had accepted that ring to seal an engagement, she would have put it on her left hand,” she informed him matter-of-factly.

            Finally Seth closed his mouth as her words sank in. “Oh,” he said, clearly taken aback. “I, ah, didn’t notice that.”

            Tipper threw her hands up in the air in exasperation. “Well, then!”

            Seth pressed a hand over his forehead. “You’re sure it doesn’t mean she’s engaged?”


            He let out a shaky breath. “Well, I guess it’s a good thing you were here to keep me from mucking things up,” he said.

            She relaxed, and grinned. “That’s why I’m here,” she said, and gave him a good-natured smack on the arm. “Since my presence has now been justified, I think it’s time we got back to the others.”


            They enjoyed a wonderful meal of homemade conch fritters and Cuban-style rice – the recipe for which, Truman explained, he had been given by a patient as payment for a headache remedy.

            “It’s delicious,” Tipper said enthusiastically. “What spices go into it?”

            Truman shrugged. “I have no idea,” he admitted.

            “But I thought you had the recipe,” said George.

            “I do. But the recipe came with its own jar of pre-mixed spices, and never referred to what was in the mixture specifically. I’ve been trying to puzzle that out for myself since the day I received it.”

            That led to lively speculation among the dinner guests as to what spices they thought had contributed to the rice dish, and in what proportions. Cayenne pepper, dried cilantro, and cumin were popular choices, but while everyone agreed that all three were probably present to some degree, there was no consensus as to what spice gave the dish its defining character.

            Jessica sat out of the friendly debate, pre-occupied with her own thoughts. She was thinking back to the conversation she’d had with Nick Bradshaw earlier that day in the hallway of the police department. Interesting, that he and Lyle Fairbanks had teamed up in the circus … possibly there was a lead to be followed up with that information. But employment history with a traveling circus could be frustratingly hard to track down – between the high employee turn-over rate and the lack of a permanent home base of operations, there was little hope of an industry outsider being able to locate records of two specific people so many years later. Who, she wondered, would have access to that sort of information – or better yet, who had the contacts and networking to find out what she was looking for?

            As soon as she thought of the question, the obvious answer came to her. Jessica smiled: she knew exactly who could find out for her. She touched Truman, who was seated next to her, lightly on the arm to get his attention.

“Truman, do you have access to the Internet on your computer?” she asked him.

            “Sure do,” he replied. “Do you need to go online?”

            “If it’s not too much trouble,” she replied. “I need to look up an old friend.”

            “Come on, then – you can use the computer in the dispensary.”


            Truman obtained many of his homeopathic remedies via the Internet, and refilled prescriptions for some of his patients in that fashion as well. Because of this he had taken the effort to wire the dispensary for high speed Internet access.  Perching himself on a stool set at a countertop in the lab area of the converted garage, he flipped on the desk top computer and logged on to his account with a few rapid-fire keystrokes. As soon as the World Wide Web had been accessed, he hopped down from the stool and offered his vacated place to Jessica.

            “There you go,” he told her. “Take as much time as you need. When you’re finished, just log off and shut her down.”

            “Thanks, Truman,” Jessica said with a grateful smile. Truman left the building and headed back to the main house with a casual wave, and Jessica climbed up on to the stool to begin her search.  Thank goodness for the information superhighway, she thought to herself as she keyed in a Google search for the Carmody Brothers Circus.

            According to its website, the traveling circus was currently in a small town outside of Arlen, Texas, and scheduled to remain there for another week. A phone number for ticket information was provided, which she copied down on to a piece of scrap paper she found in Truman’s recycling bin.

            There was a cordless telephone sitting next to the computer on the countertop, and for a moment Jessica looked at it doubtfully, wondering if she should place the call she wanted to make now or wait until later after she had returned to her room at the inn. Finally she decided that Truman, who had never been anything less that completely hospitable, wouldn’t mind if she made a long-distance call on his phone, especially if she was a proper guest and picked up the tab for the cost. She picked up the receiver and placed her call.

            It took a little time as she got passed from person to person, but eventually her queries were rewarded and the circus’s primary owner and manager, a man that most people knew as Carl, came on the line.

            “Neil? It’s Jessica.”

            Upon hearing Jessica’s voice, Carl set aside his assumed identity for a moment and was once again Neil Fletcher, her brother-in-law. After several years of being presumed dead, Jessica had found Frank’s older brother after diligent searching, but agreed to keep the secret of his new identity. Since then they had kept in touch sporadically, since Neil knew he could trust Jessica to not betray his whereabouts to anyone in his family.

