Fatalité en France
By Candice Hayward
The heat and humidityof southern France in mid-summer hit Jessica the moment she stepped down from the transatlantic aircraft into the busy airport in Monte Carlo. It was a short walk into the airport building. She slung her hand bag over her shoulder, adjusting the strap so that it was reasonably comfortable, and followed the rest of the crowd. After passing through passport control and retrieving her luggage, she found the arrivals area. A young woman in a black skirt suit immediately came trotting over to her.
"Madame Fletcher! Bonjour. Welcome to France. I am Audrey, sent by Monsieur Sherwin. Come, I Ďave a limousine waiting outside."
She took Jessicaís hand bag, and trotted off toward the exit. With her suitcase in tow, Jessica set off.
"I am sure you will like Maison De Líocean," Audrey said, as they rode in the back of a large white limousine away from the airport and in to the traffic on the wide French road. "It is very pleasant this time in the year. Ah, and the beach is so nice ..."
As Audrey chattered happily about the hotel, Jessica leaned back and closed her eyes, thinking about the week ahead. A letter had arrived unexpectedly a few months ago, from the president of a creative writing club in England, asking if she would consider attending one of their Ďtravel seminarsí to Southern France. ĎTravel seminarí, it seemed, was the term used for an expensive vacation arranged by the club members; a chance to get away with a group of friends and enjoy a relaxing time sitting in the sun and attending a few meetings. However, since it sounded like an interesting opportunity, and gave Jessica the chance to fly on to London and see some friends and family, the invitation had been gladly accepted.
"We are Ďere!" Audrey exclaimed, waving a hand proudly toward the white stone building they approached. From a telephone conversation with the club president, Casey Sherwin, Jessica knew that the hotel was privately owned by a friend of Mr. Sherwin, and was a favorite resort for many club members. They apparently visited every year for the summer travel seminar.
It was easy to see why people were so keen to return every year, Jessica decided, as she followed Audrey up white stone steps into a richly decorated parlor. Unlike many of the larger hotels Jessica had stayed in France, there was a very homely atmosphere in the building. There was no evidence of a check-in desk; instead a large, comfortable couch sat on one side of the room, along with a long wooden coffee table and two chairs.
"If you would like to wait Ďere, I will tell Madame Rustat you Ďave arrived," Audrey said, hurrying away.
A moment later an elegantly dressed woman appeared, and approached Jessica, extending her hand. "Jessica Fletcher, welcome. I am Diamanta Rustat, I own Maison De Líocean. It is so good to finally meet you."
"Pleased to meet you," Jessica replied, taking Diamantaís delicate pale white hand in hers for a moment.
"Come, I will show you to your room," Diamanta said. Turning to Audrey, who stood in the doorway, "Audrey, bring Madame Fletcherís suitcase please."
Left alone in her room, Jessica took a shower in the spacious white marble bathroom, and changed her clothes before she began the unpacking. Once she was settled in, she collapsed gratefully onto the queen sized bed, and closed her eyes. Two hours sleep before dinner ...
A knock on the door woke Jessica from peaceful slumber. She rolled off the bed, glanced at herself in the mirror and ran a comb through her hair before opening the door. A man of around thirty, with light brown hair and a dazzling smile, stood in the corridor.
"Hello," she said when he didnít speak.
"Hel-lo!" he replied, seizing her hand and continuing to grin stupidly at her. "Why, dear lady, the photograph on the back of your books does not do you justice."
Jessica retracted her hand before he had a chance to kiss it, as he looked like he was about to. "Thank you, I think, Mr. ..."
"Casey Sherwin. President of ĎWrite Awayí. We spoke on the phone ..."
Light dawned. "Oh, Mr. Sherwin. Wonít you come in?"
"Many thanks," he replied, stepping inside and glancing around her room. "Ah, I can see youíve settled in. Good good! Now then, Mrs. Fletcher, I came with the intention of escorting you down to dinner -there are people anxious to meet you. Iíve organized a little dinner party for us tonight, so you can get to know everyone before the meeting tomorrow."
"Oh." Jessica ran a hand through her hair. "In that case, youíd better give me a few minutes to change."
"Nonsense! You look lovely. Anyway, weíre nice and relaxed here -no one else bothers with formal dress for dinner," Casey insisted, offering his arm.
Jessica hesitated, then took his arm and allowed him to escort her down to the dining room. To her slight discomfort, everybody was already seated at the table, and each head turned to face her as she entered.
"Good evening, people," Casey grinned, pulling out a chair for Jessica. "May I introduce our special guest, Jessica Fletcher. Jessica, this is Fenella, Mandy, Kitt, Derek and Stan."
After a series of greetings, Jessica settled back in her chair and took a sip of the mineral water Audrey brought for her.
"Has anyone seen Margaret?" Casey asked, frowning at the empty place.
"Oh, she bumped into someone she knew in town," Stan volunteered. "She said sheís dining with them at their hotel tonight."
Casey raised his eyebrows. "Now thatís a strange thing to do. She knew Jessica was arriving this afternoon. Still, never mind, Iíll introduce you when she gets back."
The evening passed quickly. The members of the club seemed to get on well; laughing and chatting between themselves and with Diamanta and Audrey. As Stan Mitchell, a comedy writer for television, entertained his friends with a funny story, Jessica took a moment to study the rest of the group. To her right was Kitt Shipley, a young woman in her early twenties, with shoulder length brown hair, blue eyes and freckles sprinkled prettily across her nose. She was working on a novel, she said, but seemed reluctant to reveal much about it. Her elder sister, Amanda, sat next to her. Amanda wrote for magazines, but found it didnít pay very well and was also studying to become a creative writing teacher. Fenella Leland, a lady of around forty, sat next to them, laughing loudly at Stanís joke. Her jet black hair was thick and curly, and allowed to fall over her shoulders in a natural, somewhat scruffy style. She spoke French with Diamanta fluently. The last member was Derek Taylor, a quiet gentleman from London. Jessica guessed that he was in his mid-forties. He worked as an accountant and said he only wrote as a hobby. The only member of the club not present was Margaret. According to the rest of the group, Margaret had had several novels published, the first around the same time that Jessicaís first book came out. Casey assured Jessica that she and Margaret would be best of friends in no time, and said again that he hoped Margaret would return in time to be introduced.
