They found Byron in his cubicle at the Citizen’s offices, putting the finishing touches on the next morning’s edition.
“Byron,” Jessica said, “is it possible that someone altered this image before they e-mailed it to the Citizen?”
The photojournalist shrugged. “I suppose so,” he said. “It’s against our submission guidelines, but that may not have stopped the sender. Do you want to have a look at the original file?”
“Because they are so easy to manipulate, we have special rules regarding digital photograph submissions,” Byron told them as he called up the file on his desktop computer. “We will accept enhancements that affect the entire photo equally, such as increasing color saturation or brightness levels, but not ones that highlight one particular aspect of the photo. And, of course, deleting items from a picture or pasting in items from other pictures is a big no-no. Ah, here’s the original, as it was e-mailed to us.”
He opened the file, and Jessica looked at it closely. “I must admit, to my eyes it looks no different on the screen than it does on paper,” she said.
“Not yet, it doesn’t,” said Byron. “What was it about this picture that you found questionable?”
“The boundary between the ghost and the background.”
Byron peered at the screen. “Well, just let me blow up an edge of the ghost,” he said, and he magnified the image until the area he had pointed out filled the entire screen. “Whoa,” he concluded after examining it. “Look at this – do you see this cross-hatch pattern? It’s a tell-tale sign that a second set of pixels was overlaid on the original’s pixels.”
“Meaning what?” George asked, frowning at the vague pattern that was revealed.
Byron used his ballpoint pen to indicate a small area of the image. “Meaning that wherever you see the cross-hatching, someone pasted part of another image on to the first, then altered the transparency of the pasted part so that the background would show through the patch,” he explained. “The problem is, when you do that the background’s pixels start to overlap with the pixels of the patch – and that’s when you see this pattern of interference.”
Jessica looked at the picture on the screen with keen interest. “Can you tell if the entire ghost was pasted in over that background?” she asked.
Byron navigated around the photograph with a few quick clicks of his mouse. “It looks to me at least that the entire ghost is a patch,” he said at last. “There’s no doubt about it – this digital photograph is a fake.” He sat back in his chair and whistled. “Well,” he said, “it looks like I need to put a correction into tomorrow’s paper.”
They left the Citizen’s offices and walked back toward the inn, avoiding the busier thoroughfares teeming with pedestrians in favor of the quieter, more private residential streets.
“So the Hemingway ghost is a definitely hoax after all,” George said as they strolled along the tree-lined sidewalk.
“So it would seem,” said Jessica thoughtfully. “It certainly looks like the apparition was added to the picture of Hemingway’s dining room after the fact.”
“All through the magic of digital touching-up,” George concluded.
“Precisely. The digital photography software is so sophisticated now, it was easy to do.”
A few moments passed in companionable silence, until Jessica noticed George looking at her with a smile on his lips.
“What?” she asked, meeting his gaze.
“Truman says you’re an ‘indigo,’” he said idly. “Fancy that.”
“What does that mean?” Jessica asked. “Truman never did say.”
“You mean you don’t know?”
Jessica smiled shyly. “It’s never come up in my research,” she admitted.
“My grandmother taught me a little about it,” George said. “She dabbled in that sort of thing – she liked to read the auras and palms of members of the family at holiday time, for instance.”
“So auras are about as believable as palm reading, is that what you mean?” Jessica asked him.
George chuckled. “Not at all,” he
Jessica paused under a large empire palm tree and leaned back against its broad trunk, the gentle breeze stirring her hair and the ruffled collar of her peasant’s blouse. The effect made her look particularly alluring, and George felt his pulse quicken.
“So,” she said, smiling up at him, “according to your wise grandmother, what does it mean to be an indigo?”
George placed his hand on the palm’s trunk beside her and leaned closer. “Well,” he said, “Indigoes are highly intuitive, independent-minded, and difficult to trick with lies,” he said.
“Is that so,” said Jessica neutrally.
It was obvious to him that she didn’t quite believe what he was telling her. “Grandmother also noted that indigoes tend to be strong-willed to the point of being stubborn,” George added.
Jessica laughed. “Now that I can believe,” she said. “And what color was your aura? It was red, as I recall.”
“Yes,” he said, “it was.”
