The scent of roses followed Jessica through the pathways of her dreams, so real and convincing that when she opened her eyes to the morning light, she wasn’t sure if the bouquet of roses she was seeing at her bedside meant she was awake or still asleep.
“Happy Valentine’s Day to you too,” she said with a smile as she held the deep red blossom to her nose and breathed in its perfume. “Who brought these – the Valentine Fairy?”
“No, that would be me,” George admitted.
“They weren’t here last night. How did you manage to sneak them in this morning without waking me?”
George laughed. “Well, it wasn’t easy!” he said. “All I can say is, ‘the cou that’s furst up aye gets the furst o the dew.’”
Twirling the stem of the rose between her fingertips, Jessica smiled and asked, “Translation …?”
“’The early bird catches the worm’ is probably the closest approximation,” George said as he drew her closer to him. Jessica replaced the rose with the others before allowing herself to relax into the curve of George’s body.
“The roses are beautiful, George,” she murmured as he caressed her. “Thank you.”
“I thought you would like them,” he replied. “I figured it’s been a very long time since anyone gave you flowers for Valentine’s Day.”
“It’s been a very long time since anyone gave me anything for Valentine’s Day.”
For a while they were both quiet, content to simply enjoy the other’s close presence.
“Do you know what I think?” George asked at length, speaking softly into her ear.
“I think we should sleep late … very late.”
Jessica stretched a little before settling deeper into his embrace. “What about housekeeping?” she asked.
He nuzzled her hair before answering. “I put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the doorknob when I was bringing in the roses.”
“My, you thought of everything,” she said as she turned over to face him, lightly brushing his hair back from his forehead. “You must have been planning this for quite some time.”
“You might say that,” he admitted, a smile of pleasure tugging at his lips as she began to return his caresses with some of her own. “So … are you ready to have the best St. Valentine’s Day in recent memory?”
Jessica let her hand rest on his chest so she could feel his heart beating. “I’m ready.”
“Good,” he said, his eyes sparkling with anticipation. “Then let’s get started, shall we?”
“The advantage to sleeping late,” George later explained to Jessica as he held the door to the Banana Café open for her, “is that when one does eventually venture out for breakfast, one is more likely to be seated right away at popular establishments such as this.”
“And what exactly is ‘this’?” she asked.
a little place I discovered while I was researching
don’t need to give me
“I thought so,” said George with a smile.
both chose the Café’s signature dish, a crepe filled
with chestnut cream, and resumed their game of Twenty Questions while watching
“Okay, multipart question,” Jessica announced. “What is your favorite movie, and who are your favorite actor and actress?”
George took a moment to savor his latest bite of chestnut cream-filled crepe before answering. “First part’s easy,” he said. “I’ve always been partial to The Maltese Falcon. Favorite actor and actress … that’s a bit trickier.” He sipped his coffee with a thoughtful expression on his face. “Katherine Hepburn for actress,” he said at last, “and Sean Connery for actor.”
“Because he’s a fellow Scotsman?” she asked.
“Of course. Now it’s your turn.”
“I like The Maltese Falcon too,” she said, “but since I really should come up with something original, I’ll say North by Northwest.”
“So we’re both partial to the classics,” George said, sounding pleased. “And what are your choices for Best Actor and Best Actress?”
“Cary Grant is probably my favorite actor,” she said.
“Sticking with the North by Northwest theme,” said George. “And actress …?”
“Angela Lansbury. I loved her in The Manchurian Candidate – she really tore into the scenery. Yet my understanding is that for all the villainess roles she’s played, she’s actually a warm, delightful woman in person.”
“Interesting,” George said as he took another sip of his coffee.
“Got another question?” asked Jessica with a smile.
“Give me a moment – I’m just getting warmed up,” said George. “Ah, I have one - what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?”
“Mocha chip,” she answered decidedly.
“Really? I pictured you liking strawberry.”
“I like strawberry ice cream well enough, but it’s not my favorite,” she said. “And you? What flavor do you like best?”
“Butter pecan,” George said. He laughed when he saw her make a face. “I take it that flavor is not one of your favorites?”
“It’s probably right at the bottom of my list,” Jessica admitted. “If my only choices were butter pecan and going without, I’d go without.”
“So vehement!” George exclaimed. “I had no idea you had such strong opinions on the subject.”
“Ice cream,” said Jessica with perfect seriousness but with a telling twinkle in her eyes, “is not a subject I take lightly.”