After dinner, they moved to the lounge for drinks. By now, the long day had taken its toll on Jessica and she decided it was time to make her excuses and head up to bed. Casey stood in the corner, busily flattering a giggling Audrey. Jessica made her way over to him. "Ah, the lovely Jessica!" Casey exclaimed as she approached. "Tell me, how do you like it here so far?"
"Itís very nice," she said politely. "But Iím afraid Iím rather tired. Iím ..."
"Ah, wait a minute. Hereís Margaret!" Casey interrupted.
A tall lady strolled elegantly into the room, a stylish evening gown showing off her slender figure. Jessica judged her to be in her late fifties. Her dark brown hair showed a touch of gray, and was swept up into a loose bun, strands falling lightly on to her cheeks.
"Margaret," Casey called out. "Come and meet our special guest."
Margaret strolled over at a relaxed pace. "Hello," she said to Jessica.
Casey quickly introduced them. "Margaret, this is Jessica Fletcher. "Jessica, Margaret Mayfield."
"Pleased to meet you," Jessica said pleasantly.
Margaret gave a slightly condescending smile. "Same here, Mrs. Fletcher," she said, her voice showing a distinct lack of sincerity. "Iíve had quite a long day, so if youíll excuse me, Iím going up to my room now. Goodnight."
Jessica stared after her in surprise. Casey looked uncomfortable, then regained his composure and placed a hand on Jessicaís arm. "Come, letís have another drink."
"Actually, if you donít mind, Iíve had a long day as well," Jessica replied, removing Caseyís hand from her arm. "Iím afraid those transatlantic flights really take it out of me!"
"I understand, dear lady. You go and get your beauty sleep, and I will see you at breakfast," Casey said, and gave her hand an inevitable kiss. Jessica slipped quietly out of the room and started up the staircase. She stopped as she heard her name called out, and turned to see Kitt trotting towards her.
"Mrs. Fletcher, could I have a quick word with you?" Kitt began nervously.
"Yes, of course, Kitt. What can I do for you?"Jessica asked with a warm smile, trying to put Kitt at ease.
"Well, I didnít want to mention this in front of the others, but I wondered if you could take a look at my manuscript before tomorrowís meeting. I could fetch it from my room now."
Jessica couldnít help looking a little doubtful. All she really wanted to do was have a hot bath, then fall into bed.
"I know Iím imposing," Kitt added quietly, "but Iíd be ever so grateful."
Jessica looked at the young womanís earnest face, and smiled. "Well, I suppose I could read just a few chapters."
Kittís face lit up. "Thank you, Mrs. Fletcher. Youíre very kind."
* * *
The following afternoon found Jessica strolling through the hotel garden, glad of the chance to soak up some sun. The first meeting had taken place that morning, and had gone reasonably well, apart from a few interruptions from Margaret, who for some reason made a point of disagreeing with everything that Jessica said.
Jessica had meant to speak with Kitt about her novel after the meeting, but the young writer and her sister had disappeared outside before she had the chance. She eventually found Amanda by the swimming pool, a stop watch in her hand. Kitt was in the pool, swimming lengths. On the other side of the pool, Fenella was relaxing on a sun lounger, her nose in a paperback novel.
Kitt surfaced, and leaned on the side of the pool. "What was that?"
"Five seconds more than last time," Amanda called.
Jessica wandered over to them as Kitt hauled herself out of the pool and caught up her towel.
"Are you training?" Jessica asked.
"Oh, hello, Mrs. Fletcher. No, just trying to stay fit," Kitt replied. "In fact, weíre heading down to the spa in town this afternoon. Would you like to join us? The seaweed therapy is very refreshing."
"Itís wonderful," Amanda replied. "They wrap you up from head to foot in pieces of seaweed. Itís very good for the skin."
It might be good for the skin, but it sounded positively disgusting. "Well, no, thank you," Jessica politely declined. "Iíd planned to stay here and get some work done. But thank you for asking."
"Another time, perhaps," Kitt smiled. Her gaze suddenly shifted to something over Jessicaís shoulder. Turning around, Jessica noticed Derek and Stan stroll past them, tennis rackets under their arms.
"Ooh, itís dishy Derek," Kitt remarked, a soppy smile appearing on her face.
"Give up on him, sis," Amanda told her. "Heís much too old for you."
Kitt started to argue, but Amanda stopped her. "Be quiet, Kitt dear. Iím sure Jessica isnít at all interested in your problematic love life."
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you about your novel, Kitt," Jessica interrupted, taking the manuscript out of her bag and handing it to her. "Iíve finished reading it, and I like it. A lot."
"Youíve read it ... already?" Kitt stuttered as she took the manuscript. "The whole thing?"
"Yes, the whole thing," Jessica laughed. "I couldnít put it down ... it was that good. I read half last night and finished it this morning when I got up."
"Oh, my!" Kitt blushing slightly. "Youíre not just being kind, are you?"
"No, of course not. Listen to me Kitt. You have bestseller material here. In fact, I wonít be surprised if this is considered a classic in years to come. Donít change a thing, just send this manuscript off to a publisher. I mean it."
Kitt blushed a deeper pink. Her sister clapped a hand on her shoulder and grinned. "Hey, sis! Well done!"
Jessica left the sisters talking excitedly, and continued her walk through the gardens.
* * *
When the heat of the afternoon sun had eased a little, Jessica brought her lap-top computer down to the pool area and spent a good couple of hours working on her own writing, as well as preparing some topics for the next morningís meeting. She packed up half an hour before dinner was to be served, and was on her way up to her room for a shower and change of clothes before dinner when Derek appeared from the kitchen. He was carrying a plate of chocolate brownies, much to Jessicaís surprise.
"Youíll spoil your dinner," she warned him, glancing at her watch.
"Oh theyíre not for me," Derek replied as they walked up the wide staircase. "Theyíre for Kitt. Mandy asked me to take her something to eat; she says Kitt came back from the spa with a headache, so sheís not coming down for dinner. I donít know, I thought these spa treatments were supposed to make you feel good, not make you ill."
