Chapter 17


“There,” Truman announced as he tied the final suture and snipped the thread. “When those stitches come out in two weeks, that arm will be good as new.”

            “’New’ is a relative term, when you’re talking about someone my age,” Seth said as his friend gave the closed wound a final cleansing. “I’d settle for ‘back to the way it was two hours ago.’”

            “Well, that much you can count on, I’d say.” They were gathered in a treatment area located just off of the emergency room of Key West’s hospital, where Truman, having heard the events unfold on his police scanner, had met the group as they arrived. Prior to closing the laceration Nick Bradshaw’s knife had made, Truman had checked the nerves and tendons of Seth’s right arm carefully, and found no evidence of deeper, more serious trauma.

            Jessica sighed with heartfelt relief, her hand on Seth’s shoulder. “Thank goodness,” she said.

            “That was quick thinking,” George told him. “You must have reflexes like a cat, to be able to jump in front of that knife as you did.”

            “Oh, no, nothing like that,” Seth replied. “I just happened to catch the look in that young man’s eye, and knew he’d try to pull something like that.”

            “Well, either way you saved my life, and I am deeply appreciative.” He extended his hand, which Seth grasped and shook gingerly.

            “I don’t mean to intrude, but if we’re finished up here, there are some details I still need to go over with you folks at the station,” Lieutenant Fernando reminded them.

            Jessica looked at Seth. “Will you be all right?”

            “I’ll be just fine,” he assured her as he rolled down his sleeve. “How could I be otherwise, with Doctor Henderson hovering over me like a nervous hen?”

            “Okay, then.” She kissed him lightly on the forehead and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “We’ll meet you for breakfast over at Truman’s, then, after we check out of our inn?”

            “Don’t be late,” he warned her, “or we may not save anything for you two.”

            She smiled, then accepted George’s arm and followed Timothy and Lieutenant Fernando out the door.

            “I have to fill out some paperwork to get you discharged,” Truman said as he put away his suturing materials. “I’ll grab some antibiotics for you to take home with you tomorrow.”

            “Antibiotics?” Seth said, raising an eyebrow. “You still believe in those?”

            “If you’d prefer, I could probably round up some leeches …”

            “Antibiotics would be just fine,” said Seth firmly.

            Truman grinned. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and left the room, leaving Seth alone with Tipper. The veterinarian leaned against the closed door and regarded the physician, who dropped his gaze.

            “I don’t really deserve George’s thanks,” Seth said quietly.

            “Why not? Because you were tempted – just for the briefest of instants – to do nothing and let Nick Bradshaw skewer him? You’re only human, Seth.”

            “Thank you for that enlightening diagnosis, Doctor,” he replied sourly. “Now, would you care to let me in on how you knew what I was thinking? And don’t try denying that you knew – I saw that look on your face right before I jumped into harm’s way.”

            It was Tipper’s turn to look a tad awkward. “Don’t ask me how, but I could tell you were struggling with some kind of internal debate,” she said. “And when I saw where everyone was – like pieces on a chessboard, almost – well, I just knew.”

            “Ayuh,” said Seth slowly.

            “If it’s any consolation, I had no doubt you’d make the right choice, no matter what the personal cost,” Tipper added. “What I find most surprising about this little episode is that this time your premonition led you not to Jessica’s danger, but to George’s!”

            “I don’t find it surprising at all,” Seth said calmly as he lowered himself down from the exam table and reached for his coat.

            Tipper quirked an eyebrow at him. “You don’t?”

            “No. Not when you figure that George needed saving for Jessica’s sake.” 

            “Ah.” Tipper found herself at a rare loss for words. Fortunately she was saved from having to find some by Truman’s well-timed return, the completed discharge forms in one hand and a bottle of antibiotic capsules in the other.

            “All set, Boomer,” he said as Tipper helped Seth shrug on his coat. “Let’s get you out of here and salvage what’s left of the evening.”


The group that gathered in the Key West Police Department conference room was much the same as the one that had been assembled there earlier that day: Jessica, George, and Timothy were all there at the invitation of Lieutenant Fernando, as was Lyle Fairbanks, summoned to hear the outcome of the case before his release. Giving credit where credit was due, Fernando let Jessica tell the story to the erstwhile ghost hunter in her own words.

            “So as it turns out, you were the intended target all along, Mr. Fairbanks,” she said to him.  “All this time, Nick has been manipulating you, faking evidence of ghosts that weren’t really there without your knowledge – in essence, deceiving you just as much as he was the people who hired you for your services.”

