On a Midsummer Eve

“Legends and Songs” part 2


--Written by Anne


This story is the second part of the “Legends and Songs” trilogy, the first part of which is “The Banks o’ Loch Lomond.”  You really need to have read Donald Bain’s eighth “Murder, She Wrote” novel, The Highland Fling Murders, and “Loch Lomond” first or you really won’t get what’s going on here.

In the timeline, this story would have happened sometime between the episodes “A Killing in Cork” and “Another Killing in Cork.” I can’t be more specific than that because … I just haven’t gotten that specific yet. But I guess that would place it somewhere around the summer of 1994. I guess.

The character of George Sutherland is of course Donald Bain’s own marvelous creation; to him I owe a debt of gratitude for providing the story that inspired the prequel to this sequel (did that make any sense?).



On a Midsummer Eve …

I idly cut a parsley stalk

And blew therein towards the moon;

I had not thought what ghosts would walk

With shivering footsteps to my tune.


I went, and knelt, and scooped my hand

As if to drink, into the brook,

And a faint figure seemed to stand

Above me, with the bygone look.


I lipped rough rhymes of chance, not choice,

I thought not what my words might be;

There came into my ear a voice

That turned a tenderer verse for me.

--Thomas Hardy


Jessica silently sighed with resignation and absently adjusted the sling on her left arm – wouldn’t anything go right on this trip? 

             She had only recently been visiting England and Scotland to spend some long-awaited time with her good friend, Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector George Sutherland. However, instead of being the relaxing time she had hoped for when she arrived, the past several days instead had turned into a nightmare, marred by an attempt to kill George, a dislocated left shoulder for herself, and a successful murder in George’s beloved hometown of Wick. The trip had become so stressful that she and George had decided to take a few days to get away and visit her ancestral home of Kilcleer, in Ireland’s southwestern County Cork, for a much-needed rest. 

             They had been in Ireland for only a few hours, and already things were starting to go wrong here as well.

The desk clerk of Kilcleer’s most venerable hotel, the Thistle Inn, was looking down at her book, her brows knitted in a puzzled frown.  She flipped the page, and her frown deepened.

             “Is something the matter?” Jessica asked.

             “Well … I have you booked for a room for all five days, but I can’t seem to find your reservation for a second room.”

             “No matter,” Jessica reassured her.  “Can I reserve the second room now?”

             “Well …” the receptionist smiled apologetically.  “You see, ‘most any other weekend you could have, but with this being the lead-up to the Solstice, I’m afraid we have no second room to spare.”

             “No room at the inn,” George said.  “I guess we’ll have to share a room, Jess.”

             “If it wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience?” the poor desk clerk asked hopefully.

             Jessica closed her eyes.  It was an inconvenience. Perhaps under less extraordinary circumstances it wouldn’t have bothered her too much, but between her aching shoulder and the maelstrom of confused feelings she still had to sort out about George, the last thing she wanted to do was share a room with anyone.  Still, there was no help for it.

             “It will do,” she said.

             Relief flooded the desk clerk’s face.  “Thank you for being so understanding, Mrs. Fletcher. Here is your key – room 243.  Take the central staircase in the lobby to the second floor, turn right, follow the corridor ‘round to the left, and it’s the seventh room on the left.  I hope you both find it comfortable.  Shall I ring for someone to get your bags?”

             “No, thank you, that’s not necessary,” George said, slinging Jessica’s carry-on over his shoulder.  “I can manage just fine for the both of us.”

             “Please don’t hesitate to ring the desk if there’s anything you need,” the receptionist said as they departed.

             Anything except a second room, Jessica thought to herself with a touch of bitterness.  But she merely smiled and nodded at the desk clerk and followed George around to the stair.

             The inn was very old indeed; from the looks of it the building had served in this same capacity for at least a couple of centuries, and probably longer.  From the central structure of the inn two wings extended out and back, forming three sides of a square, central courtyard.  The fourth side was taken up with what appeared to have once been stables, now converted into a more modern kitchen and banquet room.  Where horses had once been rubbed down and re-shod, the courtyard was now filled with a stately formal garden, with flag stone-paved paths bordered by precisely-trimmed hedges meeting at an ornately carved marble fountain in the exact center of the space.  The stone walls of the surrounding inn echoed and amplified the soft music of the falling water, lending the space an air of serenity and peace.

             The rooms themselves were small, as all rooms in ancient inns tend to be.  George unlocked the door and pushed it open to reveal a compact space holding a double bed, freestanding wardrobe, two armchairs facing a modest fireplace, and a tiny desk and chair, its varnish darkened with age.  A door of clearly more recent vintage led to a compact bathroom; judging by its size it appeared that the room next door had been sacrificed and divided in half to provide a private bath for each of the rooms on either side – a necessary concession to the expectations of modern guests.

             “It’s charming!” George exclaimed as he set their luggage down on the bed. “And I’ll wager that the fireplace really works – else why provide us with a bin of dry wood?”

             “A fire will be welcome tonight,” said Jessica.  “It may be June, but the nights are still very cool.” She walked over to the window and pushed it open to let in the fresh breeze and the sound of the fountain.

             “Jess, I know you’re upset that we didn’t get separate rooms,” said George.  “If it makes you feel any better, you know you can count on me to be a perfect gentleman at all times.”

             “It’s not that,” she hastened to reassure him.  “I know I can trust you.” It’s me that I’m not so sure I can trust, she added silently to herself.

             Her thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing.  Jessica crossed the room and answered it.


             “It is you!  I asked Kelsie at the front desk to give me a jingle when you arrived. How was the trip?”

             “Short,” Jessica answered with a laugh. “I’ve only just come over from Scotland, after all.”

             “Oh yes, I forgot.  And with … I’m sorry, Jess, Kelsie didn’t give me a name, she just said you were with a ‘gentleman friend.’”

             “That would be George Sutherland. He’s a Chief Inspector at New Scotland Yard. We’re taking a short vacation here together.”

             “Together, eh?” Shannon, who had known Jessica for years, was wearing a wicked grin that was practically transmitting itself through the telephone line.  “I do seem to remember you mentioning him to me a time or two in your letters.  I can’t wait to meet him!  How about dinner tonight?”

             “I think that would work out,” Jessica said. “Hang on, let me check with George.”

             “He’s in your room?”

             Ignoring this last remark, Jessica placed a hand over the receiver and turned to her companion.

             “This is Shannon Kilcannon, one of my oldest and dearest,” she said, “and she’s extended us an invitation to have dinner with her.  Are you interested?”

             George, who was busy hanging up his things in the wardrobe, said, “Fine by me, Jess. I’d enjoy meeting your friend.”

             “I’m sure it will be mutual.” Returning to the phone, she said, “George says that sounds good.  Where and when?”

             “How about the Fisherman’s Arms, at seven?  You remember where it is?”

             “’Course I do!  See you then.  Bye, Shannon.”


             “So tell me about Shannon,” George said, taking Jessica’s arm as they walked toward the restaurant from the inn.

             “We knew each other in college,” Jessica said. “I suppose we gravitated toward each other because we were both originally from the British Isles, although of course I had left them much earlier than she had.  And we both had an interest in stories and books.  After getting her PhD in literature, she came back here to write a series of books about early European folklore and mythology.”

             “How did she come to be in Kilcleer, of all places?”

             County Cork has the largest concentration of ancient stone monuments in all of Ireland.  One of Shannon’s earliest research projects was trying to match real life geography with places mentioned in Celtic myth lore, so it was a natural fit.  She even bought an abandoned farm with a stone circle right on the property.  Even after the book was finished, she was so in love with this particular corner of Ireland that she never left.”

             “A charming tale,” George commented. “She found her true home.”

             They walked across the picturesque village square to the restaurant, which sat back off the street behind a cobblestone courtyard.  On a bench in the yard sat a woman who looked to be about Jessica’s age.  Her dark auburn hair shot with silver was confined in a tight braid that hung halfway down her back, and there was a merry twinkle in her eyes – but Jessica could not help but notice the worry lines around her mouth.

             “Jessica,” she said warmly as she stood and took her friend’s hands in both of hers. “It’s been too long! What on earth happened to your arm?”

             “It’s a long story,” said Jessica, giving her a quick one-armed hug. Then she stepped back to introduce George: “Shannon, this is my friend from London, George Sutherland.”

             Shannon extended a hand to George. “It’s a pleasure, Inspector,” she said, her words coloured by her lilting Irish accent.

             “Please – call me George.”

             “All right then, if you insist ... George.” She opened the door to the restaurant with a flourish. “Shall we?”

             Shannon was on a first-name basis with everyone on the staff, and had arranged for a choice table in a private corner of the small dining room.

             “So,” she said when they were seated, “how long are you in Ireland for?”

             “Just five days,” said Jessica.  “I can’t stay away any longer; I’m supposed to be in Boston next week to speak at a writers’ conference.”

             Shannon shook her head.  “Always so busy, Jess,” she sighed. “When are you going to come over for a real vacation, so we can go tramping across the Irish countryside together like we always said we’d do?”

             “I thought we were going to hike across Europe,” Jessica said.  “Anyway, I intended to do at least a little of that while we’re here.  I told George about your farm.”

             “Aye, my farm,” said Shannon, and Jessica thought she saw a shadow of anxiety pass across her features.  But her friend quickly changed the subject. “Now then – what of you, George?  How did you and Jessica meet?”

             Jessica settled back and let George tell the tale of how they had come to know each other, oddly enough, in the middle of a murder investigation.

             “Well!” Shannon explained when he had finished relating the story. “I have heard of many unusual matches, but I think a romance between an official detective and a suspected murderess tops them all.”

             Jessica, who was taking a sip of white wine, nearly choked. “Romance?” she said. “Oh, no, Shannon, we aren’t … it’s not like that. We’re really good friends, that’s all.”

             “Right, Jess,” Shannon said, shooting a knowing wink at George. “Just friends. Got it.  And in any event, you were innocent.”

             George watched in amusement as the two women exchanged glances full of meaning at each other – Jessica’s was saying “topic closed,” while Shannon’s plainly said “we’ll discuss this more later” – and tried not to burst out laughing, which would have undoubtedly landed him in hot water with both of them.

             Shannon,” Jessica said, it now being her turn to change the subject, “is there something wrong at the farm?  You sounded a little worried about it when I mentioned it before.”

             “Aye, well, that’s a long story, Jess,” Shannon said as their salad course arrived. “And I wouldn’t want to burden you and George with my petty troubles.”

             “Please,” George said. “I think I speak for both of us when I say we’re anxious to hear. Maybe we can help.”

             Shannon sighed and put down her fork. “All right,” she said.  “I’m starting to think that maybe I should … sell the farm.”

             Jessica looked up sharply in surprise. “Sell the farm? Shannon, what on earth are you talking about?”

             “I’ve had two very attractive offers,” she said.  “To accept either would allow me to live anywhere in the British Isles that I choose.”

             “But Shannon, the farm has been your life!”

             “Yes,” she admitted, “but lately I’ve been wondering if the farm is more trouble than it’s worth.”

             Jessica and George shared a worried look.

             “Perhaps you’d better start at the beginning,” George suggested.

             Shannon sighed deeply.  “The first thing that happened was that the sheep broke through a weak spot in their pasture fence, and trampled the vegetable garden to death. After that a crack developed in the cistern, and as a result water flooded the lower barn.  Then one of the hay ricks caught fire – it was only the quick work of the volunteer fire brigade that kept the flames from spreading.”

             “Did you report any of this to the police?” Jessica asked.

             “Not the incidents with the sheep or the cistern,” Shannon admitted.  “Those things I chalked up to simple ill luck.  But I did speak to Sergeant Boyle about the hay rick fire – you know what they say, Jess, third time’s a warning.”

             “And what did Sergeant Boyle have to say about it?”

             “Not much. The area around the hay ricks is so trampled by the sheep that he couldn’t find any misplaced footprints, nor did they find any accelerants in the hay itself. He didn’t close the investigation, but he didn’t hold out much hope that he’d be able to find out much more about it either.”

