Chapter 4


After parting company with Thomas George and Jessica walked over to Duval Street to see Key West’s most famous strip before the crowds completely took it over at sunset. As it was the sidewalks were already teeming with people, all casually strolling past Duval’s eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, art galleries, and t-shirt shops. The daytime atmosphere was busy yet relaxed, a far cry from the wilder nightlife that was to come later.

“Look,” said Jessica, “there’s Margaritaville.”

“Jimmy Buffet’s place? I didn’t know you were a Parrothead, Jess.”

“I’m not,” she replied. “I just know who he is, that’s all.”

They paused in front of the famous bar and looked inside. “It’s relatively empty,” George commented. “Would you like to stop in for a refreshment?”

“All right,” she agreed. “After all this walking I could use a break, and something to drink.”

            The inside of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville was interesting to say the least. The main floor was divided into three areas: the bar, a small restaurant area with tables and chairs, and at the far end of the space, a stage for live entertainment. In addition a stairway led to a mezzanine level that ran along the front, back, and right sides of the room. The inevitable retail store for souvenirs and gifts was located next door.

            They opted to sit at the bar, which was topped with a mosaic made up of tiles of various colors and patterns. Behind the bar the establishment’s large selection of liquors was on display, along with two huge machines whose sole purpose seemed to be crushing ice and mixing the signature drink. Overhead the bar area’s overhang had been fashioned after a typical wood-sided Key West house, complete with a boarded-up attic window sporting a sign that read “Hurricane Party.” This matched the space’s most dominant feature, a giant white stylized hurricane with a red eye (sprouting a ceiling fan) swirling against the darker green of the ceiling. Jimmy Buffet tunes, mostly his classics, played in the background.

            Jessica, deciding to stick with the place’s theme, ordered a mango margarita, while George asked for an imported draft beer. Once their drinks arrived, she took a sip and closed her eyes, savoring it.

            “Good?” George asked her.

            “Very good. Would you like to try it?”

            George held up a hand in polite refusal. “It’s probably too sweet for my tastes,” he said. “I’ll stick to what I have. You’re welcome to have a taste of this, though, if you’d like.”

            Jessica gave him a rueful smile. “I’m afraid I never developed much of a taste for beer,” she said apologetically.

            “Really? Then you must let me educate you some time. You have no idea what you’re missing.”

            “I’ll take that under advisement.” She took another sip of her margarita, and seemed to slip into a pensive mood.

            “Penny for your thoughts,” George said after a few quiet moments, broken only by the murmur of the other patrons and the strains of the song “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

            Jessica stirred her drink with her straw. “I was thinking about what Thomas told us at lunch,” she said, “and what we might see tonight when we go back to the House.”

            “Aye, I thought so,” George said with a grin. “Young Thomas seems like an earnest fellow.”

            “He is,” Jessica confirmed.

            “And he is very convinced that there is a conspiracy behind the reports of a ghost at the House.”

            “What do you think?” she asked, turning toward him.

George’s reply was non-committal: “We shall see what we shall see.” Leaving the matter there, he took a deep breath and let it out again with a whoosh. “What shall we do with the afternoon?” he asked her. “Take in the Key West Aquarium? Stroll along the dock and look at the cruise ships?”

Jessica, who was idly flipping through a free guide book to Key West attractions she had picked up from the bar, paused on a page. “Actually, I have another idea,” she said, and showed him the advertisement she was looking at.

“’The Original Ghost Tours of Key West,’” George read. “’Take a lantern-led evening stroll through historic Old Town’s shadowy lanes and discover the ghosts, ghouls, and legends of our haunted island paradise. Tours leave nightly from the Crowne Plaza La Concha Hotel at 430 Duval Street at 9 PM.’” He handed her back the guide book. “An interesting concept, Jess, but that isn’t until tonight, and I believe we have a previous engagement at nine this evening.”

“I’m not suggesting we go on the tour,” Jessica said, “although it does look interesting. No, I’m suggesting we go pick the brain of one of the tour guides and see if they’ve heard about this rumor Thomas told us about, and if they lend it any credence.”

