-- Written by Anne
Why did I choose April 11th as Jessica’s birthday? Because it was the day they began shooting the first episode of “Murder, SheWrote” in 1984 … and the day they completed filming the final episode, in 1996.
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it was any random yay-hoo that broke in here last night.”
Dennis Stanton, claims investigator
for Consolidated Casualty of San Francisco, readily agreed with Lieutenant
Perry Catalano’s assessment of the crime scene at the
“What makes you think so?” he asked.
“It’s obvious that the thief had only one particular item on his shopping list,” Catalano said. “He breaks into the basement, bypasses a whole floor of valuable stuff, then smashes the glass case and takes just the one book.”
“Leaving behind five other equally valuable exhibit specimens within easy reach, yes,” Dennis concluded. “I quite agree with you, Lieutenant. By the way, has anyone seen or heard from the owner yet this morning?”
“You mean the guy who donated the book? Yeah, that’s him standing over there,” Catalano said, gesturing over his shoulder. “Patrick O’Hansen. I guess you’ll be wanting to talk to him, but do me a favor – do it away from the crime scene, okay?”
Dennis smiled and bowed slightly. “I wouldn’t dream of inconveniencing you, Lieutenant.”
Catalano, who had worked with Dennis on several previous occasions, was unimpressed. “Huh,” he said, and moved off to talk to the police photographer.
A cell phone rang in Dennis’s overcoat pocket; he moved discreetly away from the cluster of police officers before pulling it out and answering it.
“Yes, Rhoda, what did you find?”
“You hit the nail on the head, Dennis,” Rhoda Markowitz, his office secretary said. “Not only is Patrick O’Hansen leaving town, he’s leaving immediately – like, today. Apparently he isn’t canceling his travel plans on account of the theft of his book.”
“No,” Dennis agreed. “Quite the opposite, in fact. Were you able to find out where he’s going?”
“According to the airline, he’s
booked on a 12:45 flight to
“Excellent,” said Dennis. “Rhoda, this is what I need …”
Deputy Andy Broome shook his head as he watched the gathering
from his barstool – across the room a group of Japanese men and Buddhist monks
were mingling around the jukebox.
Neither was the typical sort of tourist group come to visit
“Interesting gathering, isn’t it. Are they traveling together, do you think?”
Andy turned to regard the man seated next to him – a tall gentleman, dressed in tweeds with leather patches on the elbows of his jacket. An overcoat was draped on the bar in front of him, while a briefcase and an antique umbrella were propped up against his stool. From away, no doubt, but Andy decided to be friendly anyway.
“Actually, no,” he said. “They’re two separate groups. The gentlemen from
“Fascinating! And they just happened to book rooms in your quaint little town for the same week?”
“So it would seem,” said Andy. “But then, we see a lot of weird coincidences in this town.”
“So I’ve heard. Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Dennis Stanton, and I’m with
Andy accepted it reluctantly. “Deputy Andy Broome, Cabot Cove Sheriff’s Department.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Deputy,” said Dennis.
Afraid that Stanton might next try to sell him some long-term life insurance policy, Andy ignored him and returned to the matter at hand: the beer that was quickly warming up on the bar in front him. Taking a long sip, he tried to ignore the rising volume of voices in the background and relax.
It soon became impossible to ignore
the noise. Apparently there was a
disagreement brewing between members of the Buddhist contingent and the
That was the starting signal; all hell broke loose after that. The far end of the bar became a swirling hurricane of orange robes and dark three piece suits, while a handful of fishermen sat on the pool table cheering them on and placing bets as to which side would come out on top.
Andy sighed; so much for relaxation. He drank the rest of his beer in one long swallow, pushed the glass away, and waded into the fray.
It was hopeless; there were just too many of them, and he was quickly in danger of being trampled. It was then that he heard a deafening shout, and immediately everyone around him fell silent.
Andy turned in the direction the shout had come from, and saw Dennis Stanton standing on the bar, holding a thin-bladed sword in his hand – must’ve been hidden in the umbrella, he thought. Wherever it had come from, it had caught the attention of the combatants.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, please,” Dennis said in a more moderate voice. “You are showing distasteful manners in front of your hosts! I suggest you all repair to your hotel rooms for some serious meditation on your behavior. Please do not make me ask twice.”
The glint in his eye showed that he was serious, and gradually the room emptied. Making his way back to the bar, Andy caught up with Dennis as he was calmly resheathing the sword in the umbrella and collecting his coat.
“Thanks,” he said. “I don’t think I could have managed to break that up alone.”
“It was my pleasure,” Dennis said casually. “Now, perhaps in gratitude you could give me
“Another cup of tea, Seth?”
