Chapter 3


Jessica awoke early the next morning to the sound of a motor scooter zipping by on the street below. She opened her eyes to a room flooded with bright, warm sunlight slanting through the wooden blinds that covered the window, and knew that they had a beautiful day ahead of them.  But she wasn’t ready to get up – not quite yet. George was still fast asleep and the inn’s complimentary continental breakfast wouldn’t begin for another hour or so. Although ordinarily she was an early riser, she felt no particular rush to get up. Instead, she was happy enough to take advantage of the rare opportunity to simply lie in bed and appreciate her comfortable surroundings. She sighed, stretched, and lay on her back, watching the blades of the ceiling fan turning leisurely above the bed.

            Beside her George stirred and mumbled something in his sleep, subsiding when she turned toward him and curled herself around him, holding him gently in her arms. She had nearly dozed off again herself when George woke up and looked at her, and smiled.

            “Mmm, Jessie,” he murmured sleepily. “I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.”

            Jessica smiled back at him. “Not quite,” she said, “though they do call this place paradise.”

            “Close enough.” He yawned and stretched, and glanced at the clock on the bedside table. “Have you been awake long?”

            “Not very long. I’ve just been trying to convince myself that we’re both really here.”

            George grinned wickedly. “I could pinch you if you need further evidence,” he offered.

            “Don’t you dare.” She sat up and ran her fingers through her hair. “I’m going to take a quick shower,” she told him. “By the time I finish, it should be time to head down to breakfast, I think.”

            “Let me know if you need any help in there,” George said. “I’m more than willing …”

His offer was declined with a pillow thrown in his general direction as Jessica gathered her things and headed for the bathroom.        


            The Bougainvillea Inn provided a generous continental breakfast, supplying cereals, fresh pastries, fruit, coffee, juice and tea in a gazebo in the corner of the courtyard.  Jessica and George made their selections and claimed a table on the edge of the brick-paved space, from which they could watch the comings and goings of some of the inn’s other guests.

            After breakfast George went inside to have his turn at the shower. Once he had emerged and was dressed, he headed back out to the courtyard to look for Jessica. He soon found her poolside, seated at a small table of wrought-iron under the shade of a banyan tree, her chin resting on her hand as she gazed at the rippling waters a few yards away.  She appeared to be daydreaming, lost in the peaceful atmosphere of the inn’s grounds: the warm breeze that stirred the palm fronds and feathered the pool’s turquoise surface, the scent of blooming flowers and the musical cadence of a fountain at the pool’s far end as it spilled crystal droplets over the lip of a smooth marble basin. A pencil and pad of paper shared the table with her, but didn’t look like they’d been getting much use; the pencil tip was still sharp, and the paper blank. 

She was unaware of him as he approached her from behind and gently placed his hands on her shoulders, waking from her reverie with a start.

            “George,” she said, looking up at him with a warm smile. “I didn’t hear you coming.”

            “Sorry, Elf,” he said as he bent down to kiss her cheek lightly. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Am I interrupting something?”

            “Hardly,” said Jessica, waving a hand at the blank notebook in front of her. “I was going to try to write, but I just can’t seem to get anything down on paper!  The sound of the fountain has me hypnotized, or the flower pollen is acting as a tranquilizer. I feel like my mind has been reduced to mush, and I can’t seem to stop staring at the pool.”

            George took the pencil and notepad from in front of her and set them on the vacant seat of one of the table’s chairs, pulling up a third chair for himself.

            “I doubt that your mind has been reduced to mush, but I think you should stop trying to write,” he told her as he sat down. “You’re supposed to be on holiday, remember? If the pool and fountain have distracted you from working, then so much the better.”

            Jessica didn’t protest this; instead she sighed and tilted her head back to gaze up at the leaves of the banyan high overhead. The sky that she glimpsed through them was a deep, subtropical blue, the sort of sky that Maine would not see for several months more, and then only during its brief period of high summer.

            “I suppose you’re right,” she said. “I shouldn’t try to fight it. It’s just that I’m not used to being idle.”

            “A little idleness now and then is good for you,” George pointed out. “However, just because you’re on holiday doesn’t mean you have to spend the entire time being idle – it just means you need to set aside actual work for awhile. What would you like to do today? I’ll accept any answer you give me so long as it doesn’t involve work.”