            “Jessica!” he said warmly. “How are you? What’s new? Are you in trouble again?”

            Jessica smiled. “Not yet,” she replied. “I’m in Key West at the moment, with friends. Neil, I need to ask you for a favor.”

            “Name it.”

            Jessica gave Neil a sketchy outline of what had transpired at the Hemingway House. “I’m looking for information about two men named Lyle Fairbanks and Nicholas Bradshaw,” she told him. “They used to be part of a circus company – I have no idea which one, or exactly how long ago this was. But I figured that with your connections, you might be able to learn something about them.”

            “I probably can,” Neil said. “I don’t know the names personally, but I’ll ask around and see what I can find out for you. How can I get in touch with you if I come up with anything?”

            Jessica gave him her cell phone number and told him to leave a message if she didn’t pick up. “Thanks, Neil. I really appreciate this.”

            “It’s no trouble at all, Jessie. I’m glad to help out. Talk to you soon.”

Confident that she had all the information she needed, she logged off the Internet, turned off the computer, and headed back to where the others were still chatting over dinner on the patio.


            George had apparently asked Seth about the remote car starter Christmas gift during her absence, because when she rejoined the group Seth was in the middle of telling that story to the others.

            “It was the damnedest thing,” he was saying. “I asked her three times what she wanted for Christmas, and it was only after I got the same answer all three times that I finally believed her and caved in. She never said at the time that she wanted it for research for her next book!”

            “Next time you’ll take me at my word,” Jessica quipped as she resumed her seat.

            “Ay-yuh, I suppose I’ll have to,” he replied.

            “Did you find everything you were looking for, Jessica?” Truman asked her.

            “Yes, thank you,” she replied gratefully. “I hope you don’t mind, but I also made a long-distance phone call from the dispensary – I’ll leave you something to cover the charges, of course.”

            Truman waved the offer away. “You’ll do no such thing. I’m happy I could help.”

            After dessert had been served – key lime pie, naturally – they went inside Truman’s house to enjoy some after dinner coffee in his living room.

            “Truman, you seem to know Timothy from before today,” Tipper observed. “How did you come to meet him?”

            “Well, it’s simple enough,” Truman said as he poured some cream from a china pitcher into his coffee. “I met him the night he decided to illicitly climb up the outside of my house.”

            “Why am I not surprised by that,” Seth said dryly.

            “He was halfway up the lattice when I stuck my head out my bedroom window and said hello,” said Truman. “The poor boy was so startled he nearly fell right off the side of the house.”

            “It didn’t just end there, of course,” said George with a smile.

            “Oh, no. I invited him to come in – through the bedroom window, naturally – and once he explained what he was doing we got to chatting. He really was quite a nice young fellow, very smart, very talented – it was unthinkable that I should turn him in for trespassing. Besides,” he concluded with a shrug, “he had a good aura.”

            “Oh?” said Tipper, who looked intrigued. “What color was it?”

            “Bright, bright red,” Truman told her. “Not unusual for a young man, especially one as passionate about outdoor sports as he is. But it was clear, not a sign of taint anywhere.”

            Seth gave a dismissive snort. “Auras,” he scoffed. “That’s all a bunch of New Age nonsense. There’s no such thing as auras.”

            Truman, long used to Seth’s skeptical nature, smiled and said, “Many people would beg to differ, Boomer. You simply haven’t been exposed to them in any concrete fashion.”

            “And I suppose you have?”

            “I’ve been taught how to see a person’s aura, yes,” Truman said modestly. “There really isn’t much of a trick to it, it just takes practice, and knowing what to look for.”

            “How ‘bout reading our auras now, Truman?” Tipper asked with eager eyes.

            “I could, if you want me to …” Truman looked to each of them for permission. Jessica and George nodded, and to his surprise, so did Seth, although somewhat more begrudgingly. “All right, then. Boomer, I’ll start with you.”

Truman concentrated on Seth, and saw what he expected to see – “Healing green,” he announced. “Hardly any surprises there; you’re a good physician, and your aura reflects that.” It was difficult to make out anything else; Seth was a guarded person, after all, and tended to shield his thoughts and emotions.

George, on the other hand, was more open than he had expected. “Clear reds, lightening to pink,” he told the Scotsman. “These are the colors of self-confidence and good grounding in their darker shades, and an ability to love in their lighter versions.”

“Do me next!” Tipper said excitedly.