Seth looked up from the serving spoon he was polishing. “Don’t mind if I do,” he said, and pushed his cup across the kitchen table to Jessica, who refilled it. “After all, if you’re going to trick me into helping you polish your silver, the least you can do is keep me refreshed.”
Jessica laughed and set the tea kettle back on the stove. “I didn’t trick you. You asked if there were any projects I needed help with while I was home during spring break.”
“I was thinking more along the lines of storm windows and yard cleaning,” Seth muttered as he polished.
“Did those already.” Jessica dumped another handful of silverware on the table.
Seth sighed. “Is this all? Or do you have more of your ancestors’ silverware stashed around here?”
“That’s all,” Jessica assured him. “Except there is one silver picture frame I have on the mantle that needs a quick polish too. I’ll go get it.”
“No, no, I got it,” Seth said. He took a fortifying gulp of tea, got up from the table, and went into the living room, while Jessica resumed sorting the silver that had already been polished clean.
There was a quiet rap at the back door, and when Jessica turned to see who it was, there was Dennis Stanton standing in her kitchen.
“Dennis!” she exclaimed. “I don’t believe it!”
Dennis gave her a warm embrace. “Believe it,” he said when he released her. “I did promise to come to Cabot Cove someday, remember.”
“So why are you here? Business or pleasure?”
Dennis swept her hand into his, raised it to his lips, and kissed it. “Why, pleasure, of course! I came to see you, dearheart.”
Jessica was skeptical. “Oh really,” she said. “And do you always bring your briefcase and that umbrella sword thing with you on pleasure trips?”
Just then Seth re-entered the kitchen with the picture frame. Dennis dropped Jessica’s hand and turned to greet him.
“Dr. Hazlitt, I presume?” he said.
“You presume correctly,” said Seth. “Who are you?”
Dennis produced a card with another
of his patented flourishes. “Dennis Stanton, of Consolidated Casualty. I’m a claims investigator, and a friend of
Seth took the card and looked at it closely. Then he turned to Jessica and said, “Jess, isn’t this the guy you told me about who used to be a professional jewel thief?”
“Actually,” said Jessica, who had retreated to a corner of the kitchen to watch the amusing exchange, “yes.”
Seth leveled a suspicious glare at the newcomer.
“Ancient history, Doctor,” said Dennis. “Since meeting Jessica I have reformed my ways, and turned my talents to the forces of good.”
“Good,” said Seth. “So what are you doing here?”
“As I tried to tell Jessica, my first purpose was to visit her in her natural setting … but as she so accurately deduced, that was not my sole reason for coming.”
“You’re working on a case,” Jessica observed from her corner.
“I’m working on a case,” Dennis echoed, somewhat sheepishly.
“Ah, ha,” said Seth, who was trying to smother the tiny flame of jealousy that had popped up unexpectedly inside him. “And, as a claims investigator, we can assume you’re here investigating a claim?”
“Yes,” said Dennis, “though I’m not at liberty to discuss the details.”
“Oh?” said Jessica, her curiosity aroused. “Why not?”
Dennis, sensing that he was about to be subjected to a gentle-but-thorough interrogation, collected his things and backed toward the door. “Well, it’s a matter of some sensitivity,” he explained lamely. “A great deal of money at stake and all. Jessica, dearheart, would you be free for dinner this evening by any chance?”
“She’s busy,” Seth said abruptly.
Jessica swung around, her eyes wide. “I am?”
Seth made an attempt at some complicated sign language, the gist of which seemed to be “later.” Jessica turned back to Dennis.
“I’ll call you,” she said.
Dennis’s face lit up with a smile. “I’ll count on it,” he said warmly. “I’ll be staying at the Hill House Inn. Til then …?” He lifted her hand again and favored it with a second kiss.
Seth sighed inwardly.
After Dennis had gone, Jessica said, “All right, Seth, what am I doing tonight that I don’t know about yet?”
Seth improvised quickly. “Going out to dinner with me,” he said. “I was going to invite you, to try out that
new place on
“You don’t like him, do you,” said Jessica.
“I said no such thing! It’s just that I can see,” said Seth wryly, “why he was so successful in his former profession.”
The new restaurant on
“Michael, what are you doing here?” she demanded.
Michael pouted. “Is that the best greeting you could come up with?” he said. “After all we’ve been through!”
“You mean after all you’ve put me through.”
“Whatever. Did you know, Jess, that it took me five minutes of fiddling with your lock before I realized the door was open?”
“You really shouldn’t do that, you know. All sorts of unsavory types might decide to drop in for a visit.”
“I know one that wouldn’t have been deterred even if I had locked the doors,” Jessica said, looking pointedly at him. Trouble was, she was having an awfully hard time trying to keep from smiling. Michael had a certain charm about him, and he meant well – these things had helped keep their friendship intact despite a number of misadventures.