George considered her suggestion and nodded. “I’m game,” he said. “But how do we find a ghost tour guide during the daytime?”

“Well, I’m sure they all have day jobs – leading a ninety-minute walking tour is probably not their sole source of income,” Jessica speculated. “So, we ask someone who might know.” She looked again at the ad in the booklet. “430 Duval … we’re at 500 Duval right now, so the La Concha Hotel should be only a block and a half away. We can stop in at the lobby and see if anyone knows who the tour guides are, and where they work during the day.”


“There’s eight of them, actually,” they were told when they inquired at the La Concha’s reception desk. “I know all their names, and I know them on sight, but I’ve only heard what a couple of them do when they aren’t leading tours.”

“Who do you know about?” Jessica asked the front desk clerk.

“Well, there’s Megan Warren – she works over at Border’s on North Roosevelt. And I also know Jonas Leeman – he runs a fishing charter boat called the Buccaneer IV that’s moored over by the Harbor Walk.”

“The Harbor Walk is closer, and within easy walking distance,” George commented as he and Jessica walked back through the La Concha’s impressive white marble lobby. Tall white pillars supported a vaulted ceiling far overhead, while potted palm trees surrounded seating arrangements made up of wicker and upholstered chairs situated on rich area rugs. “Let’s try the Buccaneer IV first, and call a taxi to take us out to North Roosevelt if we strike out.”

“Sounds good to me,” Jessica said as George held the hotel’s glass door open for her.


They entered Key West’s Harbor Walk at the end of Front Street and strolled along the wooden dock that skirted the edge of the marina, its boards weathered grey by the salt water and air.  Branching finger docks extended out from the main boardwalk, providing berths for an astonishing variety of vessels.  In addition to the usual assortment of speed boats, cruisers, and sailboats were two- and three-masted schooners and enormous catamarans, advertising sunset cruises or day trips out to Dry Tortugas National Park. There was also a fair number of charter fishing boats offering opportunities for the deep-sea sport angling that the Keys were famous for. 

Looking down Jessica realized that it wasn’t necessary to hire a boat charter to catch a glimpse of some of those fish the anglers were after. She tugged at George’s sleeve and pointed down into the hazy water below the dock. “George – look at the size of that fish!”

A giant silver-scaled tarpon glided through a school of smaller fish darting amongst the shadows of the boats tied to the pier.  It moved upward through the aquamarine water, its dorsal fin and tail breaking the mirror-smooth surface before it slid back down and under the keel of an outboard runabout.

“I think he was checking us out,” George commented.

They continued along the Harbor Walk until Jessica spotted the boat that they were looking for, a thirty foot fiberglass trawler with the name Buccaneer IV painted in bright letters across her transom. Fishing poles sprouted from mountings on the stern and fly bridge like antennae, while a flag featuring the Jolly Roger fluttered in the breeze from a standard mounted on her bow. Another flag, the sun-and-shell on dark blue of the Conch Republic, proudly waved from the top of the radio mast. The boat itself was gleaming white, looking as sparkling clean as the day she had first been launched; a young man in a t-shirt, faded cut-off jeans and a pair of flip-flops was diligently scrubbing her deck with a mop, appearing determined to keep her that way.

Jessica and George went down the finger dock that led to the fishing boat’s berth and stopped alongside the Buccaneer IV.

“Do you know where we could find Jonas Leeman?” Jessica asked the young man.

“You found him,” he replied, leaning his mop against the ladder leading to the fly bridge and wiping his hands on a rag. “Jonas Leeman, captain of the charter boat Buccaneer, at your service.  Are you looking to go out fishing this afternoon?”

Jessica smiled. “No,” she admitted. “We aren’t really dressed for the occasion.  Actually, we’re interested in tapping your knowledge from your other occupation, leading tours of some of Key West’s haunted addresses,” Jessica said. “Are there really that many ghosts here?”