"So Iíve heard. Sheís probably overdone the sauna or something," Jessica suggested, stopping outside her room. "See you at dinner, Derek."
After a shower and change of clothes, Jessica made her way down to the dining room. Margaret was there, alone at the table, her notebook in front of her and a glass of wine in one hand. She looked up as Jessica entered the room, then returned to her writing without a word.
"Hello Margaret," Jessica said.
"Good evening," the other woman replied stiffly, her eyes not leaving the book in front of her.
Jessica took her place at the table. Audrey was in the kitchen, along with the kitchen maid, both hurrying to get dinner served on time.
"Are you working on your next book?" Jessica asked Margaret, after a short silence.
Margaret glanced up at her, her manner suggesting that it was most exasperating to be spoken to. "Yes," she said with a sigh. "Surprisingly enough, Mrs. Fletcher, writing does not come easily to all of us; I have to devote as much time as I can to it."
"Oh, no, it doesnít come that easily to me either. I have to put a lot of work in too," Jessica replied.
Margaret ignored her.
They sat in awkward silence for a minute or two. Audrey arrived and fetched a drink for Jessica, then the rest of the group arrived, talking pleasantly as they took their places.
"Whereís your sister, Mandy?" Casey asked, noticing the empty place.
"I donít know. Maybe sheís lost track of time," Amanda said, getting up. "Iíll go and fetch her."
Amanda left the room, and Audrey began bringing in the meals. Diamanta began to explain the menu for that night, stopping abruptly as they heard Amanda scream.
"Oh, sheís seen a spider," Stan chuckled.
For once, no one laughed at his joke. Amanda yelled again, her voice panic stricken as she called, "Someone please help! Itís Kitt. I think ... I think sheís dead."
* * *
Kneeling down next to Kittís lifeless body, Jessica pressed her fingers to the young womanís neck, searching for a pulse. She tried her wrist next, then lay it down carefully where it had fallen; outstretched above Kittís head.
"Iím sorry, Mandy," she said, looking up at her. "Kitt is dead."
Amanda looked down at her sister, her lower lip trembling, then burst into tears. She looked for a moment like she was going to faint, and Margaret helped her down onto the couch.
Diamanta appeared at the door, her eyes wide with worry. "I Ďave called the pol-ice, and docteur," she explained, her French accent thicker than usual.
Jessica nodded sadly, gazing down at the young author who had lost her life so early. "It almost looks ... as if Kitt was trying to reach something from the bedside table," she said suddenly, looking at Kittís outstretched arm.
"Oh my God! Her epinephrine shot," Amanda cried. Pulling free from Margaret, she opened the drawer Kitt had been trying to reach and grabbed the epinephrine pen, pressing it into Kittís arm in desperation. When she realized it was going to do no good, she dissolved into fresh tears. With the help of Diamanta, Margaret managed to get her away from Kitt and back onto the couch
"Kitt was allergic to peanuts," Amanda sniffed. "That must have been what killed her. The epinephrine shot should have given her some extra time ... to get to hospital. But she couldnít reach it ..."
Leaving Margaret and Diamanta trying to comfort Amanda, Jessica spoke to Casey. "Who knew about Kittís allergy?" she asked.
"Well, all of us," he said. "Diamanta and Audrey had to make sure that no peanut products went into the food, and the rest of us knew not to give Kitt anything with peanuts in."
"So how on earth did she get something with them in?" Stan asked.
"Perhaps she had something she didnít realize contained them," Derek suggested.
"No," Amanda interrupted. "Kitt was always very careful about what she ate."
Jessica looked thoughtful. "Derek, you brought Kitt some brownies earlier," she said quietly. " Do you think itís possible there could have any peanut in those?"
"I suppose itís not impossible," Derek replied, "but I wouldnít have thought it likely." He took a quick look around the room. "Besides, she hadnít even touched them. Look, there they are on the table."
Jessica looked to where he pointed, and saw the brownies, indeed untouched, on the table.
"All the same, perhaps it would be best to see if we could get them tested for peanuts," she said. "From what Iíve heard, even a trace of peanut could be enough to kill someone allergic to them."
"I donít suppose that would do any harm," Derek agreed. "But Iím sure the cakes were all right."
The conversation was brought to a close as Audrey called up the stairs. "Madame Rustat, the police are Ďere."
* * *
A somber atmosphere hung in the air as the group gathered around the breakfast table the following morning. Audrey solemnly served up bowls of cereals, fruit, and asked if anyone wanted a cooked breakfast. Even Stan, who was usually very fond of his full English breakfast, declined the offer.
The phone rang just as Diamanta took her seat. "Excuse me," she said, and went out to answer it. After a couple of minutes she returned.
"Amanda, the police say that Kitt died of ... what is the word? An allergic shock from the peanuts."
"Anaphylactic shock," Amanda said quietly.
"Oui. They say also ... the cake... it Ďad no peanut in it," Diamanta reported.
"So she must have something else," Derek concluded. "She must have had something when she was out and simply not realized it contained peanuts."
"There is another possibility," Jessica said, "Someone could have given her something containing peanuts on purpose."
"Thatís a horrible idea, Mrs. Fletcher, and one Iím sure none of us want to dwell on," Margaret said, glancing at Amanda in concern.
"Perhaps this isnít the time to be discussing this," Casey acknowledged. "Mandy, are you all right?"
Amanda was starting thoughtfully into the bowl of cereal in front of her. She didnít appear to have heard any of the conversation. "I just canít believe sheís gone," she said quietly. She took a small spoonful, then pushed the bowl away. "Iím sorry, I canít eat."
"It is okay, I will take it away," Audrey said, placing a jug of fresh orange juice on the table. She took the bowl of cereal and disappeared back into the kitchen.
"You ought to get something inside you, Mandy," Margaret said. "Here, can you drink some orange?"
Amanda nodded, and let Margaret pour her a glass of juice. "Jessica, Iíll have to give your class a miss today. My parents are flying out this afternoon, I must go to meet them."
"Oh, of course, Mandy. I didnít expect anyone to want to attend a meeting today."
