The Fright Before Christmas

Written by Stephanie

December 23, 2007



Disclaimer:  As always, this is just for fun!   I do not own the characters of Jessica Fletcher, Seth Hazlitt, Mort and Adelle Metzger, Ahmed, Clyde, George Sutherland, or Tipper Henderson.   Thank you to MCA/Universal, Donald Bain and Anne for creating this wonderful cast of characters.  And like everyone else who is participating in the Christmas Writer’s Challenge, my intent is not to infringe on anyone’s copyright, nor is it to make any money.  That said, please enjoy this little holiday mystery.


A special thank you to Anne, Sarah, and Allison for comments and suggestions.



            After answering a few final questions from students, Jessica collected her lecture materials and made her way down the stairs to the Social Science Department’s main office.

            “Good afternoon, Jessica, how was your weekend?”

            “Relaxing,” she answered with a sigh.  “And yours?  Were you able to get tickets to The Lion King for your granddaughter’s birthday?”

            “Oh, yes,” the secretary exclaimed.  “She’ll be thrilled.”

            “I’m glad,” Jessica replied as she collected her mail.

            Linda opened her top drawer and withdrew a small rectangular box covered in Christmas wrap.  “Speaking of gifts, this was left on my desk for you while I was at lunch,” she said as she held the present out to Jessica.

            Jessica thanked her and read the gift tag, which simply had her name and office number written on it. 

            “Aren’t you going to open it,” Linda asked excitedly.  There was a reason that she was in charge of organizing the annual campus-wide holiday party. 

            “Of course,” Jessica said as she set down her things and began to unwrap the small, delicately wrapped box.

            Amedei truffles!  Wow, I wish I had your Secret Santa.  Mine gave me this gigantic candy cane.”  The red and green striped confection that she held up for Jessica’s inspection looked to be at least two inches in diameter and a good two feet long. 

            “I didn’t sign up for a Secret Santa because I won’t be here the remainder of the week,” Jessica reminded her as she considered who the sender might have been. 

            Linda shook her head knowingly.  “In that case, it probably came from a student who is hoping for an A in your class.”

            But there’s no name on the card, Jessica thought, at the same time feeling uncomfortable at the possibility of a student thinking that bribery was an acceptable method by which to improve his or her grade. 

Jessica’s first impulse was to open the box and leave it for the other faculty and staff to enjoy until she remembered The Venomous Valentine.  It wasn’t Valentine’s Day but this was a box of chocolates wrapped in bright red paper, a coincidence for sure but a little eerie just the same. 

            “Well, if anyone can figure out who sent it, it’s you,” Linda said as Jessica collected her things.

            “I’ll do my best,” Jessica assured her with an uneasy smile.


            Jessica straightened her desk and checked to make sure that her final exams had come back from the print shop before closing and locking the small office that she shared with three other adjunct faculty members who taught courses for the Sociology Department’s criminology and police science degree programs. 

As Jessica descended the broad concrete steps of Rutland Hall she looked out on the large quad that had been dusted with snow during the night.  The quad was surrounded by the university’s five original buildings, all built in the neo-gothic style.  Four massive arches marked the main avenues leading to the north campus, and along with the original buildings, these gates had recently been placed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. 

Franklin Hall, the university’s original science building was located directly across the quadrangle from Rutland Hall and made for a nice walk. 

“Mrs. Fletcher, come in,” Stanley Barry said when he saw her outside his small corner office.  Barry was a tenured professor who had occupied the same office for the past thirty years.  Even after massive remodeling that had resulted in the construction of new faculty offices and state-of-the-art science laboratories on the third and fourth floors; he had opted to remain where he was – comfortably embedded on the main level with a fantastic view of the original campus. 

He waved Jessica in and motioned for her to take a seat while he replaced the latest edition of Forensic Science International on the shelf behind his desk.

            “A cup of Earl Grey?” he asked as he swiveled his chair around to face her.

            “I’m afraid I can’t today,” Jessica declined politely.

            “So this isn’t a social call,” he surmised.

            “No, I’m afraid not.”

            “Go ahead,” he encouraged her as he settled in to listen.

            “Well,” Jessica began tentatively as she retrieved the box of truffles from her briefcase.  The bright red wrapping paper and curled ribbon were still loosely wrapped around the cream colored box.