            Fairbanks put his face in his hands. “And I fell for it,” he moaned. “I completely, utterly fell for it. Up until the moment you revealed the tampering in my EM meter, I truly believed that what I was seeing was for real. But why? Why would Nick do this to me?”

            “He was using you,” Jessica told him sympathetically. “He knew he needed your charisma, your talent to attract public attention, to gain the audience he was after. But after watching you take all the credit for his work and ingenuity, I think being your invisible partner began to chafe.”

            “Bradshaw realized that riding your coattails – as profitable as it had been for him – was not reward enough,” added George. “So he decided to shed his role as your behind-the-scenes assistant, and start working for himself.”

            “Why not just quit?” Timothy asked.

            “Because if Nick did that, Mr. Fairbanks would soon founder without Nick’s particular kind of technical help,” Jessica explained. “That would expose him to the public as a fraud. And if Mr. Fairbanks suddenly became unable to pull off a good hoax without his assistant at his side, everyone would realize that it was the assistant who was responsible for the evidence tampering all along.”

“That wouldn’t do,” Fernando added. “In order to be successful at this racket himself, Nick needed the illusion of your previous successes to remain intact, Lyle. So to keep you from falling flat on your face and screwing everything up for him, you had to die.”

Timothy winced at the stunned expression on Fairbanks’ face. “That’s putting it bluntly, Lieutenant,” he commented dryly.

Jessica glanced at the detective before concluding her tale. “The plan was to murder you while you were riding high on the ‘proof’ of the Hemingway ghost,” she said. “He set Thomas Manchester up to take the blame for your murder, leaving him free to take your place as one of the most prominently known paranormal investigators in the country. With you dead and his bag of tricks still a secret, no doubt he would have gone on to be very successful, even without your skill at public relations.”

Lyle Fairbanks was too crushed to say anything at first. “I suppose I should be grateful to you, Mrs. Fletcher,” he said at last. “After all, you have saved me from being accused of a murder I did not commit, and very possibly saved my life as well. Yet … somehow I don’t feel much like thanking you at the moment.”

Fernando sighed. “You’re free to go, Mr. Fairbanks,” he said. “In light of Bradshaw’s confession, the Hemingway Museum Foundation has decided not to press charges of fraud against you personally, seeing as how you are as much a victim in all of this as they are. But if I hear of you pursuing any other deceased residents in the Florida Keys, I’ll have you behind bars so fast it’ll make your head spin. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal clear,” Fairbanks said icily. He rose from the conference room table stiffly, and walked out of the room without another word.

“There’s gratitude for you,” Fernando observed when the door had closed behind him.

“I don’t blame him, really,” Jessica sighed. “He has been completely discredited by the revelation of Nick’s hoax.  No one will want him to investigate their haunted houses now, and all of his previous ‘proofs’ and investigations must be called into question.”

“There are a couple of things I still don’t get, though,” the detective said.

“Such as?” George asked.

“Well, such as why Bradshaw was so willing to bolt Key West when the hoax started to unravel and the sh-… er, the negative consequences began to hit Fairbanks’ fan,” Fernando said. “Fairbanks told us earlier that at the time Berra called to demand his refund, Nick already had his bags packed and his gear stowed in the Explorer. Why would he do that, and risk arrest for fraud along with his boss?”

“Because there was no longer any reason for him to stay,” said Jessica. “The moment he shot and killed the wrong man, his plans for ascendancy to Lyle’s throne were over. Nick willingly went along with the flight from Key West because it was a win-win situation for him: if Fairbanks managed to get him out of the Keys, he would have ample opportunity to disappear once they returned to Miami. But even if he didn’t, he could play the role of the downtrodden assistant, dragged along on Fairbanks’ mad escape attempt against his will. With Fairbanks firmly established as the villain and Nick as the victim, no one would suspect Nick as being the mastermind behind the whole scheme in the first place.”

 “It would have worked,” George added, “except for two things: one, the remote battery device inserted into the EM field meter was too sophisticated for Mr. Fairbanks to have rigged himself. As Nick had specifically noted, Fairbanks failed Electrical Engineering 101 in college. Nick, on the other hand, used to be in charge of the electrical wiring for the circus they both used to work for.”