There were mumbled sounds of agreement from the group. "I know I donít feel much like it," Casey said. "Perhaps we should just cancel for a couple of days."
"I Ďave an idea," Diamanta said. "We could go out for today on my yacht. It may be good for us to get away from theíotel for a day."
Her suggestion was met with dampened enthusiasm. "Itís a nice idea, Diamanta, but I donít think itís quite appropriate to go out for the day," Casey explained.
"No, you go if you want to," Amanda said. "Kitt wouldnít want you all sitting around here feeling miserable, and anyway, I need some time to myself."
Casey glanced around the table. No one raised an objection. "Right then," he decided. "The yacht it is."
* * *
They walked down to the harbor that morning as planned, and were met by Diamanta's friend Mortemer, whom she said handled the boat for her. Mortemer, a French fisherman in his mid sixties, typified the traditional view the rest of the world have of the French. He spoke no English, wore a blue and white striped T-shirt and blue cap, and held a wooden pipe between his thick lips. All that was missing was a string of onions around his neck, as Stan pointed out to the others.
The morning was spent sailing along the picturesque coastline to the larger harbor at Monte Carlo's main tourist area. Here they docked and had lunch in a café in the town square. The afternoon was spent in Monte Carlo, shopping and sightseeing, then they met back at the yacht for the journey home. Diamanta had done "a little shopping" she explained, clambering back on board with her hands full of several bags and boxes. When everyone was on board, Diamanta brought some drinks out on a tray and they sat out on the deck to enjoy the journey. Despite the unhappy mood they had started the day in, everyone agreed that they had had a wonderful time.
Spirits were dampened a little when it clouded over and started to rain. Diamanta disappeared below deck straight away, worried that the rainwater would spoil her hair. It amused Jessica, who had already noted that Diamanta had spent the morning hiding under a sunshade in fear of getting a freckle or perhaps tanning her perfectly white skin.
The rest of the group retreated inside when the sky grew blacker and raindrops began to fall around them.
Jessica remained on the deck alone, enjoying the fresh sea air - a pleasant reminder of Cabot Cove. She leaned over the railings and watched the water below streaming past the side of the boat. The waves that rushed past them toward the shore were growing higher and higher. Jessica hung onto the rail and smiled, enjoying the feel of the light spray against her face.
After a few minutes she heard a footstep behind her. Before she could turn to see who was there, she was taken by surprise as someone grabbed her, hard. A large hand covered her mouth, preventing her from crying out, and she was pushed against the cold railings. Struggling, she tried to turn around. She caught a glance of Mortemer, standing at the wheel in the covered cockpit, oblivious to what was going on a few yards away from him.
Jessica quickly found that getting free was impossible. Despite her struggles, she was lifted up over the railings. A feeling of cold dread hit her as she realized what was going to happen. Reaching out, she tried to hold on to the railings, but they were cold and slippery, and her grip lasted only a moment ...
She hit the water hard and went under straight away. Forcing her head to the surface, she opened her mouth to scream, then choked as salt water poured in. Dragged under again by the weight of her clothes, she fought to kick off her shoes, and struggled to the surface again, coughing up salty water. The boat was already some distance away.
"Help!" Jessica screamed, and watched in despair as the boat only sped away from her.
Treading water, she did her best to remain calm, and looked around, trying to get her bearings. The sea mist had thickened, creating a gray nothingness all around her. It was similar to a nightmare Jessica had had as a child -except that then, she would always wake up before she drowned ....
"Stay calm," she told herself, though that seemed to be an impossible task at that moment. Peering through the gray mist, she could just see the lights of the shoreline, and knew she had to try to reach them.
Perhaps only a few minutes had passed, but they felt like hours, and cold, dark water still surrounded Jessica as she fought her way toward the dim lights of the shore. Waves rushed past her, tossing her weary body through the water mercilessly. For the third time, a wave swept right over her, and she had to fight to keep her head above the surface. Exhausted, Jessica turned on to her back to try and rest for a minute, floating on the surface, but the rough sea merely dragged her under the water again. She swallowed another mouthful of sea water, the salt burning her throat. She managed a few more tired, painful strokes, peering through the mist as far as she could. There were the few lights of the shore. They were no closer; in fact they seemed even further away. Was there a current dragging her out to sea? If so, she knew she would never reach the shore.
Hot tears stung Jessica's eyes. Suddenly, the idea of giving up, of closing her eyes and sinking to a watery grave, seemed so much easier than fighting to stay alive. She struggled a little further, not seeming to move. If she could just let go, let the water cover her, it would all be over ....
It was then that she saw a dark shape moving through the mist. She blinked. Had she started imagining things? No, she realized, it was real. A boat.
She had intended for it to be a loud scream, but it sounded nothing more than a feeble cry. Using the last strength she had, Jessica yelled again, a little louder this time.
To her relief, the boat drew nearer to her and she could see that it was a small, motor-powered yacht.
"Please help me," she called, as soon as she could see the dark figure on board. He reached out to her, and she grasped hold of his arms.
"It is okay now," a deep foreign voice told her. "I 'ave got you."
With his arms around her waist, he pulled her up into the boat.
"Thank you," she managed to say as she sank down on to the deck. He fetched a blanket and tucked it around her. "Come," he said, "we go below and I will make some hot tea."
Jessica started to protest that she was dripping wet, but he wouldn't hear of it, and led her down the steps into a small cabin.
"Here," he said, handing her a towel and a bathrobe. "Get dry and put this on."
She went into the small bathroom, got dry and changed, and washed her face. Back in his cabin, he had made her a cup of tea.
"Allow me to properly introduce myself," he said, handing her the tea as she sat down. "My name is Adrien."
Jessica drank some of the tea. Its warmth soothed her chilled bones, and the taste quickly relieved the burning taste of salt water from her mouth and throat. "Jessica Fletcher," she said.
"Well, Jessica Fletcher, may I ask what you were doing swimming around in these waters in this sort of weather?"
"I wasn't ... I mean, I was on a boat. Somebody pushed me overboard."
"Why that is terrible! Who would do such a thing?"
"I don't know," she replied quietly. "But I intend to find out."