            Jessica considered this weighty question. “Well,” she said, “at the top of my list would be a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s home. I’ve been there once before, but I would love to go back for another look around.”

            “Visiting the home of another writer sounds dangerously close to the topic of ‘work’ to me,” George said with a smile. “But no matter: we’ll start with that, and see how things go from there.”


            They walked amongst Key West’s side streets to the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum on a quiet corner of lower Whitehead Street.  The famous author’s former home was located across the street from the historic Key West Lighthouse and just a few blocks away from the tourist attractions of the Southernmost Point. The museum was currently open to visitors, and after paying the entrance fee at the wrought-iron main gate, they entered the estate.

            A private family had bought Papa Hemingway’s home from his estate upon his death by suicide in 1961; three years later the house and grounds were dedicated as a privately-run museum, and had remained that way ever since.  Care had been taken through the years to preserve the place – not always an easy task in a subtropical environment prone to hurricanes, termites, and other natural disasters – and looking around with an appraising eye Jessica had to admit that they had done a fine job.

            Palm trees and a royal Poinciana about to come into full bloom surrounded the house, which had been built in the Spanish Colonial style and finished in white stucco. Tall arched windows flanked by wooden shutters of pale yellow-green opened onto verandas and cement patios with black iron railings, providing both shade in the heat of the summer as well as a place to view the surrounding city and catch the breezes blowing in from off the Sea. Brick-lined paths set with stone pavers wound around the house and the grounds, leading through almost jungle-dense tropical plantings to manicured lawns and trimmed hedges.

            In front of the house was an ornamental fountain, a white concrete structure wide enough to sit on. It held a basin tiled with a mosaic of colored tiles and crowned with a copper sculpture of a plant concealing the fountain’s pump. Over the course of time the metal leaves of the sculpture had weathered to a pleasant verdigris.

A man was seated on the edge of the fountain, scribbling in a notebook with a pencil stub and pausing occasionally to push his wire-rimmed glasses back up on his nose when they slipped down. He appeared to be in his thirties, his brown hair thinning at the temples and gathered back into a short ponytail at the nape of his neck. He wore a t-shirt bearing the logo of the Green Parrot Bar and cargo shorts, and a pair of leather sandals over a worn set of athletic socks. As they came closer Jessica recognized the young man, and pulling George forward, hailed him:

“Thomas – is it really you?”

He looked up, spotted Jessica, and burst into a wide grin. “Jessica!” he said, setting aside his notebook and rising to greet them. “What are you doing in this part of the world?”

“Vacationing from the dreary winter weather back up north,” she said, giving him a quick hug. “George, this is Thomas Manchester. He’s a Hemingway historian and biographer.”

George took Thomas’s hand and shook it warmly. “George Sutherland, Jessica’s friend,” he introduced himself. “How is it you two know each other?”

“We met at a writer’s convention ten years ago in Detroit,” said Thomas happily. “It was Jessica that encouraged me to submit my doctoral thesis on Hemingway’s work to a publisher. It got accepted, sold a respectable number of copies, and now here I am, working on a follow-up.”

“That’s wonderful,” said Jessica. “You must have found some new angle on Ernest Hemingway to write on. After all, how many developments can there be for a man who’s been dead for some forty-odd years?”

Thomas made a face. “More than you’d think,” he said wryly. “Well, never mind that for now. Come on,” he said, gathering up his notebook and pencil and beckoning them into the main building with a wave of his hand. “I’ll give you the grand tour, with all the extra stuff the tour guides tend to leave out.”

            He led them up the front door and inside the house, giving them a rough sketch of its history as he did so. “The house was built in 1851 out of native limestone, and was actually bought for Hemingway and his wife Pauline by Pauline’s wealthy uncle.” He gestured around the spacious living room.  “Many of the furnishings are European, bought during the time they were living in Paris.” He indicated one piece of furniture in the living room, an antique bureau with a smaller cabinet set on top of it. “That chest-on-chest of Pauline’s is 17th century Spanish, and priceless.”

            They entered the next room, which Thomas explained had actually been one larger room before Pauline had the fireplace blocked and the space divided into a dining room and a smaller breakfast room. 