“Make that two,” said Michael. “Tell me what Mr. Dennis Stanton is doing here in Cabot Cove.”
“I haven’t the faintest idea.”
Michael shrugged. “No matter. We can talk about it later. Right now I want to discuss other matters pertaining to some of the other unusual visitors being hosted by your fair little village. And then we can talk about us.”
“Forget ‘us,’” said Jessica. “What about them?”
“It’s actually one particular person that I have a vested interest in,” said Michael. “I have reason to believe that hidden among the various East Asian contingencies that have all decided to descend upon your village is Patrick O’Hansen, an intelligence gatherer with terrorist connections and a master of disguise. He once escaped our grasp by dressing up as a nun.”
“Ah, really,” said Jessica.
“He’s a slippery one, he is. And he could be disguised as anyone or anything. He could be hidden among the Japanese financiers or the Buddhist priests. He could even be mixing in with your local population, driving a pickup truck with a bumper sticker reading, ‘Why’s it called Tourist Season if we can’t shoot at them?’ A very dangerous man, Jessica.”
“No doubt. Michael, get out.”
“But Jess! Surely you want to know more about him than that!”
“I most certainly do not,” Jessica said firmly. “Because every time I know more about anything you’re involved in, I end up in the middle of it. I am too busy right now to be in the middle of anything except my new book. Good luck on your search, and get out.”
“But Jessica, darling …”
“And don’t call me ‘Jessica darling!’”
The word that there was very possibly a terrorist agent sojourning in Cabot Cove came as unwelcome news to its Sheriff when Jessica reported it the next morning, over breakfast at the coffeeshop with him and Seth.
“I hate to be the bearer of unpleasant news,” she finished apologetically, “but I figured you did need to know. And for all of his faults and recklessness, Michael’s word does carry some weight with me.”
“And when did this Michael Haggerty impart this information to you?” Seth asked. “Overnight?”
“Well, yes,” said Jessica. “To be perfectly honest, I found him in my bedroom when I came home last night.”
Seth nearly choked on his coffee as that little jealously flame sputtered back to life. “You found him where?”
Jessica shook her head. “Michael is a dear friend, but he does take too many liberties. Mostly because he can, I suppose.”
“You can say that again,” Seth said with a sidelong look.
Mort Metzger, who had taken in the
news with uncharacteristic silence, had bigger problems at hand. “I don’t need this,” he finally said, with
some weariness. “I have my hands full already with the Japanese execs and the
Buddhist monks. Namely, I have to keep
them from starting a gang war on
“But Sheriff,” said Jessica, “it is possible that the two problems are connected. If what Michael told me is true, then the man you’re looking for could be hidden among the either of the two diplomatic groups.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know,” said Mort. He didn’t look much happier.
Jessica finished her orange juice and reached for the check. “Well, I’ve got a lot to do today,” she said. “See you both later?”
“Oh, Jess, I nearly forgot,” Seth said. He reached down into a shopping bag under his chair, and brought out an old, leather-bound book. “Here,” he said. “I was snooping around the library’s old book sale yesterday, and found this. It’s a collection of Mark Twain’s work, I believe. Down payment on your birthday.”
Jessica accepted it with glowing eyes. “Seth!” she exclaimed. “It’s beautiful! Thank you!”
After she had gone, Mort leaned across the table to Seth and asked, “Okay, Doc – when’s her birthday?”
Seth sat back in his chair with a smug look on his face. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten!”
Mort bit back a few choice
“Tell you what,” said Seth. “You rip up one of my parking tickets, and then I’ll tell you.”
“That’s extortion!” Mort exclaimed. “Besides, why should I give in to you when I could just ask Mrs. F herself?”
“Because you know and I know that you would … really rather not do that.”
Mort had to admit the truth in Seth’s words. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his collection of Seth’s parking tickets, held together with a rubber band - he liked to carry them around so he could taunt the doctor with them from time to time – and deliberately removed one of them randomly from the stack. He then proceeded to ceremonially tear it in half.
“There,” he said. “Satisfied?”
Seth leaned forward, as though about to impart some particularly sensitive information. “April 11th.”
“That’s two days away!”
“Two days, ay-yuh,” said Seth. “Tell you something else: that Twain book isn’t the main gift – I just picked that up for her collection. I’ve found something better, I wrote it down somewhere …” He searched his pockets, but came up empty-handed. “Uh, oh,”
“What’s the matter?”
“Well, I can’t be sure, but … I think I left the slip of paper in the book. I was using it as a marker.”
Mort set his coffee cup down with a smile. “Well, it’s all over, Doc,” he said. “Your surprise has about as much chance of surviving til Mrs. F’s birthday as a snowball does on hot blacktop. Unless, of course, you can get it back.”