Adrien made them a second cup of tea, and they sat and talked while he steered the boat through the storm toward the shore. It was not long before they reached the harbor. When she was ready to leave, Adrien inquired where Jessica was staying, then insisted on walking her home.
"Are you sure there is nothing more I can do for you?" he asked as they reached the hotel.
"Quite sure. You've been very kind, Adrien. Thank you," Jessica replied.
"Then you will allow me the honor of calling to see you in the morning."
Jessica smiled and nodded. "Yes, that would be very nice."
Adrien returned the smile. "Till tomorrow, Madame," he said, then kissed her hand and gave a little bow before disappearing into the darkness.
Jessica stared after him with an amused smile, then turned and walked up the path toward the hotel. Her clothes were still damp, despite having been hung in front of a small heater in Adrien's bathroom, and she felt untidy and bedraggled.
Entering the building, she was greeted by an almost hysterical Diamanta, and a worried looking club president. The rest of the group appeared from the lounge, all trying to talk to her at once.
"Jessica, Jessica, I am glad to see you," Diamanta wept, hanging on to Jessica as if she was a long lost friend.
"We all are," Fenella added, "We thought you'd drowned!"
"We were worried," Casey agreed. "We didn't realize you had fallen in until we were nearly back to shore. We called the coastguard as soon as we could, and they're out looking for you now."
"Diamanta has sent Mortemer back out on the yacht as well," Margaret added. "Diamanta, don't you think you had better phone them and tell them that Mrs. Fletcher is safe."
Diamanta stared at her for a moment as if struggling to comprehend, then clicked her fingers. "Oui. I will do so now," she replied, letting go of Jessica and hurrying away to the phone.
Casey wiped a hand across his forehead and looked very relieved. "Come in, Jessica, and sit down for a minute. We all want to know what happened to you."
Jessica took one look at the anxious, inquisitive faces around her, and gave up the idea she had of going straight to a hot shower and then falling into bed. She sat down. A minute later Diamanta returned, looking even paler than usual. "I 'ave phoned the coastguard, and Mortemer," she announced. "He say you are lucky not to have drowned after falling in that far out on the sea."
"He's right, I am lucky not to have drowned," Jessica replied glancing around the room. "But I didn't fall in. I was pushed."
There was a silence. Everyone stared at Jessica, then began to look around at each other. Diamanta sank down on to her red velvet Edwardian settee and looked shocked. "But ... there was no-one on the yacht except us, and Mortemer," she observed. "No, it cannot be true."
"I'm afraid it is," Jessica replied. "Believe me, Diamanta, I wish it weren't. But somebody did push me in. I'm sure of it."
"That means," Derek said slowly, "that one of us is responsible."
His comment prompted loud discussion from the rest of the group.
"Wait wait," Stan cut in, holding up his hands to silence the others. "Let's not jump the gun here. Jessica, are you absolutely sure someone pushed you? On a wet deck it would have been easy to slip."
Jessica shook her head. "I didn't fall. I felt someone grab me, we struggled, and I was pushed in."
Stan pursed his lips and nodded. "All right. As long as that's clear."
"Seems pretty clear to me," said Derek. "Unfortunately, that brings us back to the fact that someone in this room pushed Jessica overboard."
"So what's the next step?" asked Casey."How can we work out who's responsible?"
"Process of elimination," Fenella suggested brightly. "We'll just work out who wasn't accounted for when Jessica was attacked. Can you tell us when it happened, Jessica?"
Jessica nodded, frowning slightly. "Yes. It was just after it started to rain. It couldn't have been more than five minutes after everyone else had gone below deck. I didn't mind the weather, so I stayed where I was."
"And then whoever it was saw their chance," Casey finished. "I just can't believe one of us would do that."
"Nevertheless, one of us did," Margaret said seriously. "I agree with Fenella. Each of us should account for where we were at that time."
There was a short silence, then Casey spoke. "Well, Stan and I were in the galley, getting ourselves a cup of proper English tea. Margaret, you were with us."
Everyone glanced at Stan, then at Margaret. Each gave a nod of agreement.
Fenella spoke next. "I was in the lounge -raiding the bar, I'm afraid. I was feeling a little seasick, and thought a brandy might settle my stomach. Derek was with me."
"Yes, I concur," Derek volunteered. "The brandy seemed like a good idea, so I joined Fenella for a drink."
All eyes were now fixed on Diamanta, the last person to be accounted for.
"Why, I was in the lounge -I found the brandy for Fenella, then I went to the galley to get some coffee," she explained.
"I remember you making the coffee," agreed Stan, "but how do we know that you didn't go up on deck before you came to the kitchen?"
Diamanta looked hurt. "I suppose I cannot prove it, but I did not. I 'ad no reason, no motive."
"It's all right, Diamanta. No one is accusing you," said Jessica, resting her elbows on the table. "Whoever pushed me overboard was strong -strong enough to lift me up over the railings. To be perfectly honest, Diamanta, I don't think that could have been you."
"Well then, if it wasn't any of us, that only leaves the skipper," Derek concluded.
"No, it wasn't Mortemer," Jessica assured him. "He was in the cockpit the whole time -I could see him."
There was a silence, then Stan spoke. "This doesn't make sense. According to what we've just heard, everyone has an alibi."
No one able to offer anything of use, the group remained silent. Eventually Casey got up. "I think the best thing we can do is all get a good night's sleep. The police are calling in the morning anyway, we can report it to them then. Frankly, I can't think of anything else we can do."
Everyone filed out of the room, leaving Jessica alone at the table. She got up and slowly wandered to the door, her thoughts swirling around her mind.
She stopped, and looked back at Margaret, who had remained quietly on the settee. "Yes?"
"I just want to say ... I'm glad you're okay. I was worried about you."
"Thank you," Jessica said, unable to hide her surprise.
Margaret looked down. "I also want to apologize. For the way I've been speaking to you -and not just at the meeting. I have been so rude. I'm sorry."
Jessica crossed the room to the couch and sat down next to Margaret. "Well, you're certainly entitled to your own opinions about my classes, and with your own expertise I'm sure you could teach the group yourself."
