By now it was getting well on toward breakfast time, but George was not keen on them walking all the way back to the Bougainvillea Inn, especially not after Jessica had suffered such a serious shock. Fortunately the Lighthouse Court Hotel, which was located directly across Whitehead Street from the Hemingway museum, had a sign next to its open front gate advertising a breakfast buffet available to the general public as well as the inn’s registered guests. He suggested that they “nip across for a bite” and Jessica readily agreed.
Passing beneath a trellis archway
and through a walkway set between two of the hotel’s buildings, they emerged in
the inn’s central courtyard. Like the Bougainvillea Inn’s, the courtyard was
home to a pool, various tropical plantings, and several sets of outdoor tables
and chairs. The
At the far end of the court was an open pavilion containing more seating, a coffee and juice bar, and an impressive breakfast buffet. Once they had made their selections they seated themselves at one of the tables out by the pool, where a young man served them coffee.
“Some of the color is finally returning to your face,” George commented as he sliced up a wedge of cantaloupe. “I must admit that I was a little worried when the tea didn’t perk you up as much as it did Mr. Berra.”
“The tea was all right, but this coffee is better.” Jessica set down her cup and closed her eyes for a moment. “I can’t get the image of Thomas’s body out of my mind.”
“Try not to think about it,” he said. “What were your impressions of Lieutenant Fernando?” he then asked, trying to steer the conversation in a slightly different direction. Changing the subject altogether would never work with Jessica, but he hoped that giving her thoughts a little nudge might at least distract her from dwelling on the awful images he knew she was seeing.
Jessica took a deep breath. “It’s hard to say for sure based only on first impressions,” she said, considering the question, “but he seems like a competent, seasoned detective, not completely overwhelmed by the circumstances of Thomas’s death.”
“I would imagine that in a place such as Key West, one gets to see more than their share of unusual crimes and crime scenes,” George commented, offering her a piece of his melon. Jessica accepted it on her spoon and tasted it.
“Mmm. Nice,” she said.
“Aye, it’s perfectly ripe. Any other thoughts?”
“About Lieutenant Fernando?” Jessica paused. “Maybe it’s just me, but I also sensed that he was looking at me with particular interest – as if he knew he’d seen me before somewhere.”
“Perhaps he has,” said George. “Your reputation often precedes you, Elf.”
“Maybe,” Jessica said with a sigh.
The couple at the next table paid their bill and left, leaving behind a copy of the morning edition of the Key West Citizen. George reached across and picked it up, frowning when he saw the front page.
“What is it?” Jessica asked.
“As promised, Mr. Fairbanks has had his photographs from last night published in the newspaper,” George said, turning the paper around so she could see the front page. The banner headline, ‘Proof of Papa’s Ghost?’ surmounted a full-color – but fuzzy – image taken inside the Hemingway House the night before. Jessica recognized the doorway between the breakfast and dining rooms. In the midst of the doorframe was an eerie glowing figure the size and shape of a man. The edges of it were indistinct and most of the figure was too blurry to make out much detail, but the face was clearer and bore more than a passing resemblance to Ernest Hemingway’s in his later years.
“It looks real enough, so far as I can tell,” she said thoughtfully as she took the paper from George for a closer look. “Of course, it’s impossible to say for sure based only on what they’ve reproduced in newsprint.”
She handed the paper back to her companion who, instead of re-examining the photo for himself, scanned the front page for the paper’s editorial information.
“The paper’s offices are on
newsroom of the Key West Citizen was
relatively small, reflecting the fact that for all the people that surged in
and out of
Since it was early in the day the newsroom was mostly deserted. Most of the staffers were already out gathering stories and information for the next day’s edition. There was one person present, however; a young man with wire-rimmed glasses and a boyish grin who rolled his chair back out of his cubicle to see who was there.
“Can I help you?” he asked them.
“Yes,” said George pleasantly. “We’re looking for the person who handled the pictures for the Hemingway ghost story that appeared on page one of this morning’s paper. Would you know who that would be?”
