Chapter 9


“Care for a nightcap?” Truman asked.

“If you’re offering,” said Seth, and he followed his friend into a study off the main drawing room. The room was elegantly furnished and appointed, just like the rest of the house.  Truman had clearly taken great pains to restore the ornate woodwork to its original condition; it shone with varnish and was smooth to the touch with age. Books, most of them bound in leather, lined the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, interspersed here and there with pieces of pottery that appeared to be of local origin. A rich Persian rug covered the hardwood floors, while a high plaster ceiling with a mounted fan kept the space pleasantly cool.

Truman busied himself at the small oak bar at one end of the room while Seth settled himself in one of the matching leather wingback armchairs that graced the room.

“Nice study,” Seth said appreciatively, taking in his surroundings. “Very comfortable. Do you spend much time in here?”

“Not much, actually,” Truman replied, plunking some ice cubes from the mini-fridge under the bar into a pair of glasses. “I prefer to spend my time outdoors. But sometimes when it’s raining, or when I don’t want to be disturbed, this is where I go.”

He selected a bottle of fine whiskey and poured a liberal amount into each glass, presenting Seth with one before settling down into the other wingback with his own. He stretched is long legs out in front of him with a sigh, and lifted his glass.

“To your health,” he said.

Seth returned the gesture, and took an experimental sip of the whiskey. “My, this is good!” he exclaimed.

Truman laughed. “You seem surprised,” he said. “Surely you realize by now that I don’t do anything half-arsed.”

“I guess not! This must have cost you a fortune!”

The other doctor shrugged. “It’s not like I drink it everyday,” he reasoned. “I save it for special occasions.”

For awhile the two men were quiet, each lost in their own private thoughts. At length Truman broke the silence.

“All right, Boomer,” he said. “Tell me why you’re really in Key West.”

“I told you,” Seth said, “I wanted to get away from the cold weather for awhile.”

“Yes, that’s what you told me,” Truman said with a smile. “But after years of listening to your protests that only wimps need to come south to get away from winter, you must forgive me if that excuse comes across as a little thin.”

Seth swirled the ice cubes around in his glass and didn’t answer.

“I think you came to Key West because she’s here,” Truman ventured. “Jessica.”

Seeming very preoccupied with his dwindling glass of whiskey, Seth answered with a non-committal grunt.

“So, you came down here to keep an eye on her.”

Seth drained the last of his whiskey. “No,” he replied. “She doesn’t need me to do that anymore - she’s got someone else to watch her back now.”

“Ahhh,” Truman said with sudden understanding. “I see.” Without being asked, he rose from his chair and fetched the whiskey bottle from the bar to refill his friend’s glass.  He set the bottle down within easy reach on the small table between them as he returned to his chair.  “How long ago was it that Ruth died, Seth?”

Seth tilted his head back, thinking. “It’ll be fourteen years this summer.”

“Long time,” Truman commented. “How long was it after that before you realized you were in love with Jessica?”

Seth jumped a little in surprise, the whiskey glass halfway to his lips. “Now, wait just a minute, Truman,” he said. “I never said anything about …”

“You didn’t need to say anything, Boomer,” Truman said, waving Seth’s protest aside. “I suspected as much the last time the two of you were down here, if that makes you feel any better.”

“It does not,” Seth muttered.

“Whatever. You have excellent taste, if I may say so. Jessica is intelligent, attractive, adventuresome …”

“And spoken for,” Seth finished for him.

Truman looked at his old med school buddy with sympathy. “Naturally, you don’t want to talk about it.”

“Not really.”

“Might make you feel better,” Truman coaxed him. “And you should always trust the advice of a doctor.”

Seth quirked a smile. “Even a doctor that deals with roots and leaves like you do?” he said.

“Especially so,” Truman said with a chuckle.

Seth reached for the bottle and splashed a little more whiskey into his glass. “You sure you don’t mind wasting this stuff on the likes of me?” he asked.

“I can think of no better way to spend it,” Truman replied.

An amicable silence settled between them for awhile, broken only by the steady whir of the ceiling fan blades overhead and the occasional whine of a motor scooter passing by on the street outside.

“I don’t know the answer to your question,” Seth said eventually. “Not exactly, anyway.  It was kind of a gradual thing, I suppose.”

Truman nodded with understanding. “And I’m guessing that Jessica does not share your sentiment.”

“No,” Seth sighed. “In fact, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even know about it.”

“You’ve never told her, then.”

Seth looked surprised that Truman would even suggest such a thing. “Good Lord, no!” he said with perhaps a little more vehemence than he had intended.