Dennis perused the tables in the library’s basement book sale, trying to look interested in travel books fifteen years out of date.
“Can I help you find something?”
Dennis looked down; Jean O’Neil, the librarian, was at his side in her wheelchair.
“I was looking for something in the way of American classics,” he said. “By Mark Twain, in particular. Would you have anything like that?”
Michael Haggerty, browsing in the gardening section, tucked this bit of information away, and moved toward the door unnoticed.
Jean sighed. “You know, we did! A beautiful leather-bound collection of Mark Twain stories. But we sold it yesterday – to Doctor Hazlitt, I think. He has a good eye for books.”
Dennis did some quick arithmetic in his head. “You don’t say,” he said.
Once Michael had slipped back outside, he made his way to a pay phone.
“Yeah, it’s me, lad,” he said. “I’ve finally got a line on the material
we’re looking for. Riley was right; the
list was in the Twain book that got stolen from the
As Michael was speaking, he saw one of the Buddhist monks passing by out of the corner of his eye and was astonished to see that he was wearing … an earring?
“Patrick O’Hansen,” Michael muttered to himself. “Look, I’ve got to go – I’ll contact you later.”
Michael slipped from shadow to shadow, professional skill and experience keeping him well in range of his quarry, yet unseen and undetectable. He had been lurking in the vicinity of the Hill House Inn, expecting that at some point O’Hansen would make a move, and when he did emerge, he followed him … to the library basement, where O’Hansen cleverly picked the lock to the door, letting himself in without a sound.
Michael followed at a discreet distance, incorporating himself into the darkness, waiting for him to re-emerge. When he did, Michael let him pass, then drew his gun and slipped behind him – now that O’Hansen had the bait, it was time to make his move. But before he could do so, he heard a muffled shot, the sound of a gun with a silencer firing. Michael plastered himself to the grass, thinking incredulously that O’Hansen must have spotted him, as impossible that was to believe. But no second shot followed, nor any sound at all – which seemed very odd. Cautiously Michael got up, and approached the bushes he’d seen O’Hansen disappear into – and nearly fell over the body of the man, shot to death with a single bullet.
Michael quickly recovered from his shock, and deftly searched the dead man’s jacket pockets. No book.
The MI5 agent had only time to register this completely unlooked for development when he heard the click of a gun behind him, and the area was flooded with light from high beam flashlights.
“Don’t move,” Mort Metzger’s voice said.
Michael shaded his eyes against the glare and silently cursed himself for being so stupid.
“So that’s how I figure it,” Mort told Jessica and Seth the next morning at breakfast in her kitchen. “O’Hansen went to the library book sale looking for a book he’d hidden there when he first arrived in Cabot Cove – I mean, what better place to hide a book? That much Haggerty told us. He followed O’Hansen to the library, waited til he brought the book with the goods outside, then plugged him and took it away from him. I mean, it was like door-to-door delivery!”
“Yes, but if that’s how it happened,” Jessica countered, “where is it now?”
“What do you mean, where is it?”
“The book. I mean, if, as you say, Michael took it from O’Hansen, why didn’t you find it on him when you arrested him?”
“Well, he must have hidden it.”
“Then he must have hidden it pretty fast, wouldn’t you say?”
“These spy types are pretty slick, Mrs. F,” Mort said, grabbing his hat and heading for the door. “I bet he could have stashed that thing in a dozen places in the time it takes to say ‘Boo.’ But we’ll find it. See ya later, Doc.”
When Mort left, Jessica watched him go and shook her head.
“What’s the matter, Jess?” Seth asked her.
“I just can’t figure out,” she said in a puzzled tone, “why an international terrorist would decide to hide here, in Cabot Cove of all places!”
“Doesn’t seem strange to me at all,” Seth said mildly.
Jessica turned and looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“The way I figure it,” he said, “Cabot Cove has two things going for it. First of all, it’s at the very edge of the civilized world. And second, Jessica, you are here, and as everyone knows, you attract trouble like a candle attracts moths!”
Jessica looked at him in astonishment, then grabbed a dish towel and threw it at him.
It was on her way to the Sheriff’s Office to deal – somehow – with the Michael problem that Jessica came upon Mayor Sam Booth leading the Japanese business contingent on a walking tour of the town.
Sam caught sight of her and hailed her. “Ah, Jessica, you got a moment?”
Jessica sighed inwardly; now was not the best time for introductions. But the mayor seemed to be running out of points of interest, and Sam clearly viewed her as a ‘point of interest,’ so she decided to help him out.