“That’d be me,” the young man said, rising from his chair and shaking their hands in turn. “Byron Sinclair. I’m the photojournalism editor for the Citizen. Quite a story out of the Hemingway House, wasn’t it?”
“So far it’s been interesting to say the least,” said Jessica.
Sinclair looked at her with interest. “Say, you look familiar … JB Fletcher, right?”
Jessica smiled. “Guilty as charged,” she laughed.
“I thought so. I’ve read most of your books.”
“Most?” she asked.
Sinclair shrugged. “This is a busy time of year, and I’ve gotten behind on my reading,” he said apologetically. “I haven’t gotten to your last three – but I will, promise. I’ve loved all the ones I’ve read so far.”
“Thank you,” she said modestly.
“I know you came over here looking for more than one reader’s opinion of your latest book,” Byron said.
George chuckled. “Actually, we were interested in having a closer look at the picture of the Hemingway ghost,” he said.
“I don’t suppose I could have a look at the original photograph?” Jessica asked hopefully.
“Original? There is no original,” Sinclair told her. “The photo was sent to us as a jpeg file by way of e-mail. We downloaded it, and digitally inserted it into this morning’s copy. No fuss, no muss.”
“I see,” said Jessica, somewhat disappointed. “I should have guessed that.”
Fortunately, Byron had a solution to offer: “Tell you what – I know we still have the jpeg file in the computer. When I get a moment, I’ll ask the copy room to print off a copy of the picture, and have someone run it up to your hotel. How’d that be?”
Jessica inclined her head. “That’s very kind of you, Mr. Sinclair. I’d appreciate that very much.”
Byron nodded. “Consider it done, then. Where are you staying?”
George took a sip of his key
lime-flavored iced tea and looked at Jessica with some concern. Ever since
leaving the Hemingway House she had been uncharacteristically subdued, showing
little enthusiasm or interest in where they were going. After leaving the
offices of the Key West Citizen he
had tried to break her out of her mood by taking her on an impromptu tour of
She was in that same mood now. At George’s suggestion they had stopped into a little shop called Kermit’s Key Lime Factory, where all manner of products that could be made out of or with key limes were sold: key lime soap and shampoo, key lime cookies, key lime pot-pourri, and more. There was a small coffee and snack bar set up to one side of the retail area, where an older gentleman – presumably Kermit himself – served patrons slices of homemade key lime pie and an array of key lime flavored beverages.
They had both opted for the iced tea – the day had become very warm – and taken their drinks out through a pair of French doors to the small courtyard beyond. It was early in the afternoon, and they had the place to themselves. Almost completely surrounded by the shop and its related outbuildings and breezeways, the courtyard was an unexpected oasis furnished with wrought-iron tables and chairs and shady dark-green umbrellas. Its centerpiece was a meticulously maintained rectangular koi pond filled with a dazzling variety of fish, some of which appeared to be over a foot long from nose to tail. The brick-lined pond was shaded by potted tropical plants and fed by a waterfall at one end; the musical splashing of the cascading water served to block out the noise coming from the street outside.
Jessica twirled the straw in her cup pensively as she stared at the koi pond, lost in her own thoughts. George was pretty sure that she wasn’t really seeing the jewel-like fish, or anything else for that matter. He touched her arm lightly, in hopes that if he recaptured her attention she would tell him what was troubling her.
She flinched at his touch and looked at him, startled out of her melancholy, and George was startled to see that her eyes, shaded dark blue with sadness, were brimming with unshed tears.
“Ah, my poor bonnie lassie,” he said to her sympathetically. “Thomas’s murder still weighs on your heart.”
She nodded, quickly rubbing her hand across her eyes. “I think the reality of it is finally beginning to hit me,” she said hollowly.
“It was horrible the way you had to find him like that.”