Jessica looked up at the lavish glass chandelier hanging above the table and said, “The chandeliers in these rooms are magnificent, but given how hot it can get down here, wouldn’t ceiling fans have been a more practical choice?”

            “You’d think so,” Thomas answered, following her glance upward, “but Pauline collected chandeliers. That one is hand-blown Murano glass, the prize of her collection. When she and Ernest moved in, the ceiling fans came out and her collection of chandeliers went in.”

            “This is an unusual piece of furniture,” George said, wandering over to a sideboard made of wrought iron set against the wall.

            “It’s a tantalus,” said Thomas matter-of-factly, “a Spanish wine bottle safe. You locked up your rare vintages in that to keep the servants from taking a nip when they were supposed to be working.”

            A velvet rope blocked the doorway leading from the breakfast room to the kitchen at the back of the house. Jessica paused there and looked through, and was surprised to see that the kitchen was much more modern in its outfitting than she would have expected. “I see that they had an electric refrigerator,” she said to Thomas. “And the tile work is beautiful!”

“Yes,” he replied. “The whole kitchen was Pauline’s doing. She wanted a modern in-house kitchen, not the original that was in a separate building behind the main house. And she loved decorative tiles – most of these are of Spanish and Portuguese origin. Come on, I’ll show you the upstairs.”

            Thomas led the way up the house’s central staircase to the second floor, and into a large room dominated by tall windows and French doors leading to the balcony that encircled the house. A king-sized bed made up with white linens was set in the middle of the room and cordoned off, as the kitchen had been, to keep curious visitors from testing out Hemingway’s mattress for themselves.  The cordons had not discouraged one of the estate’s many resident cats, however, from picking the exact center of the bedspread as the location for his mid-morning nap.

            “This is the master bedroom,” Thomas told them, pointedly ignoring the cat. “The bed’s actually two twin-sized beds pushed together. The painting above it is a copy of Miro’s ‘The Farm,’ the original of which is safely ensconced in the National Gallery up in Washington, D.C. The cat sculpture sitting on the Mexican chest-on-chest is also a copy of an original work given to Hemingway as a gift by Pablo Picasso.”

            George looked closely at the replica. “Remarkable,” he said. “Is the original version of this also in the National Gallery?”
            “No,” Thomas said with a sigh as he turned to leave the room. “The original of that work of art was broken beyond repair by a thief.”

            Across the hallway was a bathroom, its walls finished with tiles of a yellow mustard color.  Except for the decorative terrarium filled with sand and dried corals that dominated the middle of the room, it had all the accoutrements one would expect in a modern bathroom. “This house was one of the few in Key West to have indoor plumbing at the time that it was built,” Thomas explained. “Water was supplied by a cistern set on the roof.”

            Street side on the second floor was the room Hemingway’s two sons by Pauline, Patrick and Gregory, shared while growing up – it was now filled with photographs and memorabilia from the early stages of the writer’s life. A third bedroom was once occupied by the boys’ nanny, and later converted to a sewing room once they had grown and were sent away to school.

            “That’s about it for the main house,” Thomas said as they descended the central staircase and headed outside around the back of the house. “No doubt, Jessica, you’re most interested in seeing where Papa did most of his work.”

            A pathway paved in brick ran between the back of the home, across the grounds under an ancient weeping fig tree that probably dated back to the house’s building, and over to a carriage house set at the rear of the property.

            “The studio is on the second floor,” Thomas said, leading the way up a metal staircase, his sandals creating an odd ringing noise on the steel treads. “In Hemingway’s day he accessed it via a catwalk that ran between it and the second floor veranda so he could literally roll out of bed and get to work early in the morning while it was still relatively cool. Unfortunately, a storm took out the catwalk in 1948.”

            “What was the first floor used for?” asked George.

            “Pauline converted it into an apartment,” Thomas replied. “After she died, Hemingway and his new wife – his fourth, by the way – lived there when they were visiting Key West from their new home in Cuba.  Now the first floor apartment is where the museum offices and bookstore are located.”

