The Foundering of the Larkspur
-- Written by AD
At the end of Murder, She Wrote’s Season One, the character of Ethan Cragg disappeared – where did he go? Then, at the beginning of Season Two, the character of Dr. Seth Hazlitt was introduced – where did he come from? If he and Jessica were old, close friends, why was he never seen during the entire first season? And what did happen to Ethan? This flight-of-fancy attempts to answer both questions.
This is an original work of fiction; none of the characters bear any resemblance to persons living or dead, blah, blah, blah …
Thanks for reading!
screen door banged shut announcing Mort Metzger’s arrival as he came into the kitchen of the
“Mrs. F!” he called. “You home?”
“She’s not here,” Seth Hazlitt answered from the livingroom. “She’s down at the library, probably won’t be back for hours.”
“Doc!” exclaimed Mort in surprise. “What are you doing here?”
“I just stopped by to borrow a book she’d promised me,” said Seth. “I didn’t think she’d mind if I just dropped in to get it. After all, it’s not as though she ever locks her doors,” he added with a weary shake of his head.
Mort joined him in the livingroom, where Seth was standing next to the mantelpiece, half lost in thought. “Whatcha looking at, Doc?”
Seth stirred out of his memories. “Oh, just this picture here,” he said, pointing to one prominently displayed, of Jessica and Frank standing together on a rocky bluff overlooking the Sea.
Mort looked at it and said, “That’s Jessica’s husband, isn’t it.”
“Ay-yuh,” said Seth. “It’s too bad you never got a chance to meet him, Mort. You would have liked him.”
“You and Mrs. F have been friends a long time, haven’t you, Doc.”
“A long time, yes, but not as long as you might think,” Seth replied. “I knew of her much longer, of course, but I didn’t really get to know her as I do now until some eleven years ago … well, it’s a long story.”
“Hey,” said Mort with a shrug. “I haven’t got anyplace to be. If Andy needs me, he’s got the beeper number.”
“Fine, then,” said Seth. “Jessica left some coffee in the pot this morning when she left; I can tell you about it over that.”
And so the doctor and the Sheriff retired to the kitchen, where Seth plugged the coffeepot back in and began to tell his tale.
“Used to be I never really had much to do with Jessica Fletcher,” he began. “I knew her, of course – everybody did – and I respected her, but I couldn’t say with complete honesty that I liked her. She was nice enough, and any conversations we had, be they doctor-patient or otherwise, were pleasant. She was intelligent, and confident, but these things, I felt, elicited respect, not necessarily liking. There were a lot of things that bothered me about the high school English teacher.
“Jessica had an almost tangibly strong will, and those arresting, spooky blue eyes of hers that could nail you where you stood. Most people never noticed these things, or dismissed them out of hand if they did, but I couldn’t. Or wouldn’t; I could never seem to bring myself to give her the benefit of the doubt.
“Frank Fletcher begged me to look after her when he was gone; he spoke almost as though he believed her to be cursed, and though I promised to do as he asked, the idea made me more circumspect of her than ever. I helped Jessica through the trauma and grief of her husband’s death as much as I was able, and then quietly retreated away from her.”
Seth got up and poured two cups of reheated coffee for himself and Mort.
“For a few years that was fine,” he continued as he set the cup in front of the Sheriff, pulled out a kitchen chair, and sat down, “but then the success of her first book happened, and I watched as the woman I knew changed, like a closed flower blossoming. Then, toward the end of that first year, a murder happened right here in Cabot Cove, and as it unfolded, that was when I began to remember my promise to her husband …”
The warm spring wind fluttered the curtains of an open window, carrying with it the faint scent of the Sea, when Jessica showed up at Doctor Seth Hazlitt’s office with a problem.
“Not your back again,” he said as she slowly climbed up on the exam table, a hand braced against her spine.
“Aye, well …” she said.
Seth frowned over her medical record. “All right,” he said, “let’s take a look.”
Jessica winced with pain as he applied pressure to different parts of her spine. “I hear there’s a new doctor up at the hospital,” she said through clenched teeth. “What’s his name … Foreman?”
“Dr. Malcolm Foreman,” Seth said,
scribbling down a note and then returning to the exam. “He’s an internist, up from
“Well, it’s lucky they found someone so quickly,” said Jessica. “Ow! Is this all really necessary? It feels like some kind of torture!”
“Oh, it’s necessary, all right, Mrs. Fletcher,” Seth said. “Yes, Dr. Foreman joined the staff just a couple of weeks ago. Nice to have someone else to split the emergencies with.”
“I’m sure it is,” she said.
Seth completed his exam, and motioned to Jessica that she could get off the table, which she did … carefully.
“Try not to strain that back of yours any further,” he said. “Take some ibuprofen when it aches, don’t lift anything heavy, and let me know if it persists.”
“Thanks,” Jessica said. She grabbed her purse, and headed out.
The next morning was bright and clear, and the harbor was filled with activity as fishermen and lobstermen prepared to head out to Sea. Bill Hadley, captain of the fishing boat Larkspur, was swabbing his foredeck when he saw Jerry Adamson walking past, whistling.
“Jerry!” he called, dropping the mop and hurrying back to the stern to disembark. “Jerry, I was hoping you’d be down today. I don’t suppose you’d reconsider your pulling out of the Larkspur …”
“Now, Bill, that’s over and done with!” Jerry said firmly. “You know I’ve wanted to switch from fishing to lobstering, and I had an offer that was too darn good to refuse. Don’t take it personally. You’re doing fine on your own.”
“Not as fine as I’d like to be,” Hadley said. “Jerry …”
“Sorry, I can’t stay to chat, Bill,” Adamson said. “I have to see a man about some lobster traps.” And with that, he continued on down the wharf, whistling as he went.
Bill Hadley shook his head in disappointment. Worry was etched on his face as headed up the dock to get a bucket of fresh water for more deck washing.