             “If I may say so,” said George, “it sounds to me as if someone is deliberately trying to run you off your farm.”

             “Maybe so, maybe so.  But I have no enemies,” Shannon said, spreading her hands wide in a gesture of helplessness.  “At least, none that I know of.”

             “Well, what about someone who covets your property? They may be trying to make life so unpleasant for you that you’ll sell out.”

             “Now there you may have something, George,” Shannon said.  “There’s been land speculators in Kilcleer lately.  Have either of you heard of Emerald Springs?”

             Jessica shook her head, but George said, “I have.  They’re a regional bottled water company, Jess. I think their market is limited pretty much to the British Isles.”

             “They’re fixing to change that, I think,” said Shannon.  “They’ve had a couple of representatives scouting around Kilcleer, testing the wells and looking for new springs. They came to have a look at my well and asked if they could test my well water. They said they’d let me know if any dangerous impurities turned up in it. I thought ‘what’s the harm in that?’ and I let them have their sample.”

             George, who was listening carefully, nodded. “What’s the harm, indeed.  What happened after that?”

             “It seems they liked what they saw,” Shannon told him. “When they came back ‘round they made me an offer for the land.  I turned them down flat.  No one’s going to build a bottling factory on my beloved farmland.”

             “Now that is very troubling,” Jessica said gravely. “Does Sergeant Boyle know about that?”

             “Aye. ‘Tis the first thing I told him about when he came out to have a look at my burned hay rick.  He knows they’ve been hanging around the village, of course. But the night of the fire they were both holed up in the Cannery Arms all night, so there’s the alibi.”

             “Still, they could have hired a third person to come in and start the fire,” Jessica pointed out. “I’d be interested to know if they also have alibis for the times when the sheep were let loose and the cistern was damaged.”

             “I didn’t think to ask that,” Shannon said glumly. “And now it’s probably too late to go back and check.”

             “Not necessarily, Shannon,” said Jessica. “I’ve met Sergeant Boyle before, and he is very thorough and determined.  It might not be too much of a stretch for him to ascertain where these bottling company people were on those two occasions.  Don’t rule him out, in any event.”

             “I won’t.”

             Shannon, earlier you said that you’d had a couple of offers for the property,” George said. “Who made the other offer?”

             “Ah,” said Shannon.  “The second offer was from Colleen Kirk – she works with the Cork Nature Conservancy.  Now, there is a group I’d actually entertain talking to.  Colleen told me that the Conservancy’s mission is to buy up tracts of land throughout southwestern Ireland, preferably land with historical significance or especially notable natural features.  She’s been interested in my farm for quite some time, on account of my having that old druid circle up on the hill towards the back of my property. I’ve always put her off, but now … now I’m starting to think about the Conservancy’s interest more seriously.”

             “Do you know anything about their past dealings with other land owners?” George asked. “Are they fair, for the most part, or are they heavy-handed in their negotiations?”

             “I couldn’t say. Colleen Kirk has never been anything but polite with me.”

             “I wonder if they are running out of patience,” mused Jessica.

             Their entrees arrived then, and talk turned to more pleasant subjects for the duration of the meal … until their after-dinner coffee was served.  That was when Shannon, who had been staring at Jessica’s sling since the dessert course, brought up the subject of her injury.

             “All right, Jess, give – how did you hurt your arm?”

             Jessica hesitated and looked at George.

             “Go on, Jess, you tell her – I told the ‘how-we-met’ story, so it’s your turn,” he said.

             “Oh, all right. We got into some trouble while I was visiting George in Wick …” Jessica told the tale as plainly and succinctly as she could, trying to downplay the more dangerous elements and completely leaving out most of what had happened in the hunting cabin that night. Nevertheless, Shannon’s eyes grew larger and larger as she related her story, until by the end of it she was sitting up straight in her chair with a look of utter astonishment on her Irish features.

             “My word, Jess!” she exclaimed as Jessica concluded her narrative. “What a nightmare! No wonder you two decided you needed to come to Kilcleer to get away from it all.”

             “Yes,” Jessica admitted. “I think we both needed a vacation from our vacation.”

             “Well,” said Shannon, raising her coffee cup as though for a toast, “here’s to hoping you find a more restful time in Ireland than you found in Scotland.”

             “Here, here,” George seconded, and the three of them clinked their cups together in acknowledgement of Shannon’s wish.


             It was late when they returned to their room.  Jessica stifled a yawn as she reached for the light switch inside the door, tossed her purse aside, and collapsed into one of the chairs by the fireplace.

             “Don’t fall asleep just yet, Jess,” George said as he hung his coat up on a peg.  “You still need to do your physiotherapy exercises.”

             Jessica groaned and didn’t move. “It’s been a long day, George. I think I’d rather just get to bed tonight.”

             “Come, Jess,” George coaxed her. “You know you have to get your flexibility back before you can start strengthening your shoulder again.” He had a wicked thought then, and added, “If you don’t get your strength back, you’ll have to ask Seth to put up your storm windows for you this fall.”

             That did it; Jessica shot him a look that made it clear this affront to her cherished self-reliance had buckled her resistance. She reluctantly pushed herself up out of her chair and allowed George to help her shrug out of her light linen jacket. Underneath, instead of the full-sleeved shirt he expected, was …

             “A camisole top?”

             Jessica took back her jacket, folded it neatly, and laid it across the foot of the bed before reaching up with her good hand to undo the tie of her sling. “It’s much easier to get a strap over my bad arm than it is to get it in a sleeve,” she explained.  “I don’t have to lift it as high.”

             “Sensible,” George remarked. “But also beautiful.  You have lovely shoulders, Jess.  You should show them off more often.”

             Jessica blushed as she made a few tentative stretching motions with her left arm.  “Thank you,” she said. “Though I’d really rather not display this one with it still so bruised.”

             George took up his position slightly behind Jessica and started out with the light massage motions Hamish Dawson had taught him.  After a few minutes, she sighed and began to relax.

       “All right, Jess,” George said when she seemed loosened up enough to begin. “Now … we need a weight, something not too terribly heavy …” He looked around the room, and his eyes lighted on his shaving kit where it rested on the bedside table. It was perfect – the bag was made of soft leather, and the items inside were not too bulky. He picked it up, tested the weight, deemed it appropriate, and handed it to her. “This should do,” he said.  “Lean forward a bit, drop your arm, and make little circles while holding on to that.” 

             Jessica did so, and he watched her carefully as she performed the exercise.

             “Does it hurt at all?” he asked.

             “I can feel a strain down the inside of my arm,” she said, “but it doesn’t feel like my shoulder is going to pop out or anything.”

             “Good – that’s what Dr. Dawson said should happen. Do you want to try something heavier? I think this piece of kindling wood is around five pounds.”  He relieved her of the shaving kit and in return handed her a short log from the hearth, wrapped in a towel to protect her from splinters. But as soon as she took the log, she winced and let it drop to the floor with a muffled thump.

             “That was a sharper pain,” she said, looking up at him apologetically. “I couldn’t hang on to it.”

             “Too much too soon, then,” George observed. “After all, you only had your cortisone shot a couple of days ago.  Well, that’s good to know.  Here, take back my shaving kit and try your circles again.”

             Jessica repeated the first exercise, and seemed more comfortable doing it.  After about ten minutes with a break in between, George relieved her of her burden.

             “That should do for tonight,” he said. “We’ll try it again tomorrow.”

             She nodded, reaching up to massage the ache away with her right hand.  George noticed this and asked, “Does it still hurt?”

             Jessica dismissed his concern with a slight wave. “It’s nothing,” she said. “It just feels a little tight, that’s all.”

             “Here – sit down and let me give it a little more massage.  Hamish wouldn’t want you to try and sleep with it tensed up.”

             Jessica sank down onto the bed with her feet tucked under her while George sat behind her and started to repeat his massage.  Then he had a sudden thought: “Wait here, Jess, I just thought of something that might help.”

             He went into the bathroom and came back with a small plastic bottle.

             “Body oil,” he explained as he resumed his position behind her. “I thought I saw a little bottle of this, in the basket with the shampoo and conditioner.” He poured a little in his hand and rubbed his palms together briskly to warm it up. “Tell me if that feels too cold,” he said as he replaced his hands on her shoulder.

             Mmm.  No, it’s just right.”

             “Good.  Oh – we need to get this out of the way,” he said, fingering the strap of the camisole. “May I?”

             “Go ahead.”

             George carefully slid the strap off her shoulder and down her arm, then reapplied his hands. He was very careful in his massage, trying to remember the advice that Hamish had given him – start lightly, and deepen the pressure a little with each stroke.  The longer he did it, the more attuned he became to where the pain was, and how to make it better.  Jessica appeared to be enjoying the effect and sank deeper into relaxation, letting her head bow forward.

             George chuckled at her. “Too tired to hold your head up, sleepy?” he teased.  “Lie down if you want, and I’ll work on the front of that shoulder of yours next.”

             She did so without questioning, letting her head fall back on the pillows and closing her eyes.  George moved up beside her and continued to work the oil into the muscles of her upper arm and chest.

             As the pleasant warmth spread through her, a memory flashed through Jessica’s mind unbidden: she was back in Scotland, with George in his family’s hunting cabin, and he was massaging her injured shoulder while she lay next to the fire, just like he was doing now.  She remembered gazing up at him then and seeing a look in his eyes she had not recalled ever seeing before: a kind of hunger, amplified by the effect of the firelight flickering on his face. 

             Jessica opened her eyes in the present, and saw that same hunger in his eyes now. It hadn’t bothered her before in the cabin – in fact, then it had given her a strange thrill to see how plainly he wanted her – but it made her uncomfortable now. 

             George was aware of the change in her demeanor instantly, and removed his hands, wiping them with a washcloth.

             “That should help,” he said with forced lightness. “I doubt you’ll have any further trouble tonight.”

             Jessica turned her head aside, hoping to hide the fact that her face was flushed. “Thanks, George,” she said. “It feels much better.  I think I’ll get ready for bed now.”

             “Good idea,” he hastily agreed. “Like you said – it’s been a long day.”


            They settled in for the night then, each taking deliberate care to remain on their respective sides of the bed.  George gave her a quick, chaste kiss on the cheek and turned out the light.  After that, each was alone with their own private thoughts in the darkened room.

            Jessica was trying to will herself to sleep, but she couldn’t relax. She was uncomfortably aware of George’s nearness to her in the darkness, and it was both a torment and a temptation.

            Looking back at the events of the evening, she recognized that her reaction to George’s massage had been involuntary, beyond her conscious control. Therein lay the real problem – loss of control. George had that effect on her, it seemed.  Something about his mere presence stirred up such turbulent feelings in her that instinct had a way of overruling reason, with unpredictable results – like tonight.

            She turned over and buried her face in the down pillow. “There’s always been a spark between us, ever since the first time we met,” she thought to herself.  Was that why it was so difficult for her to keep a firm hand on her emotions?  No matter how firmly she told herself that she was not ready for anything more than friendship, her heart – not to mention the rest of her – thought otherwise. And as long as she remained conflicted with herself, this was going to be a problem.

            Still, Jessica’s iron will had not gained its reputation without cause.  She reined in her restless mind, stifled her internal debate for the time being, and in due course found the sleep she was looking for.

            Beside her, George also eventually fell into an uneasy sleep. Random images flitted across his dreaming mind, only to depart as quickly as they came and leaving no memory of their content behind.  But one dream, more solid than the others, stayed with him.

            He was back in Scotland, with Jessica, in the hunting cabin. It was raining outside, but the fire burning on the hearth made the rustic little room warm and cozy. In his dream they weren’t running from anything, and Jessica’s shoulder had never been injured … so this time, when he kissed her and ventured the next step of easing her down on to the blankets by the fire, there were no interruptions, and no impediments to his intentions.  The firelight danced over her bare skin as he undid the buttons of her shirt and slid it off her shoulders …

            All at once George was awake and sitting straight up in bed, his breath coming in short gasps.  He looked down at Jessica lying beside him, but she was still serenely asleep, unaware of his abrupt awakening.  Well, that was a mercy, at least.  Jessica would not be pleased at all if she knew what he had just dreamed about her.