            “Oh, yeah, there are lots of ghosts in Key West,” Jonas told them. “We’ve got haunted buildings all over Old Town. There’s the Episcopal Church, the main house at the Banyan resort, Marrero’s Guest Mansion, the Hard Rock Café …”

            “The Hard Rock Café?” George echoed in surprise.

            “What about Ernest Hemingway’s house?” Jessica asked.

            Jonas paused in his recitation. “Not that I’ve ever heard of,” he said. “At least, it’s never been a stop on the Original Ghost Tours.”

            “There have been rumors circulating that Hemingway’s ghost has been making appearances at the museum,” said Jessica.

            “What, the one about the tourists and the moaning noise in the breakfast room?” Jonas asked. “Yeah. Well, until someone comes up with some concrete evidence, I’d be skeptical about that one.”

            “That’s quite a statement coming from someone who leads walking tours of Key West’s posthumous hot spots,” said George. “May I ask why you think this particular ghost may be a fake?”

            “There are a couple of reasons, actually,” Jonas said. “First of all, it would be very unusual to have a new ghost suddenly pop up out of nowhere. Most of the ghosts that we feature on the tour have been dead for decades. Second of all, there’s no back story.”

            “Back story – you mean, a tale explaining why the deceased decided to linger on after death?” Jessica asked.

            The charter captain nodded. “Exactly. The Hemingway House’s got nothing – no murders, no heartbreaking betrayals, no unexplained deaths – heck, it isn’t even the place where Papa committed suicide. So why would he haunt it?”

            George glanced at Jessica. “He has a point there.”

            “Look, I’m not saying it’s flat-out impossible that there is a ghost there,” Jonas told them. “I’m just saying that as someone who knows the history of most of the unquiet dead on this island, I find it unlikely.”


The sun had set and twilight was beginning to deepen into dusk as George and Jessica approached the Hemingway House.  Thomas was waiting for them at the side gate, nervously pacing back and forth across the pool of light created by a nearby street lamp. Relief flooded his face when he saw them.

            “Thank goodness,” he said as they came up to him. “I was afraid that you’d had second thoughts and weren’t coming after all.”

            “We aren’t late, are we?” George asked.

            “No, not at all. In fact, Lyle Fairbanks isn’t even here yet. But Chuck’s here – he came early to unlock the house. Come on in – I’ll introduce you to him.”

            They found the president of the museum’s board of directors in front of the house, flipping through a set of keys on a ring until he came upon the correct one to unlock the front doors. He was a tall man, and surprisingly pale for one who lived and worked in Key West’s sunny, subtropical climate; Jessica guessed that he didn’t spend a lot of time outside.

            “Ah, Thomas,” he said. “I didn’t know you had invited some friends along.” He frowned at Jessica and George with evident displeasure. “Mr. Fairbanks specifically stated that his investigations were not to be open to the public.”

            “They aren’t ‘the public,’ they’re representatives for the skeptics’ side of this debate,” Thomas said. “We want to keep this fair and balanced, don’t we?”

            Instead of answering Thomas directly, Berra addressed Jessica and George instead. “Who are you, and what are your credentials?” he asked them.

            Although he cared neither for the man’s tone nor his attitude, George decided to put his best foot forward anyway and extended his hand. “Chief Inspector George Sutherland of New Scotland Yard,” he said politely.

            Berra reluctantly shook his hand, then turned to Jessica to hear her answer.

            “I’m Jessica Fletcher,” she said, stepping forward, “and I’m a mystery writer.”

            At Berra’s incredulous look, Thomas jumped in: “Mrs. Fletcher is being a bit over-modest,” he said. “She has considerable experience with solving mysteries not just on the printed page, but also in real life. And both she and Inspector Sutherland are logical, observant people – exactly the sort of witnesses I thought would be useful to make sure that Mr. Fairbanks doesn’t take advantage of this opportunity to pull some kind of ruse tonight.”

            Berra, still doubtful, opened his mouth to say something, but Thomas forged ahead before he could get any words out. “Fairbanks should be grateful that they’re here,” he said, grinning. “If he’s not planning on setting up some sort of hoax, then he has nothing to fear from them, right?”

