A knife whizzed out of the darkness, followed by another, and another … Seth was paralyzed, unable to move, his heart hammering in terrified anticipation of the searing pain if the next one managed to find its target …
“Seth? Seth! C’mon, snap out of it!”
He abruptly came back to himself to find that he was still seated in his chair in Truman’s living room with Tipper standing over him, gripping his arms. Truman stood beside her, looking down at him with a worried expression on his face. He took stock of himself and realized that the feeling of panic he had just experienced was rapidly fading.
“It’s all right, she’s okay,” he said.
Truman looked confused, but Tipper straightened up with a look of sudden understanding.
“It happened again, didn’t it?” she said.
Seth nodded; there was no use in denying it to her when she had already guessed so much. But Truman was still very much in the dark.
“What happened again?” he asked them. “What’s going on? Is Seth all right?”
“Seth’s just fine,” Tipper said. “Jessica, on the other hand, may not be.”
“No, she’s okay,” Seth repeated. “Whoever it was, he had lousy aim.”
Now Truman was truly concerned. “What? What on earth are you talking about, Boomer?”
“Seth’s got a special … ah, talent,”
Tipper explained to him. “He knows when Jessica is in trouble. Sometimes he can
anticipate the danger before it happens … which is one reason why he’s here in
“Ahh,” said Truman sagely. “Premonition. It all makes perfect sense, really, when you think about it.”
Tipper seemed unconvinced and about to say something to the contrary at first, but then she paused and reconsidered. “Yes, I suppose it does,” she said thoughtfully, looking at Seth with an appraising eye.
Seth glowered at both of them – it was as if they were sharing a private joke at his expense, or consulting over him like he was some kind of interesting lab specimen. “Would one of you doctors please let me in on what you’re talking about?”
“Premonition – ESP – that vague sense that something bad is going to happen,” Truman said, looking for the words to explain. “When someone spontaneously develops it, more often than not it’s because there’s an extremely close bond of intimacy at work. Threats to that bond – such as the other person’s life being in danger – tend to set off the warning bells.”
“Whoa, slow down - an ‘extremely close bond of intimacy?’ Jess and I are just friends,” Seth said firmly.
“You’re not just friends, you’re best friends,” Truman reminded him. “As such, you qualify.”
“More of your New Age pop psychology,” Seth scoffed. “You’d have me believe that Jessica and I have some sort of … psychic bond? That’s completely ridiculous.”
Tipper looked aside to Truman. “I told you he wouldn’t take it well,” she told him.
“The proof is always in the pudding,” Truman replied mildly. “I imagine that Jessica and George will be arriving back here soon enough … then we shall see.”
“The lighthouse,” Seth suddenly said.
“What?” Truman asked, confused.
“They were coming back here, but Jess changed her mind – now they’re headed for the lighthouse.” He got up from the chair and started to pace the room. “Can you give me a lift over there, Truman?”
“Well, sure,” his friend said, getting his car keys from the kitchen counter. “What’s going on, Boomer?”
“I don’t know,” Seth said, “but if your psychobabble is right, I’ll find out soon enough. Now listen – after you drop me off, I want you to come back here, and if you have one of those scanner squawk-boxes, turn it on and stayed glued to it.”
He headed for the door, only to find his way blocked by Tipper.
“And just what do you think you’re doing?” he growled at her.
“I’m going with you.”
“No you’re not.”
“Yes I am,” Tipper replied, standing her ground. “Where you go, I go. Or,” she added, crossing her arms defiantly and glaring at him, “you don’t go at all.”
Seth sighed impatiently and relented. “Fine, come on, then, if you must. You must have taken lessons in stubbornness from Jessica herself!”
Tipper smirked as she opened the door for him. “I only learn from the best.”
A solitary figure walked up the street toward the lighthouse grounds, paused to look around, and then deftly climbed over the picket fence that separated the grounds from the sidewalk. The person made a stealthy dash for the cover of the large banyan tree that stood close by the tower’s base, its leaves providing shadow from the light of the tower itself. From here the figure approached the door of the lighthouse. It was locked, but a thin metal file and nimble figures soon had it unlocked, and the figure slipped inside, closing the door softly behind him.