            George got out of bed and went into the adjoining bathroom to splash cold water on his face.  He looked at his image in the mirror; a pair of well-intentioned but tired green eyes stared back at him. 

            “Ah, me,” he sighed to himself as he made his way back to bed. “It's weel that oor fauts is no written in oor face.  (It’s a good thing our faults are not written on our faces.)”

            If he had any more troubling dreams that night, come morning he did not remember them.


            The next morning they had breakfast in town, and lingered in a street-side café over coffee – Jessica found that a strong cup of java made up for her restless night.  Afterwards they strolled aimlessly around the village square, looking in shop windows and taking in the atmosphere.  It was a grey morning with a light misty rain sifting down from the low-lying clouds, but the weather did little to dampen their spirits.

            George paused in front of one shop, a little hole-in-the-wall storefront that sold woolen clothes and outerwear.

            “I have an idea,” he said, taking her hand. “Come inside with me.”

            Intrigued, Jessica followed him inside.  The store was little more than a long narrow room lined on either side from floor to ceiling with wool of all different colours and textures. The shopkeeper, at his counter in the back, nodded to them and wished them good morning as they came in.

            “Good morning,” George replied with a smile.

            “Is there something I could help ye with?”

            “As a matter of fact, yes,” George replied.  “We need to find a good piece of outerwear for the lady here, something she can manage one-handed and wear over that sling.”

            “Aye,” he said, noting her condition. “You’ll not be wanting to put that arm through any sleeves for some time yet, will ye, lady.”

            “I suppose not,” she replied, glancing at George.

            “A good woolen cloak is what ye be needing, then,” the shopkeeper determined.  He took a step back and gave Jessica an appraising look.  “Nigh on six feet, unless I miss my guess, and I never do,” he said at length. “A tall one, then.  Come with me.”

            He took them to a section of the shop near the back, where cloaks of all sizes and colours hung from a wooden rack.  Bypassing all the shorter ones – some looked to be tailored even down to a child’s size – he selected four of the proper length.

            “Here,” he said, handing her a black one. “Try this on for size.”

            George helped her out of her coat, and draped the cloak over her shoulders.  The clasp at the throat, worked in silver, was simple enough to be latched or unlatched with one hand.  When she had settled it so it felt comfortable, George guided her to a full-length mirror so she could see the effect.

            “Stunning,” he said. “A perfect fit.”

            “I never miss my guess,” the shopkeeper said with quiet pride.

            Jessica had to admit that she liked the effect.  The wool, though tightly woven, was much lighter than she had expected, and draped around her to nearly ankle-length in flattering folds while the full hood, when not in use, formed a soft yoke around her shoulders.

            “It’s beautiful,” she said. “But I don’t think I would choose to wear black.”

            “Perhaps not,” the shopkeeper said, pacing around her. “Ye be too fair for that much black.  Something lighter, then.” He took back the black one, and sorted through the others, holding up and discarding in turn forest green (“Still too dark for ye”) and brick red (“Mayhaps … but I think we can do better yet”).  That left one in heather grey.

            “What about that one?” George asked.

            “Aye, what about it, now?  Try it, lady.”

            Jessica put it on, then turned to face the mirror and caught her breath at the image reflected therein.

            “My word, Jessica,” George said. “You look absolutely beautiful in that. Like an elf princess.”

            Jessica laughed and blushed slightly. “Oh, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, George Sutherland!”

            “He has a point,” said the shopkeeper. “This one matches your eyes, lady.  If ye’d accept my advice – and I’ve been selling woolens for nigh on thirty years – this be the one ye should take.”

            “All right, then,” she said, relenting. She started to look for the price tag, but at a sign from George the shopkeeper snipped it off with his scissors and palmed it before she had a chance to see it.

            “George …” she protested, but he held up his hand.

            “Please, Jess,” he said.  “I feel responsible for the condition of your shoulder.  Let me get this for you as a gift.”

            “You’re not responsible for my shoulder, but all right,” she said, relenting.  “You’re a very sweet man, George.  Thank you.”

            Rather than putting her own awkward coat back on, the shopkeeper folded it neatly and placed it in a bag as George paid for the cloak.  As he took the bag from the counter, Jessica said, “Wait for me outside a moment.”


            Jessica gave him a mischievous look. “Because I said so.”

            George sighed. “Right, then. I’ll be outside.”

            A few minutes later, Jessica emerged from the store with a bag of her own, and joined him on the bench he was sitting on.

            “Here,” she said, handing it to him. “I got these for you, as a thank you.”

            He reached into the bag and pulled out a bundle wrapped in tissue paper.  When he opened it, he found a gentleman’s scarf and matching cap, both a subtle shade of pale grey-green.

            Jessica picked up the scarf and held it up. “For when you’re driving along the cliffs of the North Sea in your car,” she explained. “And yes, I do believe they match the colour of your eyes.”

            George burst into laughter and kissed her on the cheek. “I guess that makes us even,” he said. “Thank you, Jess.”


            They continued to walk around the village of Kilcleer for the rest of the morning, and as the sun drew near its zenith it succeeded in burning through the low grey clouds and chasing them away.  Every bedewed blade of grass and raindrop-touched leaf shone as though it had been sprinkled with diamond dust. 

            Before leaving the restaurant the evening before, Shannon had extended an invitation to Jessica and George to come take a walking tour of her farm the next day.  Jessica was particularly curious to see the stone circle on the hill that her friend had spoken of, so after a light lunch and tea they made their way out to her place, about a mile from the edge of the village.

            As they walked down the drive, they were greeted by Shannon’s border collie, Shep.  He ran around them in eager circles, barking enthusiastically, until they approached the stone cottage and Shannon herself came outside.

            “I see you’ve been greeted by the welcoming committee,” she said. “Shep, heel!”

            The border collie snapped to attention, then obediently trotted to his mistress’ side.

            “What a well-trained dog,” George said, impressed.

            “He needs to be out of necessity,” said Shannon. “He earns his keep about the place by herding the sheep.  Sorry if he startled you.”

            “Not at all,” said George smoothly. “We could tell he was just happy to see us.”

            “I think,” said Jessica, “that just now, he thought he was herding us!”

            Shannon laughed as she scratched the dog behind his ears. “Show him more than one of anything or anybody, and he’ll do to them what he does best,” she said. “So – you’ve come to ramble through my fields and forests with me.  Good!  Let me grab my walking stick, and we’ll be off.”

            They went past the barns and the stone well that supplied them with water, and out into the wider pastures where Shannon grazed her sheep.  On the higher land beyond the pastures were meadows filled with grasses and wildflowers and scattered woodlands with trees just coming into full leaf.  A stream ran through one of these, hurrying down the ridge toward the river valley below.

            They emerged from a belt of trees at the foot of a low hill separate from the rest of the higher ground.  It was treeless and barren, except for a ring of fifteen standing stones at its crown.

            “How old is this?” Jessica asked as they made the final approach to the circle.

            “Near as anyone can tell, three millennia,” Shannon answered.  “The stones are not local – a geologist friend of mine determined that they had been hauled halfway across Ireland to come here.”

            “Incredible,” George commented.

            They reached the circle’s edge, and stepped inside the ring through a wide gap on the southern side.  This had clearly been the entrance once upon a time; the gap was flanked by two stones taller than the rest. A lintel might have once rested atop them to frame a doorway or arch, but if so it had long ago fallen down with time and decay, or been hauled off to make some farmer’s front step.  A few of the stones leaned at odd angles this way and that, but most remained surprisingly straight and tall, like silent sentinels waiting for the return of a legendary king.

            George guessed that the space inside the stones was about twelve meters wide, and so flat and level that it could only have been made that way by the hand of man.  Whatever had been inside the ring before, now all that could be seen were weeds, sparse grass, and discarded pieces of wood and bracken.

            On the western edge of the ring, one stone of the group was different from the rest, its chief feature being a hole carved straight through it about eight feet off the ground.  It was perfectly round and smooth, and big enough to pass a melon through.  Jessica felt curiously drawn by this unusual feature of the ring, and going up to the stone, she placed her hand against it.  The stone’s flank was warm to the touch, having absorbed the warmth of the sun.

            “What was the purpose of this stone, Shannon?” she asked.

            “That is the hole stone, and it was used for astronomical measurements,” her friend replied.  “At dawn on the Summer Solstice, the first light of the rising sun shines through the gap between those two stones on the eastern side, and through the hole down into the valley beyond.”

            “Does the beam of light from the hole shine on a particular feature down there?” Jessica asked.

            “In fact it does,” said Shannon.  “It lights on my front door. I got up before dawn on Midsummer Day when I first moved here, and witnessed it for myself. Ever since then people from Kilcleer gather in my dooryard at dawn on the Summer Solstice to witness the event for themselves. It’s become something of a tradition.”

            “Do you think that’s why the cottage was built on that spot in the first place?” George asked.

            Shannon shrugged.  “Maybe so, who can say. The foundations are old – I know that the current building was built on the remains of another, and that was built on the remains of another before that. But if there was once some ancient monument there, it’s long since gone.”


They returned from their walk as the sun was setting in the west, touching the green fields and hills with a golden summer light as warm and thick as honey.  As they approached the stone cottage, Jessica saw a man she did not recognize in the dooryard.  He appeared to be walking in slowly expanding circles, his attention on the ground before his feet.

       Shannon,” she said, “who is that, and what is he doing?”

       Shannon shaded her eyes against the setting sun with her hand, and laughed.  “That’s my friend, Shamus O’Malley,” she said.  “He’s a mason here in town.  I was talking to him about the troubles going on around the place, and he offered to look into it with his dowsing rod.”

       “He’s a dowser?” George asked.

       “Aye,” Shannon said. “I don’t know whether I really believe in it or not, but he was so kind to offer his help, I could not say no.”

       As they reached the gate leading from the fields Shannon nimbly climbed over the wooden slats, undid the latch, and let them through, Shep standing alert as a rear guard of sorts until the gate was safely latched again.  They approached the house, and Jessica got her first good look at Shamus O’Malley.  He was a middle-aged man, tanned and well-muscled from years of hard work with stone in the out-of-doors. He had compensated for a lack of hair on the top of his head by growing a beard, which was a mix of black and white but kept neat and trim. In his hands he held a forked stick shaped like a “Y,” with the stem held parallel to the ground. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be lost in deep concentration.  As the trio approached him he continued pacing out his circle until Shannon hailed him:

       “Find anything, Shamus?”

       O’Malley stopped in his tracks as his eyes snapped open. “Now, then, Shannon-lass, ye know better than to distract me in the middle of a divination!”

       “Sorry, sorry,” Shannon said, as Shep ran circles around the newcomer. “Shamus, I’d like you to meet my friends – Jessica Fletcher, who I’ve known since my days at university, and Inspector George Sutherland of Scotland Yard.”

       “Limey, aye?” O’Malley said as he took George’s hand and shook it. “Well, I’ll not hold it against ye. I’m please to make your acquaintance, sir.”

       Shannon gave Jessica a weak smile to indicate that she had not missed this somewhat back-handed comment, and said, “I told George and Jessica about the misfortunes that have been going on ‘round this place over dinner last night.”

       “Did ye now?  Well, I think I’ve found the source of your troubles.” Shamus went over to the flagstone path that ran from the field gate to Shannon’s front door.  “Watch this.” He closed his eyes again, held out the dowsing rod, and stepped on to the path.  As he did, the dowsing rod began to quiver in his hands, then move up and down as though with a will of its own.  Jessica looked on with keen interest.

       “That’s the source of your troubles,” he said, stepping off the path again.  “Ye have a ley-line running right under this place. ‘Tis a wonder ye haven’t had troubles before now.”

       “Where does it go?” Shannon asked.

       Shamus pointed to the distant stone ring on the hill.  “From yonder henge … right to your front door.”
       “The stone ring?” said Shannon in astonishment. “How do you figure?”