            After hearing the story of the mystery gift, Barry considered her request.  “Has someone threatened you?”

            “Oh, no, it’s nothing like that.”

            Barry raised his eyebrows in question.  He had never known Jessica to over-react and couldn’t help but be a bit concerned.

            “Just call it natural curiosity,” Jessica explained, “or woman’s intuition.”

            The professor laughed at Jessica’s response and then a small smile crept across his lips.  “I do enjoy interesting little projects like this,” he began as he took the package from her.

            “I know you do,” Jessica replied with a knowing smile.  There were few people whom Jessica had ever met that possessed a level of curiosity that equaled her own, and Stanley Barry, Ph.D. was one of them.

            “I can probably have the results back by Thursday,” he offered.

            “Thank you, Professor Barry, but Monday will be soon enough,” Jessica said as she gathered her briefcase and began to stand.  “I’ll be off campus until then.”

            “I do ask one thing, though,” he said, halting her departure.

            Jessica looked at him expectedly.

            “You’ll drop the ‘Professor’ and the ‘Doctor’ and start calling me Stanley.”

            Jessica laughed.  “Of course, if you’ll call me Jessica.”


One week later


            Tipper and Seth collected their packages while Jessica squeezed herself and two suitcases through her bedroom door and into the living room of her Manhattan apartment. 

This was Tipper’s first time Christmas shopping in New York City and after two days of the holiday hustle and bustle she was ready to go home.  She had managed to do all of her shopping but didn’t know if she’d have the energy to wrap everything that she had bought.  Seth, on the other hand, had managed to resist.  “I finished my Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving,” he had told Tipper on the morning of the first day.  “I just came along to do a little handyman work for Jessica.”

“And to have a steak at your favorite restaurant,” Tipper reminded him.

Without responding to the taunt, Seth relieved Jessica of her bags and carried them to the front door while she answered the ringing telephone.

“Oh, Stanley, I’m so sorry that I missed you yesterday,” Jessica responded to her friend and colleague at Manhattan University.  “I had to make a last-minute meeting with my publisher before returning home to Cabot Cove for the holidays. … Mmmhmm. … Are you sure? … Okay, well thank you, Stanley. … A Merry Christmas to you and Dolores, too,” she added before hanging up.

“Who was that?” Seth wanted to know. 

“Stanley Barry from the university,” Jessica explained as she checked her purse to make sure that she hadn’t forgotten anything.

“That fella’ you have tea with?” Seth asked, sounding mildly jealous.

“Yes, Seth,” Jessica said, placing a reassuring hand on his arm.  “He ran a few tests for me.”

“What kind of tests? You haven’t said anything to me about needing tests.”

“Forensic tests,” Jessica explained.  Stanley is a chemist.”

“I thought you weren’t planning to start your next book until Spring Break,” Seth reminded her.

“I’m not,” she assured him with a hint of irritation before letting her concerns about the mysterious truffles slip out.

“Well, out with it, woman.  What did he find?”

“Nothing, Seth.  They were fine, just my overactive imagination running wild.”

Before Seth could complain about having been left out of the loop, Tipper spoke up.  “Speaking of gifts,” she said as she rummaged around inside one of her many bags.  “Ahmed asked me to give this to you when I came back from getting my chai latte this morning.  He said that someone left it downstairs for you late yesterday.”

The package was small and lightweight, and wrapped in green paper with a gold ribbon.  This time the gift card read, To: Jessica, From: Santa Claus in standard block letters.

“Well, aren’t you going to open it,” Tipper asked excitedly.

“I suppose,” Jessica responded as she started to peel away the paper.  Inside was a box of assorted Sainsbury’s teas.

“Sainsbury’s tea,” Seth read off the lid of the box.  “I’ve never heard of it.”

Jessica set the box on the table and sat down in a chair.  “It’s British.  I don’t think you can buy it here,” she said quietly as she turned the box over in her hand.  “George and I discovered it in a little tea shop in Wester Ross.  He tries to bring me a box whenever he visits.” 

“Well, that solves it then,” Seth said confidently.  “It’s from Sutherland.  The chocolates probably were, too.”

Jessica shook her head.  “I don’t think so.  George says ‘Father Christmas,’ not ‘Santa Claus.’