“Mornin’, Bill!” a voice called, and looking up he said Ethan and Jessica walking along the pier toward him.
“Mornin’, Ethan,” Hadley replied. “I’d have thought you’d be out by now. “Mornin’, Jessica.”
“Hello, Bill,” she replied with a smile.
“I would be out by now,” Ethan said, “except that the Pilgrim’s got a busted seal. Part won’t be in for another couple of days, so I guess I’m stuck on dry land. How’s it going for you?”
“Well, can’t complain, really,” Hadley said, but Jessica thought she saw him glance anxiously at the boat behind him as he said this. “Been trying to do the work of three men, though, and that ain’t easy.”
“Three men?” Jessica said. “What happened to Jerry?”
The fisherman gestured over his shoulder with his thumb. “Jerry pulled out of our partnership in the Larkspur three weeks ago,” he said.
“He’s going into business for himself, now, I hear,” Ethan told her.
“Anyhow, he’s not been around nor is he likely to come back. But without him I’ve not been bringing in as much money. Had to let my deckhand, Perry Moorehouse, go just this morning.”
“Oh,” said Ethan. “Gee, Perry’s a good kid. Well, if you’re that shorthanded, I could go out with you and lend you a hand.”
Bill Hadley shook his head. “Thanks, Ethan, but that’s all right, I’ll manage. Besides, I’m sure you have a thousand things to do while the Pilgrim’s laid up.”
Ethan shrugged. “Just some net-mending, nothing important,” he said. “I’d be happy to help out.”
“I think it’s a good idea, Bill,” said Jessica. “It certainly couldn’t hurt.”
Bill gave Jessica a strange look. “No, I guess it couldn’t,” he said at last. “Okay, Ethan, if you’re insisting I’ll not say no. I’m planning to put out in about half an hour if you can be ready by then.”
“Great,” said Ethan. “I’ll just check on that seal, and be back before then. Thanks for the coffee, Jessie. I’ll see you later on today.”
“You’re welcome, Ethan,” she replied. “Take care out there.”
It became overcast that afternoon. Jessica had finished up a section of her book, and put on some water for tea. She had just settled in with a cup to look out the kitchen window at her garden when the phone rang.
Jessica sighed, set down her cup, and answered it. “Hello?”
“Miss Fletcher? Amos Tupper here,” the Sheriff said. “I thought you might want to know, there was some trouble on the Larkspur. Bill Hadley just came in. Ethan’s been injured.”
Jessica felt her heart drop. “What happened?” she asked.
“Concussion, looks like,” Amos said shortly. “Bill says he hit his head. I’m heading over to the hospital now if you’d like a ride.”
“Oh, Amos, I would,” she said. “Thank you.” She hung up, dumped the rest of her tea down the kitchen sink, and went to get her coat.
When Jessica and Amos arrived at the hospital, they found Bill Hadley nervously pacing the waiting room.
“Bill!” she exclaimed, coming forward. “What happened?”
“We were doin’ fine, Jess,” Bill said, “but then we had a high swell hit us broadside; Ethan lost his balance on the deck, fell, and hit his head on a winch. I got us back into harbor as quick as I could.”
“How is he?”
Bill shrugged. “He was still unconscious last time they told me,” he said.
“I’ll need to get an official statement at some point, for the accident report,” Amos said. “It can wait for now, I suppose.”
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Bill said distractedly.
At that moment Dr. Malcolm Foreman, a tall, bearded man, came into the waiting room. Jessica thought that just for a moment he paused when he saw Bill Hadley, and that she saw something akin to recognition flicker in his eyes, but the thought was crowded out by her concern for Ethan.
“Doctor,” she asked, “what is Ethan’s condition?”
“Ah, well, he’s suffered a severe concussion,” he said, with another quick glance in the direction of the fisherman. “I don’t expect him to regain consciousness for several hours.”
“Well, could you give me a call at the office if anything changes?” Amos asked.
“Yes, yes of course,” Foreman said, and with that he breezed out of the room again as quickly as he had come.
Amos turned to Jessica. “Well, I guess there won’t be much for us to do here for quite awhile,” he said. “Give you a ride home, Miss Fletcher?”
Jessica sighed, a knot of worry growing tighter and tighter inside her. “I suppose so, Amos,” she said.
The next morning dawned thick with
fog, as so many mornings on the coast of
“Why don’t you tell us what happened, Bill,” Amos said. They were in the hospital emergency room, where Hadley had been taken as a precaution against any injury he may have suffered from exposure. Seth was busy checking him over, listening to his lungs with a stethoscope. Jessica was also there, hoping for a chance to see Ethan as soon as he regained consciousness.
Hadley, wrapped in a blanket, coughed once. “I headed out in the Larkspur first thing this morning,” he said. “The harbor was fogbound, but I figured I knew my way around well enough to get by. These days I really can’t afford to spend a day tied up at the pier.
“Anyway, I was feeling my way between a couple of islands, and I take my eyes off the radar for one minute then wham, she runs aground on the shoal. I never saw it coming. She was hung up on the rocks, so at least I wasn’t in danger of sinking right away, but with the tide coming up, I couldn’t stay out there forever. I called the Coast Guard on my radio, and they came and picked me up. That shoal put a pretty hefty gash in her hull – when I saw it, I knew she was a total loss.”
“Tide’s probably washed her off the rock by now,” Amos said.
“Ay-yuh, she’ll be on the bottom,” said Bill sadly.
“Was the Larkspur at least insured?” Jessica asked him.
Bill nodded. I just got a new policy on her,” he said. “Lucky I did, I guess.”
“I should say so,” said Seth. “Well, I can’t find anything wrong with you, Bill. You’re free to go as soon as you’re warmed up.”
Just then Seth’s pager went off. “Doctor Hazlitt, please report to room 212,” the scratchy voice of the dispatcher said. “Code blue in progress. Repeat, code blue, room 212.”
“Oh, oh,” said Seth, and he dashed off.