            Although they were prevented from actually entering the studio by another rope barricade, the staircase landing offered an excellent view of the interior, preserved to reflect the way it was when Hemingway actually wrote there. The white plaster walls were lined with bookcases, over which hung trophies from the author’s big game hunting expeditions in Africa. Other souvenirs of trips and adventures from around the world were scattered around the room. On a small round table in the middle of the room was Hemingway’s old Royal typewriter, set in front of the old Cuban cigar-maker’s straight-backed chair he used to sit in.  Jessica wasn’t sure if it was because she was a writer herself, but it seemed to her as if the well-preserved studio held an air of expectancy about it, awaiting Hemingway’s return at any moment to sit down at the typewriter and resume his work.

            Leaving the carriage house and the famous author’s writing studio behind, Thomas next led Jessica and George around the side of the main house, where a cement patio and pool shared the shade of the overhanging palms and other tropical trees.

            “The pool was the first ever built for a private residence in Key West,” he said. “It’s sixty-five feet long and nine feet deep at the deep end.”

            “It must have cost a fortune!” George exclaimed, marveling at the length and breadth of the pool.

            “A fortune and a half! There’s actually a story about that: Ernest planned the pool, but he was absent during the actual construction while he traveled to Europe to cover the Spanish Civil War as a journalist at the end of 1937. When he returned home, he suffered a severe case of sticker shock: the final cost had ballooned to twenty thousand dollars! As the story goes, he took a penny from his pocket and gave it to Pauline, saying, ‘Well, you might as well take my last cent.’ You can still see that penny where it was embedded in the concrete of the pool deck.”

            At one end of the patio was an unusual object d’art, a ceramic trough covered with tiles set under a masonry jar filled with water. Jessica wandered over to it and tried – and failed – to determine what it could be.

            “Thomas,” she finally asked, “what exactly is this thing, anyway?”

            Thomas chuckled when he saw what she was looking at. “That,” he said with a smile, “is one of the urinals from the restroom of Hemingway’s friend Joe Russell’s bar, Sloppy Joe’s.  Papa topped it with an olive jar to act as a miniature cistern and used it as a drinking fountain for his cats. Pauline hated the thing, and did her best to disguise it with more of her favored decorative tile work – but it’s still easily recognizable for what it is.”

            Sure enough, a cat scurried out from under the leaves of a nearby philo plant and came to take a drink from the makeshift fountain, her pink tongue darting in and out as she lapped up the cool water. A second cat followed the first, this one splashing the surface of the water with his enormous six-toed paw before drinking, earning him a dirty look from his companion.

            “Easy there, Corinth,” Thomas told the cat, nudging him with the toe of his sandal. “If you aren’t careful with that big mitt of yours, Patches might give you a swat.”

            “Do all the cats have names?” George asked.

            “Oh, yes,” said Thomas. “They’re part of the estate family, you might say. There are around sixty of them all told. The museum takes care them, feeds them, brings in a vet to round them up for the shots and so on, and gets most of them spayed or neutered – but not all, since there must always be a few to carry on the Hemingway line.”

            “They are descendants of Hemingway’s original cats, then?” Jessica asked, bending down to stroke the head of the one Thomas had called Patches, a slight little calico with yellow-green eyes and a surprisingly deep and loud purr.
            “Right. The first cat was a six-toed feline belonging to a ship captain Hemingway knew. When the captain set sail out of Key West, he presented Ernest with the cat as a gift. Papa always had a great fondness for cats. You must like animals, Jessica – these two at least have taken quite a liking to you, and they’re excellent judges of character.”

            Jessica smiled but let the comment pass. “They seem to have an extremely comfortable lifestyle here,” she said instead as Corinth tried to push Patches out of the way and butted his head against her hand, looking for some of the same treatment.  “It’s warm year-round, they’ve got the run of these beautiful grounds, and they are well looked after.  What could be better?”

            “Aye,” George said, “not only that, but nine lives to enjoy it all with.”

            Thomas gave him an odd look. “Funny that you should mention extra lives,” he said, pushing his glasses back up his nose again, “what with everything that has been going on around here lately.”

            Having resolved the competition between the two cats by using both hands to scratch each one behind the ears, Jessica looked up at him, puzzled. “What are you talking about?” she asked.