“Gentlemen,” Sam announced, “allow me to introduce you to one of Cabot Cove’s most famous citizens, mystery writer JB Fletcher. Jessica, this is Mr. Okura, the group’s leader, and his associates, Mr. Hikaru, Mr. Sonisari, Mr. Leeamu, Mr. Fujiyama, and Mr. Yosaka.”
There were some scattered appreciative sounds, and a lot of polite bows.
“It is a great honor meeting you,
Mrs. Fletcher,” one of group said. “I
run a publishing house in
“Why, thank you, that’s good to know,” said Jessica. She wasn’t sure what else to say, and a few of the group members seemed anxious to get on with the tour; Mr. Leeamu was fidgeting with a little jade stud in his ear. Jessica shot a meaningful look at Sam. “Well, I won’t keep you from your walk,” she said, looking pointedly at him.
Sam, who was basking in the light of civic pride, abruptly came back to the present. “Oh, yes, yes, thanks, Jessica,” he said. “Follow me this way, gentlemen!”
Jessica watched as they moved on, following Sam in an obedient cluster, then returned to her own errand.
“Jessica, at last!” Michael exclaimed when he saw her come into the cell block. “I’ve been here for over eight hours! Where on Earth have you been, lass?”
Jessica looked at him in surprise. “Where I’ve needed to be,” she replied.
Michael grinned. “As evasive as ever,” he said. “No matter; you can tell me all about it as soon as you get me out of here.”
“What makes you think you’re going anywhere?”
The MI5 agent’s grin vanished. “I assumed you were here to bail me out,” he said with the slightest touch of annoyance.
“Well, I was, but on my way over here I had a change of heart,” she said. “It occurred to me that Mr. O’Hansen was killed not more than thirty paces from you. If it’s true that you didn’t kill him, then there is an excellent chance that his murderer knew you were following him.”
“And since he knew you were in the vicinity and in all likelihood saw you, then it seems to me that this would place you in considerable danger.”
“Jessica, I am perfectly capable of looking after myself!”
“Oh, I’m sure!” said Jessica with all sincerity. “But the killer has shown remarkable cleverness so far, and if something were to happen to you in Cabot Cove, well, you can imagine how I’d feel about that. No, I think that the safest place for you is right here.”
Michael had a terrible feeling he
knew where this was leading. “You’re
still upset about
Jessica shook her head, smiling. “Michael, really. Do you think that I would carry a grudge, just because you abandoned me in a jail cell ‘for my own good’?”
“The thought crossed my mind,” he replied grimly.
Jessica said nothing but turned to leave; in panic, Michael called out to her:
“Jessica – are you really going to just let me sit here in this bloody cell and cool my heels?”
Jessica turned at the door and fixed him with eyes that twinkled with mischief. “Yes,” she said simply, “- for your own good.”
Seth approached Jessica’s house with a sense of trepidation: he knew that she wasn’t home, but the sure and certain knowledge of what Jessica would do to him if she were to catch him snooping around made all assurances and certainly meaningless. Still, this was important. He had to get that bookmark back before it was too late – if it wasn’t already too late – and this was the only way he could think of to do it. He took a deep breath, made sure the coast was clear, and went inside.
He had only just begun a thorough search of the living room when he thought he heard a sound from the front door. His first thought was that it was his friend come home early, and he beat a hasty retreat to the dining room, where he could watch the door from behind the china cabinet.
Whoever it was at the front door, it couldn’t be Jessica, because they were trying the lock. No, it sounded more like someone picking the lock with deliberate care … and then realizing that the door wasn’t locked to begin with. The door opened, and Dennis Stanton walked in.
Dennis listened closely for a moment, then very quietly shut the door behind him and stepped down into the living room. He hadn’t gone more than a few steps when the door opened with considerably more gusto and Jessica herself stepped inside, wearing a look of stern disapproval. Seth shrank back further behind the china cabinet: he had no idea where Jessica had appeared from so suddenly, but he was certainly glad that she hadn’t been lying in wait for him.
Dennis stopped where he was with a resigned smile, and turned around with deliberate grace to face her.
“Dennis,” said Jessica, “what are you doing here?”
“Why, waiting for you, dearheart,” Dennis answered smoothly. His charm was turned up to the max, but it wasn’t working.
Jessica ran a hand through her hair in annoyance. “Don’t ‘dearheart’ me, Dennis Stanton,” she said. “I know you better than that. You’re here because you’re after something. What are you looking for?”
Dennis looked taken aback. “Jessica, to imply that I would come here solely for business purposes …”
“What are you looking for?” Jessica repeated.
“Much though I would love to tell you, I’m afraid at the moment circumstances leave me not at liberty to say.”
“I figured. Dennis, you know I love you dearly, but you and Michael both know full well that I don’t like you walking in unannounced. Yet you persist in waltzing in here both when I’m here and when I’m not!”