Jessica clutched Amos’s arm, very pale with a stricken look in her eyes.
“Amos,” she said, “that’s Ethan’s room.”
Seth came out a half hour later to find Jessica still pacing the floor. When she caught sight of him she fixed him with a piercing, anxious gaze so intense that it made what he had to tell her all the more difficult.
“Mrs. Fletcher, Jessica,” he said. “We, ah, there was a code blue reported from Ethan’s room. He’d gone into arrest. It all happened so fast; we got there as fast as we could, but … he didn’t make it, Jessica. I’m sorry.”
For a moment she just looked at him, as if she could not believe what she was hearing. Then she swallowed hard, and tears welled up in those big blue eyes. She said nothing, but abruptly turned away and went to the window. Seth didn’t know what to say, so he left her alone.
Jessica showed up at Amos’s office around mid-morning the next day, looking tired and sad after a bad night.
“Morning, Miss Fletcher,” Amos said. “Feeling any better?” He offered her a cup of coffee, which she gratefully accepted.
“Not much,” she said. “I still can’t bring myself to believe it.”
Amos sat down next to her and sighed heavily. “Me neither.”
Jessica took a drink of the coffee, and passed a hand over her eyes. “Did the coroner’s report come in yet?” she asked.
“Oh, yes, ma’am, first thing this morning,” Amos said. He got up, picked the folder up off his desk, and handed it to her. “You sure you want to look at that?” he asked hesitantly.
“Well, I think it might help me if I can try to make some sense out of what happened,” Jessica answered.
She was flipping through it when Dr. Malcolm Foreman came in the door.
“I got your message, Sheriff,” he said. “You wanted to see me?”
“Oh! Yes sir, Dr. Foreman,” said Amos. “The coroner’s report came in this morning, and as you were Ethan’s attending physician while he was in the hospital, I figured you’d be the one to look at it.”
“Quite right, Sheriff,” Foreman said. “May I?” he said, and took the file out of a surprised Jessica’s unresisting hands. “A lay person wouldn’t be able to make much sense out of this anyway.”
Jessica glared at him as he looked through the report. “Well, this is a little odd,” he said.
“What?” asked Amos.
“Well, I see a slightly elevated level of digitalis in the blood report,” Foreman said.
“Could that be fatal?” asked Amos.
“Well, at high enough concentrations it could bring on cardiac failure,” the doctor said. “Ah – but here is a note, saying that apparently he had a mild heart condition, which could explain it.” He snapped the cover shut, and put it back down on the counter dismissively. “Nothing there worthy of any remark,” he said. “I think we can be confident that his sudden heart failure was perfectly natural.”
“Well, that’s good to know, I suppose,” said Amos with some relief. “If you wouldn’t mind, there’s just some paperwork for you to sign …”
Jessica half-heartedly retrieved the report, and looked at it again. Then she frowned.
Seth turned as he was heading down the hospital corridor and saw Malcolm Foreman hurrying after him.
“Do you have a moment?” Foreman asked him. “I’d like to talk to you for a minute.”
“I suppose so,” Seth said, putting a pen back in the pocket of his white lab coat. “What’s on your mind?”
“Well, it’s nothing, really; I was just curious about this Mrs. Fletcher who’s been hanging around the hospital lately.”
“What about her?”
“She seems like a very determined woman.”
Seth chuckled. “That, Doctor Foreman, is the understatement of the week.”
“I gather you know her pretty well,” Foreman said, “what with having been here so much longer than I have. Why this intense interest over Mr. Cragg’s death? Surely she isn’t looking for a book plot.”
“Oh, it’s hardly that,” said Seth. “No; first of all, you have to understand that Mrs. Fletcher and Mr. Cragg were close friends, and she is understandably upset over his passing.”
“But there is another force at work,” Seth went on. “Don’t ask me why, but Jessica Fletcher is drawn to murder like a moth to a candle.”
Foreman’s face clouded. “Surely you don’t think that Ethan Cragg died of anything other than natural causes?” he said.
“What I think hardly matters,” said Seth, who in his heart could not dispel the notion that Jessica might be on to something. “It’s what she believes. If Jessica is convinced that Ethan died from something other than natural causes, I doubt that anything between Heaven and Earth could stop her from trying to prove it.”
“I see,” said Foreman. “Well, I have a lot of things to attend to. Please excuse me.” And he went on down the hallway.
Seth thought nothing more of the conversation until he came around the corner and saw Jessica at the reception desk, talking to Emily Hathaway, the nurse on duty there.
“And were you on duty Thursday afternoon, when Ethan was brought in?” she was asking her.
“Sure was, Jessica,” the nurse replied. “I was right here when they came through emergency. Awful thing to have happen.”
“Yes,” said Jessica softly. “And Bill Hadley – he was here as well. How did he seem to you when they first came in?”
Emily thought back for a moment. “Well, he was pretty agitated, Jess,” she said. “Understandable, I’d say. He made a phone all from the lobby, and even from here I could see, his hands were shaking while he was talking!”
“He made a phone call?”
“Ay-yuh. Almost first thing.”
Jessica glanced up briefly, and saw Seth watching her, an unreadable look in her eyes. Seth quickly went back to pretending to read a patient’s chart.
“Emily,” she asked, “would the number Bill was calling be noted anywhere in the hospital’s phone logs?”
“It would be if it had been from a pay phone,” the nurse said, “but he didn’t use the pay phone, he made a call on the hospital in-house phone.”
“Meaning he was calling someone in the hospital,” Jessica said.
“I would guess so, Jess,” said Emily.
Jessica took a moment to think about this. “Thank you, Emily,” she said, “you’ve been a big help.”
Jessica turned and immediately came face to face with Dr. Foreman, who had obviously been observing her from another part of the lobby.
“Mrs. Fletcher,” he said, “I wanted to apologize for my remarks at the Sheriff’s office earlier today, and to express my condolences on the loss of your friend, Mr. Cragg.”