            The biographer tugged at his ponytail and looked around him nervously, as if seeking hidden eavesdroppers. “I’d really rather not get into it all here,” he said finally. “Say – how about I take the two of you to lunch up the street a bit?  We can get caught up, Jess, and also talk about some other things while we’re at it.”


            “I have my own key to the place,” Thomas explained as he turned it in the lock and opened the side gate that led out to Olivia Street. “The Museum let me borrow it so I could come and go as I please. Sometimes it’s easier to do research when the place is closed.”

            A few blocks up Whitehead Street was a small local market and eatery called Papa’s Café.  A low building painted white, it provided a handful of tables and a lot of local ambiance.

            “Get the Cuban sandwiches,” Thomas advised them as they pulled three folding metal chairs up to a rickety table covered with vinyl. “They’re as close to the real thing as you’ll find outside of Havana.”

            After they had placed their orders – a trio of Cuban sandwiches, a diet Coke for Thomas and iced tea for Jessica and George – Thomas pushed his glasses back up his nose, looked at George speculatively and asked, “So, George Sutherland, friend of Jessica – if your accent is any indication, I bet you’re British, or more precisely, Scottish.”

            George smiled. “Very good,” he said warmly. “You got it in one.”

            “I’ve always had a good ear for accents. Are you also a writer?”

            “I’m afraid not, unless you count filling out dreary police reports as writing,” George replied with a shake of his head. “I’m an inspector with New Scotland Yard, actually.”

            Thomas sat back and whistled, clearly impressed. “How interesting is that?” he said, half to himself.

            A delicious, warm aroma heralded the arrival of their lunches, delivered on simple paper plates by a deli counter clerk.  Ham, roast pork, cheese and pickles had been layered between slices of crusty bread, grilled in a sandwich press to mingle the flavors, and served hot and steaming.

            “Don’t ever let anyone sell you a Cuban with mayo on it,” Thomas warned them. “If you see mayo on the list of ingredients, it’s a fake.”

            The conversation focused on catching up on the past as they ate. Jessica was interested in Thomas’s other writing projects since the publication of his first Hemingway book. For his part, Thomas was surprised to learn that Jessica was teaching criminology in New York, and was curious as to how she and George had met. She let George take the reins of that story, content to listen as he related the oft-told tale in his characteristic understated way.

            Finally, once the empty paper plates were cleared away and they were left finishing their drinks, Jessica decided that it was time to steer the conversation back to what Thomas had hinted at back at the museum.

            “All right, Thomas,” she said, fixing her old acquaintance with a pointed stare. “You made a number of odd statements back at the Hemingway House. What exactly is going on? And why didn’t you feel comfortable talking about it there?”

            Thomas peered at her over the tops of his glasses, which had once again slid down his nose. “What’s going on,” he told her in a lowered voice, “are reported sightings of the ghost of Ernest Hemingway at the House.”

            Jessica’s eyes flew open. “Hemingway’s ghost?” she exclaimed. “This is the first I’ve heard of any such thing!”

            “I was afraid of that,” Thomas said, somewhat chagrinned. “I had half hoped, when I saw you at the House, that you were here to check out the rumors of the ghost for yourself. Ah, but how could you have known? You’ve been up in New York.”

            “I guess the news hadn’t gotten that far,” George said. “Would you care to fill us in?”

Thomas finished the last couple of bites of his Cuban sandwich for fortification before beginning his story. “It started when a couple of tourists claimed that they heard odd noises in the breakfast room during a house tour,” he said. “Key West is really just one big small town; it didn’t take long for the rumor mill to kick into high gear, and soon there were at least a dozen reports of sightings making the rounds in the Old Town bars. Everything from the sound of someone typing on Papa’s old typewriter in the carriage house to Papa himself strolling into Sloppy Joe’s for a beer. Actually, that last one was easy enough to explain – one of the Ernest Hemingway look-alike clubs was in town that weekend.  But the tale seems to be growing with the telling! Now it seems like half the people who come to see the house are really here for the ghost story.”

George shrugged. “The rumor will run its course in due time,” he said pragmatically. “They usually do.”

“Not in Key West, they don’t,” Thomas told him. “And it gets worse: I read in the Citizen this morning that a professional ghost hunter, some guy by the name of Lyle Fairbanks, is coming in tonight to see if he can get definitive proof that the ghost exists.”