            This clearly scored a point with Berra, who saw the logic and relented. “All right, you’re all welcome to stay and observe,” he said. “Provided, of course, that Mr. Fairbanks has no objections.”

            “Of course,” said Jessica.

            A commotion at the front gates of the estate signaled the arrival of Lyle Fairbanks and his entourage. From the clamor of shouted questions and the strobe-like effect of camera flashbulbs, it was plain that the media was fully aware of his presence and purpose at the venerable writer’s home.

            “Terrific,” Thomas said in a low voice. “The press has been tipped off.”

            “Possibly by Mr. Fairbanks himself?” George suggested.

            “I just hope they don’t try to follow him inside, or we’ll never see anything,” Chuck Berra bemoaned.

            The dozen or so members of the media who clamored at the gate did not attempt to follow the professed ghost hunter inside. After holding what appeared to be a brief press conference Fairbanks entered the grounds alone, accompanied by only one other individual lugging a hard-sided suitcase.

            Lyle Fairbanks was a dashing sort of man, the kind of figure that in an earlier century would have appeared to be right at home on big game hunts in the Serengeti or exploring the frozen wastes of the Antarctic. He was tall, blonde, ruggedly built, and very much aware of these assets; he carried himself with an arrogance that sought to daunt onlookers even as it impressed. His assistant, who introduced himself as Nick Bradshaw, cut a more modest figure; he was shorter with brown hair and unremarkable features. He was easily eclipsed in the shadow of his employer, but his affable demeanor seemed unaffected by this fact. He shook hands all around with a pleasant smile as he introduced himself, while Fairbanks remained aloof, as if no introduction was necessary.

            As they entered the darkened house, Bradshaw dutifully lugging the suitcase over the threshold, Jessica summed up the six of them and found symmetry in their numbers: on the side of the paranormal believers were Fairbanks, Bradshaw, and the doting museum president Chuck Berra; on the side of the skeptics, Thomas, George and herself. Three against three.

            “Has the power been turned off in the house itself?” Fairbanks asked as they stepped into the living room.

            Berra inclined his head. “Yes, just as you requested.”

            “Well, then, let’s get to it, shall we?”

            Fairbanks opened up the suitcase and began to remove his equipment, explaining the purpose of each device as he did so:

            “A Geiger counter,” he said, removing a hand-held unit about the size of pencil box, “to monitor the fluctuations in Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and X-ray radiation caused by a spiritual presence.

            “This is an ion detector,” he continued, removing the next piece of equipment from its protective foam lining in the case. “Usually it’s used to measure positive ionic fields, but this is a higher-end unit – it can measure positive and negative ions separately. When spirit energy is present, it disturbs the negative ion fields, and this device will pick that up.”

            Next out of the case was a device no larger than a cell phone. “And this is a remote infrared thermal scanner – the presence of ghosts will often cause an abrupt rise or drop in temperature, which this clever little machine can measure from up to sixty feet away, to the nearest tenth of a degree.”

A digital camera, standard tape recorder, and video camcorder also emerged from the suitcase to be handed off one by one to Bradshaw for set-up. The final piece of equipment, however, Fairbanks handled carefully himself.

            “Last, but certainly not the least, is my triple-axis electromagnetic field meter,” he told them, holding it up almost lovingly. “This little gem not only continuously monitors electric and magnetic fields at the same time, it does so in three dimensions. It is an extremely delicate instrument, to be used only by hunters experienced enough to interpret its admittedly complex readings.”

            Jessica glanced at George just in time to catch him rolling his eyes, and had all she could do to keep from laughing out loud. It was clear enough from his expression that they were of one opinion regarding the self-important Lyle Fairbanks. Thomas was looking studiously non-committal, his arms crossed and his chin resting upon his chest.

            Chuck Berra, on the other hand, was clearly smitten with the array of high-tech electronics displayed before him. “Please, Mr. Fairbanks,” he said, “I’m sure I’m not the only person here who is unfamiliar with the science behind paranormal investigation. Would you explain to us the role of electromagnetic fields in your methods of detection?”