“The other thing that led to Nick’s downfall was the photograph he sent to the Citizen. He must have realized that what was left of his plan was on the brink of complete collapse the moment he suspected we had figured out how the photo of the ghost was faked,” said Jessica. “He was already keeping tabs on our movements, and when we paid Byron Sinclair a late evening visit, he panicked. If the complete story of the hoax was made public Mr. Fairbanks would be ruined, but dependant as he was on Mr. Fairbanks’ image, Nick would be ruined as well. If that happened, the best he could hope to do was to simply stay out of prison. In desperation he made an attempt to scare me into silence.”

“But regardless of whether that worked or not, it was now imperative that he get out of Key West, with or without Lyle,” added George. “He decided to fetch the rifle and flee on his own, under the cover of night. Unfortunately for him, Jessica anticipated his move and intercepted him at the lighthouse.”

            “That’s the other thing I still don’t get,” Fernando said. “How did you know the rifle would be hidden somewhere around the lighthouse?”

            Jessica shrugged. “It had to be at the lighthouse because it wasn’t found in the vehicle after he and Mr. Fairbanks were caught trying to leave the Keys,” she said.

            “Wait a sec,” said Timothy. “Just because it wasn’t in the SUV doesn’t mean it had to be at the lighthouse, does it? There were plenty of opportunities for Nick to lose the rifle between here and the Seven Mile Bridge.”

            “Not as many as you think,” Jessica told him. “In fact, hardly any at all. It makes sense if you work backwards from when Nick and Lyle were apprehended on the bridge. Nick couldn’t have tossed it out of the vehicle between Key West and the Seven Mile Bridge; it was broad daylight, with lots of traffic – someone would have noticed. At the very least, Lyle would have noticed, and even if he didn’t realize he’d been Nick’s intended target all along, I’m sure he wouldn’t have fancied driving around with a murderer in his passenger seat.”

            “And since the police didn’t find the rifle when the vehicle was searched, that rules out Nick hiding it in the back with the rest of their gear,” George added.

            “That backs us up to the hotel,” Jessica continued. “Could he have left it there when he and Lyle made their escape? Not really – the housekeeping staff would have found it in his room, and leaving it with hotel security was not an option – after the murder hit the newspaper, it would have been like gift-wrapping the murder weapon for the authorities.”

            “So the rifle couldn’t have been in the hotel either,” Timothy said. “I guess that leaves hiding it somewhere between the hotel and the lighthouse – a risky proposition at best – or hiding it at the lighthouse itself, with the idea that it could be retrieved later.”

            “Exactly,” said Jessica, nodding. “That’s why it had to be on the lighthouse grounds, and nowhere else.”


After leaving the police department, Jessica and George finally returned to their room at the Bougainvillea Inn.

“So,” said George, “it’s our last night together in Key West.”

“Yes,” Jessica sighed. “Midwinter break is nearly over. Where did the time go?”

“Most of it went into investigating the events surrounding young Thomas’s death from unnatural causes,” George reminded her. “I’m very proud of you, by the way.”

“You are?”

George came over to her and drew her into an embrace. “Absolutely. You put this whole crazy business to rest and still managed to make this a very worthwhile trip for both of us.”

Jessica suddenly began to tremble in his arms. “What’s the matter?” George asked her.

“A ‘worthwhile trip,’ you said,” she replied quietly. “It’s just hitting me now, how easily this could have been a catastrophic trip. If Timothy had been a few steps too late, I would have been killed. If Seth hadn’t intervened, Nick could have killed you – and as it is, Seth is very lucky that he wasn’t hurt much worse than he was.” She drew in a shuddering sigh. “The line between ‘worthwhile’ and ‘tragedy’ was so thin tonight, it’s nearly overwhelming.”

George held her tighter and murmured to her soothingly, “You’re fine. I’m fine. Seth is mostly fine. Everything worked out for the best in the end.” After a long moment he released her and led her over to the bed, where he sat down next to her.  “The evening’s events happened far too quickly tonight, and they’ve left you reeling in their wake,” he decided. “The proper antidote, I believe, is for us to concentrate on making the rest of this night move as slowly as possible.”

Jessica looked at him, puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“This is not my first trip to the southern part of your country,” George said, brushing his fingers lightly up her cheek then running his hand through her hair, “and if there is anything I have learned from my travels, it’s that the tourists are the only ones rushing about. The natives take their time in all things – possibly because the weather is so bloody hot, but also, I think, because they’ve learned the art of savoring their time, something those of us from northern climes would do well to emulate.”