“And what are the attributes of those blessed with the red aura?” she asked coyly. “Besides the self-confidence and ability to love that Truman mentioned.”
George grinned – the look on her face was unmistakable. She was baiting him, and he was more than happy to rise to the occasion. “We are possessed of great courage, leadership skills, and a sense of adventure,” he replied smoothly. “We’re also known for our … sensuality and passion.”
He inclined his head down toward her upturned face. “Really.”
Just as he was about to kiss her, they heard a whistling sound followed by a sharp thock. Jessica yelped and looked down to see a knife buried up to the hilt in the trunk of the tree, pinning her to it by the fabric of her sleeve. Another thock quickly followed the first, and a second knife embedded itself in the palm’s trunk, this one catching with it a fold of her skirt, narrowly missing her leg.
George moved in front of her, trying to shield her with his body, while he frantically tried to pull the knife that held her sleeve out of the tree, but it was no use; the sap-rich trunk of the palm held the blade of the knife as fast as if it had been embedded in concrete.
Meantime Jessica was scanning the area, looking for her assailant. A flicker of movement across the street caught her eye – “George, look out!” She ducked down as far as her trapped sleeve would allow a scant second before a third knife sliced through the air, landing in the tree just above her ear.
The situation was desperate; George recognized that they were no better off than ducks in a shooting gallery. Jessica had been reduced to a more-or-less fixed target, and the next knife – there was no telling how many their attacker had – was likely to bury itself in her heart or her throat. Worst of all, there was very little he could do to prevent it.
Or was there?
His glance fell to Jessica’s handbag, which she had dropped to the sidewalk when the first knife came whizzing at them out of the darkness. Scooping it up, he left her undefended long enough to hurl it in the direction he guessed the knives were coming from, and under the brief period of cover his improvised “fire” provided him, he charged across the street after it.
Jessica had not been expecting this tactic. “George, be careful!” she cried, forgetting her own precarious position as, horrified, she watched him run headlong into the teeth of the danger.
The prosaic missile had its intended effect; it caught the knife thrower off guard just long enough for George to charge him. The Scotland Yard detective effortlessly leaped to the top of a low cement wall and was through the loose oleander hedge that topped it even as the assailant was frantically trying to scramble away. George flung himself after him and managed to trip him, grabbing him by the ankle, but their attacker, now very much on the defensive, managed to kick himself free, and struggling to his feet he ran off into the darkness and was gone.
George picked himself up off the ground and dusted himself off before collecting Jessica’s handbag and hurrying back across the street to where Jessica was still trying to free herself from the knives that had caught her clothing. She had managed to dislodge the first knife that had caught her by the sleeve, but even with both hands she couldn’t budge the one holding her skirt. It was only when George braced his foot against the trunk of the tree that he was able to pull the knife out and let it clatter to the sidewalk.
Jessica sank weakly to the ground and fingered the rent in her sleeve. “Is he gone?” she asked.
“Aye,” George said heavily. “He’s gone.” He sat down next to her and picked up one of the knives. “No hope of getting any prints off of these now,” he sighed, and tossed it aside.
Jessica rested her head against the bole of the tree and let out a shaky breath. “He probably wore gloves anyway,” she said.
“Aye, he probably did.”
For a long moment they sat together in silence, listening to the quiet sounds of the city around them and waiting for their racing heart rates to slow down to a more reasonable pace.
At last Jessica ran her hand through her hair and said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m more than ready to get back to Truman’s.”
George stood up and offered her a hand to help her to her feet. As they continued on their way up the street he put his arm around her protectively, and Jessica made no effort to dissuade him.
They settled into a comfortable silence as they walked, and Jessica began to feel herself relax as the intense emotions from her recent scare began to fade. The mood was abruptly broken when her cell phone rang. With a weary sigh she shrugged off George’s arm and retrieved it from her purse to answer it.
“Jessica? It’s Neil. I think I’ve found what you’re looking for.”
Jessica stopped in her tracks, instantly at full alert. “What did you find out?”
guys you were asking about, Lyle Fairbanks and Nick Bradshaw,
were in fact part of a circus outfit based out of
“Your contact said that Lyle was the circus’s press agent - did he happen to mention what Nick used to do for the circus before it went bankrupt?” Jessica asked.