            Fairbanks looked pleased by the request. “Most people are aware that electromagnetic fields are produced by electrical equipment,” he began, “but in fact, everything, and especially living things, also produce fields, though of much lower frequency. The brain produces an electromagnetic field when neurons fire in thought, and some believe that it is this field that constitutes the consciousness, and which persists after death, though at a much lower frequency. It is the low frequency, direct current electromagnetic field that we look for when seeking proof of the existence of a ghost – and that will be the primary thing I will be searching for here tonight.”

            Jessica decided to risk a skeptical question. “And how do you tell the difference between an EM field produced by a ghost from normal, naturally produced fields, Mr. Fairbanks?”

            Fairbanks smiled at her indulgently. “A most astute question, Mrs. Fletcher,” he said. “The way we tell the difference is by ruling out other explainable sources for a spike in EM readings, or by correlating an unusual reading with another piece of evidence indicating a spiritual presence – hence, the variety of sensors that I bring to every investigation.”

“A fluctuation for no apparent reason is also suspicious,” Nick Bradshaw added.
“And, of course, we also look for sudden drops in field strength, which could indicate that a ghost is gathering energy from its surroundings as it prepares to manifest itself.”

Fairbanks divided the equipment between himself and Nick, then picked up a flashlight and switched it on. He held it up to his face as he addressed the others, the beam casting his features into sharp relief.

“We are about to intrude into the realm of the paranormal,” he said seriously. “If we do detect the presence of a spirit, it is of the utmost importance that you all remain calm and do exactly as I say, to keep from frightening it off. We’ll be surveying the second floor first; follow me.”

Despite the fact that she was pretty solidly convinced that Lyle Fairbanks was more showman than scientist, Jessica found the atmosphere of the empty house increasingly spooky.  The house was old, and every footstep elicited a creak of protest from the well-trod floorboards. Now and then the call of a night bird carried in through a window open to the veranda, mingled with the rustling of the palm fronds in the breeze; it was a mournful sound, like the cry of a lost child … or a lost soul.

Climbing the stairs to the second floor, Fairbanks entered the master bedroom first, his EM field monitor held in one hand and a flashlight in the other. The beam of light swept the room as the others filed in behind him. A patch of darker blackness amid the shadows of the room moved suddenly as the flashlight’s beam settled upon it, revealing two glowing eyes of yellow-green.  The dark figure hissed and leapt to the top of a bureau, causing many of them to jump, before George recognized it for what it was and laughed.

“It is merely one of the resident cats,” he said. “We probably interrupted his after-dinner nap.”

“There is nothing registering in this room,” said Lyle definitively. “Nick?”

“Nothing on the ion scanner or the Geiger counter,” his assistant confirmed.

“Fine, then. Let’s move on.”

The other rooms on the second floor also proved to be unrewarding, so they returned downstairs and Fairbanks surveyed the living room, the parlor, and the dining room, the beam of Fairbanks’ flashlight bobbing ahead like a will-o-the-wisp. Still the equipment of the paranormal investigators produced no results.

As they entered the breakfast room that Pauline Hemingway had long ago partitioned off from the dining room, Lyle stopped in his tracks, frowning at his electromagnetic field monitoring device.

“That’s odd … I’m getting a reading here,” he said, frowning. “The EM field strength is rising … yes, I am definitely getting a power surge – something is here!”

“You’re sure it’s not just background readings from the electrical wiring in the house?” George asked. He stole a glance at the backlit screen of the monitor, and noted that in fact the needle had jumped appreciably from its baseline position.

“No, no, that’s why I asked Mr. Berra to have the power cut before we began,” Lyle said, his voice rising in excitement. 

 “Can you get a fix on the location?” Bradshaw asked, reaching for the digital camera and unscrewing the lens cap.

Fairbanks slowly circled the breakfast room, his eyes fixed on the screen of the monitor. When he had made a complete revelation, he backtracked a few steps and stopped in front of the door that led to the dining room.

“There,” he said looking up, his face a study in awe. “The ghost of Ernest Hemingway … is standing right there in that doorway.”

“I don’t see anything,” Thomas said flatly.

