-- Started (and now finished) by Kathy Schroeder
"Well Doc…It, looked like a gunshot to the body when the coroner first looked at the body… there are no exit wounds, and, no signs of the bullets. Nothing that he knew of could make those injuries, unless she was stabbed in the back. We only have the marks in the snow at the bridge to show what happened. Jessica wears a distinctive boot, and Selka was in sneakers. It did show she was dragged over the edge, and she didn't get behind to strike any blows. But we are stumped as to the whys. Now, the reason why, they think she was dead before the fall is that her trachea is clean. No sign that she swallowed any of the blood from the head injury. No vomiting from the impact, no stomach acids ether."
"So you’re saying its possible that Jess did, kill her by landing on her." Mort hung his head.
"I don't know what to think Seth; I do know that even the thought of Jessica knowing she was responsible would devastate her. I do have to ask, how far would you go to protect her? I know you love her."
Seth nodded. "That’s not a reason why I would want this covered up Mort. You said you knew who the culprit was? You know who embezzled the money?"
"It wasn't hard; really, something that the school overlooked, Selka didn't have access to any of the ordering of the food. Yes, her signature appeared on the invoices, but, any one of the people could have signed for the food. It was in the phone orders, and only the manager and the principal had the account numbers. They were both in on it. The clue was what was happening to the food? And the answer was, they had a catering business out of the hill house hotel. No one bothered to find out where his supplier or kitchens were. The principal would make the contacts with in the school board, and arrange the meetings, the food service manager would make the delivery prior to the event, and the hill house staff would provide the service." We don't know much else... Seth I have to know, how to end this. What do I put as a cause of death?"
They heard Jessica's quiet hoarse voice say from the door-frame.
"The truth Mort." Both looked at Jessica. She stood leaning against the frame of the door, wrapped in one of Frank's old plaid flannel robes. Her fleecy nightdress peaked out of the folds. She wore old worn slippers that covered her feet in a familiar softness against the chilled pine flooring.
Seth pulled up a chair for her to sit in, then helped her ease herself into the chair.
"I didn't hear any gunshots. It was a nightmarish experience, but I do remember that. It was me falling on her that killed her, wasn't it?"
Mort shook his head. He crouched beside her chair and took her hand as he supported himself on one knee.
"Jessica, she was dead before she hit the ground. We just don't know how that happened. We haven't found any evidence that any one else was there though. The snow has made the investigation difficult."
"Then take me back, and I will show you what I know…" she insisted.
"ABSOLUTELY NOT!" thundered Seth. He regretted his tone when he saw Jessica flinch. His voice softened.
"Dearest, you are still suffering from hypothermia. You need to stay warm and rest. Mort is quite capable of following up on what needs to be done."
Seth saw her eyes blaze with determination. "I have to know. Do you think I could, just accept not knowing all the rest of my days? Or wonder if there was something that I could have done to discover what had happened? How do I know that you will tell me the truth?"
Seth shook his head, "No, you do have the right to know. Jess, will you follow your doctor’s orders at least? Rest for now, and later we will go out. You're not even strong enough to dress, let alone hike through the park!"
"I have to be Seth. You can't stop me. I have to know, I Have to." Both Seth and Mort saw that Jessica was nearing tears. Mort squeezes her hand in his.
"Jessica, you will be told the truth, when we know it. Right now I have to agree with Doc, you are to stay here. The weather station has called for a traveler's advisory with the wind chill factor. Even my deputies will have to wait with this one."
Jess closed her eyes and wilted in the chair. Every ounce of energy had left her body. She was emotionally drained. Her tone was still edgy "We can't wait on this - the evidence will be destroyed. Don't say things to humor me Mort! Don’t do that. I have to go and see…"
Mort tilted his head. His voice was hard and cold. "I have to wonder why you're insistent to go out in this. Your Dr. and the investigating officer have informed you that you're to stay here. You're insisting that you have to go there. My only conclusion is that you would rather die, than let the girls at Loretta's beauty shop know that The Great Jessica Fletcher is human. That an error of her superior detective skills failed to uncover an embezzlement right under her nose. AND her actions directly caused the death of a woman who asked for her help…"
Jessica's hand rose and pointed to the door. "OUT! Get OUT!" She demanded with all the strength that remained. Angry tears came to her eyes spilling over her cheeks.
"Or didn't you help her because you knew your husband once loved her more than he loved you? Was it because they were once lovers?"
Jessica recoiled in the chair as if he had slapped her face. Her hand went to her mouth, her eyes widened with shock. Her other hand went to her chest. Her face drained of all color. Seth could see that that news was a horrible shock to Jessica, one that could be detrimental to her condition.
Mort found himself being lifted up by the scruff of his neck. He saw a dark brooding anger on Seth's face.
"Leave. Now." Mort looked at both of them.
"I will be back, with the truth." He said gathering his coat. He strode to the door and went out without a backward glance.
Seth locked the door, then returned to Jessica. "Back to bed for you." He began.
Jessica shook her head. The color was just beginning to return to her face. "No Seth… I think its best that you go as well."
"You are not well enough to be left by yourself… and I know if I go two seconds out the door you would try to make it to the park…"
"Seth, Right now, I really, need to be alone. I'm angry, and I just don't want to say things to you that would hurt you if you would stay... Just - go."