Truman didn’t seem to pay any mind to the strength of his protest. “Why not?” he asked gently, reaching for the bottle himself.

Seth let out a gusty sigh. “I suppose it’s because she never showed signs of wanting anything other than friendship from anyone after her husband died,” he said at last. “And I thought that would be the permanent state of things for her.”

“People change, Seth,” Truman reminded him. “I’m living proof of that.”

“Ay-yuh, I’d noticed,” Seth said dryly. “Anyway, she met this British fella that works at Scotland Yard, George Sutherland. They saw each other off and on, whenever they found themselves on the same side of the Atlantic … and then next thing I know, they’re a couple.”

“Is he good to her?” asked Truman.

“I’d say so, from what I’ve seen,” Seth replied. “He’s a real gentleman, and I have to admit, they seem to care a great deal for each other.”

“So if that’s all true, what are you doing in Key West?”

“Truman,” Seth said, “if I fully understood the reasons why I felt compelled to follow Jessica down here, I’d be drinking a lot less of your first-class whiskey right now.”


While Seth and Truman talked far into the night, across Old Town Timothy Lawrence also sought some solace from the pressures of daily life, but in a much more solitary and unusual manner. His taxi shift finished for the evening, he was on his way to indulge in his true passion: climbing.

Although Key West had no mountains or natural rock faces, it did have several interesting buildings. Urban climbing couldn’t hold a candle to rock climbing in the wilderness, but it was a good way to keep his skills honed, and it did provide some unique challenges that made it appealing in its own right. The fact that it was blatantly illegal provided an additional jolt of adrenaline to the heady mix of danger, difficulty, and height.

Timothy climbed the short flight of steps leading to the brick-paved patio in front of the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, dropped his back pack next to one of the two cannon that occupied the space, and considered the building in front of him. One of the few structures in Key West not made of wood, the museum was constructed of limestone blocks with a smooth finish. Architectural details, such as the shallow relief “columns” running up the front of the building, were also made of limestone. The tall, mullioned windows of the first storey were topped with lintels of a different kind of stone – granite, perhaps. The building’s walls were crowned with a pitched roof; Timothy guessed that the height from the brick patio to the eaves of the roof was some thirty to thirty-five feet.

            To the casual observer the façade did not seem to offer any obvious means of ascent, but to Timothy’s trained eye a number of possible routes to the roof presented themselves. None of them were easy – the smoothed limestone did not offer natural toe or finger holds the way sandstone or brick often did – but it was certainly doable, given enough patience and skill. After examining his options, he exchanged his sneakers for a pair of thin-soled, flexible climbing shoes and put on his safety helmet. His ropes, carabiners, and harness remained in his bag: there were no convenient places to hook a rope anywhere on this building, so the climb would have to be undertaken without any safety aids at all. Timothy tightened the laces on his shoes and performed a couple of stretching exercises to make sure he was limber before making his way over to the northwest corner of the building, his chosen route of ascent.

            Almost immediately Timothy realized that he was in for a difficult climb. The mortar joints between the limestone blocks were not very deep, offering very little purchase for his fingertips and toes. At least in choosing the corner of the building he was able to wrap his arms and legs around the stone where the two walls met, as opposed to being completely flattened against the face of a single wall. It moved his center of gravity just that much closer to the wall itself, which was a help.

            Timothy’s goal for the climb was an ambitious one: to touch the eave of the roof. While thirty-five feet was but a hair’s breadth of height in the world of mountain climbing, in urban climbing, where ascents seldom exceeded fifteen feet, it was monumental. He inched his way up the building with care, looking for places where the mortar was just a little bit deeper, or cracked by weathering. Once he found such a place, he slowly shifted his weight to the new hold, testing it, making sure that it was secure enough for his fingertips to stay in place without slipping. Only then did he trust the majority of his weight to it, and begin the process again with his other hand, or one of his feet. Although well-versed in the urban climbing credo of “Get in, climb fast, get out,” Timothy knew that rushing could result in a misstep, or worse, a fall of many feet to land on his back on the pavement below.

            Periodically rubbing a hand on his clothes to dry off perilously slippery sweat, Timothy continued his ascent, oblivious to everything except the relationship of his body to the wall. As he went higher, he felt more alone and, strangely enough, at peace: here, the only things that mattered were skill, concentration, and the laws of physics. This was the reason he climbed – to get to that state of intense mental focus, to completely block out the rest of the world and its petty distractions. It was like tasting life distilled to its core components of challenge and survival.