“I see it! Oh, wait, er … maybe not,” Berra said uncertainly. As much as he wanted to believe in what Fairbanks was telling him was there, the practical museum director within asserted itself at last and refused to be blindly led.  There was hope for him yet, Jessica thought.

Thomas pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose and frowned, peering through the lenses at the doorway, while Bradshaw adjusted the settings of the camera and took a rapid series of pictures without using the flash.

George inclined his head toward Jessica’s without removing his eyes from the doorframe. “Do you see anything?” he whispered.  In response she shook her head slightly: no.

Thomas caught her gesture out of the corner of his eye, and it emboldened him to speak out. “There’s nothing there!” he scoffed. “What do you expect us to see?”

“With your own eyes, nothing,” Fairbanks said as he continued to watch the needle waver on the EM field monitor. Beside him, Nick continued to squeeze off shots with the digital camera. “What is present here is far beyond the range of normal human vision.  These pictures, however, will compensate for that. I think that should do, Nick,” he said to his assistant. “We’ll get these developed tonight; by tomorrow the proof you’re so insistent on seeing will be front page news in the Key West Citizen.”


The group parted ways at the front gate.  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.

“Shall I call for a cab?” Jessica asked as she reached for her cell phone.

“Yeah, it’s kind of late … oh, wait, here comes one now,” said Thomas. He stepped into the street to hail the pink taxi cab as it turned on to Whitehead Street, and was rewarded when it pulled up to the curb in front of the three of them.

George opened the door for Jessica, who slid into the back seat. “Timothy!” she exclaimed as she recognized the driver. “How nice to see you again. Working the late shift tonight?”

“Um, yeah,” Timothy replied as George and Thomas joined her in the cab. “I just dropped off a fare from the airport over on Duval.  Where are you folks headed this fine evening?”

“Just back to the Bougainvillea Inn for us,” George said. “Thomas, what about you?”

“Oh, I’m over at the Green Heron Guesthouse,” Thomas said.

“I know where that is,” said Timothy. “I’ll swing by the Bougainvillea first, then drop you there afterwards.”

As they left the Hemingway Estate behind, Thomas settled back in the seat and sighed gustily, once again nudging his glasses back up into place. “Well,” he said to his companions, “what did you think?”

“I remain far from convinced that Mr. Fairbanks was actually seeing what he thought – or wanted us to think – he was seeing,” George said.

Thomas snorted with evident satisfaction. “I knew it! The man is a con artist from the top of his head to the tip of his shoes,” he declared. “I have no idea why people allow themselves to be taken in by him. Like Berra – he was hanging on his every word!”

“However,” George continued, holding up a finger to emphasize that he hadn’t finished his point, “I must also say that I failed to see anything that was openly fraudulent about his performance.”

“’Performance’ is exactly the word I would use to describe the spectacle that we witnessed tonight,” said Thomas. “Jessica, what did you think?”

Jessica, who had been staring out the window of the cab, roused herself from her silent contemplation of the evening’s events. “I would be interested in knowing a little more about Mr. Fairchild’s methods,” she said thoughtfully. “It may well be that there was something unusual going on in that house tonight, but even if that’s the case, Ernest Hemingway making an appearance from beyond the grave would not be at the top of my list of possibilities.”

Their qualified answers left Thomas somewhat deflated. “So neither of you saw anything that obviously points to a hoax.”

“Not on the surface, at least,” Jessica said. “But, of course, that doesn’t mean that no hoax exists. It merely means, I suspect, that if Mr. Fairbanks is manufacturing his evidence of a ghost himself, he is being very careful to cover his tracks.  And from such an obviously polished performer, I would suspect nothing less.”

“But if you didn’t spot any tricks tonight, where does that leave us?” Thomas asked as Timothy pulled up in front of the Bougainvillea Inn.

“Waiting to see what turns up in the Citizen tomorrow, along with everybody else,” Jessica replied as she and George exited the cab. “Cheer up, Thomas – this play isn’t in its final act yet – we’re just at the intermission, and we have several scenes to go.”