“Are you sure, Jessica?” Tipper asked uneasily. 

“I’m sure.  Besides, he’s working a serial murder case in Aberdeen right now.  He wouldn’t have the time to be sending my gifts.”

“Have you ever murdered anyone in one of your books with a cup of tea?” Seth asked as he tried to recall the many murders that Jessica had plotted over the years. 

Jessica shook her head in response.  ‘Yes,’ she had. 


Four days later…


After three days of near solitude, Jessica opened her front door to find Seth and Clyde the mailman, amiably chatting about the weather – a foot of snow expected in the next 24 hours.

Finally, Clyde noticed Jessica standing in the doorway.  “Oh, Mrs. Fletcher, it’s good to see you again.”

“It’s good to see you, too,” Jessica offered with a sincere smile.

“You have a couple of packages today,” he said cheerily as he handed her two boxes, each wrapped in brown shipping paper.  “One from Scotland and one from New York City.  And your mail – lots of Christmas cards,” he added as he retrieved a rubber band-bound bundle of cards and letters from his bag.

“Thank you,” Jessica said with another warm smile. 

She handed Seth the items so that she could retrieve a small cookie tin from the hall table.  “You be sure to share some of that with Robin now,” Jessica told him as she handed him the container of chocolate fudge.

“Oh, I will,” he promised before setting off for the next house.

Seth returned Jessica’s packages to her and then stomped his boots before stepping inside.  “Do you ever wonder if he watches everyone’s mail as closely as he does yours,” Seth grumbled.  The snow had obviously not instilled any Christmas spirit in him on this glorious winter day.

“Oh, Seth,” Jessica scolded.  “He was just making conversation.  Now, are you going to join me for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie or are you going to stand there grumbling like Ebenezer Scrooge? It’s apple and it’s fresh out of the oven,” she offered as if the initial invitation had not been enticing enough.

Jessica poured two cups of coffee and served up two pieces of warm apple pie, one a la mode for Seth.  Sitting opposite him, she began to remove the brown paper from the larger of the two packages.

“Is that the one from Sutherland,” Seth asked.

“How do you know it’s from George,” Jessica countered.

“Clyde said it came from Scotland.  Who else would be sending you a package from Scotland?”

“George usually mails his packages from London,” Jessica reminded him, “but I’m pretty sure it’s from him.  He’s been working in Aberdeen for the past couple of weeks.”

The box was wrapped elegantly in red and gold paper and a small card had been taped to the top.  Jessica opened the card, which read, “Something to keep you warm until I can tend to that personally.”  Jessica chuckled to herself and blushed slightly.

“Well, what did it say?”

“It’s personal,” Jessica said, setting the card out of Seth’s reach.  She slowly removed the wrapping paper and folded it neatly before removing the top of the box.

            Jessica gasped internally when she saw the contents of the package.  She lifted the tartan shawl out of the box and wrapped it around her shoulders.  “How does it look,” she asked happily.

            “Very nice,” Seth admitted.  “But that doesn’t look anything like the MacGill tartan.”

            “It’s the Sutherland tartan,” Jessica informed him before becoming more serious.  “Seth, I thought you liked George.”

            “I do.”

            “Then what’s the matter with you?”

            Seth shook his head.  “It’s these strange packages that you’ve been getting.  I assumed that you’d gotten another one.”

            “Oh, Seth,” Jessica said, patting him on the arm.  “I’m sure there’s a sensible, harmless explanation, and I’ll figure out what it is after I go back to New York.  For now, I think that we should both just forget about it.”

            Seth nodded.  Of course, she was right.  There had to be a logical explanation.

            Jessica folded the shawl and returned it to its box.

            “Have you seen Tipper this week,” Jessica asked, as she began to open the second package.

            “No, why?” Seth answered between bites of pie.

            “I saw her at the market yesterday and she looks like she’s been working way too hard.”

            “That’s because Melinda, her part-time vet, is on bed rest at home as of Monday,” Seth explained.  “And if she doesn’t behave herself, I’m going to have to admit her to the hospital.”

            “Oh, that’s…”  Jessica’s words trailed off.

            “Jess, what is it,” Seth asked, suddenly concerned by the contents of the open box in front of her.

            “Jess?” he asked again as he leaned forward, over the table for a better look.