“Thank you,” said Jessica. “A needless death is doubly tragic, and all the harder to accept.”
“Do you really believe that there is anything suspicious about what happened?” Foreman asked her. “It all was perfectly straightforward – cardiac failure as a result of neural complications arising from a severe concussion.”
Jessica shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I have the feeling that there is more to it than that, and I have come to put a lot of faith in my feelings,” she said. “There were inconsistencies in the lab work coming back from the coroner’s office that – no offense to you – I wish I could get a second opinion on.”
“Yes, well, that really is a decision that should be left in the hands of the proper authorities,” Dr. Foreman said. “Mrs. Fletcher, there really is very little to be gained by pursuing this matter. I know it can be difficult, but there comes a point where the living must get on with the business of living, and let go. I would hate to see you endanger your own health pursuing a phantom mystery. Please take my advice, and let it go. Excuse me …”
She said nothing as he brushed past her, but Seth, who had watched this whole exchange, could see from the set of her jaw and the burning in her eyes as she watched him go that her mood was more adamantly stubborn than before. He put the chart back on the counter, and headed for one of the exam rooms to write up some discharge instructions.
Jessica saw him go, and followed him, knocking on the open door of the room as he was hanging his lab coat up on a peg on the wall.
“Ah, Mrs. Fletcher, Jessica,” he said. “How’s that back feeling today?”
“It’s been a little twingy today,” she admitted. “I took three ibuprofen this morning. Maybe it’s the weather.”
“Maybe so,” Seth said. “Perhaps I’d better have a look. Here, hop up on the table.”
Jessica obeyed, and Seth started a cursory recheck of her spine.
“You seem a little stiff here,” he remarked. “Does that hurt?”
“No. What do you think of Bill Hadley running his boat up on that shoal?”
“Heh, I suppose everyone in town’s heard about that by now,” Seth said. “I think it was damn fool thing for him to go out in a fog as thick as that. Couldn’t see you hand in front of your face, hardly.”
“Still,” said Jessica, “a fisherman as experienced as Bill would have known that, or at least stuck to waters he knew well. It seems very strange.”
“Nothing strange about it,” said
Seth. “He thought he knew where he was,
but he’d drifted off course. Does this
hurt at all?”
“No. I don’t suppose you’ve had a look at the autopsy report yet,” she said.
“No, I haven’t,” he replied, perhaps a little impatiently as he continued with the examination. “Dr. Foreman was Ethan’s attending physician; he was the doctor on duty in the emergency room the afternoon he was admitted. As attending physician, the autopsy report goes to him, not to me.”
“But surely you could request a copy?”
“I could,” said Seth, “if I had any reason to believe there was reason to. Here, now, what about this?”
Jessica reacted to the sudden pain of the manipulation. “Ouch! Yes, I would say that hurts.”
Seth stood back and looked at her. “You been taking that over the counter stuff?” he asked.
“Yes, but I’ve had to take more than the label says for the past two days.”
Seth took his glasses off and chewed the earpiece briefly, coming to a decision. “I’m going to write you a prescription for some stronger anti-inflammatories,” he said at last. “Two hundred milligrams just doesn’t seem to be doing the trick for you. Here, let me write that up right now.”
He sat down at the desk to scribble out the prescription, and Jessica, very quietly, reached over and slipped the keys out of the pocket of the lab coat on its peg.
She had just removed her hand from her own jacket pocket and put her most innocent expression on her face when Seth turned back to her with a slip of paper in his hand.
“Here you go,” he said, handing it to her. “Try these for five days, and if there’s no improvement, stop by the office and we’ll try something else.”
Jessica made as though to leave the hospital, but ducked around a corner into a deserted hallway when she was out of sight of the reception area. No one had seen her, she guessed; no she needed to find a stairwell going down. She found it around the next corner, and headed down to the basement. The door had scarcely shut behind her when a hand was laid on the bar, and someone followed her down.
The basement was where the hospital kept the medical records of all patients past and present. The room was dark and empty, an echoing maze of shelves and filing cabinets. Jessica didn’t dare flick on the lights; instead, she pulled a small flashlight out of her pocket, shining its narrow beam around as she searched for the record she wanted.
Ethan’s record was with the newest files, as she had guessed, and pulling it out of its drawer she scanned it quickly. It was then that she heard the sound of a foot kicking the corner of a metal storage shelf in the dark.
Jessica froze; she had no idea how someone could have seen her come down here, but clearly someone had, and she was in trouble. Anyone with legitimate business down here would have turned on the lights. She extinguished her flashlight, closed the file cabinet drawer with a barely audible click, and retreated into the darkness.
The person following her walked quietly through the aisles. He knew exactly where Jessica had been headed, and figured that finding her shouldn’t be a problem, she couldn’t have gone very far. He went up to the file cabinet she had been at only moments before, and opened the drawer. A flashlight briefly lit up the drawer; from her hiding place behind an old desk Jessica heard a whispered curse when it was realized that in fact she had carried Ethan’s file away with her.
The file drawer was slammed shut in disgust, and the beam of the flashlight swung back and forth across the aisle. Jessica’s heart was pounding; she watched as the light came closer, and closer … and jumped over her hiding place.
The footsteps moved away at what seemed like an agonizingly slow pace, the beam continuing to move along the rows of shelves and cabinets. He reached the end of the aisle, then halfway down the next he apparently gave up the search, for the footsteps quickened their pace and moved toward the door. She heard them go up the stairs, then a moment later heard the door to the main hallway open and shut.
Jessica could scarcely believe how narrowly she had escaped. She waited until she was sure she was alone, and then left the basement herself. She was anxious to put as much distance between that room and herself as possible, nevertheless a sense of honor caused her to make a brief stop at the front desk on her way out.
“I believe Dr. Hazlitt dropped these,” she said to Emily, and placed the keys on the counter.
Jessica came upon Jerry Adamson painting lobster buoys in his front yard.