Once safely inside the intruder flicked on a flashlight and used its narrow beam to guide his steps up the spiral staircase. When he reached the window that was level with the upper boughs of the banyan tree outside he paused in his ascent. He unlatched the window, reached outside into the branches below the sill, and with a rustling of leaves pulled a rifle up into the tower from its resting place, perched in the angle of one of the larger tree limbs. Having retrieved what he had come for he was about to start down the spiral stairs to go, but the sound of a match being struck accompanied by a sudden flaring of light caused him to pause.
Nicholas Bradshaw turned around and saw Jessica sitting a few steps above him with a lit oil lamp at her side.
“Hiding the rifle in the tree outside the tower window,” she said quietly as she waved out the match. “I have to admit, I would never have thought to look for it there.”
“Yet somehow you knew that it was here somewhere, in or around this lighthouse,” Nick said.
Jessica nodded. “Yes – that, at least, I knew. That the rifle was here was a matter of simple logic – it could be nowhere else.”
“Perhaps so,” Nick admitted, crossing his arms as he regarded her by the flickering light of the lantern. “But how did you know that I was the one coming back to collect it?”
“It was a fair assumption,” she replied. “After all, you were the one who faked the evidence of the presence of a ghost at the Hemingway House the night of the paranormal investigation, and you were the one who altered the digital images you took that night to include the transparent image of a ghost – doctored images that you then e-mailed to the Key West Citizen for them to publish on the front page of the morning edition.”
“Well, I can’t very well deny that,” Bradshaw said, glancing briefly at his shoes. “I did engineer the spike in the EM meter’s reading, and I did take some poetic license with the digital pictures I took afterwards. I was the only one with the expertise and the opportunity to pull those two tricks off – but that doesn’t mean that I killed anyone.”
“In and of itself, no,” Jessica conceded. “But discovering that you were responsible for faking the Hemingway ghost only confirmed my growing suspicion that you were the one who murdered Thomas Manchester.”
Nick frowned. “And why suspect me for his death at all?”
“Because, despite what you would have had us believe, Thomas was shot by mistake. Lyle Fairbanks was the intended target all along.”
Jessica held up her hand. “The security lights on the House were not on,” she told him. “They should have been, but Mr. Berra forgot to reactivate them when he locked the front gate and went home. Timothy Lawrence confirmed that they weren’t on – he never would have risked climbing the outside of the building otherwise. So although you thought you knew who you were killing later that night, in fact you couldn’t be sure – because the exterior of the House was darkened.”
Nick laughed. “And you believed him? A moonlighting cabbie with a string of arrests for trespassing as long as my arm?”
“I do believe him,” Jessica said. “Not only was he at the House to confirm that the exterior was dark, he also played a role in later events that evening, when he brought Lyle Fairbanks back to the House in his taxi … later than you expected.”
“You make it sound like this was some sort of meticulously planned plot where timing was everything,” Bradshaw said, not bothering to hide the amused tone of his voice.
“It was, actually,” Jessica replied. “Timing was the critical element in your plan, but you didn’t have as much control over it as you imagined you did. And ironically, it was Timothy – the ‘moonlighting cabbie’ – who ruined your plan.”
Nick leaned back against the stair rail with a casual air. “This is fascinating,” he said blandly. “Please – tell me what you think happened.”
Jessica shifted her position slightly on her step. “I think the plan was to lure Mr. Fairbanks to the house first, kill him, and then have Thomas, who would have no alibi but plenty of motive, show up next to take the blame for his death.
“After e-mailing your doctored
images to the Citizen, you left the
hotel by a rear door so as not to be seen and headed back to
“Your next call was to your boss,
Mr. Fairbanks. You disguised your voice, pretending to be Chuck Berra, and made
up some story to lure Mr. Fairbanks back to the House – whatever it was, it was convincing enough to persuade Mr. Fairbanks to
go back to the House to see what was up for himself. He told you that he’d call
a cab and be right over, and you assured him that the front gate would be open
for him when he arrived. Since
“Hold on a moment,” Bradshaw said. “You said the caller pretended to be Chuck Berra. How can you be so sure that it wasn’t actually Chuck Berra himself? Lyle did say that Berra was the one who called him.”