            “A Mont Blanc pen,” she finally answered with a hard swallow. 

            Seth sat back down.  “Who’s it from?”

            “A friend from New York,” Jessica said as she replaced the lid to the box and set it aside.  She stood and walked to the sink, rinsed her plate and cup.

            “Who?” Seth persisted.

            “Kris Kringle,” Jessica said as she took a seat.  “At least that’s what the card said.”

            Seth set down his fork and tried to reign in his now mounting temper.  “I’m calling the Sheriff,” he said as he stood and picked up the telephone.

            “Seth, please don’t,” Jessica argued.  “There’s nothing malicious or threatening about it.  It’s just a pen.”

            “And I bet you’ve used that same pen as a murder weapon in one of your books?”

            “Yes, I did but that doesn’t mean…”

            “The Sheriff,” Seth said into the receiver without preamble.  “Sheriff?  We need you at Jessica’s house right away.”


            “Really, Mort, I wish that Seth had not called you,” Jessica commented with a slight bit of irritation as she placed a cup of hot coffee and a piece of pie on the table in front of him.

            “Well, from the sounds of it, I tend to agree with you, Mrs. F.  It’s probably nothing.  But if you do decide that it’s necessary, I can always look into it for you.”

            “If she decides that it’s necessary,” Seth sputtered.  “Some lunatic is stalking her and you’re not going to do anything about it!”

            “Now, Seth,” Jessica said in a calming voice.  “If it isn’t just some strange coincidence, then it’s probably Martin and Marshall getting back at me for arranging a surprise party for their birthday last summer.”

            Hmff,” Seth replied in response to Jessica’s latest explanation.

            Jessica took a seat and tried to reason with him.  “Or it could even be George, although he’s not much of a practical joker.  But I did help his sisters organize that mass mailing of birthday cards for him on his 65th.”

            Seth smiled momentarily.  Even he had thought it humorous when George had received 65 birthday cards from people whom he had never met and who lived in cities that he had never visited.  It would have been enough to make the Scotland Yard Inspector question his own mental health

            “What about this Stanley fella’,” Seth reminded her after returning his thoughts to the issue at hand.

            “Stanley Barry is a colleague,” Jessica explained patiently.  “We share a cup of tea on occasion and he keeps me up to date on the latest forensic techniques.  He’s one of my best resources and a good friend.”

            “Well, then, what about that student?  What’s his name…um…Phillips, Luke Phillips.  He’s a likely suspect.”

            “Who is Luke Phillips?” Mort asked with mild interest.

            “A former student,” Jessica began to explain.  “He signed up for my course last year - fall semester - not because he wanted to learn about criminology but because he was a fan of my books.” 

Jessica paused with a sigh before continuing.  “He made a little scene in the cafeteria when I explained to him that it might be best if he dropped the class so that he wasn’t taking away an opportunity for another student who was truly interested in the subject.

            “A little scene?” Seth repeated in disbelief.  “He thought you owed him some sort of special gratitude.”

            “Is that true?” Mort asked.

            “I’m afraid it is, Sheriff.  But I don’t think that Luke Phillips is some sort of demented fan.  I think he was just a little misguided.”

            Mort pushed away from the table and stood.  “Well, Mrs. F., you let me know if you want me to run a check on either this Barry fellow or this Luke Phillips and I’ll get on it first thing.  But right now, I need to get back to the station.  Andy has a dentist’s appointment and I need to be there if any calls come in.”

            “I will Sheriff, but I doubt if it will be necessary,” Jessica assured him as she saw him to the door and then closed it behind him. 


Later that evening


            Jessica sat down at the kitchen table with a cup of herbal tea and a pile of unwritten Christmas cards.  Just as she began to put pen to paper the telephone rang.

            When she picked up the receiver and greeted the caller, she herself was greeted by the deep Scottish brogue that she knew and loved so well.  “Hello, Love.”

            “Hello, George,” Jessica answered.  “How are you?  Are you making any progress on your case?”

            “Aye.  As a matter of fact, we just wrapped up a six hour interrogation.  We’ve got a confession but he’s holding out – wanting to negotiate in exchange for telling us the location of the rest of the victims.” 

As George told her the details of the arrest, Jessica had little to say. 

Who could possibly be behind the mysterious gifts that she had been receiving?  Could it really be a stalker?