“And what do you think?” Jessica asked.

“I think it’s bunk,” Thomas said flatly. “But the fact is, all this character needs to do is let everyone see the needle move on his little Acme Electromagnetic Spectrometer, and he’s proved his case, at least in the court of public opinion.”

“Does it matter?” George asked. “Gullible people belong to every age. Hoax or no hoax, what is it to you?”

“A fair question,” said Thomas. “The fact is, as a historian this offends me. It’s a misrepresentation of Hemingway – worse, it’s denying him the peace in death that he found so elusive in life. And,” he added, taking a draught of his soft drink, “all these people crawling all over the estate … are getting in the way of my research!”

            Jessica swirled the ice cubes in her glass of tea thoughtfully. “What does the Museum’s board of directors have to say about all of this?” she asked.

            Thomas sighed took another sip of his diet cola. “They haven’t come out and endorsed the reports, but they haven’t denied them either,” he said. “There’s definitely a sense that anything that draws more visitors through the gates is a good thing for the estate, financially. Word on the street is that the museum president, Chuck Berra, is the one who called in this Lyle Fairbanks in the first place – verification of Hemingway’s ghost would be sure to bring lasting popularity to the museum, and notoriety for him.”

            “Is that why you couldn’t talk about it openly on the grounds?” asked George.

            Thomas nodded.  “It’s a very touchy subject among the museum staff. And although you haven’t met him yet, take my word for it that Chuck Berra is a touchy kind of guy. Berra’s a true believer – he’s completely convinced this thing is for real. And he’s not real keen on hearing dissenting opinions on the matter. If he found out that I’d been scoffing the whole notion of the ghost, he’d revoke my research privileges at the museum.

            “I’d love to be able to show this whole thing for the hoax it is,” Thomas continued, sitting up straight with an eager gleam in his eye. “The trouble is I’m just a poor writer barely out of graduate school, with just enough money from my royalties and advance to pay for food and lodging. I don’t have the resources to hire a professional skeptic investigator, even if I could find one with the right credentials on such short notice.”

            Jessica thought she could see where this was headed. “Thomas,” she asked warily, “what is it that you want from us?”

            “I’d like you to come to the paranormal investigation tonight at the House,” Thomas replied. “The side of reason needs all the representation it can get.”

            “Aye, but we’re not experts in the field,” George pointed out. “I don’t know that either of us would spot a ghost hunter’s trick even if it came up and introduced itself.”

            “That’s unimportant,” Thomas countered. “What matters is that you’re both reasonable people, not easily taken in by trickery. Your investigative skills are above reproach. Best of all, you have no personal agendas at stake. I have every confidence that if some sort of fakery is going on here, the two of you will see right through it.”

            Jessica shook her head. “We’d like to help you out, Thomas, truly we would,” she told him, “but please try to understand: we came here on vacation, to get away from mysteries and investigations, not to become entangled in one.”

            “I know, I realize that,” Thomas replied. “But Jessica, can you really sit there and tell me with a straight face that the possibility of seeing Ernest Hemingway’s ghost – or debunking the fakery that created it – doesn’t have you at least a little bit intrigued?”

            Jessica was wavering, torn between her desire for a true rest and the irresistible pull of her innate curiosity. Sensing her uncertainty, Thomas made one final plea:

            “At least come to the House tonight and see this guy at work,” he said, spreading his hands wide in a gesture of supplication. “You don’t have to do anything, just watch. If nothing else, Fairbanks will be less likely to pull some sort of trick if he knows there are skeptical witnesses present. What do you say?”

            George sighed inwardly – he had more than a few reservations about having anything to do with this ghost story.  At best, it threatened to impinge on what he had hoped to be some quiet time alone with Jessica. At worst … well, experience had taught him that there was no telling how bad “worst” could get.  He very much wanted to decline Thomas’s invitation politely and be done with the matter. But then he glanced at Jessica, and saw that for her at least curiosity was winning the battle.

“Well, I suppose there’s no harm in at least going to watch,” he said in resignation.  Jessica reached for his hand under the table and gave it a grateful squeeze.

            Thomas once again nudged his glasses up the bridge of his nose, clearly pleased with their decision. “That’s all I ask.”