"I would be remiss in my duties if I left you, not only as your Dr. but as your friend." He said gently. "No matter what you feel you need to say, or do, my love for you will not diminish… Now young lady, lets get you upstairs before you fall asleep and I have to carry you up to bed in a very undignified position."
He helped her up out of the chair and up the steps. She asked him softly. "Did you know about Selka, and Frank?"
He didn't answer until they had reached her bedroom. "You and Frank were married before Ruth and I arrived here. He only spoke of you, and his love for you… Were they, friends?"
She shook her head. "I don't know, he never mentioned her…no one did. She was all ways the wallflower. We just became used to seeing her about… I'm not an invalid Seth, I don't have to be in bed…"
Seth tilted his head. "Humor me? Jessie, you have had a rough time of this. You scared me with how you looked downstairs. I love you Jessica. I don't want to lose you."
Mort trudged through the snow to the park at the opposite side that Floyd had discovered them. Photos of the footprints had been taken. He went across the bridge, and looked across the small valley to the line of trees. He took his flashlight, turned it on, and held it up to the level of his shoulder, facing towards the bank. Its powerful beam caught a disturbance in the snow. He held his breath almost as he walked to that section on the bank. He and the deputies had gone through Selka's personal effects that had been left at the woman's shelter. Selka’s old diary had spoken of the romantic weekends with the young Frank Fletcher in intimate detail. Briefly it spoke of the anger that she felt when Jessica caught Frank in marriage. Bitter anger, as Selka was left to marry a man she cared little for, to save her honor. He hadn't told Jessica that. Maybe he had brought it out, because he needed to see how she would react to it. He remembered her last words written in the book the day of her death.
"Deaths icy fingers shall pierce the heart of the destroyer. Revenge shall be mine. All that was lost will now be mine again. Sweet dagger, there is thy sheath."
Mort saw something dangle from a tree, and had to use the flashlight to illuminate it. A shake of the tree branches brought it down. Stepping forward, he saw the remains of a twine, and a gutted candle.
Mort felt ill. He had to lean against the tree, and get his breath. Carefully he gathered the crossbows, and the burnt twine, and the candle. He slid it into an evidence bag, then took a slow walk to his car. He sat in silence before he made a call.
The Sheriffs office was quiet when Mort walked in to place the crossbows in the evidence locker. The door opened, Seth stepped in with a folder in his hand and a grim frown on his face.
"They found evidence of chlorine and fluoride, and nebutal. Is that what you expected?- and couldn't you have found that with out putting Jessica through what you did?"
"This job doesn't play favorites. I can't look the other way if there is any chance that someone who could do this would walk free. I had to know. It makes me sick, though to know the truth."
"About the affair? No one in town remembers Frank and Selka together in high school. True he didn't meet Jessica until college. He was too involved with studying and work to have time to date. It was a relief to his parents when he started to date Jessica."
"I'm beginning to believe that the affair was just a fantasy in Selka's mind…But there are more things going on here…Think Mrs. F. will ever forgive me?"
"Maybe not today. I have her sedated, and have my nurse watching over her… Is she in any danger, and do you know who murdered Selka?"
Mort nodded. "Tomorrow I will have the answers…"
Jessica sat propped up in her bed looking out at the swirling snow. Thick quilts now lay folded at the foot of the bed. She just wanted to hide under the covers at the thought of the entire town knowing that her beloved Frank had been intimate with another woman prior to their marriage. She heard a knock on her door. She pulled up the covers to her shoulders. "Yes?"
Seth opened the door. "Feel like some company?"
Jess shook her head. "No. Not really." She saw him step aside into the room. Mort was behind him looking a bit like a whipped puppy. "Go away."
"I can't. Not till you know the truth." Jessica clenched her fist. She felt a flush on her face.
"You had you say about what the truth is, and so will the entire town. Get out."
Mort shook his head. "No, you need to know this. The manager of the cafeteria, and the principal to cover the embezzlements killed the auditor. They confessed to it, and the state police have them in custody. They didn't kill Selka. Losing her job and home was just enough to set things in motion. I've spoken with the coroner, and had a judge write a warrant to see her medical records. She never had a lover, though her diary is filled with her fantasies of her relations with your husband. A murder was to happen that night, but it wasn't meant for Selka, it was meant for you… She arranged twin cross bows to fire shafts of ice at a certain time. She didn't grab you to prevent from falling, she had heard the trigger snap, and was trying to get you in the line of fire so the ice would drive into your heart. Her body heat melted the evidence, something that she knew would happen, leaving no clue as to what the murder weapon was. She planed to be long gone with the candle and the crossbows before help arrived. Even if it failed. With the way the evidence was stacked against you, she had hope that you would be arrested for her death, completing her revenge. I almost fell into that. I am truly sorry Jessica. I had to know if, what she had written was true. Can you forgive me?"
Jessica's voice was soft as she said to him.
"There were far better ways to ask a lady…And some things should never be asked of a lady. Until you discover what they are, I think it best that you do not come into my home."
Mort hung his head and went out of the room. Seth stepped out briefly. "Give her some time."
He looked at Seth and said very softly, "A nut almost took Jessie’s life, Would have except for Gods hand, or something diverting the pat of the arrows … Seth, Time is to precious to waste. Any time an idiot could snatch her away. Marry her while there is still time."
Seth looked back at Jessica, then to Mort. "Marriage, is not an option anymore."
"…there are all ways options. Jessica taught me that"
"I wish that were true Mort…"