            He was unaware of how much time had passed since he had begun, but eventually Timothy reached his goal: with the rubber soles of his shoes pressed into shallow mortar cracks and his hand gripping the craved cornice at the top of the wall, he reached up and quickly slapped the sloping edge of the roof.  The fulfillment of his self-imposed quest did not mean that the challenge was over, however: now he had to make his way down, and as all experienced climbers are aware, the descent is often more dangerous than the ascent. By the time he reached a height low enough for him to drop the rest of the way down without injury his fingers were screaming from the constant strain and his toes felt like they were about to drop off his feet. Glancing downward, he picked a landing spot and pushed himself away from the building’s corner, bending his knees into a crouch as he hit the ground to absorb the force like a cat.

After taking a moment to gather himself and take inventory of all his extremities, Timothy stood up and brushed himself off.  He looked back up at the museum appreciatively. That had been a magnificent climb, and what’s more, it had taught him valuable secrets about the way the building was put together. Perhaps he would return here at some point and try it again, except that next time he’d up the ante by finessing his way up a flat expanse of wall instead of using a corner.  Already thinking ahead to this next adventure, he turned to retrieve his back pack …

… and nearly bumped into Lieutenant Fernando, who was standing there with two of his officers, patiently waiting for him.


            Timothy sat in the chair Fernando had offered him in front of the lieutenant’s desk, trying not to let his hands fidget or his foot bounce up and down – dead giveaways of how nervous he was. It was not the first time he had been Lt. Fernando’s guest at the Key West Police Department – a month earlier, Fernando had nabbed him while completing a delicate traverse of the front of the Customs House near Mallory Square. Before that, it had been his daring ascent of the parking garage near the ferry terminal. On those occasions he’d been treated to a lecture on trespassing, slapped with a fine that was not out-of-line with the offense, and let go. The whole process – including the lecture – had maybe taken half an hour. But this time was different. Fernando had been ominously quiet on the way back to the station, and then left him to cool his heels in his office without explanation. That had been forty-five minutes ago.

            To settle his nerves, Timothy took an informal inventory of the items on Fernando’s desk. One thing in particular caught his eye – a book, which seemed out of place amid the stacks of file folders, memos, and forms. He picked it up and turned it over to look at the author’s picture on the back cover.

            “JB Fletcher,” he said aloud to himself, recognizing his fare from a few days previously. “Huh. I knew she looked familiar.”

            He didn’t have time to consider the stroke of fate that had allowed his path to cross that of the famous writer. Fernando finally walked in, bringing with him one of Timothy’s carabiners that he had apparently taken from his back pack. He tossed it down on the desk and asked, “Is this yours?”

            Timothy leaned forward to look at it, and saw that it was, in fact, a piece of his own gear. “Yes, it’s mine,” he confirmed.

            Next Fernando took a second carabiner from his pocket, identical to the first except that it was wrapped in a plastic bag. “How about this one?”

            “Yes, that’s mine as well,” Timothy told him. There was no point in denying it. “I carry about five of those in my pack. I bought them all at the same time.”

            “Interesting,” Fernando said.

            Timothy’s anxiety continued to rise. “Lieutenant, what’s this all about?” he asked. “Are you going to fine me for trespassing or not?”

            “Oh, this time it’s more than about trespassing, Timothy,” Fernando said, giving him a long appraising look. He picked up the plastic bag by a corner and dangled it almost tauntingly. “Do you know where we found this?”

            Timothy had a sinking feeling that he didn’t want to know where Fernando had found it. “Uh, no …”

            “We found it clipped to the railing of the second storey veranda at the Hemingway place,” Fernando told him, “the morning that Thomas Manchester was found shot to death in the pool.”

            “Oh.” There really wasn’t much else that Timothy could think of to say.

            Fernando tossed the bagged carabiner back down on the desk next to its companion, and sat down heavily in his chair. “Do you want to tell me how it got there?”

            Timothy was smart enough to read the handwriting on the wall, and recognized that unless he came clean about his nighttime activities, he was likely to be accused of something much, much worse, namely murder. Suddenly, the prospect of paying multiple fines for trespassing didn’t seem like such a bad thing.

            “I, um, was scaling the exterior of the Hemingway House two nights ago.”

            Fernando looked at him neutrally. “May I ask why?”

            Although Timothy was sorely tempted to reply with the oft-quoted quip ‘Because it’s there,’ his reason reined in his tongue. “It has several challenging technical features,” he said instead.

            “Ri-i-ight,” Fernando said slowly, clearly not comprehending Timothy’s reasoning, and showing little interest in trying. Instead, he took a photograph from a file and pushed it across the desktop. “Recognize this guy?”