“Yes – just last night he was so alive, so full of enthusiasm and confidence …” Jessica shook her head, once again trying to dispel the awful image of Thomas floating dead in the pool, and sighed deeply. “Poor Thomas. He was much too young to die, and he had so much promise.”
George reached over and took her hand in his. “Aye, that he did,” he said.
“I’m also deathly worried about Timothy,” she continued.
“Timothy? … Our talkative cab driver?”
“Yes. When he was unloading our bags the day we arrived, do you remember seeing the climbing gear he carried with him in the trunk?” George nodded, recalling Timothy’s unusual off-hours hobby, so she continued: “There was a climber’s carabiner clipped to the railing of the veranda, near where Thomas was killed.”
“You think it is Timothy’s?”
“On an island as flat as this, it seems unlikely that there are many people who share his interests.”
“Do you think, then, that he was involved with Thomas’s murder?” he asked her.
Jessica looked skeptical. “Timothy
has no motive to kill Thomas,” she said. “In fact, I doubt they even knew each
other. Last night when we shared Timothy’s cab to go back to the
“Furthermore,” George said, a faint smile appearing on his face, “you’ve already decided that Timothy is not the sort of person who would kill … despite the fact that you barely know him.”
She smiled a little in return. “You know me too well.”
“You have a talent for reading people accurately,” George told her. “It would be folly to dismiss your instincts about him out-of-hand. Regardless, the young man may be in for a spot of trouble, if it’s found out that he climbs buildings for fun and picked the wrong building to climb that night.” He paused as another thought occurred to him: “And what about this alleged ghost Mr. Fairbanks claims to have exposed – is there a connection?”
Jessica called to mind Thomas’s request for her and George’s help to look into the ghost sightings – a request that now took on far greater meaning in light of his murder. She stared at the melting ice cubes in the bottom of her empty plastic cup, as though the answer might lie locked within them – what about the ghost, indeed? “It’s at the heart of this, somehow … I just know it.” She looked up at him earnestly then, a pleading look in her eyes. “George – I can’t walk away from this.”
Somehow George had known it would come to this – no matter how firmly he resolved to keep their time together free of work, consciously or not Jessica always managed to pull them into the middle of an investigation anyway. But he also knew that she would know no peace until the matter was resolved, and he simply couldn’t find it in his heart to try and hold her back from pursuing what she set out to do.
“I know you can’t, my love,” he told her as he silently resigned himself to another vacation marred by the shadow of death.
“Okay, let me get this straight,” Brook Fernando told the two men sitting in front of his desk. “Mr. Fairbanks, you say that both you and Mr. Bradshaw went directly back to the Radisson Gulfside Hotel, where you remained in your room for the remainder of the night – is that correct?”
Lyle Fairbanks, who looked distinctly ill-at-ease, nodded tensely, his eyes darting back and forth around the office. “That’s right.”
“And Mr. Bradshaw, the only difference between your statement and Mr. Fairbanks’ is that before turning in you did some work on your computer with the images you collected at the Hemingway House earlier that evening.”
Bradshaw replied. “I uploaded the images from the digital camera and e-mailed
them to the Key West Citizen’s
offices then went to bed.” He was calm and composed, and appeared to have
nothing to hide. The same could not be said for his employer; the detective was
positive that if he hooked
It was something that as a seasoned investigator Fernando knew he’d have to follow up on, but not at the moment – not until he had some other facts in hand. He closed the file on his desk, signaling an end to the interview.
“I guess that’s it for now,” he said to them. “Thanks for your time, gentlemen. If we need anything else, we have your contact information.”
free to go?”
“Yeah. But do me a favor – keep
yourselves available and in
Once they had gone, Fernando leaned back in his chair and swung his feet up on to his desk, regarding the book he held in his hands. It was a copy of J.B. Fletcher’s Endangered, one of her more recent titles, bought at the local Border’s bookstore that morning on a whim. Fernando had never read any of Jessica’s books, nor was he particularly interested in starting now – the book had been bought mostly for the brief bio of the author provided on the inside of the dust jacket. The detective read it carefully, hoping that something in the lean collection of facts would trigger his memory as to what it was about her that seemed so damn familiar to him. Unfortunately, nothing jumped out at him.