“The Sheriff and Doctor Hazlitt seem to have leave to come and go as they wish,” Dennis pointed out.
“They’re not trying to be … to be sneaky about it!”
Jessica came down into the living room and circled the insurance investigator, who started to make tentative steps backward for the door.
”When you decide to let me in on what you’re looking for, then you can come back,” she said, “provided that I’m home and that you knock first!”
“Yes, I’ll be sure to do that,” said Dennis hastily, not immune to the force of Jessica’s gaze, which at that moment resembled that of an irritated barracuda. “I wish you a very good day.” And with that he tipped his cap and hastily left.
Seth took his cue to exit. While Jessica’s back was turned, he edged his way from out behind the china cabinet, slipped into the kitchen, and fled out the back door.
Jessica noticed this, having known all along he was there, but decided not to say anything.
Dennis left with an unfamiliar feeling of consternation – he’d been thwarted, outsmarted, caught red-handed! He wasn’t used to that.
It then occurred to him that Jessica might not have possession of the book, as he had assumed. It had been a natural conclusion that the doctor had given the book to her, but that was all it was, a conclusion: he had no evidence to back that up.
The obvious next step, therefore, was to confirm his suspicions by ruling out that the book was still with Seth. Pleased with his flawless logic, Dennis set off in that direction at a brisk pace.
Getting inside wasn’t a problem – didn’t anybody in this town lock their doors? What was a problem was that Seth lived with an organizational system that was clearly comprehensible to himself only. Books and papers were stacked on almost every available flat surface in Seth’s office; only his desk remained neat as a pin.
The sound of someone clearing their throat behind him made him stand up straight and take notice … of Mort, and one of his deputies standing in the office doorway.
“Looking for something, Mr. Stanton?” Mort asked.
“Not anymore, I suppose,” Dennis replied.
“Darn straight,” said Mort. “Floyd, take this guy down to the station and book him for breaking and entering … oh, yeah, and for carrying a concealed weapon,” he added, relieving Dennis of his trademark umbrella cane sword and drawing the blade out a few inches.
“One thing I’d like to ask you first, Sheriff,” Dennis said. “How on earth did you know I was here?”
Mort and Floyd exchanged glances. “We were forewarned,” Mort said at last. “That’s all I’m gonna say.”
Dennis sighed. Thwarted, outsmarted, and caught red-handed. “That’s all right, Sheriff,” he said. “It was enough.”
Dennis sat on the cot in his cell, his long, lanky legs drawn up, idly tapping a complicated rhythm on the metal bars with his fingers. He looked over at Michael, who was lying flat on his back, staring at the ceiling.
“So,” he said. “Pleasant facilities they have here.”
“Yes,” said Michael. “I’ve been given to understand that they are a marked improvement over the old ones.”
“Funny, that such a small town should need so many sophisticated cells.”
“This is not an ordinary small town,” said Michael.
There was another long pause as each returned to their own thoughts. At length Dennis broke the silence again.
“How long have you known Jessica?” he asked.
Michael frowned, counting. “Nine years,” he said. “I met her in the
Dennis looked at Michael in astonishment and laughed. “The famous recluse?” he said.
“The very same. Well, it worked for awhile, anyway. Anyhow, her search and mine were linked; we ended up working in tandem; she managed to put the whole thing together in a couple of days. We’ve run into each other on and off since then. How about you?”
“I met her six years ago at a party
Michael mulled this over. “And she’s been running circles around you ever since.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Dennis said, drawing himself up slightly. “I’ve had my share of adventures to brag about.”
“No doubt,” said Michael. “So have I. But that doesn’t change the fact that whenever that woman’s around she ends up with the upper hand, no matter how much control you or I had over the situation to begin with.”
“Yes,” Dennis sighed. “The present situation is no different …”
“She’s running circles around both of us,” they said together.
When Jessica made her next appearance in the cell block of the Cabot Cove Sheriff’s office it was not for a social call. Any hopes that Michael or Dennis might have entertained that she was there to bail them out vanished when they saw the determined look on her face – this was business.
“All right, you two,” she began. “For the last couple of days you’ve been making nuisances of yourselves running around town and prying about my house looking for something that neither of you will name. Now a man is dead, this ‘thing,’ whatever it is, remains unfound, and there may be more deaths if this mess isn’t cleared up soon. So – level with me.
“First of all, what is it exactly that both of you are looking for, and why are people getting killed over it?”
Dennis and Michael exchanged glances.
“The ‘thing,’” Dennis said at last, “is a rare book, insured by my firm for $35,000. Three days ago it was stolen from a museum exhibit. It was my theory that it was actually taken by its owner, Patrick O’Hansen, who had loaned it to the museum in the first place. That would constitute a serious case of insurance fraud, so I followed him here, in hopes of uncovering his involvement and recovering the book.”