“Yeah, he was part of the gaffer’s crew of electricians – you know, the people primarily responsible for the wiring and lighting of the main tent,” Neil told her.
“Interesting,” Jessica said, half to herself, half to her brother-in-law. “Thank you, Neil – I think you’ve given me exactly what I need. George and I are very grateful.”
There was a pause on the other end of the conversation. “George?” Neil finally asked. “Who’s George?”
Jessica instantly felt her face
flush as she realized the slip she had made. “George Sutherland. He is … he’s a
very close friend of mine,” she managed to say. “He’s a chief inspector at
Scotland Yard. We’ve known each other for some years now, and he’s, um,
vacationing with me here in
Several conflicted thoughts passed through Jessica’s mind as she tried to guess what was going through Neil’s. If he had guessed the truth – and she suspected that he had – was he upset with her? Did he think she had betrayed Frank’s memory? Would he think less of her henceforth? But her worries proved groundless at Neil’s next words:
“Good for you, Jessie,” he said, the heartfelt warmth and love plain to hear in his voice. “Good for you. I can’t wait to meet him, someday.”
As Jessica concluded the
conversation and put her cell phone away, a car pulled to a stop at the curb
beside them. It was one of
“Long time no see,” he said to them. “Can I give you both a lift somewhere?”
In light of their recent close call, George was more than willing to accept Timothy’s invitation and take the quickest and least exposed route back to Truman’s possible. He shot a questioning look at Jessica, who nodded in assent. “We’re headed back to Dr. Buckley’s, actually,” he said. “If it’s not too far out of your way …”
Timothy shrugged. “It’s a slow
night, and it’s still early – for
George opened the back door for Jessica then got in himself.
“What have you folks been out and about doing?” Timothy asked them as he started off down the street.
“We just paid a visit to the photojournalism editor of the Citizen,” Jessica told him. “We finally figured out how the picture of the Hemingway ghost that they published on page one was made.”
“I’m guessing, in light of what we learned about Lyle Fairbanks today, that the photo was a hoax, just like everything else,” Timothy ventured.
“Quite correct,” said George.
Jessica was silent as she thought back to the interviews they had participated in at the Key West Police Department, with one conversation in particular drawing her attention. Within that particular conversation there had been one statement – just an off-hand comment, really – that now seemed to stand out in sharp relief against the backdrop of other facts she had managed to draw together. Just one more piece, and finally the puzzle would be whole …
“Timothy,” she said suddenly, “when you were at the Hemingway House climbing the veranda, do you remember if the security lights were on or off?
“Oh, easy – they were off,” Timothy said promptly. “I would never have tried to climb there if they were on. They’re so bright, I would have stood out like a sore thumb. No – when I was there, the only light came from the streetlights, and that was just enough for me to see by, but not so much that anyone could recognize me.”
Closing her eyes, Jessica let her memory travel back to the night of the investigation, when everyone parted company at the front gate of the Hemingway estate.
Fairbanks and Bradshaw loaded their equipment into the trunk of Fairbanks’ Ford Explorer and hurried off, headed back to their hotel to upload the photographs and data on to a computer for processing. Chuck Berra carefully locked the gate, then headed off for his own home after a few short words of parting. That left Jessica, George, and Thomas standing on the sidewalk in front of the Hemingway House, which except for the light from streetlamps was shrouded in darkness …
Jessica’s eyes snapped wide open as she grabbed George by the arm, causing him to jump. “He didn’t turn the security lights back on!” she gasped. “All he did was lock the gate!”
George looked at her in alarm. “What do you mean, Jess?”
“At the police department, Nick Bradshaw told us that as he and Mr. Fairbanks were getting ready to leave, Chuck Berra locked the front gate and reactivated the security lights. But I remember now – he never did turn the lights back on! As soon as he locked the gate, he headed off for home.”
“Aye, the man does seem to have moments when he’s as daft as a yett on a windy day,” George admitted: “somewhat scatter-brained.”
“Well, it’s a good thing that he
is,” said Jessica. She leaned forward and touched Timothy’s shoulder from the
back seat of the cab. “Timothy - can you take us to the
Timothy glanced back at her in his rear view mirror. “Okay, but why? What’s the matter?” he asked in concern.
“I just figured out who murdered Thomas Manchester.”