Not quite willing to admit defeat, Fernando flipped through the first few pages of the novel, noting the publisher and date of release. Then he found something that interested him: it was the dedication page, a relatively minor item found between the title and the launch of the story in Chapter One.
“To Lieutenant Arthur ‘Artie’ Gelber of the NYPD,” it read. “A true servant and protector of the public.”
The book had been dedicated to a police officer – that in and of itself was interesting, but more importantly it provided him with a lead in his quest to find out who exactly this woman was. He sat up, pushed aside a pile of paperwork and picked up his phone – it shouldn’t be too difficult, with a few calls, to track down this Artie Gelber.
Sure enough, after a couple of redirected calls, being put on indefinite hold, and getting bounced from precinct to precinct, Fernando found his target.
“Gelber,” a slightly tired-sounding voice said.
quickly introduced himself and explained that he was calling from
A groan was
transmitted through the telephone lines between
“Uh, no, in fact, it’s not,” said Fernando.
“Do you know how desperately I’ve wanted to retire ever since she showed up in this city?” Gelber went on. “Let me tell you – if I had a nickel for all the shoe leather I’ve worn through trying to keep up with that woman, I’d have been able to afford to retire months ago.”
“I guess you know her pretty well.”
“Yeah, we’re good friends. I just wish we didn’t keep meeting professionally, if you know what I mean.”
“Actually, no, I don’t,” Fernando confessed. “What do you mean, exactly?”
“Not to put too fine a point on it, but Jessica Fletcher is the equivalent of a one woman crime wave. Trouble follows her wherever she goes. Get to know her well enough, and you’ll see what I mean.”
This didn’t clear matters up much for Fernando. “You mean she’s the perpetrator? Some kind of serial killer?” he asked.
Gelber’s laughter rang in his ear. “Jessica? C’mon. Farthest thing from it. No – she doesn’t commit crimes, she solves them. She’s helped me out on a bunch of my cases, in fact. That’s how we met. And I gotta admit, she always comes through.”
This was ringing faint bells in Fernando’s memory – news reports he had seen or heard somewhere, or rumors that had reached his ears through the Homicide division grapevine. On impulse, he asked, “Exactly how many murders has she solved that you know of?”
When Gelber gave him his rough estimate for an answer, it was enough to make Fernando lean forward in amazement, his eyes wide with shock. “How many?”
It was five-thirty in the evening, and outside it was nearly dark. Tipper Henderson, tired after a long day of frustrating internal medicine cases, passed a lint brush across the front of her smock to remove the cat hair left on it by her previous patient and headed up to the front desk to see how many office calls she had yet to see before she could go home to a dinner of leftovers and some much-needed rest.
“What have I got left to see before I can get out of this popsicle stand for the night?” she asked Janice, the receptionist on duty.
“Your last appointment of the day is in Room Two,” Janice told her. “You had a late cancellation, and it was a last-minute fill-in. After that, I promise you can go home.”
“I’m going to hold you to that promise,” Tipper said, straightening her smock and smoothing her hair so she would look at least semi-professional once she entered the exam room. “Where’s the file?”
“No file yet, Tipper,” Janice said. “It’s a new client.”
“Fine,” Tipper said, and she turned the handle of the door to enter the room.
Her jaw nearly dropped to the level of her tired feet when she saw who her last client of the day was.
“All right, Tipper Henderson,
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, give,”
Seth Hazlitt said, rising from the chair he had been occupying and fixing her
with a stern look that told her that non-compliance was not an option. “I know
that you know where Jessica is staying in
Tipper crossed her arms and made a mental note to have a word with Janice about springing surprise “clients” on her, especially at the end of a difficult day. “What makes you think that I know where she’s staying?” she asked, hoping to stall for time.