A smile began to reappear on his beloved’s face as her trembling ceased. “So what do you propose, exactly?”

“That we forget what happened earlier for awhile and celebrate our final night together in Key West properly,” said George, taking her shoulders and gently easing her down to the soft bed sheets. “And make certain that we take our time in doing so.”

Jessica gazed up at him from where she lay with love, trust and anticipation mingled in her deep blue eyes.  George nearly regretted his suggestion to “take it slow” – his grip on his self-control always seemed to falter somewhat whenever she looked at him like that. Nevertheless, somehow he managed to keep all of his movements deliberate and unhurried. She matched his measured pace, drawing out each kiss, letting every touch linger.

The culmination of their patient efforts to extend the moment didn’t merely slow down time, but stopped it altogether.


Given its small size and the confines of the island it was perched on, the Key West Airport did not handle large jets. Rather, it catered to smaller commuter-sized airplanes, which brought visitors from the tip of the Keys to the airports of the Florida Peninsula’s larger cities, where travelers could take connecting flights to wherever they needed to go. That was what George, Jessica, Seth, and Tipper intended to do when they arrived at the airport that next morning, courtesy of Timothy’s taxicab.

            “Where do you pick up your flight back home?” Jessica asked Tipper as the veterinarian helped Seth lug his bag over to the gate’s waiting area.

            Tampa,” she replied. “Once we get to Boston, we continue on with the regional flight to Portland. What about you guys?”

            Fort Myers, then on to New York after a short layover in Washington,” Jessica replied.

            “Hmm, Fort Myers,” Tipper said. “If it were just a few weeks later, I wouldn’t mind spending some time there to catch some spring training games with the Sox.” She sighed. “Ah, well. Maybe someday.”

            “You know, the Blue Jays play their pre-season games in Dunedin, which is just up the coast and also lovely in the spring,” Timothy said. He had parked his cab in the short-term lot and accompanied the group inside, ostensibly to spare Seth from having to carry his luggage through the terminal with his injured arm. Jessica suspected, however, that his offer was less about Seth than it was about Tipper.

            “You follow baseball?” the veterinarian asked.

            “As much as I can,” Timothy replied.

            Tipper smiled, easing up just a bit on the arm’s length distance she had kept between herself and Timothy since they’d first met. “Come to Maine some time,” she said. “We could meet up, take the train to Boston, and catch a Sox-Jays game at Fenway Park. They’re both in the A.L. East, so they’re in town a lot.”

            Timothy smiled back. “I’d like that,” he said. “Well, I’ve got to go – the cab makes money when I’m driving it, not when it’s sitting in a parking lot.” With a friendly wave, he headed back toward the main entrance of the airport.

            “Lucky,” Tipper said as she watched him go. “He gets to stay down here with the beautiful warm weather, and we get to go home to six more weeks of winter.” Just then the announcement for Flight 253 to Tampa came over the public address system. “Well, that’s us,” she sighed. “Come on, Seth - you ready to greet the friendly skies?”

            “That depends,” said Seth after Jessica released him from one last farewell hug. “Are you going to talk at me the whole way home?”

            “What, you’re not interested in my wealth of amusing anecdotes from the world of small town veterinary medicine?” Tipper said as she picked up Seth’s carry-on bag and slung her backpack over her shoulder. She shot George and Jessica a wink, and they headed toward the jetway together, tossing good-natured barbs at each other all the way.

            “I’d say that Seth is in good hands, whether he’s willing to admit it or not,” George chuckled as he and Jessica made their way to the gate where their own flight would be boarding in about half an hour.

            “Yes,” said Jessica. “They’re more alike than either one would care to admit.”

            They settled into a pair of seats to wait. “You know,” said George, “we each have one question left to ask from our game.”

            “We do? I think I lost track,” she said. “You go first.”

            “Very well.” He looked deeply into her eyes and said. “Will you come back to the Highlands this summer, so that we can have another go at the precious time together we were cheated of last year?”

            Jessica smiled and took his hand. “I will,” she said. “I promise. Are you ready for my final question?”

            “Of course. Ask me anything, Elf.”

            She took a breath, her eyes glittering with mischief, but just as she was about to speak she changed her mind and instead murmured her question quietly into his ear, so that she could not be overheard by their fellow travelers.

            It must have been a good question, because her companion’s eyes widened in surprise even as his face broke into a broad grin. That wull be whan the devil's blinn,” he exclaimed, “an’ he's no bleer-eed yit!” 


The End