Truman obliged her, and broke out into a wide grin at what he saw. “Purple, definitely purple,” he told her. “That’s the color of mystics and truth-seekers. It’s also the color of non-conformists – those who march to the beat of their own drummer. You also have a fair amount of yellow in your aura, Tipper – that’s your joyful, happy-go-lucky side. The two colors often go hand-in-hand.”

Finally, Truman turned his concentration to Jessica, and here he received something of a shock.  His surprise must have been mirrored in his face, because his subject, who had been observing him quietly, looked at him in concern.

“Is something wrong?” she asked him.

Truman shook his head, both in the negative and to clear it. “No, nothing at all,” he said. “It’s just that I rarely see an aura as bright and clear as yours.”

Jessica smiled faintly. “Well, that’s good to know, I guess,” she said. “What color is it?”

“Indigo,” he said. “It was indigo. And that’s rare.”

“Why is it so rare a color?” George asked.

Truman reached for the coffee pot to refill their cups. “It’s not that the color itself is rare,” he amended. “It’s just rare to find in an adult.  Indigos only began to show up in any number over the past thirty years or so, so most of them are kids. To find one among the older generations is something of a rarity.  But it may explain why you’re such a good teacher, Jessica.  You have a natural connection with young people, whether you know it or not.”

Jessica took a sip of her coffee thoughtfully.  George looked intrigued; Tipper appeared pleased; Seth was openly dubious.

Tipper rested her chin on her hand, thinking. “So,” she ventured, “if someone with that special aura photography equipment took our pictures, those are the colors that would show up around us?”

“You’re thinking about Kirlian photography,” Truman said. “Don’t put too much stock in that, Tipper – it doesn’t deliver what some people claim it does.”

“And what is Kirlian photography?” Jessica asked, her curiosity piqued.

“Like Tipper said, it’s a supposed method for capturing the image of a person’s aura on film,” Truman explained. “When a high voltage electrical charge is passed through a grounded object, it creates a colored image like a halo around the object on a photographic plate that’s supposed to represent the object’s aura.”

“So why is it so unreliable?” George asked.

“Lots of reasons,” said Truman. “For one thing, Kirlian photography will show an aura around virtually anything capable of conducting electricity, including non-living things – but true auras are characteristic of living things alone. For another, the results are highly variable. You could have your Kirlian photograph taken once and see a specific color they claim is your aura, but if you have it taken again even a short time later, you’re just as likely to see a completely different color. Purveyors of Kirlian photography try to make excuses for this, such as that different moods will produce different colors in the image, but the fact is your true aura is part of who you are at heart – it doesn’t change much from moment to moment. Finally, it’s simply too easy to fake this kind of photography, especially since the advent of digital cameras and image editing computer programs.” He shook his head. “There are too many charlatans out there with too much technology at their fingertips, all too eager to manipulate people to make a fast buck.”

“Well, on that we certainly agree,” said Seth.

“Digital photography,” Jessica mused, still thinking about Truman’s earlier point. “So, what you’re saying, Truman, is that with the computer programs and cameras we have today, it’s easy to edit a photograph to show something that isn’t there, am I right?”

“Right,” said Truman. “With software like PhotoShop, it would be easy for me to take a picture of you with my digital camera, upload the image to my computer, then use the tools provided in PhotoShop to literally paint an aura around you in the image. Print it off, or e-mail it to you – you’d have no idea I’d tampered with it unless you knew what the original image looked like before I edited it.”

“I … see …” Jessica said slowly, caught up in her own thoughts.

Truman mistook her pensiveness for incomprehension of his explanation. “I can tell I lost you somewhere along the way,” he said apologetically. “Let me put it to you this way …”
            “No, no, what you said made perfect sense,” Jessica told him, forestalling his attempt to explain it to her again. Seth, Tipper, and George watched her closely, sensing that any moment now the lightbulb would go on.

They were not disappointed. Jessica soon fitted the last pieces of her mental jigsaw puzzle together, and as she did a fire sprang to life in her eyes. “So that’s how it was done,” she said to no one in particular as she grasped the whole picture. She looked at George and said, “A picture is worth a thousand words, right?”

Er, that’s what they say,” he said, trying to follow her line of reasoning.

“Well, it is unless it’s been manipulated,” Jessica announced. “Then it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Come on, George – let’s go.”

“Go? Go where?”

“We need to have a chat with Byron Sinclair,” she said as she got up and took his hand, pulling him to his feet. “He should be at his office at this hour, I think, preparing tomorrow’s paper. Sorry to dash off, Truman – dinner was marvelous.”

            Still somewhat at a loss, George managed to get off his own parting words of thanks to their host and followed Jessica out into the night.