"Oh, don't be so kind," Margaret said quietly. Looking up, she went on. "Let me explain something to you, Jessica. A few years ago, after years and years of work and more re-writes than you would believe, I finally got my first bestseller out. It was a murder mystery. It stayed a bestseller for a few days. Do you know what happened then? The British publication of your first book hit the shops, and mine dropped right out of the top ten. Since then, it's happened every time. As soon as I get anything worthwhile out, you write something wonderful and mine goes right out the window."
Jessica drew in a slow breath and nodded in sudden realization, and understanding. "I see," she said quietly. "Margaret, I had no idea. I don't often check the British bestseller list."
"Really? I kind of imagined you gloating." Margaret gave a small smile. "Look, what I'm trying to say is that I've been acting horribly toward you, and I am sorry. Can you forgive me?"
Jessica smiled. "Yes, of course I can."
Margaret sighed, and returned the smile. Leaning back in her chair, she rested her head back and looked at the ceiling. "Oh dear, this has been an eventful holiday. First poor Kitt and then you. I only came for some relaxation and to get some writing done."
"I know the feeling," Jessica admitted.
Margaret sat up suddenly. "Jessica, I've just remembered something you might like to know. Amanda phoned when we got back. The poor girl was in a terrible state. She said she discovered while we were out that Kitt's manuscript has been taken from her room. It looks like it must have been missing all along."
Jessica's eyes widened. "That certainly suggests that Kitt was killed on purpose, by someone wanting to steal her book," she observed.
"I know. You were right," Margaret agreed, then shuddered. "We didn't realize until Amanda called just how valuable that manuscript was. She is terribly upset. She said she's called the police, and they're calling back here in the morning to question everyone again."
"Is Amanda here?" Jessica asked. "I noticed she wasn't around when I got back."
"No. She met her parents at Monte Carlo airport this afternoon and they're all staying at a hotel in town until they can make funeral arrangements," Margaret replied, then added, "I must say staying at a hotel in town is beginning to feel like an attractive option. If I wasn't worried about offending Diamanta, I would go."
"I wouldn't worry too much, Margaret," Jessica said. "I think whoever it was has what they want now. Unless you have any prize manuscripts stashed away, of course."
"Sadly, no. I think I'm safe." Margaret said, with a smile. More seriously, she added, "Jessica, I would guess that whoever killed Kitt is worried that you're likely to uncover their guilt. Will you do something for me? Lock your door tonight."
"I will," Jessica promised, touched and a little surprised by Margaret's concern for her.
Margaret caught the look of surprise and smiled. "Jessica, I made up my mind before you arrived that I was going to dislike you, but you know what? It's just not possible."
"Well, I'm glad to hear that," Jessica said. "I'm going to head up to bed now. See you at breakfast?"
"Yes. Sleep well."
* * *
The next morning, Jessica was up at dressed at six o'clock, determined to get in a jog along the beach before the police arrived later than morning.
Slipping quietly out of her room, she crept silently along the corridor. There was no one else around -Diamanta didn't tend to rise until nine, and the rest of the group seemed to enjoy the chance to lie in.
At the end of the corridor Jessica started down the staircase, then paused as she heard a door in the corridor open. She put her head around the corner to say good morning to her fellow early riser, and stopped in surprise as she saw Derek, half dressed, leaving Fenella's room. Fenella was in the doorway, still in her nightdress. Derek whispered something to her, then gave her a kiss and disappeared into his own room across the corridor.
Slightly surprised, Jessica shook her head and smiled to herself, then carried on down the staircase.
"Good morning, Jessica," Margaret said, appearing from the kitchen, a cup of coffee in her hand. "You're up early."
"Yes, it's such a nice morning, I thought I'd go for a run along the beach," Jessica explained.
"Great minds think alike. I was planning to go for a walk, but I need my cup of coffee before I can get going in the morning. Would you like a cup?" Margaret asked.
"No, thank you. I find the sea air is a better stimulant than coffee."
"You're probably right," Margaret smiled. "Jessica, would you mind if I jog with you? I was hoping we'd have a chance for a proper talk."
"That would be nice," Jessica agreed. Margaret finished her coffee and took the cup back to the kitchen, then they set off.
"Casey tells me you lived in America for a few years," Jessica said as they jogged along the path to the beach.
"Yes, that's right. In California. My ex-husband lives there."
"You moved back to London when you divorced?"
"Yes. I don't mind telling you, it was a relief," Margaret said, then laughed. "Not that I have anything against California. Just my ex-husband. Are you married, Jessica?"
"I was. My husband died some years ago."
"I'm sorry," Margaret offered.
"Don't be. We had a wonderful life together. I was very lucky," Jessica smiled.
They continued to talk as they jogged along the smooth sandy beach, until eventually Margaret stopped, gasping for breath. "I don't know how you keep it up," she breathed. "I must be in worse shape than I thought."
"Ah, well, I'm worn out too," Jessica admitted. She looked up from the beach, and spotted a sea side restaurant a few yards away. "There's a café up there. Come on, let's get a drink."
"Drink? Let's get breakfast! I'm famished," Margaret laughed, following Jessica as she jogged up the beach to the restaurant.
They had just sat down and ordered tea and croissants when Jessica heard someone call her name out. She looked up in surprise and saw Adrien making his way toward her. "Jessica Fletcher," he said, taking her hand as he reached her and kissing it. "I see you on the beach. I call your name but you keep running."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't hear you," Jessica said.
"Ah, I am not surprised. I am out of breath from running to keep up with you," he laughed. "May I join you."
"Of course. Can I order you anything?"
"Merci," he said, sitting down next to her. "No, thank you, I've eaten already."
"Adrien, this is my friend Margaret," Jessica said. "Margaret, this is Adrien. He rescued me yesterday after I was pushed in."
"Oh, and I thought you swam back by yourself," Margaret replied. "Pleased to meet you, Adrien." She offered her hand.
He took it and lightly kissed it. "I am honored."
They were interrupted briefly as the waitress arrived with a pot of tea and two croissants.
"Thank you," Jessica said, taking the plate as the waitress held it out to her.
She set it down on the table, suddenly thoughtful.