            Timothy glanced at Thomas’s picture in front of him. “Yeah, he was one of my fares from a couple of nights ago.”

            “Yeah? Where’d you pick him up, and where’d you take him?”

            “I picked him up at the Hemingway House with two other people, and dropped him at the Green Heron Guest House.”

            “Did you see him any time after that?”

            Timothy shook his head. “No.”

            “Not even when you went back to the Hemingway House to play Spiderman?”

            Gritting his teeth to keep from snapping back at the lieutenant with a retort, Timothy answered, “No.”

            “Then explain to me how it just so happens that you decide to go climb Papa’s house the same night this guy – Thomas Manchester – gets shot off the balcony?” Fernando asked, tapping the photograph for emphasis.

            “It’s a coincidence,” said Timothy, his foot starting to bounce in spite of his efforts at self-control. “How was I to know he’d come back? And if I had known he was coming back, there’s no way I would have followed through on my plan to scale the House.”

            Fernando regarded Timothy from his chair. “Unless you planned to meet him there and took that route to the balcony to catch him unawares,” he said.

            Timothy sighed with exasperation in spite of himself. “What motive would I possibly have to do that?” he demanded.

            “You tell me,” Fernando shot back. When this was met by silence on Timothy’s part, he said, “Look, Timothy, for what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re the type to ice a guy with a high-powered rifle. And even if you were, it would be pretty stupid to put yourself at risk by attempting another illicit stunt just two nights later. But the physical evidence places you at the murder scene the night the victim was shot, you have no alibi, and you admit that you’ve seen the victim before. Based on all that, I’ve got no choice but to hold you for further questioning.”

            “Am I being charged with murder?” Timothy asked sullenly.

            “Not yet,” Fernando said. He motioned to the officer standing outside the office to come in and escort Timothy to a cell for the remainder of the night. “We’ll let you call a lawyer in the morning.”


            The next morning when Jessica and George went down to the inn’s courtyard for breakfast, there was a definite change in the atmosphere around them.  As they made their selections and threaded their way amongst the other guests toward a table in the far corner of the garden, Jessica had the uncomfortable feeling that they were being watched – not just by one person, but by several people all around them. Since they had already spent two whole days at the inn without drawing any comment, it struck her as odd that their presence was being noted now.

            “George,” she said in a low voice as he joined her at the table with his breakfast in hand, “is it just me, or are the other guests paying more attention to us this morning?

            “Aye,” George said, taking a surreptitious glance around the garden. “Most of the attention seems to be focused on you, though I am not exempt from scrutiny either.”

            “Well, I’m glad I’m not becoming paranoid then, I guess,” she said. “What’s gotten in to them all today, I wonder?”

            “Perhaps the rumor mill has finally caught up with us,” George suggested.

            Jessica sighed. “Maybe,” she said. She tried to put the curious looks out of her mind as she poured milk on her cold cereal and picked up that morning’s edition of the Key West Citizen.

            What she saw on the front page instantly transformed her demeanor from one of calm detachment to wide-eyed shock. “I don’t believe this!”

            George looked up from buttering a raspberry scone in concern. “What’s the matter?”

            “Look.” She held up the newspaper so he could read the front page headline: “Mystery Writer and Scotland Yard Take Interest in Hemingway House Ghost and Murder.”

            “Bloody hell,” George cursed under his breath. “They even included a picture of you from off one of your dust jackets. Who do you think is responsible for this?”

            “My guess would be Byron,” said Jessica grimly. She took back the paper and skimmed the story, her mouth set in a tight, thin line as she read. “I thought so,” she said at length. “He mentions that I requested a copy of the ghost picture supplied by Lyle Fairbanks, and draws the conclusion that we’re involving ourselves in the controversy and Thomas’s death based on that. You’re mentioned in here as well.”

            George sighed wearily. “It figures that we’d be given no peace,” he said. “I know that young Byron needs to mak saut ti ane’s kail – earn a living – but this is hardly fair. He nivver lat bug – gave no indication – that he intended to make a journalistic coup out of us.”

            “No,” agreed Jessica, “he did not.”

            “So what are we going to do about it?”

            Jessica leveled a warning glance at a couple a few tables away that had been furtively watching them with whispers and glances, sending them scurrying for cover behind their own newspapers. “First we finish breakfast,” she declared. “And then we head over to the Citizen to have a word about this with Byron.”