Everyone liked chocolate, so that would have been an easy selection.  The tea was another story.  But anyone who had been in her office or her apartment would know which brand she preferred.  It wasn’t as though her office at the university was private.  Any member of the faculty or staff, or even a student may have been in the office meeting with one of the other adjunct faculty members while she wasn’t even in the building.  And, of course, Stanley would know.   

The Mont Blanc pen was an interesting item.  Not only had she used one as a murder weapon in one of her books, but she had also used one personally up until a month earlier when it had inexplicably disappeared.  Perhaps there was a link to her novels.  But who would know her books well enough to recall each of the murder weapons that she had used over the past decade? 

“Jess, is everything alright?”

“Oh, yes, George.  I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?  You seem a little distracted.  There isn’t something going on that I should know about, is there?”

“No, George, of course not.  I’m just a little tired after hauling all of my Christmas decorations down from the attic.”

“You’re certain?”

“Yes, George.  I am.”

“In that case, I believe I’ll ring off and get a couple of hours sleep before I have to head back into interrogation.”

“Oh, George?”


“Thank you for the shawl.  It’s lovely.”

“Not as lovely as you, lassie.”

Jessica smiled to herself.  “I love you, George.  Guid nicht.”

“I love you as well, Jessie.  Guid nicht.”


December 23rd


            Mort leaned back in his chair and propped his boots on his desk in anticipation of a quiet afternoon.  The first foot of snow had stopped falling by four that morning, giving the street crews and the residents of Cabot Cove just enough time to dig out before starting their day.  It had taken the better part of the morning to handle a few fender benders and stranded motorists but the rest of the day looked like smooth sailing.

            Deputy Broom’s voice broke the relative silence that had fallen over the small office.  “Sheriff, Ms. Fletcher on the line for you.” 

            Mort sat up and reached for the phone.  “Hi, Mrs. F, what can I do for you?” he asked.

            “Mort, do you think you could stop by the house sometime today.  I have something I’d like you to take a look at.”

            “Sure thing, I’ll be right over.”

            “There’s no rush,” Jessica explained.  “Just stop by whenever it’s convenient.”


            “What do you think?” Jessica asked after Mort had arrived and had a chance to take a look at the note that had arrived with the latest mystery package.

            “It looks like it was written on an old manual typewriter,” he said as he used a pair of tweezers to hold up the small note by its edge. 

            “Yes,” Jessica agreed.  “An Underwood Universal Portable if I’m not mistaken,” Jessica said as she eyed the note once again.

            Mort looked at her quizzically.  “How do you know that?”

            “I wrote my first few novels on one,” she explained.  “I’d probably still be using it today if it hadn’t broken.”

            Mort nodded his understanding.  “What was in the package,” he asked as he turned his attention to a rectangular box that measured roughly eight by twelve inches.

            “A puzzle,” Jessica said as she lifted the box for Mort to see the cover - a replica of the dust jacket for her novel, The Messengers of Midnight.

            “That explains the note,” Mort said, thinking of the message that had read ‘Puzzling, isn’t it?’ 

            “Maybe more than meets the eye, Sheriff.  You see, this is the book that I was writing when my manual typewriter broke and I finally gave in and joined the computer age.”

            “That has to be more than a coincidence,” he decided.  “And you said that the package had a Cabot Cove postmark?”


            “I’ll tell you what, Mrs. F, why don’t I stop by the post office and see if anyone remembers the person who mailed this,” he said as he picked up the box. 

Next, he picked up the note and dropped it into a plastic evidence bag.  “We’ll dust everything for prints and see if we can’t track down the paper and the typewriter.  If you think of anything else you’ll let me know?”

Jessica agreed, even though she suspected that he wouldn’t find anything.

“And Mrs. F., just so you know, I did run a check on Luke Phillips and Stanley Barry.  Barry’s been in Texas visiting his daughter for the past week and Phillips graduated last spring and is currently working as an assistant manager for a ToysRUs in Des Moines, Iowa.  According to his boss, he’s been knee-deep in holiday shoppers since Thanksgiving.”


Christmas Eve


            Jessica checked the mince pie and then began preparing a tray of appetizers – Swiss cheese on rye-bread and assorted fresh vegetables – to serve along side the oyster stew.  She hadn’t given any thought to the unsolved mystery of the cunning Secret Santa since the previous day. 