       “Ye know that the Ancients set their monuments over points of power in the earth,” O’Malley explained to her.  “Well, I paid a visit up there, took some sightings, did some figuring … anyway, turns out that on the morning of the Summer Solstice, the sun rising between two stones on the eastern edge of the ring and shining through the hole stone on the western edge casts a path of light straight to your door.  That’s how I knew where to look.”

       While he was explaining his logic to Shannon, Jessica quietly walked across the flagstone path and back again.  She didn’t feel anything unusual when she did so, though she had to admit that this didn’t mean there wasn’t something there for the dowser to sense.

       “I know that the Celts were very precise about the astronomical alignment of their monuments,” she said, “but what does the path made by the sunrise on Midsummer Day have to do with the things that have been happening around Shannon’s house?”

       “’Tisn’t the path itself, but the energies that run along it that affect the world above,” said Shamus. “The line itself is two hundred and sixty-five feet beneath the surface – that’s the depth that solar energy sinks to when it enters the earth at a node.  From there it travels in a path that’s straight as an arrow, up to thirty miles or more to the next node.”

       “So the stone ring is the node,” George said, “and the direction of the path is determined by the alignment of the sun on prominent Celtic holy days.”

       O’Malley seemed pleased by George’s grasp of the subject. “Exactly,” he said with a smile.

       “And what effect does solar energy have on the surface?” asked Shannon.

       “Solar energy increases other energies,” said Shamus. “Anything with a tendency toward chaos will become more dangerous if solar energy is influencing it. And some ley-line energies are negative, which can have a disastrous impact on anything above it.”

       Jessica took a step forward to get a closer look at O’Malley’s dowsing rod. “How does the dowsing rod sense the ley-line?”

       “It doesn’t,” he answered. “I sense the ley-line. Certain people will always resonate with the energy when they come upon it.  The dowsing rod merely amplifies the effect so that others can see it.”

       “So dowsing for a ley-line is like dowsing for water,” George mused.  To Jessica he said, “When I was a child, our well ran dry.  My father hired a dowser to come find a good spot for a new well, and damned if he didn’t indicate the perfect place.  That new well hasn’t even come close to going dry since.”

       “So I have a ley-line running through my dooryard,” Shannon said. “What do I do about it?”

       “Nothing,” Shamus said promptly.  “That line has been there for nigh on three thousand years.  Ye can’t ask it to move now.   If ye’d take my advice, ye’d sell this place. It pains me to say so, ye’ve been here for so many years – but take my word for it, there’s no cure for the effect that line’s having on your farm.  The best ye can hope to do is get away from it.”

       Shannon’s face fell, as though her worst fears had been realized.

       “Thanks for the advice, Shamus.  I’ll take to heart what you’ve said.”

       “All I can ask ye to do.  Be seeing ye on the morrow, Shannon-lass.” Shamus O’Malley nodded to Jessica and George, blew a light kiss to Shannon, and let himself out the gate.

       “Well,” said Shannon as she watched him leave. “So that explains that.”

       “Oh, I don’t know about that, Shannon,” Jessica said warily.  “Call me a skeptic, but it seems far-fetched to me that underground energy fields are responsible for the very real damage you’ve experienced here.”

       “So you’re saying that Shamus is wrong?”

       “No,” she said. “For all I know, he could be right.  I’m just saying that it would be wise to rule out all the perfectly ordinary possibilities for what’s been going on before accepting his explanation as the correct one.”

       Shannon sighed gustily. “I suppose you’re right, Jess,” she said as she turned and headed up the path to her door.  “It’s just that I’ve known Shamus for many a year. I can’t imagine him leading me astray.”

       As they followed her inside, George glanced at Jessica.  The look on her face told him quite plainly that she did not share Shannon’s faith in Shamus O’Malley’s theory of ley-lines and negative energies.


       As twilight deepened into dusk, the three of them shared a quiet meal in Shannon’s home.  The atmosphere in the cottage was warm and cozy.  Shep was stretched across the stone hearth, snoring gently as the firelight in the grate sent wavering shadows dancing across the plaster walls and woven rugs.  They spoke of small things over their meal, Shannon sharing tales of local interest, and Jessica was pleased to see that as the evening progressed, her old friend’s mood seemed to lift back to its normal buoyant level.  Inevitably, however, over after-dinner tea the talk returned to the subject of what to do about the farm, and her various options for selling it.

            “I don’t know what to do, Jess,” Shannon sighed as she stirred fresh cream into her cup of green tea. “I did two tarot readings on myself on two consecutive nights.  The first one indicated ‘sell,’ but didn’t specify to whom.  The next night the message was ‘don’t sell.’ Where does that leave me?”

            “You know how to read tarot cards?” Jessica asked. “I didn’t know you could do that.”

            Shannon laughed her surprise off. “It’s almost a required field of study for someone like me with an interest in mythology and fairy tales,” she said. “I never let it actually dictate my actions, but sometimes I feel like I can get a glimpse of what my subconscious mind is thinking when I read the cards.  Hey now – I should do readings for the two of you.”

            Jessica was curious and accepted the invitation. “What do I do?”

            Shannon went to her desk, rummaged around, and produced a deck of cards, bent at the corners and a little yellow with age.  She placed them into her friend’s hands.

            “Shuffle these,” she instructed. “Don’t think about anything in particular while you do it, unless you have a particular question you need guidance on.  Keep shuffling them any which way until you’re satisfied.”

            Jessica did so; after a minute or two she handed the deck back to Shannon.


            “Ready as I’ll ever be,” she said with a smile. She didn’t admit it to Shannon, but a vague feeling of apprehension had come over her the moment she had touched the deck of cards, and had been steadily growing ever since.

            Shannon gestured her over to her kitchen table, and took a seat across from her. “This is a modified Celtic Cross pattern,” she explained as she laid out the cards face down. She put the top card of the deck on the table first, crossing it with the next. The following four she arranged around them, north, south, east, and west.

            “This card,” she said, tapping the one in the center, “is your current situation, the problem at hand.”  She flipped it over for Jessica to see. A figure robed in black carrying a scythe and a white rose was inscribed on its face.

            “Death,” said Jessica softly.

            “The Death card rarely signifies actual physical death and dying,” Shannon reassured her.  “More often, it signifies a life change – ‘as one door closes another one opens.’ That sort of thing.”

            Next she turned over the card that crossed the Death card. It showed the image of a strong king bearing a long jeweled staff.  “The King of Wands,” said Shannon, “is what we call the Major Influence, the external force coming to bear on the current problem that will help shape its outcome.  Sometimes it is a force working in tandem with the seeker, and sometimes it is in opposition.  The King of Wands himself represents a strong, charismatic man of noble bearing.  He is conscientious, but occasionally acts too boldly or with too much haste.  Such a man will have much to do with how you will deal with the problem of an approaching life change.”

            Jessica’s eyes flickered over to where George was standing at the entrance to the kitchen, a slight smile on his lips. She couldn’t have described him any better, and from that look on his face, she guessed that he was well aware of the fact.

            She refocused her attention on Shannon, who had turned over the card in the north position.  “North equates the Distant Past,” she said. “It’s what has made you what you are today, Jess.” She peered at the card. “The Star. Well, that fits you well enough.  The Star represents what I, at least, have always known you to do – blending the best of past and present, accepting both for what they are with serenity, and never relinquishing hope and faith in the future.  There is also indication of an awareness of the dual nature of the world, of power over the Seen and Unseen.”

            The east position card was next. “The Nine of Wands,” Shannon said, “summarizes your Recent Past, though how recent only you can determine. This card speaks to recent trials that have required all your stamina to endure.  You are battle-scarred and on the defensive, but you have not yet been broken. What does not kill you will ultimately make you stronger.”

            Jessica looked at the image on the card, that of a soldier with his arm in a sling leaning on the last of nine staves as if using it for a crutch. “That fits,” she said wryly.

            “Here is your Near Future, in the south,” Shannon continued.  The card she turned over bore the image of the moon, with two hounds baying at it from below.  “It would be better, I daresay, had this card turned out to be the Sun, not the Moon.  But there it is: the Moon is the sign of apprehension and fear, a warning that not all is as it appears, and that unseen enemies lurk in the darkness.  It isn’t all bad, though – in proper context, the Moon can inspire us to let our imagination run free. Perhaps it speaks to your next book, Jess.”

            A sudden stab of intense apprehension told Jessica in no uncertain terms that this card had nothing to do with books, but she managed to keep her face calm and serene. “Perhaps,” was all she said in response to Shannon’s interpretation. “What about this last card, in the west?”

            “That is the Ultimate Outcome in this pattern,” she said. “Nothing about it is set in stone; it is merely a window on your hopes or fears for the future.” She flipped the card over, and sat back and laughed softly to herself. “I could have predicted this one as well, Jess – it’s Justice, holding her scales and her sword. This is what you hope for – balance, and truth.  You have worked to achieve these things in the past. The card here indicates you will continue to work for these things in the future – provided you can see your way through whatever changes lie before you, without being snared by the danger implied by the Moon.”

            A part of Jessica’s subconscious thought strongly identified with the image on the card and was drawn to it as though to a haven in a storm. The figure of Justice, a marble statue that was as cool and unruffled as the surface of a frozen lake, brought an unexpected feeling of comfort … or at least familiarity … to what was otherwise an unsettling pattern of cards.  If this was the sum of her hopes and fears, she thought to herself, then so much the better.  There were far worse cards she could have picked.

            Shannon waved her hand over the whole of the pattern. “It’s highly unusual to see so many major arcana in one reading,” she said. “Taken as a whole, it tells me that you have powerful energies swirling around you, Jess.  The trick is to harness them without being overwhelmed by them.”

            Jessica sat back in her chair, impressed.  The entire reading had taken no longer than ten minutes, yet she felt like she had been sitting there for hours. “That’s a lot to think about,” she remarked.

            “Don’t try to understand it all at once. Sleep on it, and see if it becomes clearer over the course of the next few days.  As I told you before, I don’t let the cards dictate my actions, just provide me with a source of insight.” She waved George over to the table. “Your turn, George.”

            Jessica relinquished her seat to him, but George hesitated. “Er, I don’t know, Shannon …”

            “Come now.  I can’t do a reading on one of you without doing the other.  Sit down and shuffle the cards.”

            George did so, but unlike Jessica, who had kept her mind open, he chose to concentrate on one important question in his mind while his hands shuffled the cards. At length he pushed the deck back across the table to Shannon.  Jessica hovered nearby, interested in hearing what Shannon had to say.

            “An open-faced reading for you, I think,” her friend said, eyeing George closely. “It often seems to work better for men that way.” 

            With practiced hands, she laid out the six cards in their cross-wise pattern.  Shannon looked down at them, considering their message, then quickly back up at George.

            “You’re in love with her.”  It was a statement, not a question.

            George wasn’t sure how to respond – after all, he had only met Shannon the day before, and could only call her an acquaintance at best.  He briefly wondered whether Shannon was actually basing her statement on the cards spread out between them, or if she was instead merely articulating a truth that he thought he had succeeded in hiding behind the much-lauded British “stiff upper lip.”  If it was the latter, were his feelings really so obvious that even a casual onlooker could read them?

            Shannon took his silence as permission to go on, and continued the reading as though nothing had happened, although every now and again her eyes darted towards Jessica as if trying to read her reaction to what was being said.

            “Your current situation,” she said, “is here, represented by the Knight of Cups.  It is an opportunity that you have been presented.  Most tarot readers would say it is an opportunity for romance.” Here she cast another glance across the table at Jessica, but her friend's face remained impassive and unreadable.

            “Your crossing card, the Major Influence that is complicating matters, is the Queen of Swords.  She represents a strong, self-confident woman of many experiences, intensely perceptive and quick-witted. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

            That’s Jessica, George thought to himself smugly.  Shannon needn’t have said more even if she had wanted to. Maybe there was something to this tarot thing after all.