“But it’s not just any book, Jessica,” Michael said. “Like I told you, the British government has
suspected for some time that O’Hansen had ties to certain terrorist groups,
including the IRA. A week ago we learned
that a list of coded high security radio frequencies for the British embassy in
“Hmm,” Dennis said, mostly to himself. “Had we known Mr. O’Hansen had such dubious connections, we would never have issued him the policy.”
“But if Mr. O’Hansen was a master of disguise, how were you able to recognize him to follow him?” Jessica asked.
“By his earring,” said Michael. “It was small, and he was wearing it in his
right ear. Not the sort of thing you
would expect to see on a Buddhist monk – which, by the way, was the cover he used to sneak into Cabot Cove unnoticed. He was hiding in plain sight, right in the
middle of that cultural exchange tour from
Here Michael became more serious. “The trouble is, lass, we don’t know who his contact was – only that this was where they were supposed to meet. With him still at large, you’re in a dangerous position, Jess – if you do, in fact, have that book.”
“I do,” Jessica said. “And thanks to the amount of time you’ve both spent lurking around my house, you might as well have posted a neon sign shouting ‘Here It Is’ over my front door.”
Imagine, Jessica thought as she threw herself down in her favorite chair – a few uninterrupted hours at home, without having to worry about either Dennis or Michael breaking and entering. She took a deep breath, then let it go, letting some of her pent-up tension go with it, and reached for the Mark Twain book, the same one that Dennis and Michael had been chasing – and the one that Patrick O’Hansen had been murdered for.
The book was a fine piece of craftsmanship, its leather binding unblemished, its pages barely cut. For a book dated somewhere around 1910, it was in remarkably good shape. Which was why she was surprised when she opened it and found the front endleaf torn and curled, the only flaw in an otherwise meticulously preserved volume.
Ah, well, she though, you couldn’t expect something so old to be absolutely perfect. Yet the endleaf bothered her, and in spite of herself, she picked at it and pulled it away from the inside cover. A little folded piece of tracing paper fluttered out, covered with numbers and symbols – undoubtedly the list of coded communication frequencies Michael had described.
Her curiosity sparked, she wondered what other secrets the book might hold, but further investigation showed the back endleaf and the spine – always favorite hiding places – intact and undamaged. There was one other possibility: Jessica picked the book up by its covers – carefully – and shook it out. Here, a second piece of paper slipped out and fell to the floor.
Jessica picked it up and looked at it. It was a scrap torn from a larger sheet, and had an internet website printed in the top corner. It didn’t much resemble the coded sheet she had found first, but somehow they had to be related. Well, there was only one way to find out; it was time to surf the ‘net.
Jessica booted up her computer, connected the modem, and entered the website address letter for letter. Then she hit return, and held her breath … and nearly choked when the web page came up.
The page belonged to a jewelry shop
It didn’t take long for her to put together the rest – Seth, the gift of the book, her approaching birthday. Jessica quickly logged off and put her head in her hands; she had just ruined Seth’s surprise.
“Ah, me,” she sighed aloud. “It even has matching earrings …”
That was when she made the final connection, and everything concerning the murder of Patrick O’Hansen fell into place.
Jessica took Michael’s warning about the danger she might be in seriously, so wasted no time in piecing together what she now knew and coming up with a plan to prove it. She took the Twain book and its contents – minus Seth’s jotted down website note – back to the Sheriff’s office, and placed them on Mort’s desk.
“Hey, Mrs. F,” Mort said. “Back so soon?”
“Yes. Mort, this book Seth found at the library sale is what Patrick O’Hansen was murdered for – only the killer didn’t have it, I did.”
Mort held up his hand. “Whoa. If it’s that important, how did it find its way into a used book sale?”
As concisely as she could, Jessica repeated what Dennis and Michael had told her regarding the book, its secret, and the people involved with it.
“O’Hansen’s killer didn’t find what he was after, so it’s pretty safe to assume that he’s still in Cabot Cove. Now, Michael’s intelligence sources don’t know who he is or what he looks like … and I’m reasonably sure that Mr. O’Hansen himself didn’t know who he was or what he looked like either.”
“That would make sense,” Mort said. “It doesn’t pay to be recognizable in the business these guys are in. But if that’s the case, how were they supposed to find each other here for the exchange?”
“By a pre-arranged sign that would identify themselves to each other,” said Jessica. “And I think I know what that sign was, and who O’Hansen’s contact is. But I’ll need to keep the book just a little longer to confirm it.”
The waterfront was quiet and dark; all of the fishermen that worked there had long since gone home. The night was still, the only sounds coming from the lap of wavelets against the wharf and the creaking of boats leaning against their moorings. A single lamp on a pole cast a pool of light beneath it, and here Jessica waited until she heard the quiet footsteps she had been expecting.