“It couldn’t have been Mr. Berra,” Jessica replied. “If it had been, and Berra did in fact return to the house to commit murder, would he not have noticed that he’d forgotten to turn on the security lights earlier, and corrected that mistake? Yet according to both Timothy and Mr. Fairbanks himself, the lights were still off when he arrived.”
“That’s reasonable enough, so far as it goes,” Nick said. “Please, continue.”
“From your sniper’s perch in the
lighthouse, you had a clear view of the House,” said Jessica. “You saw a figure
enter the open front gate and appear in your sights and, based on your
assumption that Mr. Fairbanks would arrive before Thomas, decided that it must
“That’s a fascinating scenario, Mrs. Fletcher,” Nick said with a smile, “but so far all you’ve proved is that the killer might have shot Thomas by mistake, mistaking him for Lyle on the darkened second story veranda. You have yet to produce convincing evidence that it was me.”
Jessica cocked her head and looked at him pointedly. “How did you know that Thomas was shot on the second story veranda?” she asked him. “His body was found in the pool. And the fact that the police found his glasses on the veranda was never public knowledge – that information was never released to the media.”
To this Nick Bradshaw had no ready answer, and even in the lantern light it was obvious that the color was leaching from his face. Seeing this, Jessica pressed her advantage: “You could only have known that little detail,” she told him steadily, “if you were the one here in the lighthouse, pulling the trigger.”
A long moment of silence passed between them.
“Was your knife-throwing act any good?” Jessica suddenly asked.
Bradshaw was taken aback by the question. “Pardon me?”
“While you were with Hallahan’s Fantastic Three Rings – my sources knew you were an electrician with the show, but mentioned nothing about knife-throwing. Still, that must be where you learned it. I’m just curious to know whether you were trying to kill me earlier this evening, or just scare me.”
“Ah.” A chilling smile crossed his lips. “To be perfectly honest, the act never got off the ground. The show folded before I could perfect my technique and my aim – but that being said, my aim was very, very good, and I’ve tried to keep in practice. So to answer your question, my intent was to scare you. I guess it didn’t work.”
“I don’t scare easily,” said Jessica.
“So I’ve noticed. Not to change the subject, but how did you get in here, anyway?” Nick asked at length, fingering the barrel of his rifle.
“Timothy was kind enough to volunteer his climbing skills,” Jessica replied. “He scaled the outside of the tower and got in through one of the windows, unlocked the door from inside and let me in. I locked it again behind me, and came up here to wait for you.”
“Is that so,” said Nick mildly. He had been holding the rifle casually as he listened to Jessica weave her logic, but now he held it up and considered it, as though he had forgotten until that moment that he still had it in his possession. “If you locked the door behind you as you say, then you and I are alone in this tower – which, given the thickness of the walls, I suspect is virtually sound-proof.”
Jessica felt a surge of anxiety as Bradshaw raised the rifle and released the safety with a sharp click. She stiffened and raised her eyes heavens-ward, a gesture that Nick didn’t miss despite the relatively dim light from her lantern.
“Resorting to prayer, Mrs. Fletcher?” he asked, chuckling softly as he took aim. “I think it’s a little late for that.” His finger tightened on the trigger.
An ice-axe tied to a coil of nylon rope dropped from out of nowhere and hit the barrel of the rifle with a deafening clang of metal against metal. Caught completely off guard Nick dropped the weapon, which slipped under the rail of the curving staircase and fell all the way to the base of the tower to land on the concrete floor with a loud clatter. Timothy swiftly followed the axe, vaulting down from the steps overhead. As Jessica scrambled up out of the way she watched in amazement as he managed to twist Nick’s arm behind his back and force him up against the stair rail to subdue him – all without losing his balance or taking a single misstep on the slippery metal steps.
“It’s never too late to get a little help from above,” she said to Bradshaw as Timothy gave his arm an extra tug as a warning against trying anything foolish. “In this particular case, Timothy never left the tower after he let me in – he was a few turns of the spiral staircase above us, listening to every word we said.”
“Maybe a few too many turns above,” Timothy admitted as he nudged Bradshaw to start descending the stairs, all the while never letting go of his arm. “Sorry it took so long to get to a place where I could jump down – I had to take my time, even in these shoes, to make sure our pal here didn’t hear me coming.”