Seth would be arriving momentarily.  Mort and Adelle would be next; and Tipper, who had been kind enough to volunteer to pick George up from the Portland airport, would be there within the half hour.  After dinner, they would join other Cabot Covers at the Red Dutch Barn for the Community Christmas Eve Service, which would be followed by a local production of “The Ghost of Christmas Eve.”

            “I’m afraid the post master wasn’t of much help,” Mort told Jessica after being relieved of his coat and hat by Seth.

            “Mort, really,” Adelle admonished him gently.  “It’s Christmas Eve.”

            “Wasn’t much help with what?” Seth asked when he returned.

            “Jessica received a strange package in the mail yesterday,” Adelle informed him. “Some kind of puzzle with a threatening note.”

            Before Seth could respond Jessica interrupted, “I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed, Adelle.  The note was not the least bit threatening, simply intriguing and for lack of a better word, puzzling.”

            “Seth shook his head and addressed Mort.  “Well, I for one wonder if it’s safe for Jessica to attend the service tonight.”

            Again, Jessica cut in.  “Of course it is.  I’ll have you with me, as well as two very capable law men and a former Marine.  I couldn’t possibly be any safer.  Besides, there is no doubt in my mind that this is all just an elaborate practical joke.  I just haven’t figured out who’s behind it yet.”

            “I hope you’re right,” Seth grumbled as he finally sat down.

            Jessica excused herself for a moment to light the candles on the dining room table.  When she returned to the kitchen there was a knock on the back door.

            “Tipper,” Jessica said, greeting her merrily.  “Come in.  Have a glass of egg nog or some cider.”

            Having expected George as well, Jessica poked her head outside.  “Where’s George?”

            Tipper suppressed a slight grin.  “Oh, I think he slipped in through the front door.  He had a couple of presents that he wanted to hide under the tree without you seeing them.”

            “Some accomplice you are, Doctor Henderson,” George commented as he entered the kitchen. 

            Immediately, their eyes met.  “Merry Christmas, Jess,” George said as he crossed the room.

            For a moment, Jessica didn’t see or hear anyone but George.  “You made it,” she said happily after he released her.  “Now everything’s perfect,” she added in a whisper meant only for him.


            The meal had been perfect as well.  With everyone now collected in the living room, George wished all a Merry Christmas and then made an unusual request.  “If you’d all indulge me, I’d like for Jessica to open one of her Christmas presents before we leave for the service.”

            “Of course,” Adelle replied for everyone before wrapping her arm around her husband in the hope that this would turn out to be a major announcement.

            George scanned the other faces in the room before proceeding.  “Very well, then,” he said before producing two small boxes of identical proportions, each small enough to fit in his palm.  “Pick one,” he said to Jessica.

            “George, what are you up to?”

            “Jessica, Love, just pick one.”

            Jessica feigned an exasperated sigh before choosing.  “The green one.”

            “Are you sure?” he asked, hoping that she would pick up on the hint.

            “Am I?”

            George shook his head ‘no.’

            “The red one?”

            George smiled.  The green one was meant to be given later, when it was just the two of them, but what was Christmas without a bit of anticipation? 

He set it aside and gave her the small red box with a shiny gold bow on top.

            Jessica removed the lid, looked inside, and gasped.

            “Why, George Sutherland, you…”

            “Now, Love, don’t say something you might regret later,” George cautioned her.

            “You know,” Tipper said, beginning to back slowly out of the room.  “I think I left my headlights on.”

            George’s words from earlier in the evening echoed in Jessica’s mind.  Some accomplice you are, Doctor Henderson.

            “Hold it right there, Angela Elizabeth Henderson.”  Jessica wielded Tipper’s given name better than Tipper’s own mother did and had the vet stopping dead in her tracks.

“Something tells me you’ve been in on this from the very beginning,” Jessica accused.

            “What’s she talking about Mort?” Adelle asked her husband.

            “I’ll explain later,” Mort answered in a near whisper as he shifted uncomfortably.

            “Oh, Mort, you too!” Jessica exclaimed in utter surprise.

            The Sheriff shrugged.  “From the very beginning,” he admitted, “just so things wouldn’t get out of hand.”