“Good evening, Mr. Leeamu,” she said. “At least, that was how you were introduced to me – I doubt it’s your real name.”
The figure of a man – one of the members of the Japanese business contingent – came forward into the lamplight. “Who I am is unimportant,” he said. “I received a note from Mr. Dennis Stanton, regarding a piece of insured property he wished to discuss selling. I was to meet him here, at this time.”
“He’s unavailable,” said Jessica. “I came in his place.” She took the leather-bound Twain book out of her totebag and held it up in the dim light. “This, I believe, is what you are looking for – and what you murdered Patrick O’Hansen to get.”
Leeamu gave a short laugh. “Mr. O’Hansen’s death was unfortunate,” he said. “But what makes you think I came to Cabot Cove to meet with him?”
“Your earring,” said Jessica. “When the mayor introduced me to your group,
I noticed that you were the only one wearing one – it’s not a piece of jewelry
usually worn by Japanese businessmen.
O’Hansen wore a matching one.
That’s how you were able to recognize him among the group of Buddhists
“The Japanese and Buddhist groups had been picking fights with each other ever since they arrived in Cabot Cove – it would have been easy for you to pass a message to him in the confusion during one of the brawls, setting up a meeting time and place. Who knows, you may have even incited one of fights to create just such an opportunity. Either way, O’Hansen went to retrieve the book from its hiding place the night of the meeting – the library used book sale. He couldn’t find it because it had already been sold … but you didn’t know that until you killed him and failed to find it on his body.”
“You cannot prove any of this,” Leeamu said.
“I think we can,” said Jessica. “The gun you used to kill O’Hansen can probably be fetched up from the harbor at next low tide. We also have the testimony of your fellow travelers that you didn’t join the trade mission until the last moment. And I’m pretty sure that a background check will find that all of your business credentials have either been borrowed or fabricated.”
“There is a Mr. Haki Leeamu,” the man said, “but you
are right: he is not here on this trip.”
With a surprisingly fast motion he whipped out a switch blade and held
it inches from her face. “I am Lee Duck
Wan, agent for the People’s Republic of
Jessica retreated from the knife point until she had been backed up against the wall of a tackle storage shed. From there, there was no where else to go. Wordlessly, she handed over the book.
Lee grabbed it and went straight for the front endleaf, taking the piece of tracing paper out of its hiding place. Then he opened it, and his expression of triumph turned to one of dismay.
“This paper is blank,” he said. “O’Hansen cheated me!”
“Actually, no,” said Jessica calmly. “I did.”
Lee looked at her in amazement. “You?” He dropped the book and raised the knife for a swift stab … then froze where he stood at the touch of cold metal against his own throat.
Dennis and Michael stepped into the light flanking Lee, Dennis never letting the tip of his umbrella cane sword waver from the Chinese man’s neck. Mort, Andy, and Floyd were right behind them.
“Take one step toward her,” Michael warned Lee, “and I swear, it will be your last.”
The party held at Jessica’s house the next evening celebrated both her birthday and the closure of the O’Hansen murder case. Dennis and Michael were not forgotten; they had been invited as well, and what’s more, they were on their best behavior – this, Seth had gently reminded them, was the least they owed to their hostess for getting them both out of jail and cleared of homicide charges.
After dinner Seth got up to clear the plates, and headed into the kitchen. Jessica watched him go, then after a moment, got up and followed him.
“Seth,” she said, “there’s something I need to tell you.”
Seth was so startled that he nearly dropped the plate he was rinsing in the sink. “Um, funny you should say that, Jess. There’s something I needed to say to you too.”
Seth was plainly uncomfortable. “Well, um, I think I was a little harsh on your friends Michael and Dennis. They care about you, and they aren’t half as bad as I thought they were.”
Jessica stared at him. “That’s all?”
“Well, um, yes. I mean, given their tendencies for getting into mischief … I was just looking out for you, is all.”
“Oh, that’s a relief,” said Jessica. “I was beginning to think that you were jealous of them or something.”
Damn that uncanny perception of hers! “Uh, no, nothing like that,” he said. “Now you.”
Jessica lowered her eyes. “The pendant and the earrings are beautiful,” she said. “But I have to confess … I found the scrap of paper in the book you gave me. I thought it might have something to do with the case, and I looked up the website – and that’s when I realized my mistake. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right, Jess,” said Seth. “I shouldn’t have carelessly left it for you to find. After all, you can’t help what you are.”
A faint, returning smile. “No, I suppose not.”
Seth gave her a quick embrace. “Now let’s get out there so you can cut that cake. I’ve been looking forward to it all day!”