Brook Fernando, accompanied by two officers from the Key West Police Department, was waiting for them at the base of the lighthouse. George was there as he’d promised he would be, and to Jessica’s surprise, so were Seth and Tipper – though what had brought them to the lighthouse in time for the final showdown she had no idea.
“What are you two doing here?” she blurted out to Tipper.
The veterinarian shrugged. “Ask Seth,” she said, nodding in the doctor’s direction. “I’m just along for the ride.”
Jessica looked suspiciously at her best friend, who averted his eyes under the pressure of her penetrating gaze. “Just had a hunch you and George might need a hand,” he muttered uncomfortably.
Seth continued to dissemble, feeling more and more uneasy. “Something like that.”
He was saved from further interrogation by the approach of Lieutenant Fernando. “Did you get it?” he asked Jessica.
“Every word.” Jessica reached into the pocket of the light jacket she was wearing, and removed a small tape recorder, which had been running from the moment she heard someone pick the lock of the lighthouse door.
“Good work.” Fernando took back the tape recorder and relieved Timothy of his prisoner while one of the officers ducked inside to retrieve the rifle. He clapped a firm hand on Nick’s shoulder. “Come on, buddy, let’s go.”
Standing off to the side, Seth watched as the lieutenant started to steer Bradshaw toward where his car was parked. I wish, he thought as a curious – but not unfamiliar – feeling of detachment washed over him, that the detective had taken the precaution of handcuffing this fella.
Sure enough, Nick Bradshaw decided not to go down without a fight, and made a last desperate bid for freedom. Seth saw it all unfolding in agonizing detail as time slowed to a crawl.
He saw Bradshaw pretend to stumble, allowing him the chance to reach toward his boot. He saw the momentary flash of reflected light as the hidden knife was drawn from its secret sheath, saw him raise the knife to throw before anyone else was aware of what was happening. Nick focused on George as his target, and in that dilated moment Seth realized he was facing a choice: to intervene, or let the events unfold unchecked.
He saw Tipper staring at him as Nick’s arm began its forward arc, and knew what he had to do.
The next instant time had resumed its normal pace and Seth was on the ground with the knife buried in his arm, having pushed George out of its path before anyone was fully aware of what had happened. As the pain began to register he was aware of Fernando and Timothy tackling Bradshaw to the ground, aided somewhat belatedly by the two officers, who had been momentarily stunned by the abrupt turn of events.
Jessica and Tipper rushed to his side and dropped to their knees, one on either side of him. Working quickly but with calm smoothness Tipper had the knife blade out of his arm and her hand applied to the wound in a split second.
“Don’t worry, Seth,” she told him with an impish grin that masked her very real concern. “You’re in the best medical hands possible – a veterinarian’s!”
Seth groaned, and not just from the pain. “A vet? I’m doomed for sure,” he muttered as Jessica, deathly pale, shakily handed Tipper a handkerchief to use to help staunch the bleeding.
Tipper accepted it, then frowned. “If only I had one of my bovine rectal sleeves …” she began, and Seth’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.
“Your what?” he sputtered. “Oh, no, you don’t …”
“… it would make a splendid tie to hold this handkerchief on as a bandage,” Tipper said, concluding her thought. She gave Seth a look of mock horror. “Why, what did you think I wanted it for?”
“Never you mind, girl,” Seth growled. “Just keep applying that pressure.”
“I know, I know,” she answered testily. “You know, I’m seeing one of the great advantages of my profession – my patients never talk back!”
“Pah,” Seth said, and tried to sit up. Before he’d more than raised his head, Tipper used her unoccupied hand to unceremoniously push him back down.
“I don’t think so,” she told him firmly. “Unless you want to pass out, you’ll stay right where you are. Of course,” she added thoughtfully, “being unconscious would help you pass the time a little faster, I suppose …”
“It would certainly spare me from having to listen to your rapier wit,” Seth said acidly.
By now George had picked himself up and joined Jessica at his side. “Are you all right?” he asked him.
“I will be if I can survive the less-than-tender ministrations of this smart-alecky veterinarian,” Seth replied.
George grinned at Jessica, who was still wide-eyed and white as a ghost. “I think he’s going to be fine,” he told her, and received a wan smile from her in return.