            Jessica laughed as her anger dissipated.  “I can’t believe it.  I hadn’t a clue,” she said, tossing her hands up in the air.

            “What’s in the box and what unscrupulous plot has my husband been involved in?” Adelle asked, still in the dark.

            Jessica shook her head in disbelief and removed a small metallic button with a silver “L” imprinted on the smooth, top surface.  “It’s a typewriter key from an old Underwood manual typewriter.”

            George nodded at Tipper, who retrieved another box from under the tree.  This one was large and very heavy.  “Open it,” George encouraged her after carrying it to the dining room table.

            Jessica untied the large bow.  “I can’t even imagine what this might be,” she said as she began to remove the top of the box.  “And I’m starting to wonder if I even want to know.” 

“My typewriter!”

            George laughed.  “Aye, your typewriter.”

            Jessica reached down tentatively and pressed the “L.” 

“You fixed my typewriter! Oh, George, I take back everything I said…well, everything I was going to say.  I love you,” she added before wrapping her arms around his neck and giving him a kiss.

            “That’s more like it,” George replied with a satisfied grin. 

            Oh, George,” Jessica admonished him playfully before returning her attention to her gift.  “But how in the world did you manage it?” she wondered as she sat down in front of it and placed her fingers on the keys.  A fresh sheet of paper was already in place, ready to record Jessica’s next novel.

            “With a great deal of help,” he confessed.

            “Let me piece this together,” Jessica said thoughtfully.  “Tipper, you must have been the one who delivered the tea to my apartment in New York.”

            Tipper nodded.

            “And did you mail the pen from New York at the same time?”

            “Yes.  That was George’s idea.”

            “And you mailed the puzzle from here in Cabot Cove?”

            Tipper nodded again.

            “What about the chocolates?” she asked, looking up at George.

            “What chocolates?”

            “You mean you didn’t send me a box of Amedei truffles to my office at the university.”

            George couldn’t suppress his grin.  “You’ve often told me that your secretary is indispensable.”

            Jessica shook her head in disbelief again.  “And Mort pacified me by following up on imaginary leads,” Jessica surmised.


“And Seth?”

            “He retrieved the typewriter from your attic and shipped it to me in London.”

            Seth cleared his throat.

            “And in his defense,” George continued, “he didn’t know about the rest until a few minutes ago.”

            Jessica was still flabbergasted.  “So, this whole scheme was just an elaborate plan to repair my typewriter?”

            “No, the typewriter is your Christmas present, well one of them anyway.”  There was still a small jeweler’s box under the tree, just in case George needed further forgiveness. 

“The rest was sweet revenge,” he said as he leaned over her shoulder and typed three simple words – I love you.

            “I never knew you were so devious,” Jessica said, looking up at him lovingly. 

            “Join forces with my sisters and you’re fair game,” he warned playfully.

            “Ah,” Jessica said knowingly.  “I think you can be certain that I’ll never forget that.”




            “You still have one more gift to open,” George reminded Jessica after they had returned home.

            She stopped short and faced him, her blue eyes meeting his green ones.  “I think I’ve had quite enough presents from you for one Christmas,” she said firmly, yet with a glint of mischief in her eyes.

            George smiled internally.  It was times like this that he was thankful for the fact that Jessica had the most expressive eyes he’d ever seen.  “I thought you’d forgiven me,” he asked as he retrieved the gift from beneath the tree.

            Jessica smiled.  “Oh, who am I kidding?  I couldn’t possibly stay angry with you, considering you got my trusty typewriter back in working condition.”

            “I was hoping that would be the case,” he said before motioning for her to sit down.  After sitting down next to her on the couch he took her hand, turned it palm up, and set a small box in the center.  “Jessica, Love, I know you’ve a special connection with Ireland, but I’m hoping you’ll soon develop one for Scotland as well.”   

There was not a doubt in Jessica’s mind as to the sincerity with which George spoke those words.    

Without further preamble he nodded, encouraging her to open the gift.

Jessica lifted the lid and smiled.  Using two delicate fingertips she removed a red loop of satin from which hung an ornamented antique key.  She turned the key over in her palm and then looked up at George, who had been watching her closely.

“The key to your heart?” she guessed.

“Oh, no, Love.  I gave that to ye a long time ago.  That thar’s the key to my castle.”