"Something wrong?" Margaret asked after a moment.
"No. Just thinking about something."
"Madame Jessica, are you recovered after yesterday," Adrien asked.
"Oh, yes, thank you. I'm fine," Jessica replied, smiling at him.
"That is good," he said. "I wonder if you have found out yet who did such as terrible thing as to try to harm you."
"I wish we had. The strangest thing is ... everybody has an alibi for the time that I was attacked."
"So unless we had a stowaway on board, the whole thing is quite inexplicable," Margaret concluded.
"Or unless someone is mistaken, or lying," Adrien suggested.
"Margaret looked doubtful. "I don't think so."
They both looked at Jessica in surprise. "Jessica?" Margaret asked, reading the sudden realization in Jessica's expression.
"I think I know who tried to kill me," she said calmly. "And I think I know who's responsible for Kitt's death as well. I'll tell you while we jog back. Come on!"
Margaret put enough money on the table to cover the bill and raced after Jessica, leaving a very confused Adrien alone at the café.
As they jogged, Jessica explained to Margaret what she had realized. They stopped at a phone box near the hotel, allowing Margaret to place a quick call to the police. When they reached the hotel, the rest of the group were just sitting down to breakfast. Jessica gave Margaret a quick glance and received a smile in return before they went in.
"Good morning, ladies," Casey said brightly, taking his seat at the end of the table, opposite Diamanta. "How are you feeling today, Jessica?"
"Oh, quite well, thank you," said Jessica, seating herself at the table. She waited until everyone was present, then asked for their attention.
"Don't tell me you've figured out who pushed you in?" Stan said jokingly.
Jessica looked sharply at him, and the grin snapped off his face. "As a matter of fact, Stan, that's exactly what I was about to tell you," she said.
Her announcement was met by complete silence, until Fenella spoke. "Well do please enlighten us," she said, with an air of disbelief. "Who do you think it was?"
Jessica glanced around the table, her eyes resting finally on Derek. The rest of the group followed her gaze, quickly catching on to what she was thinking.
"Me?" Derek asked, before anyone had even spoken. "You must be kidding! Why ... why me?"
"Because, Derek, you were the only one there who had both the necessary strength and who didn't have a firm alibi at the time I was attacked."
"No firm alibi? Why, Jessica, I believe your memory must be going. We've already established that Fenella was with me the whole time. Weren't you, Fenella?"
"Yes, I was," Fenella agreed, glaring at Jessica.
"Are you sure?" Jessica asked her. "Because I don't believe that you were with Derek."
Fenella forced a laugh. "Don't be ridiculous. I wouldn't lie about something like that."
"Oh, I think you would," Jessica replied. "To protect a lover."
A silence fell, as everyone looked at Derek and Fenella in amazement. Then Derek spoke. "Mrs. Fletcher, I'm sure it's clear to everyone here that you are either very confused, or you're making all this up. Besides, what possible reason do you think I have for trying to harm you?"
"Perhaps because you were afraid that it wouldn't take Jessica long to realize that you and your lady friend were responsible for Kitt's death," Margaret suggested, eager to stand by her friend. "After all, she'd realized yesterday morning that someone could have caused Kitt's death on purpose. I suspect you were worried that she'd work out what really did happen."
"Oh, please, not you as well, Maggie," Derek said in exasperation. "I thought out of everyone I could count on you to realize that this is a load of nonsense."
"Actually, what Jessica has come up with makes an awful lot of sense,"Margaret insisted.
Casey rested his chin on his hand and looked directly at Jessica. "Well then," he said. "Let's hear it."
"All right," Jessica looked at Derek and went on. "Derek, just before Kitt was found dead, I met you in the hallway, carrying the plate of chocolate brownies. Do you remember? You said that Amanda had told you that Kitt had a headache, and had asked you to take her something to eat."
Derek nodded, a frown etching itself onto his face.
"Yet when Casey asked Amanda why her sister wasn't at dinner, she expressed surprise. She went to look for Kitt, and that's when she found her dead. Amanda hadn't asked you to take the brownies up at all, had she, Derek? In fact, I believe that it was Fenella who sent you up to Kitt's room. She told you to kill Kitt, and then steal her manuscript, which is exactly what you did. You deliberately gave her something you knew would kill her, then you waited until she was dead and you took her manuscript."
Derek waited until she had finished, then shook his head. "Very good, Jessica, but you're forgetting something. The cakes were tested. We know that Kitt died of anaphylactic shock from eating peanuts, but we also know that there were no peanuts in the brownies. They were perfectly safe for her."
"The brownies themselves were safe, yes," Jessica replied. Picking up a plate from the table, she held it out to Casey. "Would you take this, Casey?"
Curiously, he took the plate.
"What do you notice?" Jessica asked.
"It's wet underneath," he said, setting the plate down on the table. Holding up his hand for the others to see, he added, "looks like someone set it down in some coffee or something."
"Tea, actually," Jessica said. "But I believe the one that Derek handed to Kitt had been smeared with peanut oil. By Fenella, I suspect."
"You have a wild imagination," Fenella said dryly.
"Perhaps. But it does seem to add up," Casey admitted, wiping his hand with a napkin.
Derek was shaking his head, looking disbelieving. "Now just a minute," he said to Jessica. "There's something else that you've forgotten. No-one here knew just how good that manuscript was -until yesterday when we heard it had been stolen. We all knew that Kitt had written her first book, and yes, she told us that you thought it was good enough to be published, but that was it. No one knew that it was valuable enough to steal. Except you, Jessica. And Amanda, apparently."
"Oh, but someone else did know," Jessica replied. "Fenella, you were sitting by the pool when I was talking to Kitt and Amanda. You must have heard me tell Kitt that her manuscript was first-class material. I believe you made up your mind then that you were going to steal it. Knowing your expertise at French, you were probably going to translate it -and no one would ever know."
Fenella rolled her dark eyes to the ceiling and sighed. "Oh, I'm tired of this. Jessica, your little story is all very interesting, but completely untrue. You have absolutely no evidence. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I shall go and pack. I plan to be checking out today. I wouldn't blame Derek if he decided to do the same." She stood, and moved to the door. However, Casey got there before her, and blocked her path.