The topic of conversation drifted back to film after that. They both declined the offer of more coffee from their waitress and continued discussing movies, both classic and contemporary, until their check arrived. George had a full day of sightseeing on foot planned for them, courtesy of his research on the World Wide Web. His homework yielded dividends; for several hours not a single thought regarding the previous day’s murder crossed Jessica’s mind.
Truman closed and locked the door of the dispensary a little after noon, and hung a sign on the doorknob that read “Out to lunch” under a ridiculous-looking cartoon clock face with movable plastic hands. He adjusted the hands to two o’clock so that anyone who came looking for him would know when to expect him back, then crossed the yard to the back door of the main house and went inside. There in the cool air of the high-ceiling kitchen he sat down at the enormous restored butcher block that served as an island to enjoy a quick noontide meal and a belated look at that morning’s edition of the Citizen.
He had just
begun to read when the doorbell rang. With a sigh he set the paper down next to
his half-finished glass of skim milk and went to the front door to answer it,
expecting to see a patient who simply could not wait until two o’clock to get a
prescription refilled. As he headed down the hall toward the foyer, Truman
reflected how even in laid-back
But it was no impatient patient that waited for him on the front porch. It was, in fact, just about the last person he expected to see: his friend from days gone by, Seth Hazlitt.
“Seth!” he exclaimed when he finally found his voice, the shock having left him quite speechless for an embarrassingly long moment. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to see you, of course,” Seth replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world what he was doing there. “And I thought I’d attend that Alternative Medicine Symposium you’re hosting – you know, broaden my horizons, that sort of thing. It occurred to me when I saw your name among the lecturers that I’ve never heard you speak in public.”
hardly any loss,” said Truman. “But that can’t be your only reason for coming
all the way to
there’s also the fact that it’s been a very long, very cold winter up in
“Uh-huh,” said Truman, who didn’t quite know what else to say.
“So are you going to invite me in, or shall I just stay out here and count the motor scooters that drive by?”
For the first time Truman noticed that Seth had brought with him a small suitcase, which, from its lumpy appearance, appeared to have been packed in haste.
“No, no, come on in, Boomer,” he said, remembering himself and ushering his friend into the wide foyer.
Seth held up his suitcase and gestured at it apologetically. “My travel plans came together on such short notice that I really didn’t have time to book a hotel room in advance,” he explained. “I was hoping you might be able to put me up for a few days – unless that’s inconvenient for you, in which case I could always try to find someplace to stay out by the airport …”
“I’ll hear of no such thing,” Truman told him firmly. “It’ll be nice to have some company – though I must warn you, I’m going to be pretty busy with the symposium during the days. Would you like the same room you had before, overlooking the street?”
Seth nodded and smiled. “That would be fine.”
Truman shut the door behind him, offered to relieve Seth of his suitcase, and took his friend upstairs to settle him in the front guest room. As they climbed the stairs to the second floor he spared a thought for Jessica and George, and silently wished them good luck in the face of this unforeseen complication – because he knew, without a shred of doubt, why Seth was in Key West, and if he was correct, they were going to need all the good luck they could get.
Once Seth was settled in he came downstairs and joined Truman in the kitchen at the butcher block island while Truman finished his lunch, Seth having declined his offer for anything to eat and drink for the moment.
“Suit yourself,” Truman said. “You’re free to raid the fridge any time you like if you get hungry later.” He fished the front section of the previous day’s edition of the Citizen out of the recycling bin and pushed it across the island to his friend. “Looks like your pal Jessica has managed to mix business with pleasure yet again,” he commented.
Seth picked up the day-old newspaper with an uneasy sense of foreboding. At the top of page one was the photograph with its hazy image of Hemingway and a headline that read, ‘Proof of Papa’s Ghost?’
“This is ridiculous – it has to be a hoax,” he said. Then, “What does Jessica have to do with any of this?”
Truman picked a ripe banana from a basket of fruit and began to peel it. “Start reading the second column, paragraph three,” he said. “It mentions her name, and her friend George Sutherland’s. Apparently they were two of the people present at the Hemingway House the night that photo was taken, before the murder.”
Seth paused in skimming the article to look up sharply. “What murder?” he demanded.
Truman swallowed hard and reluctantly added the current edition of the newspaper to Seth’s reading material, the one he had just been settling in to read when his friend had arrived. With a sinking feeling, Seth read the bigger-than-life banner headline: ‘Hemingway Biographer Murdered.’