            “Your Distant Past, what has made you who you are, is Justice and your untiring work in its service.  More recently, you have been suffering the effects of the Nine of Swords – slander, worry, guilt, the agony of seeing a loved one in pain.  The Nine of Swords warns us that your troubles may not yet be over; you may have sleepless nights yet to endure.”

            George looked at the picture uneasily; it showed a figure sitting up in bed with his head in his hands, nine ominous-looking swords hanging above him like the stroke of doom.  He remembered how he had felt when Jessica had been hurt – angry, helpless, and worried sick – and could easily identify with the haunted figure portrayed in the card’s image.  That experience had been bad enough – in fact, it was difficult to imagine anything worse than what he had felt that day – yet the card indicated that such trials were not wholly in the past.  What was it that Horace McKay said when they arrived in Wick – that they had fled danger into danger?  Was history about to repeat itself so soon?

            His anxious thoughts were interrupted when Shannon tapped the south position card.

            “Now to your brighter future,” she said.  “In the Near Future, the Seven of Wands indicates an opportunity to take a stand for what you believe in, to prevail against obstacles, to be brave.  It is a battle card – you can see from the picture that this soldier is fighting – but if you stand firm, you will come out with the victory.  What you hope for – or fear will happen – is here, in the west. Well, this card at least should be self-explanatory.”

            Indeed, George thought.  The last card, the Hopes-and-Fears card, was the Lovers.

            Jessica, looking over his shoulder, saw this card and was no longer able to hide her dismay.  She took an involuntary step back, and looked away. Although she was not superstitious and placed no rational significance on the cards, there seemed to be no escaping the fact that the readings had stripped away the carefully constructed surface of her relationship with George like waves washing away sand on a beach, revealing the much more turbulent undercurrents for Shannon to see.  

            For Shannon to see? she thought to herself. Forget Shannon – it’s been laid bare for you to see, Jess. If only you would face up to it.

            Fortunately George did not pursue the deeper meaning of the final card, and though she was sure he had not missed her reaction, he didn’t draw attention to it.  Instead he glanced at his watch and rose from the table.

            “Marvelous dinner, Shannon,” he said, “and a most entertaining evening.  Have you ever considered taking your act on the road?  You could make a fortune telling fortunes.”

            Shannon laughed as she put the deck of cards away. “Nay, George, that would never do for me,” she said. “If I’m so good, why haven’t I won any lotteries? I’ll leave the fortune-telling-for-profit to the other charlatans, thank you.”

            “That’s probably for the best,” George said.  “Come, Jess, it’s late – we should be getting back to the hotel.”

            “Breakfast tomorrow?” Shannon asked as George helped Jessica with her cloak. “The Seven Loaves Bakery has really superb scones. My treat.”

            “Sounds good,” Jessica said with a smile.  “What time?”

            “Make it nine. I’m intending to sleep in.”

            “Done.” She and George started to leave, but the door Jessica turned and paused. “Shannon – one last thing before we go.  Could I trouble you to loan me some of your books about the stone circles?”

            “Sure, Jess,” she said.  She went to her bookshelves, which were overflowing with written materials of her own as well as others’ making, and selected a few volumes that she thought would serve.  “What are you hoping to find?”

            Jessica took the books and glanced at their covers. “I haven’t the faintest idea – but I’ll be sure to let you know when I find it,” she said. “Good night, Shannon.”


            Shannon’s house was only a modest walk from the center of Kilcleer, and the road was easy to navigate even at night.  On their way back to the village and the hotel Jessica was much quieter than usual, with her eyes staring straight ahead at the road before them. George could tell she was upset, and tried to engage her in conversation.

            “I take it you don’t put much faith in what Mr. O’Malley told Shannon this afternoon,” he said.

            The question succeeded in stirring Jessica from her private thoughts. “About a ley-line being responsible for the incidents at the farm? No, I don’t believe it for a minute.”

            “Neither do I. It just seems like too pat an explanation, and of course, it is a theory that is utterly unprovable.” George looked toward the line of hills in the east where the moon was just beginning to rise, as if searching the distant horizon for answers.  “No,” he said, “much as he would like us to believe that there is supernatural mischief going on about that place, I think the true cause is much more mundane.”

            “Why would he tell her such things, then?” Jessica wondered aloud. “If he is truly concerned for her safety, why distract her with the supposed results of his dowsing expedition?”

            “I don’t know, Jess. He has no direct stake in the sale of the farm as far as we can see.  Maybe he truly believes himself what he told Shannon today.”

            “Maybe.”  Jessica kicked a small stone absently as they walked and watched it skitter off the pavement and into the tall grass at the roadside, her mind clearly elsewhere.

            George tried again to pull her back to the present by using a different … and, he knew, more dangerous … tack. “So you’re convinced the ley-line theory is rubbish.  What about Shannon’s tarot readings?”

            George’s question had its intended effect; it caught Jessica off-guard, and she looked up at him sharply.

            “Oh, I don’t really put much stock in those either.  Except …” She trailed off into silence and would not give voice to her thought.

            “Except what?” George asked.


            “Nothing?” George stopped in the middle of the road and took Jessica by the arm so that she had to look at him.  “It’s not ‘nothing.’  I saw you back there in Shannon’s kitchen.  You were plainly upset by what you were hearing and seeing.”

            Jessica refused to meet his eyes. “It’s just that … I didn’t expect the cards to be so accurate,” she reluctantly admitted.  She started to pull away, clearly anxious to resume walking and leave the topic behind, but George would not let her – not when they were finally getting close to the heart of the problem.

            “Yours?” he said. “Or mine?”

            There was another reluctant pause. “Mostly yours,” she said at last, and she wrapped her cloak tighter around herself as if to ward off a chill.

            “Was the message you saw in my cards really so surprising?” he asked her quietly.

            Jessica shifted uncomfortably where she stood, still avoiding his gaze, and nervously drew an arc in the gravel roadbed with the toe of her shoe. “No … it’s just that I thought we had settled that. In Scotland.”

            George sighed with exasperation and cast his eyes towards the heavens.  “Maybe you thought we had,” he said, failing to keep a hint of bitterness from creeping into his tone.  “But as for me, do you really expect me to be able to turn my own feelings toward you on and off like a light switch?  I’m only human, Jess.”

            “I know.”

            “And so are you,” he reminded her gently.

            Jessica did not reply; instead she succeeded in slipping George’s grip and resumed walking toward the lights of the village; this time he did not try to stop her.  The moon rose higher; in its silver light and with her face set like flint, Jessica looked as if she had been carved from alabaster, and image that, at least at the moment, George found particularly apt.

            “You know, your cards were right on the mark as well,” he said, once again falling into step beside her. “Especially your last one.  Justice. But it wasn’t just the implied meaning that fits you so perfectly.  Sometimes you match the image of the card as well.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Sometimes it feels like you’re just as unapproachable as that marble statue, Jess.” There, he had said it. It could no longer be unsaid. “When you want to, you put up an emotional shield so impenetrable and unreadable that nothing gets past it.  You won’t let my feelings in, and heaven forbid you let your feelings out.”

            He expected an angry outburst at that, but instead of protesting his admittedly harsh assessment, Jessica said nothing at all.

            And in a way, that was much, much worse … if only because it proved his point.


            The rest of the short walk was conducted in deafening silence. So too did they enter the hotel lobby and head up to their room in silence, and get ready for bed in silence. Since the accident with her shoulder George had been accustomed to helping Jessica get in and out of the sleeves of her clothes, but this time when he touched her arm gently with an offer to help, she flinched away and insisted on doing it herself.  Thus rebuffed, he had to be content with watching her struggle through the process alone.  It took her twice as long and more than once he saw a fleeting wince of pain cross her face, but he knew better than to dare to make the offer a second time.  Reminding her to do her physical therapy exercise was quite out of the question.

            By the time he turned out the light, George was feeling perfectly rotten for what he had said to her.  Rotten, but not sorry – he knew he had spoken from his heart, and that for him at least what he had said was true.  Even if it was an unpleasant truth, that did not make his feelings on the matter any less valid. 

            “Keep a calm sooch, George,” he silently reminded himself: “Hold your tongue.” So he endured her silence and kept his peace.

            He was just about to drop off into an uneasy sleep, reciting silently to himself as he did all the words in the English language he could think of for ‘stubborn’ (“Intractable! Obstinate! Willful!”), when Jessica spoke aloud into the darkness:

            “You’re right.”

            Her words jolted him awake straightaway. “Come again?”

            “You’re right,” she said again. “About everything. I haven’t been fair to you at all.  And I’m sorry.”

            “I was very harsh on you.”

            “Yes, you were,” she said honestly. “And it hurt.” She paused, and then added quietly, “But I can also accept that what you said was true enough.”

            George propped himself up on his elbow and looked at her in the dim light coming through the curtains from the lamps of the courtyard below.  Jessica was lying on her back, tense as a bowstring, her eyes open and fixed on the ceiling. He could tell that it had cost her quite a bit – at least in terms of personal pride – to say what she had just told him.

            “I don’t know why I thought telling you that I wasn’t ready for ‘that kind’ of relationship would just put an end to the issue,” she continued, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears. “Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten quite good at burying my own emotions.  Maybe it’s because I’ve written so much fiction it’s become easy for me to turn a blind eye to reality.”

            “Maybe it’s because you don’t want to be hurt again,” George pointed out.  “It must have been agony for you when Frank died.”

            Jessica curled up into a tight ball of misery and faced the wall. “Yes,” she said.

            George took a calculated risk then, and put a comforting hand on her shoulder.  This time she did not draw away from his touch. “I remember enduring that pain myself, when my Kathleen died in that car accident,” he told her sympathetically. “It’s the sort of pain that one does not easily forget – or willingly risk enduring again.”

            “That’s not the whole reason …”

            “No, I never said that it was,” he said, stroking her hair.  “But I think it’s at least part of the reason.  Think about it logically, Jess: the closer someone is to the center of your heart, the more it hurts to lose them.  The solution, therefore, is simple – betray no weakness to anyone, and admit no one into the guarded realm of your heart.  You’ve become quite good at this, Jessica.  You rarely display any hint of vulnerability to anyone, even to me.”

            At last she began to relax. “I know,” she sighed. “Forgive me?”

            “There’s nothing to forgive,” he said promptly.  In the time since their argument on the road, he’d had time to examine his own words and actions, and had not found himself completely faultless. “It is who you are at this moment. My error was in trying to push you further into intimacy – and the risk of pain that goes with it – before you were ready.” He paused, and then added, “It has been difficult for me to come to terms with the possibility that you may never be ready.”

            The words hung in the space between them for a long moment.

            “Then, of course, there is the other problem,” Jessica said at length as she turned to face him at last.

            “Which is?”

            She smiled. “I’m a damned, stubborn, mule-headed Mainer.”

            George had to laugh at this. “Even here, across the wide Atlantic Ocean, the folk of Maine are well known for their … oh, how shall I put it … singularly stoic, unyielding nature.”

            This made her laugh as well. “That’s putting it kindly,” she said. “But we need to be strong, else we’d never survive the Maine winters.”

            “Fair enough,” said George as he lay back on the pillows, relieved. “Jess, do you think it’s possible that you and I are the Immovable Object and the Unstoppable Force, respectively?”

            Jessica yawned sleepily. “Well,” she replied, “if we are, then the Immovable Object at least is tired, and has no intention of being moved until tomorrow morning at the earliest.”

            “So be it,” said George, in full agreement. “Good night, Jessica. Sleep long and well.”

            “Good night, George.  And thank you, as always, for being you.”


            George woke first the next morning, well after first light. Rising carefully so as not to wake Jessica, he tiptoed to the bathroom to shower, shave, and dress.  When he returned to the main room, he was surprised to find Jessica still fast asleep.

            He sat down on the edge of the bed, reached over, and shook her gently. “Jessica.”

            She stirred and sighed, but didn’t wake up.

            “Jessica, wake up. The hour grows late, and we’re to meet Shannon for breakfast at nine.”

            Mmph. All right. What time is it?”

            “Nearly eight,” George said, consulting his watch. “You had a long sleep.”