“Hello, Jerry,” she said. “Those buoys are looking nice and bright.”
“Ay-yuh,” Jerry said, dropping his brush back into a can of paint. “I don’t figure many people’ll be using purple and red out there. Should stand out nice against the water.”
“It certainly should,” Jessica said. The buoys were painfully bright, and the red and purple clashed like a bad fashion statement.
“I’m really sorry to hear about Ethan,” Jerry said, standing up and wiping his hands on a rag. “I know you two were close. Always hard to lose a friend.”
“Yes,” she said quietly. “I suppose you heard about the Larkspur going down?”
“Did I ever! It’s funny, I thought Bill Hadley was a better pilot than that.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, Bill was always particular about that boat,” Jerry said. “Back last winter he wanted to give her a complete workup. I said no, she was sound enough to last another year before we got into anything like that, but he insisted, and had her pulled anyway. Said he’d pay for the whole thing. Cost him.”
“I’ll bet it did,” she said. “Jerry, what made you decide to pull out of your share of the Larkspur?”
“Well, Jessica, for as long as I can
remember I’ve always wanted a boat of my own.
Going out with Bill was good, but I wanted to try my hand at something
new and all my own. There’s a cousin of
mine over Port Clyde ways; he’s moving to
“I see,” said Jessica. “So you had no real quarrel with Bill?”
“Oh, no,” Jerry said, scuffing at a spot of paint on the gravel with his foot. “Bill wasn’t the best businessman – I thought rushing into that overhaul was a pretty bone-headed thing to do – but most years we did all right, I guess. It’s just that with my cousin leaving and all … well, it was an opportunity too good to pass by. You know what really surprised me, though, was when I heard how much Bill had the boat insured for! He must have bought a whole mess of insurance after I left, because what I heard he’s getting for the Larkspur – well, she was a good ship, but she sure wasn’t worth that much.”
“And how much was that?” Jessica asked.
The answer was, to say the least, surprising.
“The insurance company confirms it,” Amos said later on. “Bill Hadley let the policy he had shared with Jerry Adamson on the Larkspur lapse, and a couple of weeks later took out a new policy for ten times what the old one was worth.”
“Jerry Adamson doesn’t have much of an alibi,” Jessica said, “but this new policy also proves he doesn’t have much of a reason to scuttle the Larkspur, or see Ethan come to harm.”
“Yes. Under the old policy he might had collected something if the boat was damaged, but the new policy never mentioned him as a beneficiary. Jerry won’t see a penny.”
“Ha! Like he cares,” Amos said. “Robin Ferguson overheard him in the grocery store talking about some lobsterboat his cousin out of Port Clyde’s supposed to be giving to him.”
“Well, Jerry always preferred lobsters to fish.”
“No kidding. But what about this Perry Moorehouse that Bill fired the day before the boat went down?”
“That’s one I can’t quite figure out,” Jessica admitted. “I mean, Perry was a sound deckhand, a good worker. Why Bill Hadley should let him go so suddenly is beyond me.”
“Maybe they had a fight, and Perry came back the next day to even the score,” Amos offered.
“No, I don’t think so,” said
Jessica. “That day he was in Port Clyde
checking over that lobsterboat with Jerry.
You’re not the only one who listens to the talk at the check-out counter
Seth, who had been to many of these boring cocktail parties, was surprised when he saw Jessica at this one, her first. With the runaway success of her first two books, she had now been added to that “most visible” list, and suddenly found herself a sought after guest on the social circles. She was holding her own, and Seth had to admit that he admired the way she plowed right in to whatever situation she found herself in – even one as tedious as Eve Simpson’s cocktail parties.
Figuring that Jessica was looking after herself well enough, Seth turned his attention away and forgot about her until later when he chanced to find himself standing beside her. Just for a moment he allowed himself to look at her while her attention was diverted elsewhere. She was fully as tall as he was, dressed in dark blues with a modest amount of jewelry to offset it. According to his records she was now fifty-two, but the rich gold of her hair was untouched by any trace of silver. It was then that Jessica turned and glanced at him, fixing him with those eyes.
Seth was immediately filled with that old apprehension, but damned if he was going to let her see that she had unsettled him. He recovered quickly, swirled the ice cubes around in his empty glass, and said gruffly, “Evening, Jessica.”
“Good evening, Seth,” she replied, smiling.
“Interesting party, isn’t it.”
Jessica looked around the room, taking in both guests and décor. “Yes, very,” she said. “They certainly did quite a job with this place, didn’t they. Of course, too bad it’s all fake.”
Seth was taken aback. “Fake? How do you mean?”
She waved a hand vaguely at the room. “This décor. Oh, they liked affluence, or at least the appearance of it, but they clearly couldn’t afford the real thing, so they settled. See that mahogany desk over there? It’s not really mahogany. The shade of the wood is just a little too light, and the pattern of the grain is all wrong. A very skillful varnishing job; if I knew who had done it I would have them redo my dining room table. Still, their efforts aren’t going unrewarded. The people From Away have been making approving comments about the place all evening.”
“And how do you know that?” Seth asked.
Jessica shrugged. “I listened.”
Malcolm Foreman was also in attendance that evening; he spotted them from across the room, and setting down his cocktail on a passing caterer’s tray, he approached them. Seth felt Jessica stiffen at his side.
“There’s Dr. Foreman, the new fella,” Seth said. “He must be friends with some of these summer folk from the city, I guess.”
She nodded, averting her eyes away from him. For a moment Seth thought that Jessica was almost afraid.
“Mrs. Fletcher,” he said to her in a voice dripping with pleasantness. “I trust that you have considered what I had to say earlier today at the hospital?”
“I have taken your advice under consideration, yes,” she replied coolly, her voice taking on an edge. “But if you think you’ve convinced me to drop the matter, I’m afraid you’re mistaken.”