“Er, a literary historian who was writing a biography of Hemingway was killed there,” Truman said. “And it was Jessica who found his body yesterday morning,” he added reluctantly.
Truman nodded, thinking to himself unhappily that things were looking worse for Jessica all the time. “Um, yeah. She found him shot to death, floating in the pool on the grounds of the museum. The news was too late to make the deadline for yesterday’s paper, so they’re playing it up today.”
Seth put down both newspapers. “I see.”
“I’m sure she’s fine, Seth,” Truman said quickly. “I don’t think she’s going to get involved. According to the article in the Citizen, it sounds like the Key West Police have the matter well in hand.”
“Ay-yuh,” said Seth dubiously. “Once you get to know her better you’ll come to understand that the police having the matter ‘well in hand’ has never stopped Jessica Fletcher from getting involved in anything.”
light lunch and an afternoon of sightseeing around
“I’m not used to doing that much walking!” George exclaimed as they bypassed the lobby in favor of heading straight for the inn’s shady courtyard and pool area. “Do you need to go up to the room for anything?”
“No, I’m just looking forward to something cool to drink and a chance to put my feet up,” Jessica replied.
George opened the wooden gate at the courtyard entrance for her, and they stepped inside. Suddenly, George stopped short, and grabbed Jessica by the arm.
“Don’t look now, Elf,” he said, looking past her toward the pool, “but I think we have an unexpected visitor.”
Jessica followed his gaze, and gasped in surprise. “Seth!” she exclaimed, her eyes wide. “What are you doing here?”
“Why, dropping by to pay you and George a quick visit, of course,” the doctor replied from the table he occupied alone. “Here – pull up a couple of chairs, there’s plenty of room.”
She and George joined him at his table, and a member of the inn’s conscientious wait staff asked them if they wanted anything to drink. Jessica asked for an unsweetened iced tea, but George politely declined.
Jessica said sternly when the staff member had departed, “what I meant was,
what are you doing here in
Her friend took a drink from his tall Key Lime
Punch and set it back down on the table with a satisfied sigh. “Now that is
refreshing,” he said. “Too bad you can’t find one of these in
Jessica was losing patience. “Seth …” she began warningly.
“All right, all right,” he said. “Actually, I’m here on business. There’s a two-day medical seminar being hosted at the Hilton, and seeing as how it’s the slow time of year back home, I thought I would attend.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to be at this seminar when we spoke on the phone the other night?”
“Because I didn’t know I would be going,” Seth replied reasonably. “It was a last minute sort of thing. I wasn’t planning on going, but then I found out that Truman would be one of the guest speakers. So I asked Dr. Beckwith if he would mind looking after my patients for a few days, booked a flight, and here I am.”
“Wait a minute,” Jessica said suspiciously, her eyes darkening. “Truman is one of the speakers? What’s the topic of this seminar anyway?”
Seth looked acutely embarrassed all of a sudden. He fiddled nervously with the paper umbrella that had come with his drink, coughed politely and said, “It’s, ah, on alternative medicine.”
Jessica was so astonished by his answer that she was literally rendered speechless and staring. George quickly jumped into the conversation to save her:
“That’s a very up-and-coming topic,” he said. “Every day it seems they’re finding more and more ways to incorporate alternative therapies into mainstream medicine. It’s reassuring to know that traditional physicians like yourself are keeping abreast of the changes taking place in the field.”
Hearing it put this way, Seth seemed less uncomfortable admitting to his involvement with the topic, however slight. “Yes, well, one never stops being a student,” he told George. “Learning is a life-long process, I always say.”
Thankfully, Jessica’s iced tea arrived just in time to save her from going into a state of shock.
They spent the next hour and a half or so chatting about this and that. George watched with amusement as Jessica tried to read Seth and his true intentions while Seth, whom he suspected had some practice in evading her probing gaze, adeptly avoided her eyes. At length, Seth finished his drink and looked at his watch.
“Getting late,” he commented. “It stays light so much later down here, it’s easy to lose track of time. I need to be getting back to Truman’s – that’s where I’m staying – and he’s planning on hosting a dinner for me and a couple of his doctor friends tonight.”
“Have a good time,” Jessica told him as he rose from his seat, “and please tell Truman that we said hello.”
“I’ll be sure to do that.”
Seth left the courtyard area to return to Truman’s house, closing the painted wooden gate behind him. George watched him go with a puzzled expression on his face. He turned to Jessica, who was stirring her iced tea thoughtfully.