            Jessica sat up in bed and ran her hand through her hair. “I guess I needed it,” she said with a rueful smile. “I’m not used to doing that much walking!”

            George stood and stretched.  “You’re not the only one,” he said.  “You skipped out of you physiotherapy exercises last night, you know. I would have reminded you, but you didn’t seem to be in much of a mood to hear it.”

            Jessica hung her head. “I know. And I’m sorry.”

            “Then we’ll just have to pick up tonight where we left off,” he said.  He leaned over and gave her a quick peck on the cheek to show her there were no hard feelings.

            This brought a smile back to her face. “Just let me take a shower and pull myself together, and we’ll go.”


            They arrived at the Seven Loaves Bakery at the stroke of nine.  Shannon was already inside, finishing her first cup of coffee and picking out a loaf of rye bread to accompany her dinner.

            “Good morning!” she said brightly as George and Jessica walked in the shop. “I already got us a table over there in the corner.”

            When they were all seated with scones and coffee, Jessica gave Shannon an appraising look over the top of her cup.

            “You seem particularly upbeat this morning,” she observed of her friend.

            “Aye,” Shannon said, spooning strawberry jam on her scone. “I had a good night’s sleep to think things over, and things are looking much better by morning’s light.”

            “You sound like you’ve made a decision concerning the farm,” said George.

            Shannon nodded around a mouthful of scone. “I called Colleen Kirk first thing when I got up this morning, and left a message on her voice mail to come to the farm at noontide to discuss the Nature Conservancy’s offer in greater detail.”

         “Ye be making a big mistake, Shannon-lass.”

          They looked up and saw Shamus O’Malley standing next to their table.

         Beggin’ your pardon, Mrs. Fletcher, Inspector,” he said. “I came to see how ye were doin’ this morn, Shannon.  D’ye mind if I join ye for a moment?”

            “Pull up a chair, Shamus,” Shannon said, gesturing with her half-eaten scone.

            O’Malley took an unoccupied chair from a neighboring table and sat down in it. “Did I hear ye right, Shannon, that you’re goin’ to be talking with that Colleen Kirk at noon today?”

         “That’s right,” she said.

        “The Emerald Spring people will give you the better value for what’s yours,” Shamus pointed out.  “How much can you expect a nature conservancy to pay for your land?”

         Shannon set her coffee cup down with a decisive thump. “It’s not the money that’s important, Shamus,” she said with a touch of exasperation.  “There are things far more important to me than money.  Colleen assures me that if they purchase the farm, they will continue to let me stay on, and that means more to me than a whole wagonload of money.”

        Shamus became agitated in turn.  “If ye stay on, ye’ll still be subjected to the effects of that damned ley-line!”

        But Shannon waved away his objection. “Colleen says a cottage can always be built for me on a different site.  In any event, I’ll do what I please, and those bloody bottled water purveyors be damned.”

       Shamus backed down then, but he still did not look happy.  “I didn’t mean to start a quarrel with ye, Shannon-lass. Ye know I’m just looking out for your best interests.”

Shannon’s mood softened then, and she put her hand on O’Malley’s. “I know,” she said. “Don’t worry about it, old friend.  Things will work out just fine.”

“I hope so,” he said, draining his mug and rising.  “For your sake, I hope so.”

After he had gone, Shannon looked over at Jessica and George with a weary smile.  “He means well,” she said. “He just doesn’t know when to stop.”

“I wouldn’t be too worried about him,” said George. “Whatever happens, if he sees you happy, I think he’ll come around.”

            In no hurry to be anywhere, the all accepted refills on their coffee and discussed the upcoming Midsummer Day celebrations.

            “The festival will actually begin on Midsummer Eve, at sunset on June 23rd,” Shannon said.  “Bonfires will be lit to encourage the sun to rise after what has traditionally been observed as the shortest night of the year.  Those who keep the vigil will be the first to welcome the sunrise on the Summer Solstice.  Even children are allowed to stay up to wait for the dawn.”

            “Your pardon, Shannon,” George said, “but I thought that the longest day of the year was on June 21st.”

            “You’re right, it is,” she said. “Still, it’s always either the 23rd or the 24th that sees the Midsummer celebration. ‘Tis always been so. Who knows, three thousand years ago the actual longest day of the year may truly have been June 23rd or 24th – after all, the earth does not stand still in its orbit. The ancients were well aware of the astronomical significance of the day - many of the ancient Neolithic stone monuments are aligned to the dawn on Midsummer.”

            “Does anyone observe the solstice at the stone circles?” Jessica asked.

            “Nay,” Shannon said with a smile.  “Midsummer is one of three days in the course of the year when the veil between our world and the realm of hidden things is thin, and the fairy folk and elves join humans in their celebrations.  But it is not wise to tempt fate, or venture to sacred places where the veil is thin enough to tear! Although tradition holds that spending Midsummer Eve in a stone circle can bestow one with the powers of a bard, it is equally likely that you will be spirited away by the fairies or go stark raving mad.  No one wants to take a risk such as that!”

            “Pardon,” their waitress said, coming to their table. “I was asked to give this message to you, Ms. Kilcannon.”  She handed Shannon a folded slip of paper. “Bethany took the message from someone calling on the telephone, looking for you.”

            Shannon accepted the message and read it.

            “Well!” she said with some surprise. “Speak of the devil.  The message is from Colleen Kirk.  She got my message, it seems, but is too busy to come to Kilcleer.  She wants to meet me outside of Bandon for our little chat.”

            “That’s odd,” said Jessica. “Bandon is only twenty minutes away – is she really so busy that she can’t come here to see you?”

            Shannon shrugged. “Mayhaps she had another meeting around the same time, and couldn’t be in two places at once,” she said. “Either way, I’ll find out soon enough.”


            Shannon returned from Bandon that evening in a frustrated mood, having not found out anything at all – she had spent all afternoon waiting at a lonely rest area outside of the hamlet for Colleen, who had failed to show up for their supposed meeting.

            “The nerve!” she said to Shep as she flung her shoulderbag and keys to the counter. “Why ask me to go all the way to Bandon if you don’t intend to show up yourself?  This doesn’t cast them in a flattering light, Shep.”

            She exchanged her good coat for one more appropriate for barn chores, kicked off her shoes, and slid on a pair of boots.

            “Come on, then,” she said to Shep, who sprang to his feet, his tail wagging in tight little circles with his eagerness to be off. “It’s time and past time we let the sheep in from the fields.”

            Together they headed out the back door toward the barns, and the well beyond.

            “Just let me draw some water for the trough, Shep,” Shannon said to her dog. She grabbed a plastic bucket from the barn, and headed for the well, her aggravation at the wasted afternoon lending extra purpose to her stride.  Shep bounded along beside her, but as they approached the well, he abruptly stopped in his tracks and shied away, whining with his tail tucked between his legs.

            Shannon was surprised at the behavior of her normally fearless border collie. “Here now, what’s the matter, Shep-boy?” she asked.  “Come along.”

            But Shep refused to take another step toward the well.  In the fading light Shannon could not make out whatever it was that was frightening him, so it was with a certain trepidation that she went on towards the well by herself.

            She saw the shoes first, sticking out from behind the stone wall that rimmed the well.  Looking around the corner she was dismayed to find that the shoes were still filled, as the body of Colleen Kirk came into her view.  Colleen’s deadened eyes were open wide and staring at nothing, permanently freezing the look of surprise she must have worn the instant someone had caved in the back of her skull with Shannon’s own garden shovel.  The shovel itself was lying nearby, the crimson stain on its metal blade matching the one that had stained the ground beneath Colleen’s head.

            Horrified, Shannon dropped the plastic bucket that she was surprised to find she was still carrying.  Then she backed away slowly, putting at least some distance and darkness between herself and Colleen’s body before she turned to run back to the house, Shep following hard on her heels.


            Later on, Shannon would not be able to remember if she had called Jessica or Sergeant Boyle first, only that they had arrived at approximately the same time. Everything after that was a blur.  The police went out to secure the crime scene at the well, with George accompanying them.  Jessica remained behind at the house, guiding Shannon over to the sofa and settling her there while she made a pot of tea in the kitchen.

            Shannon looked up at her dully when Jessica sat down next to her and pressed a cup of tea into her hands.  “Thanks, Jess.”

            “Think nothing of it.”

            Shannon took a sip of tea, then closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the cushions of the sofa.

            “Where’s George?” she asked.

            “Out at the well with Sergeant Boyle.”

            “Oh.” She took another sip of her tea; Jessica remained silent beside her, waiting for her to speak. “It was awful, Jess,” she finally managed to say. “She was lying beside the well, and even in the dim light I could see that her eyes were wide open …”  She passed a hand in front of her own eyes, as if trying to wipe away the image that she had seen. “She was a good woman, Jess,” she went on. “I didn’t know her well, but I respected her work. She didn’t deserve to die like that.”

            Jessica put a comforting arm around her friend’s shoulders. “Shannon, I need you to think hard for a moment,” she said.  “Did you see anyone or anything unusual around the well?”

            Shannon thought for a moment, but then shook her head. “Nay, Jess.  Just that Shep wouldn’t go near the well.”

            At that moment the door opened, and George walked in, followed closely by Sergeant Terry Boyle.  The head law enforcement officer of Kilcleer was much as Jessica remembered him, save only that since their last meeting he had grown a beard, which he kept closely trimmed to his face.  He was a serious young man with a sharp eye, prone to frowning when he was deep in thought.  He was wearing that frown now as he stepped across the threshold and removed his hat.

            Jessica stood and went to George’s side.  “George – how did it happen?”

            George cast a glance Shannon’s way before answering. “It looks like blunt trauma to the back of the head,” he told her quietly.  “There was a shovel lying on the ground nearby; it had traces of Ms. Kirk’s blood on it.”

            Shannon winced at his words.

            Sergeant Boyle took center stage then, stepping into the middle of the room to address Shannon, who had not moved from her seat on the couch.  He held up a plastic bag; inside of it there was a tattered card bearing the image of a heart pierced by three long swords.

            “Ms. Kilcannon,” he said, “do you recognize this card?”

            “Yes,” she said forthrightly. “That is the Three of Swords from my tarot deck. Where did you find it, Sergeant?”

            “We found it clutched in the victim’s hand,” he said as he put the plastic bag back into his coat pocket. “Any notion how it might have found its way there?”

            “None at all, Sergeant,” Shannon said, confused. “I had the deck out last night – I was doing readings for Jessica and George here – but I know all the cards were accounted for when I put it away in my desk.”

            “Ms. Kilcannon,” Boyle said, “if you don’t mind my asking, where were you today between the hours of eleven and five?”

            “I was in Bandon … or rather, just outside of Bandon,” Shannon answered. “I’d been given a message this morning to meet Ms. Kirk at a picnic area just outside of town. I waited there all afternoon – I figured she must have been delayed – but she never showed up.”

            Shannon,” Jessica said, “did anyone see you there?”

            Shannon shook her head, her hands clasped tightly around the tea mug in her lap. “No. A car or two may have driven by while I was waiting there, but no one stopped. I suppose that means I have no alibi.”

            “I’m afraid that’s true, Ms. Kilcannon,” Boyle said. “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like you to come with me into town.  I have some more questions to ask you while the laboratory staff is finishing up here.”

            “What about Shep?” Shannon asked as she set down her mug.

            Boyle looked at her quizzically. “Shep?”

            “My dog,” Shannon said, and as if to illustrate her explanation, the border collie, who had been lying quietly by the fire, rose to his feet and stood at his mistress’ side.

            “George and I will take Shep up the valley to Tom and Kate Dempsey’s lodge,” Jessica said. “They have plenty of room and they love animals.  He’ll be well looked after there.”

            “Thanks, Jessica,” Shannon said gratefully.  “I owe you one.”  She took her coat off its hook, and followed Sergeant Boyle out of the house.

            “I don’t know about you, Jess,” George said as he watched them go, “but I could use a pint.”


            That wish led them to the common room of the Cannery Arms.  George ordered his desired pint of Guiness, while Jessica contented herself with tonic water.