Foreman took an intimidating step toward Jessica, who caught her breath ever so slightly. “Mr. Cragg’s death was unfortunate,” he said, “but entirely due to natural causes. I fail to see how anyone is helped by your suggesting otherwise. More harm than good could come of it, I assure you.” He abruptly turned and walked away.
Jessica sighed as she watched him go. Seth turned to her and asked, “What was that all about?”
“Murder, I’m afraid,” she said. She reached into the pocket of her blazer and took out a scrap of paper, which she quickly looked at and then put away again. “Excuse me,” she said, and made a quick but unobtrusive exit.
Seth watched her go, and for awhile a battle raged between his conscience and his sensibilities. He desperately wanted to stay out of whatever mess that restless woman had gotten herself involved in, but he remembered the brief flash of fear in her eyes at the approach of Malcolm Foreman, and recalled his old promise to Frank – to keep an eye on her. In the end, after Jessica had been gone for a little while, his conscience won out, and he went looking for her.
Jessica had disappeared by the time he stepped out of the Harrison House. Seth looked out across the lawn filled with parked cars, and swore under his breath in annoyance: “Dammit, where’d you get to, woman?”
But Jessica was nowhere to be found.
Seth remembered …
“I remembered something that had happened a few years before,” he told Mort as the Sheriff added some light cream to his coffee. “It was the night that Frank Fletcher died. I was his attending physician at the time, you see.
“Anyway, at one point over the course of the night he woke up and got a faraway look in his eyes. He grabbed my hand, and said,
“’Seth – look after her for me when I’m gone. Promise me!’
“’I promise, Frank,’ I said, though I really didn’t understand what he was talking about. But he seemed so worried, frightened almost, and who could refuse a dying man his last wish? I had no idea what he was seeing, but now, looking back, I can guess that he saw the curse or whatever you want to call it that was set on Jessica, and he knew - he knew – what was going to happen.
“Anyhow, all this went through my mind as I stood in the fading daylight looking for the woman I had promised to keep an eye on …”
Seth let out an exasperated sigh. “All right, think,” he said to himself. “If you were Jessica Fletcher, where would you be most likely to go?” He thought for only a moment before setting off for the harbor.
When he reached the docks, he saw Bill Hadley talking with a young man discussing terms of employment. He didn’t see Jessica, but he knew that this didn’t necessarily mean she wasn’t present. He hung back a safe distance to observe what would happen next.
“I think we should be able to work something out,” Hadley was saying. “How soon can you start?”
The younger man shrugged. “Whenever is good for you, Captain Hadley.”
“Well, the new boat won’t be in til Tuesday,” Hadley mused. “But you could help the other fella mending nets beforehand. How ‘bout Monday morning?”
The new deckhand nodded. “Ought to be able to manage that,” he said. “See you Monday, then.” And he strode off into the gathering twilight.
“My,” said Jessica, stepping out from behind a pile of lobster traps and startling Hadley. “A new boat and two new deckhands! Quite a step up.”
The fisherman gave her an unfriendly look. “Aye, well, a man has to get back on his feet anyway he can.”
“Yes,” she said. “But in this case I wonder if getting back on your feet meant pulling someone else down.”
“What do you mean by that?” Hadley demanded.
Jessica let her anger come to the surface. “Come on, Bill, Ethan is dead!” she said. “Maybe you can justify that, but I can’t, and I just have to ask myself how so many events – Ethan’s accident, the loss of the Larkspur, your sizable insurance settlement – could all come together so closely!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Hadley.
“I think you do,” said Jessica. “Now, not more than two weeks ago you and another person tool out a large insurance policy on the Larkspur. Then you and Ethan head out to Sea, but Ethan comes back with a bad concussion. The very next day you go out alone, and the Larkspur founders. Bill, you and Ethan were of a piece, looking out for each other offshore, helping each other with hauls. We’ve all been friends for years, but I’ll set aside those ties if I must if it’s the only way to find out what happened on that boat!”
The fisherman shrank away before Jessica’s rising fury. “Okay!” he said. “Okay! I suppose I owe it to you as Ethan’s friend to tell you the truth. And this is the truth, Jessica, I swear it!” He sat down on a tackle box and sighed. “Business has not been great lately, and with last season’s overhaul of the Larkspur I didn’t have the reserves to wait for it to get better. Then this guy From Away approaches me about investing in half of the boat. Well, Jerry had just pulled his money out to get a boat of his own and the insurance on the Larkspur had just lapsed, so I took him up on it. He provided me with some cash, and we took out a new policy on the boat.
“Well, for a week that was fine. I bought some new equipment I’d been needing and was just starting to think I was going to get out from under when the guy comes and tells me I have to scuttle the Larkspur! I said no way, she was a sound little ship and she’d just been overhauled, but he insisted. He said he’d pull all his money out, every dime, if that boat didn’t sink within ten days. Jessica, I’d just put money down on new nets, a new winch, a radio! If he left now, I’d be worse off than I’d started out!”
Jessica was listening. “So what happened with Ethan?” she asked.
“Ethan,” Bill said, “picked the wrong day to be a nice guy. I’d settled on that day as the day I’d scuttle my boat. I’d just fired my deckhand so that I would be out there alone, and that was when Ethan showed up and offered to help out in his place. Well, I couldn’t very well say no, as that would look awful suspicious – who wouldn’t need the help? So I let him come along. I figured that he’d never need to know how the boat got in trouble; I’d just open the bilge when he wasn’t looking, and then the Coast Guard would pick us up together.”
“But Ethan found out what you were doing,” Jessica said.
Hadley nodded morosely. “Aye. I started to let the water in while he was up in the bow, but he came below decks and saw me. He was very quiet about it, and I wasn’t even sure he’d seen anything. But then I saw him pick up the radio to report trouble to the Coast Guard. I didn’t know what to do.” He looked down at his hands. “That’s when I hit him over the head with the boathook.”
“So he didn’t lose his footing on deck.”