"No evidence?" Jessica asked. "I'm not so sure. I think that if the police search your rooms, they will find Kitt's manuscript in either your room, or Derek's."
"They won't find it in either," Derek said, getting up. "I suggest you let us leave," he said to Casey, standing behind Fenella at the door. "Before I do something I might regret."
"Oh, you aren't going anywhere," Casey insisted, standing firmly by the door.
He and Derek stared at each other, knowing they had reached a stalemate.
"Right! That's enough!" Fenella snapped. Within a second she had opened the small black purse she carried with her, and pulled out a revolver. "Casey, move! Get over there with the others. Derek and I are leaving."
There was nothing Casey could do but move out of the way. Derek was out of the door immediately. Fenella stood in the doorway, her gun trained on the rest of the group. She yelled after Derek to get his hired car started.
"I wouldn't do that, Fenella," Margaret warned. "Before we came in I called the police. They'll be here any moment."
"Well they're not here yet, Maggie, are they?" Fenella said calmly, then looked at Jessica. "You're absolutely right, Jessica," she said in a soft voice. "I don't know how you worked it out, but you're absolutely right. When I heard you tell Kitt that her book could be considered a classic in years to come ... well, it sounded just the sort of thing I would like to publish -in French, of course. So yes, I sent my lovely gentleman friend up to steal her manuscript. I considered asking him to seduce her -she did have something of a crush on him, you know. But no, when she found the book missing, there would have been questions. Getting rid of her seemed so much easier. Getting rid of you seemed a good idea too. If only Derek had done the job properly. Never mind, I suppose I could finish it now ..."
She aimed the gun at Jessica decisively, and tightened her fingers around the trigger.
The gunshot filled the room ... and a glass of water on the table, in front of Jessica, shattered into pieces.
"No, I'm not a murderess," Fenella laughed. "Derek committed the murder, I just told him what to do. That was the plan!"
With a toss of her long black hair, she was gone.
* * *
Later that morning, after everyone had calmed down over a late breakfast, they gathered in the lounge to wait for the police to get in touch. When the phone finally rang, Diamanta went to answer it.
"Well? Did they catch Bonnie and Clyde?" Stan asked when Diamanta returned. She looked at him in confusion and turned to Casey for a translation.
"He means Fenella and Derek," Casey explained.
"Ah! Oui. The police say Fenella 'ad booked a flight to Paris for this afternoon. They were caught at the airport."
"Well if the police had come when I asked them to they could have caught Fenella and Derek sooner and saved us being held at gunpoint," Margaret said in annoyance.
"The police detective also said sorry, he did not understand when you told him that Mrs. Fletcher was planning to confront the murderer," Diamanta went on. "They say they were coming later, so they thought it was not important."
Stan closed his eyes and shook his head. "Bloody police. They're all the same, the world over," he chuckled.
"The police found Kitt's book in Derek's coat," Diamanta added. "It will be returned to Amanda now."
"As it should be," said Margaret. She looked around at the others, then got up. "Well, I'm going out for a walk. Anyone want to join me," she asked, glancing at Jessica as she spoke.
"Yes, that sounds like a good idea," Jessica said, getting up.
"You dealt with everything very well this morning," said Margaret, as they strolled along the wooden pathway close to the beach.
"Perhaps. Unfortunately I've had rather a lot of practice with that sort of thing," Jessica explained, pausing to stare out at the sea.
"Yes, I know. I've read in the papers about some of the murders you've solved," Margaret replied. "I don't know how you do it. How do you work it all out? I never would have realized that the peanut was on the bottom of the plate, for instance. How on earth did you know?"
"Oh, I didn't. It just seemed the only explanation," Jessica said. "When the waitress in that beach café handed me the croissant, the plate was slightly damp underneath. That's what gave me the idea. As for the rest of it, it was just little things that seemed to fit together to make up the whole picture. Like Fenella being near the pool when I told Kitt how good her book was. I noticed Derek leaving Fenella's room this morning as well, and when Adrien suggested that someone could be lying about where they were, I remembered that Fenella and Derek provided alibis for each other."
Margaret raised her eyebrows and smiled. "Clever," she said.
They continued walking for a minute or two, then Margaret remarked, "This holiday hasn't worked out the way I expected. I would say it has been most unpleasant, but there is one good thing that's come out if it all. I've made a very good friend. We are friends now, aren't we Jessica?"
Jessica looked at Margaret and smiled. "Yes, we're friends."
* * *
The next two days passed quickly, and uneventfully. On the morning they were to leave, everyone was up early, their luggage packed up and left by the door ready to be loaded on to the airport shuttle-bus when it arrived.
"Ah, you are all glad to be going home, no?" Diamanta remarked as they sat in the parlor after breakfast. When nobody could deny the fact she looked a little forlorn. "I fear that no one will wish to return here again," she said miserably.
"Oh, stuff and nonsense," Casey said cheerfully. "It was hardly your fault. Besides, I love it here, Diamanta, and I'm not going to let one bad experience put me off coming back."
Margaret and Stan agreed enthusiastically, and Diamanta cheered up. "And what about you, Jessica?" she asked. "Shall I see you again?"
"Well, I don't know for sure," Jessica said, "but if I do visit the south of France again, I certainly know a good place to stay."
Diamanta smiled. "Then I am glad."
"I think the bus is here," Stan interrupted, glancing out of the window.
Having said goodbye to Diamanta and Audrey, Casey helped the bus driver load the suitcases on board.
Jessica stood on the drive, lost in her thoughts as she looked around at the hotel and the beautiful Monte Carlo coast for the last time. Margaret appeared at her side, enjoying the same view in silence.
"I'm glad you're coming to London, Jessica," she said, breaking the silence. "We must have lunch sometime."
Jessica turned and smiled. "I'd like that, Margaret," she said truthfully.
"Are you ladies coming, or shall we leave you here?" Casey called out from the bus.
"Coming," Margaret called back to him.
Jessica took a last look at the white stone building and the sparkling blue sea beyond it, then turned and climbed up the steps on to the bus. Off to London, and her next adventure.