            “Never developed a taste for ale, Jessica?” He took a sip, and sighed with contentment.

            Jessica watched him savor the ale with amusement. “Not for anything as dark as that,” she said.

            “You don’t know what you’re missing,” he said, and took another draught.

            Suddenly Jessica sat up straight. “George – look over there.”

            “What is it?”

            Jessica nodded in the direction of a table across the room. “Isn’t that Shamus O’Malley over there with those two men?”

            George took a discreet look, then turned back to his ale. “Aye, it sure looks like him.  But who are the gents he’s talking to?”

            “Judging by the cut and quality of their clothes, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the Emerald Springs representatives that Shannon spoke of.”

            “Hmm. Why would he be speaking with them?”

            Jessica swirled the ice cubes in her glass of tonic water and considered. “He is a dowser,” she said thoughtfully. “Perhaps they are engaging his services to look for new springs.”

            “Aye, could be,” George conceded. “I wonder if he’s as successful with his dowsing as the ones who did it back home in Scotland?”

            “I don’t know – but it could be interesting to ask around town and find out.”

            “Speaking of tomorrow,” George said, placing his hand on hers, “I was thinking – why don’t we go off and have a picnic supper tomorrow evening, in celebration of Midsummer Eve.  Just you and me – what do you say?”

            “What can I say?” Jessica said. “I accept!”


            The evening drew on, and Jessica and George eventually returned to the Thistle Inn, where Jessica immediately dove into the pile of books that Shannon had lent her while George sat up in bed perusing the day’s newspaper.

            “What has you so absorbed, Jess?” he asked at one point, putting down his paper and removing his reading half-glasses.

            “Research,” she replied without looking up.

            “Research – for a book?”

            “No,” she said as she marked her place, closed the volume she was reading, and stretched in her chair. “I was researching stone circles, and ley-lines.”

            “Find anything useful yet?”

            “No,” she sighed. “Leastways, nothing useful beyond what Shamus O’Malley told us yesterday.”

            “The man does seem to know his subject well,” George agreed.

            “I suppose he does,” she conceded, rubbing her stiff left shoulder. 

            George noticed, “Oh, Jess, your shoulder’s acting up again, isn’t it.”

            “It’s not ‘acting up,’” she said, “it’s just a little twinge.”

            “Well, little twinge or no, you’re not getting out of your physiotherapy two nights in a row. Into the shower with you, lassie.  As soon as you’ve warmed it up with the hot water, report back here for your exercises.”

            She grinned and gave him a mock salute. “Yes sir, Inspector.”

            After her shower, her shoulder felt looser already.  She emerged from the bathroom wrapped in her light satin robe.  “All right, I’m ready. Where do we start tonight?”

            “Sit on the edge of the bed first, Jess, and I’ll give you a quick massage.”

            Jessica sat down beside him and laughed. “Can ‘quick’ and ‘massage’ even be used together in a sentence?” she asked.

            “Not in reference to any massage worth its salt, I suppose,” George admitted. “But this is just meant to warm up your shoulder a bit more.”

            “Are we doing this with oil or without?”

            George gulped. To use oil would mean sliding the satin robe off her shoulder at the very least – and he wasn’t at all sure he would be able to handle that.

            “Without, I think,” he said with somewhat forced lightness. If Jessica caught any hint of discomfort, she didn’t indicate so.

            “You know, you’re quite good at this, George,” Jessica said drowsily as he worked on her shoulder and arm. “Perhaps you missed your calling in life – you would have made a wonderful masseuse.”

            “Thank you, but I’ll stick to what I know,” he said. “I’m sure any true professional would see me for the rank amateur that I am.” Still, he had to admit to himself that her comment had pleased him.

            When it seemed to him that Jessica’s muscles were relaxed enough to be stretched, he had her lie down close to the edge of the bed, then pulled up a chair and sat in it next to her.

            “All right, Jess,” he said, “just relax, let me move your left arm for you - and let me know if anything hurts.”

            He started out by having her lay her arm naturally at her side, then put one hand lightly on her shoulder, and used the other to draw her hand outward from her body in a slow arc. But before he had her arm extended out much more than halfway, she winced and squeezed his hand.

            “Did that hurt?” he asked.

            “Yes, a little,” she replied.

            “We’ll work on that, then,” he said, and repeated the exercise several more times, gradually working back up to the point where he had started. “Does that still hurt?”

             “No,” she said with a touch of surprise.

            “Good.  See, we’re making progress.  You’ll be putting up your own storm windows in Cabot Cove in no time.”

            Jessica smiled at that, and George continued to put her shoulder through its paces.

            “You really should see it, you know,” she said.

            “See what?” he asked, arranging her arm for the next set of exercises.

            “Cabot Cove. I think you would like it.”

            “My dear Jessica,” George said, “if you are there, then I know I shall love it.”

            “Flatterer. But seriously, you really should come and visit me there. I’ve come to Wick twice now.”

            “We did have San Francisco, didn’t we?” George said as he carefully rotated her shoulder slightly inwards.

            “Yes, we did, but this would be … different. San Francisco was, how shall I put it … neutral ground.  Cabot Cove is home.”

            George chuckled softly as he moved her arm a little further in rotation. “All right, I’ll give you that. You’ve been to my home twice, and I’ve been to yours not at all. I promise I’ll give the matter serious thought, and come when I can – agreed?”

            Jessica smiled softly as her eyes drifted closed. “Agreed.”   


            “Jessica, George, I swear that I had nothing to do with Colleen’s death,” Shannon said when they came by the police station early the next morning.

            “Of course not, Shannon,” Jessica said, trying to reassure her friend. “But convincing Sergeant Boyle of that is another matter altogether!”

            “Aye,” Shannon said dejectedly. “And here am I, with no alibi to speak of.”

            “The matter of the tarot card is very curious,” George said. “How might someone have gotten hold of that?”

            Shannon groaned. “You don’t actually think that I bother to lock my cottage when I’m out, do you?”

            George rolled his eyes. “Bloody marvelous,” he muttered. “How many people know about that?”

            Er … all of Kilcleer?”

            “That’s what I thought.”

            “So the card doesn’t really help narrow down our list of alternate suspects,” said Jessica. “Apparently, anyone could have gone into the cottage, taken the card from the deck, and planted it on the body.”

            “Afraid so, Jess,” said Shannon.

            “What about those Emerald Spring people?” George asked. “They would have as good a motive as anyone to kill Ms. Kirk, if they thought that they were going to lose their chance to purchase your farm to her group.”

            “It’s a good thought, George, and I would dearly love to see them get the blame,” Shannon said. “But when I was talking to Sergeant Boyle last night, he told me that they have an iron-clad alibi for the whole day.”

            “And what is that?” Jessica asked her.

            “They had a meeting back at headquarters in Dublin,” Shannon said with a sigh. “The meeting started at noon, there had to be a dozen witnesses that could vouch for their whereabouts.  And there’s no way they could get from Kilcleer to Dublin and back again with enough time to spare to murder poor Colleen.”

            Jessica frowned. “Did Sergeant Boyle mention what time they got back to Kilcleer?” she asked.

            “He didn’t specify, but he did say it was late.”

            “Must have been,” said George. “We saw them last night ourselves, over at the Cannery Arms.”

            Jessica put her hand on her friend’s arm in a gesture of reassurance. “Don’t worry overmuch, Shannon,” she said. “We’ll get to the bottom of this, you’ll see.”

            “I hope so, Jess,” Shannon said, tears glittering in her eyes. “Sergeant Boyle said he’d take me back to the cottage tomorrow morning to watch the Midsummer sunrise, as I always do. The usual crowd will be there – say that you’ll be there too, will you?”

            “We will,” Jessica said emphatically. “I promise.”


            “What are your plans for the next few hours?” George asked Jessica as they stepped outside of the police station.

            “Well, I need to go to the library, to look up some more information on ley-lines that was referenced in one of Shannon’s books,” Jessica said. “And I wanted to photocopy one of the maps she loaned me, so I can make some notes on it. After that … well, I’m not sure about after that.”

            “That will probably keep you busy for quite some time,” George said. “While you bury yourself in your books, I’ll ask around town about how good a dowser Shamus O’Malley was. After that, I’ll stop by the market and pick up some supplies for our picnic tonight.  What time shall we meet back?”

            Jessica thought for a moment before answering. “Let’s say four, at the Thistle,” she said.

            “Then it’s settled. Good luck with your errands, Jess.”

            “And good luck with yours,” she replied, giving him a light kiss on his cheek. “See you later this afternoon.”


            Jessica sat at an outdoor table in front of the Green Gosling, one of Kilcleer’s popular pubs, sipping a cup of early-afternoon tea and staring at the map she had photocopied out of Shannon’s book on Irish antiquities.  She had drawn a straight line from the hole stone of the ancient stone ring to the cottage, based on where she knew the sun rose every Summer Solstice, and wasn’t happy with what it was showing her.  Despite checking and rechecking her angles and figuring, the first light of Midsummer Day dawn coming through the keyhole in the standing stone always landed in the same place: squarely in the middle of the door of Shannon’s cottage.

            Pushing aside the map with a sigh, she stirred her tea and resolved to finish it before it cooled off any more than it already had.  The sun was warm but the breeze felt cool, and it was sapping the warmth out of her teacup.  Rather than dwell on the problem of the map, it was much more pleasant to drink tea and watch the activity going on in the town square around her.  People were making their final preparations for the Solstice celebration that would begin at sunset; she saw city workers hanging paper lanterns from the trees and fixing torches to the lamp posts around the square, and people hurrying in and out of shops making last minute purchases of food and drink.  They hailed each other as they met in the street, everyone feeling especially good-natured in the spirit of the holiday.

            Only the children seemed unaffected by the anticipation of the adults; they played their usual games together without sparing any special attention for the preparations taking place around them.  Two girls spun a pair of jump ropes between them while a third skillfully danced in between them, her twinkling feet never tripping despite the blur of the ropes around her.  Another child was drawing a hopscotch board on the stone pavers with colored chalk, while nearby her younger brother and sister played with a bright plastic top.  Jessica smiled as she watched the little boy set the top to spinning while his sister solemnly counted to mark how long it stayed upright before it fell over.  When it did, they switched, the little girl spinning the top while the boy counted.  They appeared to have practiced at this game quite a bit; the average time the top stayed upright was a count of 18, with it only starting to wobble on its axis around 12.  As a child, Jessica couldn’t remember ever getting a top to stay up past the count of 10.

            Yet that was not the reason why she continued to watch their game with such fascination.  There was something about the motion of the top that she felt was important somehow, yet couldn’t put her finger on why.  But then, as she watched the little boy’s next turn near its end as the top’s spin deteriorated into an uncertain wobble, the significance of the toy’s motion finally hit her full force.  She drained her teacup, collected her map, left a few pound notes on the table to cover the bill and tip, and started briskly back for the inn, where she had left Shannon’s other books.

            The one that she picked up first when she arrived back in the room was about ancient Druid astronomy.  She quickly found the information she was looking for, and used it to plot a second straight line on her map.  This time when she had finished she set her pencil down with evident satisfaction and relief.  Things were not so hopeless after all.

            “’After all, the earth does not stand still in its orbit,’” Jessica said softly, repeating Shannon’s words to herself.  But she needed to test the theory to make sure she was right, and pick out some landmarks to prove her point – and all of this preferably before dawn tomorrow.  Everything would come to a head the moment the first rays of the sun peeped through that keyhole in the stone, and there must be no mistakes, because it was all but certain there would be no second chances to prove what she had just learned.

            She glanced at her watch – George was expecting to meet her in their room around four, but if she left now she could hike up to the stone ring and back long before then.  Leaving the map behind her on the desk, she grabbed her cloak and George’s field glasses and headed back out the door on her mission.