“Whenever she won’t tell me something, it’s because she’s told you instead,” Seth said. “And when it comes to her travel arrangements, she’s too practical-minded to not tell anyone at all.”
“Well, why do you want to know?” Tipper asked, determined not to capitulate to Seth’s demand too easily, or without good reason.
“Because I need
to get down there. I’ve booked a flight out of
Tipper groaned and leaned against the examination table in fatigue – she really didn’t need this, not after the day she’d been having.
“Look, Seth,” she said reasonably, “Jessica told me the particulars of her trip precisely to avoid this sort of mess. She felt a little weird telling you that she was heading down there with George in the first place; she didn’t want to add insult to injury.”
“There could be an injury if you don’t tell me what she told you,” Seth said, glowering.
Tipper laughed out loud in spite of herself. “Your threats don’t scare me, Seth,” she said.
“It wasn’t you I was referring to.”
Something in the way Seth said that told Tipper that he was actually being serious, and it gave her pause. The smile faded from her lips and she looked at him in mingled concern and confusion. “What are you talking about?”
Seth rolled his eyes impatiently, as if she were a particularly dense intern. “Let’s just say that I have a feeling that it would be best for everyone, Jessica not the least, if I were on hand in Key West, all right?”
Tipper looked askance at him, her smile threatening to re-emerge. “A flash of intuition?” she asked, a note of disbelief coloring her tone. “You?”
Seth didn’t seem ready to confirm or deny her implication. “Yes. No. Maybe. Something like that, I suppose.”
Now Tipper was smiling in earnest as she openly stared at the doctor in fascination. “Well, I’ll be …” she began.
“What you’ll be is sorry you ever put your shingle up in this town if you ever breathe a word about this outside this room,” said Seth. “Now, are you going to provide me with the information I came for, or not?”
Tipper regarded the doctor
carefully for a long moment, considering what he had said. Finally she reached
for her prescription pad and wrote down the name and number of a small inn in
“The reservation is under his name, not hers,” she added as she tore off the slip of paper and handed it to him.
“Janice …” Tipper began once Seth had left the veterinary clinic.
“He swore me to secrecy, Tipper,” Janice said, holding her hands up as a protest of innocence.
“So … he’s a physician,” said Janice, casting about for an excuse that would get her out of hot water. “They have powers!”
Tipper sighed, smiled, and shook her head. It was definitely time to head home.
The restaurant that George and
Jessica selected for that evening took its name from its
Once they were seated at a table on the second floor veranda overlooking Duval, Jessica and George discovered that the menu at Nine-One-Five was just as innovative as the restaurant’s choice of decoration. The menu featured a varied selection of small plates – called ‘tapas’ – featuring cuisine from around the world. Instead of choosing just one large entrée, guests were encouraged to mix and match several tapas based around a particular ethnic cuisine or according to the patron’s fancy.
Their waitress was very friendly, and helped them make selections that would be the most appropriate for the wine they had chosen. Once their order was placed and the waitress had left them to enjoy their wine, Jessica suggested that they resume their game of Twenty Questions.
“All right, then - what if you had not become a teacher?” George asked her. “What field do you think you would have pursued instead?”
“It probably would have been journalism,” she said after a moment of reflection. “I thought seriously about it for awhile, even pursued a summer internship at a newspaper while I was in college, but …” Here she sighed and smiled to herself. “The pull to teach was stronger, in the end.”
“The pull must have been strong,” George commented. “It pulled you back after how many years away from the classroom? Six?”
“Seven … and a half,” Jessica said after doing some quick figuring.
“I think you would have made an extraordinary journalist, Elf,” said George. “With your investigative skills, if you had worked for the Washington Post, you would have blown Woodward and Bernstein out of the water.”
Jessica cast her eyes down modestly. “Well, I don’t know about that,” she said softly. “What about you? If you had not become a policeman, what would you be doing now?”