“No,” said Hadley. “Well, there was Ethan lying unconscious on the decking, and here I was with a sinking fishing boat. But I wasn’t sure the Coast Guard would get here in time to save an unconscious man. I couldn’t live with the thought of Ethan drowning because of my plan, so I got the bilge pump running and put back into harbor. The next day I followed through on the original plan, and scuttled the Larkspur.”
Jessica loomed over Hadley like a storm cloud. “Bill,” she said, “who was this man who approached you about financing the boat?”
“It was that new doctor at the Hospital, Dr. Foreman! Jessica, I swear to you that’s all I did! I know it was wrong; I betrayed a friend and I lied to you, but I didn’t want to hurt Ethan, and I don’t know how he wound up dead anyway.”
Jessica stared down at him severely, her arms crossed and her eyes dark and cold in the twilight. “I believe you, Bill,” she said at last, “and it’s a good thing for you that I do.”
The next afternoon Seth was between appointments when Jessica showed up on the doorstep of his office.
“Mrs. Fletcher is here to see you, Doctor,” said his nurse Beverly, but the introduction was hardly necessary because Jessica had walked right in behind her, a pair of medical files in her hand.
Seth rose to greet her with some apprehension. “What can I do for you?” he asked, taking care to avoid meeting her eyes.
Jessica placed the thicker file on his desk. “This is Ethan Cragg’s medical record.”
He looked down at it and said, “Exactly how did you come by this?”
“Well, it’s a rather long story,” she said uneasily. “Anyway, I just came over from the Sheriff’s office, where Amos Tupper gave me this.” She handed him the other file. “It’s a copy of the coroner’s report.”
Seth gave the report a cursory glance. “It all seems in order to me,” he said. “Why bring it here?”
“I have a feeling that Dr. Foreman may have overlooked something,” she told him. “And I’m afraid he may have done so deliberately.”
“And why would he do that?”
“Possible so that we would go on thinking that Ethan Cragg’s death was only an accident.”
“Mrs. Fletcher,” Seth said impatiently, “thus far I have not seen any reason to believe that foul play had anything to do with Ethan’s death. Now, I know that Ethan was a close friend of yours, and that you have a reputation for determination in these sorts of matters, but I really must ask how long you intend to continue meddling in this straightforward case!”
Even as he said these words, he thought he could almost feel Jessica’s stubborn will beginning to lock into place.
“Until I know the truth,” she said quietly, the set of her blue eyes confirming her statement. “Now look – you were Ethan’s doctor, you really ought to have been the one to interpret this in the first place. But it’s a little late for that, so I’m bringing it to you now for a second opinion. I think I have a fair idea what may have happened here, but only you can tell me for sure. Please look at these, Seth, and compare them – I really think you’ll find something interesting if you do. And when you do, I think you’ll agree that Ethan’s death was anything but straightforward.”
“Will there be anything else you’ll be needing me to do for you, Doctor?”
Seth looked up from the file he had been reading, the one that Jessica had given to him earlier that afternoon. “Ah, no, Beverly –“ he looked at his watch – “I hadn’t realized it had gotten that late. You run along; I’ll close up here.”
“Well, good night, then,” the nurse said, leaving Seth alone in the office as evening began to deepen outside the windows.
When she had gone Seth resumed his close scrutiny of the record and report, frowning to himself. This was his third time through it, and he still hadn’t picked up on whatever it was Jessica had been trying to draw his attention to. “Dang wild goose chase,” he muttered to himself. “That writer’s imagination of hers must be getting the better of her!”
But then he stopped and stared, and reread the passage he had just gone over. And again. And then he realized that imagination had nothing to do with this at all.
“Ah, Doctor,” a voice said. “Just the person I wanted to talk to – in private.”
Seth looked up, startled, and saw Dr. Malcolm Foreman standing in front of his desk. He quickly shut the file and stood, saying, “Um, the office is closed, Dr. Foreman, but if you have some sort of medical problem to discuss …”
“Not a medical problem, really,” Foreman said smoothly. “It was brought to my attention that the medical file of Ethan Cragg was removed from hospital records, and that you have it in your possession. I know that you had Mr. Cragg under your care for some years, and I was wondering if you might find it within yourself to allow me to have a look at those records now.”
“Well, I really don’t think that would be appropriate, Dr. Foreman,” Seth said.
Foreman reached into his pocket; for the first time Seth noticed that it was weighed down as though with something heavy, and dread sprang up with the sudden realization.
“I do wish you would reconsider, Doctor,” Foreman said in a dangerous tone. “I really would hate to see this made difficult.”
“It’s too late for that, Dr. Foreman,” said a voice, and looking past Foreman Seth saw Jessica Fletcher standing in the doorway of his office, with Amos Tupper beside her with his gun drawn. Amos’s deputy Charlie came forward and took away the gun that Foreman now surrendered.
“I don’t know what this is about, I didn’t harm anyone,” he said to Amos.
“No?” said Jessica. “I thought I saw you recognize Bill Hadley in the hospital waiting room. You were the one who approached him about financing the Larkspur, you ordered Bill to scuttle his boat, and when Ethan found out what was going on, you killed him to keep him quiet. And that, Dr. Foreman, is something that will take me a very long time to forgive.”
Amos handcuffed Foreman and led him away. Seth, very shaken, watched as Jessica turned to follow them, but at the last minute she graced him with a sudden smile of friendship which, to his own surprise, he returned.
“I came up here from Boston about a month ago,” Foreman told Jessica, Amos, and Seth in the Sheriff’s office. “I had been in some trouble down in Massachusetts – not the sort of trouble that would get the AMA on my back, but enough that the hospital didn’t waste time looking for an excuse to fire me. I saw that your hospital had an opening, and I took it. I thought that a little hospital, way up here in the backwaters, wouldn’t be checking up too closely, and for the most part I was right.
“The problem was, I needed cash in a big way. They don’t pay enough here for me to live the lifestyle to which I have become well accustomed, so I started looking around for some … investment opportunities.”