            After breakfast as the guest of the Key West Police Department Timothy was taken from his cell and brought back to Fernando’s office, where the lieutenant dropped a Key West telephone directory on the desk in front of him.

            “Go ahead and call your lawyer,” he told him.

            Timothy looked at the phone book but made no move to open it. “I don’t know any lawyers,” he said, looking back up at Fernando.

            “That’s fine,” the detective said casually. “Just let your fingers do the walking, then. I’ll give you ten minutes.” Picking up his Styrofoam cup of coffee, he left the office to give his prisoner some privacy.

            Timothy continued to stare at the directory, chewing his lower lip in worry. Not only didn’t he know any good lawyers personally – or even any bad ones – there was no way he could afford to pay for good legal defense.  The court would appoint someone to him, of course, but if that was the case, why bother making any phone calls now?

            But then a new thought occurred to him – he had one phone call allotted to him, and ten minutes of privacy, but there was nothing that said that the call he made had to be to an attorney. There was someone else he could call, someone who might be able to help him out of this jam more effectively than any over-priced lawyer. And although he didn’t know this person on anything more than a strictly casual basis, he knew of her reputation, and more importantly, he knew where she was staying in Key West.

            His mind made up, Timothy opened the telephone book and looked up the number of the Bougainvillea Inn.


            George and Jessica had just finished their own breakfast and were about to leave the courtyard and the unwelcome attention of its other guests when one of the staff members approached their table, a portable phone in his hand.

            “I’m sorry to interrupt you, Mrs. Fletcher,” he said politely, “but there is a phone call for you.”

            Jessica accepted the phone from him, puzzled as to who could be calling her so early in the morning. “Hello?”

            “Good morning, Mrs. Fletcher. This is Timothy Lawrence – I was your cab driver from two nights ago, and the day before that? You probably don’t remember me.”

            “No, no, I remember you, Timothy,” Jessica hastened to assure him. That he should be calling now struck her as ironic, considering that he had been in her thoughts lately in relation to the carabiner that she had seen at the Hemingway House. “What can I do for you?”

            “Well, it’s like this, Mrs. Fletcher … I’ve been arrested for murdering Thomas Manchester.”

            “I see,” said Jessica slowly. “Does this have something to do with a certain piece of climbing equipment that was found at the scene of the crime?”

            “Yes,” Timothy groaned. “That was mine. I was there doing something I shouldn’t have been doing. But while I may be guilty of trespassing, I can assure you that I had nothing to do with Mr. Manchester’s death.”

            She couldn’t pinpoint exactly why, but Jessica felt inclined to believe the young man’s words. “Timothy, what is it that you want from me?” she asked him.

            “Well, I got a glimpse of the Citizen this morning,” he said. “I saw the article about how you and your, uh, friend were investigating Ernest Hemingway’s ghost. I was hoping that maybe while you were looking into that, you could also look into who killed Mr. Manchester, and help me get off the hook for his murder.”

            Jessica sighed. “Timothy, right now I think you should be concentrating on hiring a good lawyer …”

            “I’d do that if I knew one and could afford it,” Timothy said. “But driving taxies down here is just a seasonal gig for me – I don’t even know where to start. Please, Mrs. Fletcher – I don’t want to impose, and I don’t want to ask any special favors of you. But if you do come across anything that would help me out, would you share it with Lieutenant Fernando? I really don’t have anyone else to turn to.”

            Something about Timothy’s earnestness touched Jessica’s heart, and she couldn’t find it in herself to refuse him. “All right, Timothy. Sit tight for now – Inspector Sutherland and I are going to want to talk to you, but we have a couple of other things we need to look into first.”

            “Thanks,” Timothy said with evident relief. “I’ll be waiting – after all, I’m not going anywhere.”

            After she had hung up and put the portable phone aside she looked at George, who had been listening to the conversation with interest.

            “So,” he said, “the carabiner came back to haunt young Timothy after all.”

            “Yes,” she replied. “And now he wants my help.”

            George took her hands in his and sighed. “I had hoped that this would be a quiet vacation,” he said.

            “So had I. But Thomas was a friend – I can’t just walk away from his death. And despite the evidence indicating otherwise, I don’t believe that Timothy is the one responsible.”

            George knew better than to try and dissuade her. “All right,” he said. “So what’s first on the agenda?”

            “First we take on Byron Sinclair at the newspaper, just like we planned,” said Jessica. “Then there’s something that I would like to check out before we go talk to Timothy. You have a good head for heights, don’t you?”

            “Aye,” George said, wondering what she had in mind as they rose from their table and headed off to start what looked like was going to be a busy day.