“An alternative medicine seminar?” he said to her. “That seems very out of character for the good doctor. I thought he didn’t believe in those sorts of things.”
“He doesn’t,” Jessica agreed. “Seth Hazlitt wouldn’t walk across the street to attend an alternative medicine seminar, not even if admission was free and lunch was provided.”
frowned. “Then he is here in
“That’s right,” she said. “And the real reason quite probably has something to do with me.”
The calmness and complete lack of rancor in her words took George aback. “I don’t understand, Jessica,” he said. “Seth comes all the way down here to crash your vacation, yet you don’t seem to be the least bit upset with him.”
“Oh, I am, a little bit,” Jessica admitted, adding a twist of lemon to her tea. “If ever he has overstepped his bounds, this is it. But his heart is in the right place. And I don’t think he would have gone through all this trouble without a good reason.”
“A good reason … besides over-protectiveness and a touch of jealousy?”
“Yes. Seth knows better than to infringe on my personal space. So the fact that he is doing so now must mean there is a pressing reason for his concern.”
George sat back, now thoroughly confused. “And how do you know that?” he asked.
looked up at him then and smiled. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I forget sometimes
that you don’t know the entire story. Let me tell you about the time when I
first moved into my apartment in
George sat up straight then with interest – he remembered Jessica mentioning this story in passing once before, how when she had been beset with homesickness and the murder of her apartment’s former tenant, Seth had appeared at her doorstep without any warning to help her get through the next few turbulent days.
“… So there I was, standing in the middle of my wrecked apartment, picking shards of glass out of the picture of Frank and me and trying not to cry, when there was a knock on the door, and when I opened it, there was Seth,” she told him. “I was so shocked to see him, I didn’t know what to say. As for Seth, he took in the scene of destruction and made a crack about how ‘safe’ the neighborhood was – you see, before I’d left home I’d made a point of reassuring him about how secure the apartment building was.”
“Naturally,” said George, who couldn’t help but grin. “It would be just like him to pick up on the irony of your words. Please, go on.”
“Well, the first thing he asked me was if I was all right. Then, after I assured him that I was, he accused me of holding out on him – which, in all honesty, was true I suppose.”
“You were holding back about the murder,” George reasoned.
“About the murder, yes, and its likely connection to the ransacking of my apartment,” Jessica replied, nodding. “I pled innocence to this – I didn’t know what else to do at the time – and countered by asking what had possessed him to travel all the way down to New York from Cabot Cove without so much as a phone call to inform me of his intention to visit.”
“What was his answer?”
Here Jessica paused, her eyes focusing on the ice cubes in her glass. “He said something very strange,” she said, her face darkening with the memory. “He said, ‘Don’t ask me why, but the thought crossed my mind that you possibly were in some kind of danger.’”
She fell silent for a moment, and George felt a chill run up his spine, the same eerie feeling he suspected Jessica had felt at the time.
“He didn’t elaborate any more than
that,” Jessica said, resuming the tale. “The police arrived, and of course the
whole thing came out about the murder. Seth headed back to
“It may be irrational, but I think I understand,” said George, placing his hand on hers. “And who knows? Perhaps you are wise to give him the benefit of the doubt, even if you have no clear or logical reason for doing so. In any event, he does what he does out of friendship, and love.”
Jessica looked up and smiled at him with evident relief. “Thank you for understanding,” she said.
George glanced at the sun, which was beginning to lower in the west, bathing the courtyard and its gardens with a warm, honey-golden light.
“Seth was right – it is getting late,” he said. “Let’s go inside – it’s time to change for dinner.”
They were half way up the curving staircase on their way back to their room when the desk clerk spotted them from below and hailed them: “Mr. Sutherland?” she said. “Sorry to bother you, sir, but there’s a message for you here.”
George obligingly went back downstairs and retrieved the folded slip of paper. As they continued up toward the third floor and their room, he unfolded it and read the contents aloud. It was from Tipper.
“George,” her message said, “Seth is going to
With a sigh George handed Jessica the notepaper. “Her warning came a little late, I dare say.”
“Yes,” said Jessica, scanning the message for herself. “But it bears out my theory: Seth wouldn’t have badgered Tipper unless he had a serious reason for doing so – and I doubt Tipper would have given in unless she recognized that.”
“Well,” George sighed, “It's aw by nou – what’s done is done. Come,” he said, taking her hand. “It’s time to change into your nicest gown, because I intend to take you out for a St. Valentine’s Day dinner you’re not likely to forget.”
“All right,” said Jessica, “lead on!”