“And you found Bill Hadley,” Jessica said.
Foreman nodded. “You hear things in a hospital. I heard how Jerry Adamson was pulling out of his half of Hadley’s boat, so I went to Hadley, offered to pick up Adamson’s share, and got a new insurance policy taken out on the Larkspur. Hadley was so desperate, he didn’t ask too many questions, and he never realized that his little tub was now insured for a surprising amount of money.
“He balked big time when I told him to sink the boat. The fool, he couldn’t understand that she was worth so much more to us on the bottom of the ocean than on top. He caved only when I assured him that half of the settlement would be his to do with as he pleased – that, combined with some subtle threats on my part about withdrawing my financial support and so on.
“It would have worked perfectly, except for that other fisherman, Ethan Cragg. Hadley was stupid to let him on board, and stupider to let him catch him in the act of scuttling the boat. What Hadley did out there to protect is was good, but it wasn’t good enough. It was up to me to finish him off in the hospital before he could regain consciousness and ruin the whole thing.”
Jessica’s eyes were alight with fury. “You killed an innocent man just so you could collect on the insurance from a fishing boat,” she said.
“It was a lot of money, Mrs. Fletcher,” Foreman said calmly. “I call it protecting an investment. Actually, it all would have come off nicely if you hadn’t set out to avenge Ethan’s death. I have to ask – what did I say that gave it all away?”
“It was what you didn’t say,” said Jessica. She looked at Seth, who cleared his throat.
“The coroner’s report,” he said. “Ethan had a mild heart condition requiring digitalis, nothing wrong with that showing up in the report. But what you didn’t point out to the Sheriff was the high potassium level in his blood. Now, digitalis on its own in the proper dose is fine, but when combined with a concentrated potassium solution, it doesn’t take much to bring on a toxicity. I didn’t see it myself, until Mrs. Fletcher asked me to compare the lab results from the coroner’s report with the normals in Ethan’s record.”
The deputy took Foreman away, back to a holding cell to wait for the state police to take him to Portland. The door shut behind them, and Seth saw the blazing light in Jessica’s eyes abruptly extinguished as she let out a sigh.
“Drive you home, Miss Fletcher?” Amos asked.
“No, thank you, Amos,” she replied. “I think I’d rather walk.”
She put on her coat, trudged past Seth with downcast eyes, and left the office without another word. As he watched her go, Seth realized that he had been letting Frank down shamefully. It was time to do something about it.
The next evening found Jessica sitting alone at the kitchen table, her head resting dejectedly on her hand, a box of tissues sitting near her typewriter. A single flame burned in a hurricane lamp before her, and she gazed absently into its light; she was thinking about Ethan, and had been thinking about him for some time, based on the number of spent tissues that had accumulated in the waste basket next to her chair.
A knock at the back door startled her; with a sigh she pushed back her chair and got up to answer it.
When she opened the door, there stood Seth Hazlitt with a covered pot in his hands.
“Evening, Jessica,” he said uncertainly. “Mind if I come in?”
Jessica looked at him with weary eyes, not sure what to do next.
“I suppose not,” she said at last. “Come in, Doctor.”
“’Doctor’’s all right when we’re talking about that bad back of yours,” he said, “but otherwise I’d be mighty pleased if you’d call me Seth.”
She smiled for the first time. “What’s in the pot?”
“Chowder,” Seth announced. “Ruth’s own recipe. It’s been my experience that at a time like this the last thing you feel like doing is cooking. That’s why I brought this over. All it needs is to be warmed up.”
Jessica relented, and began to clear off the table. “I’ve got some bread I baked the other day,” she said. “I was looking for a way to get rid of it before it goes stale.”
“You know,” Seth said as he set the pot of chowder down on the stove, “Frank and I used to sit down over a game of chess once in awhile. You still got that old chess set of his?”
“Of course,” she said. “It’s in the dining room. Is that a challenge?”
“I suppose it is. It’s been awhile since I’ve had the pleasure of beating someone at chess.”
“Well,” said Jessica, “Frank did teach me a thing or two about the game, so you might be disappointed.”
Seth smiled. “Is that a threat?” he asked.
“No,” she said, the life beginning to flow back into her, “it’s a promise.”
“I found myself beginning to like her,” Seth concluded. “Jessica wasn’t just intelligent, she was highly intelligent, and her research for her novels had given her more than just a layman’s understanding of certain topics in medicine. She turned out to be a pretty good chess player, too,” he added. “I still win most of the games, of course, but at least she makes it seem challenging … for pity’s sake, Metzger, what are you grinning at?”
“Nothing, Doc,” Mort said, looking past him with a twinkle in his eye. “But if I were you, next time I’d watch my back before making a claim like that.”
“Huh?” said Seth.
Mort motioned with his coffee cup; Seth turned around and was startled to see Jessica standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame with her arms crossed and an amused expression on her face.
“Ah-ha!” he yelped in surprise, nearly spilling his coffee. “Woman, hasn’t anyone told you it isn’t polite to sneak up on people and eavesdrop like that?”
Jessica cocked a stern eye at him and shook her head in disapproval. “Really, Seth. Most of the games?”
Mort pushed his chair back from the table. “I’m not going to get involved in this one,” he said. He drank the last of his coffee, got up in haste, and set the mug by the sink. Then he grabbed his Stetson and slapped Seth on the shoulder. “Good luck, Doc,” he said. “Talk to you later, Mrs. F. Thanks for the coffee!” With that, he was gone.
Jessica never moved from the doorframe.
“All right,” Seth said when he had grown tired of watching her smile at him as though she knew something he didn’t. “Exactly how much of that did you hear?”
Jessica shrugged. “Does it matter?” she said. “What really matters is that I’m meeting Mort for breakfast tomorrow, by which point I need to be able to stand up for my honor as a chess player. So – are you staying for dinner, or shall we settle this now?”
Seth got to his feet and faced her. “I’ll get the board,” he said.