George pressed a hand to his
forehead and sighed. “I probably would have followed in my father’s footsteps
and become a
Jessica winced at the thought of George enduring the hard, dangerous conditions that were inherent in commercial fishing. Seeing her distress, he reached across the table and took her hands in both of his. “It’s all right,” he told her. “I have no intention of changing careers and heading out to sea.”
“That’s a relief,” Jessica said with a smile, before following up with another question: “Who is your favorite writer?”
“Why, you, of course, Elf.”
Jessica smiled. “Besides me,” she clarified. “Whose books do you enjoy reading in your spare time?”
“I’m rather partial to the works of Scott Turow,” George told her.
“Really?” she said, her eyes wide. “I don’t think I pictured you liking law thrillers.”
“Well, it’s a very different take on what I do for a living,” he explained. “And Mr. Turow, as I’m sure you know, writes very well.”
The waitress arrived with their tapas, and for awhile they chatted about the merits of Turow’s latest novel, which both of them had read recently, while enjoying their meals. While swapping a taste of one of his chosen dishes for a taste of one of hers, George posed the same question to Jessica: “And you, Jess – when you aren’t writing your own novels, whose books do you like to read?”
When Jessica spent an inordinately long time thinking about her answer, he chuckled and said, “Is it really that difficult a question?”
“Well,” she confessed, “it’s just that there are so many …”
George sighed in mock exasperation. “All right, let me modify the question. Who are you reading right now?”
“Fiction or nonfiction?”
“Lilian Jackson Braun,” she finally answered.
“Ah,” George said in recognition. “The charming Cat Who series.”
“That’s right,” said Jessica. “Her books are always so lighthearted, and I just love the personalities she’s given the cats. The mystery aspect of her plots, to me at least, are almost secondary to the characters and environment she creates.”
They finished their wine over
dessert. It was a weeknight and the restaurant was not crowded, so they
lingered at their table over coffee, people-watching as the
By the time they returned to their inn after dinner, it was late in the evening.
“Mrs. Fletcher,” the desk clerk on duty said as they passed by on their way to their room, “a messenger from the newspaper dropped this off for you earlier.”
“Thank you,” Jessica said, accepting the manila envelope. It had her name on the front; inside was the reprint she had requested, and Byron Sinclair’s business card.
She waited until they were settled in their room before taking the photograph out of its envelope and looking at it closely. The picture had been made on an inkjet color printer, printed on photo-quality paper with a matte finish. The image of Hemingway was perhaps slightly clearer than it had been when it was reproduced in the Citizen, but the difference in clarity was not nearly as much as she had hoped.
“What do you think?” George asked her.
Jessica briefly held the photo reprint up to the light, hoping to see something significant when the light passed through the paper that she couldn’t see otherwise – but the picture remained as inscrutable as before.
“It’s pretty much the same picture as what we saw on the front page of the paper,” she said, passing it to George so he could have a look in turn, “only bigger.”
George examined the reprint for himself, frowning. “Hmm. I see what you mean. Not particularly enlightening, is it,” he said at length, handing it back to her.
“If it’s a fake, it’s a very good one,” she said. “You can clearly see the background through the image of the ghost, and everything seems to be to scale.”
“I must admit, I don’t see anything obviously marking it as fraudulent, at least not at first glance,” said George. “It would be better if we could see a real photograph developed on real photo paper – but these digital cameras don’t work that way.”
Jessica laughed. “No; I suppose that if you were to demand an ‘original’ image from a digital camera, what you’d get is a printout of zeros and ones,” she said. She slid the picture back into the envelope and set it aside with a sigh. “Well, there’s no point agonizing over it at this hour,” she said. “Let’s sleep on it tonight, and look at it again with fresh eyes in the morning.”
“That sounds like a good plan,” George agreed, coming up behind her and putting his arms around her waist, “but I think it could be better.”
“Oh?” said Jessica, smiling. “What would make it a better plan?”
He leaned in closer and spoke softly in her ear: “Sleep on it, yes … but not just yet.”