            The first thing she did when she reached the ring was shed the cloak –it had been cool in the shade of the trees down below, but on top of the hill the sun was beating down and it was much too warm for it.  She went over to the hole stone, but found the keyhole too high up for her to look through.  For a moment she chewed her lip, at a loss as to what to do. She looked around her, and her eyes rested on a sawn ring from a log nearby in the grass.  It appeared to be about the right height to help someone look through the keyhole; most likely it had been brought up here for exactly that purpose.  She found it light enough for her to move unassisted, and when she positioned it in front of the hole stone and stood on it, it was just high enough for her to peek through the keyhole if she stood on her toes.

            Taking out George’s field glasses, she scanned the territory below her, looking for Shannon’s house.  There it was, but it was difficult to get a good fix on it when she was holding the glasses one-handed, so she slipped her left arm out of its sling and by holding it close to her body, she was able to lift up both hands to hold the glasses steady.  Jessica took a long look at the cottage, then lowered the glasses, turned a little toward the south, and looked again.  To her delight, she was now looking at just what she had expected to see.

            What she did not expect was what happened next: someone grabbed her left wrist and twisted her arm behind her back, making her gasp in sudden pain.  The pain increased as her attacker continued to twist her arm, and she began to feel a rising panic, certain that her shoulder would dislocate again.

            “Drop the glasses,” a low voice commanded her.

            Jessica obeyed, and winced as she heard the glasses break apart when they hit the rough stony ground.  They had been George’s best pair, and would be difficult to replace.

            “Now come down from that log, slowly.”

            She did so gingerly, concentrating on keeping her balance – if she slipped, her shoulder would pop out for sure.

            “Please, Mr. O’Malley,” she said as she stepped down, “you’re hurting me.”

            “Is that so?  Well, soon that will be the least of your worries.  I take it ye aren’t surprised to see me,” he continued, continuing to apply the pressure until Jessica was forced to her knees. “Ye be extremely clever, Mrs. Fletcher.  Too bad ye weren’t clever enough to notice that ye were being followed when ye came up here.”

            It was too late to lament that oversight now. Tears pricked Jessica’s eyes, and her breathing shortened into pants. She strained to look at O’Malley over her shoulder, just in time to glimpse the gleaming hypodermic needle he held before he plunged it into her arm.

            O’Malley let go of her then, but that was small relief in the face of this new pain.  The injection burned like liquid fire, and as she grabbed at her shoulder with her right hand, she felt her left arm start to go numb.

            “What was that?” she demanded angrily, glaring at him.

            Shamus O’Malley stepped back and busied himself with making a low pile out of the stray tree branches and left over bits of wood from past bonfires that littered the ring.  “Don’t worry, it won’t kill ye,” he said. “It’s a simple paralytic, with a healthy dash of sedative mixed in.  Your body falls asleep first, your mind falls asleep somewhat afterwards.”

            Jessica tried to speak, but the drug was fast acting and already she couldn’t seem to form the words. The numbness had spread just about everywhere and her eyelids were too heavy to keep open, yet she was oddly aware of everything around her as she slipped the rest of the way to the ground, unable to move even a finger’s breadth.

            She could hear the clatter of wood as O’Malley continued to dump sticks on the pile of scrap wood.  “Ye know,” he said off-handedly - whether he was speaking to himself or to her she wasn’t sure - “the druids used to offer human sacrifices from circles such as this one, usually by burning their victims alive.”

            Idiot, Jessica wanted to spit at him. The Druids at least had the common courtesy to kill their sacrificial victims humanely before they cremated them.

            She felt herself being picked up, and roughly put down again on the jagged bed of wood.  The next thing she knew, she was breathing in the burning fumes of gasoline as it was poured over her liberally.  The shock of it roused her mind to prompt her to try and struggle one final time, but her body remained stubbornly unmoving and unresponsive; she could not even pry open her eyes.

            “The other interesting thing about this circle and its hole stone is that every afternoon it focuses a ray of light that moves across the center and hits the base of the stones opposite it,” she heard O’Malley say as he arranged more sticks and pieces of dry wood around her.  “Quite remarkable, really.  Today, I’m going to give it a wee power boost.”

            Jessica sensed rather than saw him pick through the remains of George’s field glasses and find one unbroken lens.  He held it up, admiring it as the sunlight reflected off of its smooth surface and sparkled on its edges.  She heard him cross the ring and set it on a narrow shelf of rock in front of the stone’s carved keyhole.  It focused the light streaming through it into a narrow, intense beam, causing little ringlets of smoke to curl up from the grass where it illuminated the ground.

            “There – that should be strong enough to start a merry bonfire when it strikes ye,” he mocked.  “Good-bye, Mrs. Fletcher – by the time the sun sets, ye’ll be nothing more than ashes scattered on the breeze.”

            With that, he left her alone in the circle.

            Without the stimulus of a voice to focus on, Jessica soon found her mind beginning to drift down towards dark unconsciousness.  The lulling warmth of the sun and intoxicating smell of gasoline were overpowering; try as she might, she could not hold on to stay awake in a body that had already fallen asleep. The whisper of the wind among the standing stones became a toneless lullaby.  

            At last Jessica lost the battle and surrendered to the darkness, letting it overwhelm her like a cresting wave.  But there was no rest to be found in it, no forgetfulness, not even any relief from pain.

            There were terrors in the darkness, and they were waiting for her. 

            But so was someone else – a light that she mentally reached out to in hope and desperation.  The glowing presence caught her, and drew her into its loving embrace, sheltering her from the darkness.

            “Hullo, Bright-Eyes,” a familiar voice said to her.  “Did you miss me?”

            If it is possible to weep in spirit, then Jessica burst into tears and cried until she had exhausted the last of her strength.


            George returned to the inn, carrying with him a bottle of white wine in one hand and a small hamper with sandwiches and other picnic fare in the other, with a light blanket draped over one arm.  He was in high spirits, whistling a tune as he headed up to the second floor, anticipating a pleasant afternoon and evening alone with Jessica before rejoining the villagers around a bonfire in celebration of Midsummer Eve.  But as he approached their room, he noticed that the door was ajar, as it should not have been.  He set down bottle, hamper, and blanket, approached the door with practiced stealth, and listened – there was no sound of anything stirring inside.  In one fluid motion he kicked open the door, stood back as it banged against the wall, then cautiously looked inside.

            The room was a complete shambles.  Not a piece of furniture was left upright, the bed clothes were lying in a tangled heap on the floor, every drawer had been emptied, every item in the room thoroughly searched before being carelessly discarded.  And there was no sign of Jessica.

            George had visited many crime scenes like this and worse in the course of his career without batting an eye, yet this one left him feeling a very personal dread.  A quick scan of the room turned up no sign of blood, which provided him with some small measure of comfort, but there was no doubt that it was on Jessica’s account that the room had been ransacked: her belongings had been subjected to far greater violence and violation than his, and every book and map that she had been using in the course of her research had been dumped in the fireplace and set alight.  He could tell from that last atrocity how long ago the intruder had been there – all of the books had been reduced more or less to ashes, but the coals were still glowing.  Not long, then.

            George paced around the room in a circle, feeling hot and cold, numb and furious all at the same time.  Where to start?  Someone had gotten to Jessica, clearly, but where she was, and whether she was even alive or dead, he had no idea.

            She is still alive, came the certain thought.

            George paused in his pacing, startled – where had that idea come from? He certainly had no way of knowing if she was still alive. Yet he believed it to be true, as true as if he had verified the fact with his own eyes.

            As he pondered this odd mystery, he realized that the feeling of cold dread was ebbing and being replaced with an increasing sense of warmth, and care, and, strangest of all, approval.  This new awareness became so strong that it became almost like a separate presence in the room; that was when he was certain that it hadn’t originated from him.

            George Sutherland was a practical man; one didn’t rise to the position of Chief Inspector without a certain pragmatism. He didn’t believe in ghosts, or fairies, or anything otherworldly – in his opinion, such things existed in wives’ tales and children’s stories alone. Yet he could not shake the sense that he was not alone in the room.

            “Who are you?” he asked, in spite of himself.

            A touch of bittersweet wistfulness leavened with a hint of good-natured humor grazed the edge of his perception.

            “Can you help me? Do you know what happened here? Where is Jessica?”

            A tongue of flame leapt up from the embers with a hiss. On the updraft it created, a piece of paper that had somehow escaped the fire floated up from the ruins of the books and drifted out of the fireplace to land softly at George’s feet. He picked it up; it was a fragment of a photocopy of a local map of the area, centered on Shannon’s lands, and showing the area of the stone house and the ring of standing stones.  There were numbers scribbled on it in pencil in Jessica’s hand, and a pair of lines drawn with a straightedge, both originating from the edge of the ring and radiating outward.  Without knowing how he knew, George realized that he had to go to the ring.  Unwilling to waste time analyzing how this could be so, he grabbed his coat and headed back out the door.

            Don’t forget your things, George, he suddenly remembered.

            “Thanks,” he said aloud to no one in particular as he grabbed the picnic items and broke into a run down the hall.

            You’re welcome.


            Frank held his wife in his arms until she had cried herself out.

            “There, now,” he said, brushing the last of her tears from her cheeks.  “Feel better?”

            “Am I … am I dead?”

            He shook his head. “Not yet.”

            “Where am I, then?”

            “A place both deep inside and far outside of yourself,” he told her.  “An ‘in between’ place.”

            Jessica frowned as she tried to understand. “Then … what are you doing here?”

            Frank smiled and held her closer.  “What I have always done,” he said. “Watching over you.”

            They were silent for awhile, until Frank asked, “Are you afraid of death, Bright-Eyes?”

            “No,” she answered quietly.

            “Not even of a painful death, like the one that has been prepared for you today?”

            “No,” she said again, “so long as I know that you’re waiting for me.”

            “What are you afraid of?”

            This was a good question, and she gave her answer careful thought before speaking.  “I suppose I’m afraid of regret,” she said at length. “And since we’re talking about death, I’m afraid of dying with regret that I didn’t live as fully as I might have.”

            “A wise answer,” Frank said. “You have lived a very full life, Jess. But there is something that you have resisted doing that I think you would deeply regret if you died today.”

            She looked up at him with a searching look in her eyes. “What’s that?”

            “Telling poor George that you love him, for pity’s sake.”

            “But …”

            Frank silenced her with a gentle kiss. “Jessica, Bright-Eyes, my only true love.  I know what you’re going to say - but there are different kinds of love, Jess, and being in love with George doesn’t diminish your love for me in the least.  He is a worthy man, well-deserving of your affection.  Why, then, do you deny yourself - and him - a chance for happiness?”

            “Because …” she began, but then fell silent as she considered what Frank had said – put that way, she no longer knew why “because.”

            Frank gave her a squeeze, then took a step back and looked at her intently, putting his hands on her arms for emphasis.  “I love you, Jessica. And more than anything, I want you to be happy,” he said insistently. “If you come through this alive, remember these two things, if nothing else. Promise me?”

            “I promise,” she whispered in response.


            As he approached the stone circle, George depositing the picnic things in a glade amidst a copse of trees next to the stream, and went the rest of the distance up the hill cautiously, every sense alert.  He was uncomfortably aware that the sun was sinking in the west, and that if Jessica was not to be found in the ring, he would soon be running out of daylight in which to look for her elsewhere.  The breeze freshened, rippling over the grass, carrying with it the sweet scent of wildflowers, and fresh-mown hay, and …

            “Petrol?” Seized with a sudden panic, George ran the rest of the way to the ring of standing stones and burst into their midst.  An intense pinpoint of light, unnaturally bright, caught his attention first, moving across the floor of the ring as the sun continued to sink, its passage marked by a charred line of burned grass. In its path was Jessica. She was thoroughly doused with gasoline, lying in an unconscious heap on a hastily assembled pile of deadwood, tinder-dry.  The point of focused sunlight was just inches away from the kindling - if it reached it, it would have the whole makeshift pyre ablaze with fire in seconds.

            George shielded his eyes against the blinding light, spotted the remains of the field glasses on the ground, then looked up and saw a flash like a diamond set in the rock above.  Instantly he knew what was causing the laser-like beam and what he had to do to stop it - he sprang across the ring, reached up to the keyhole, and removed the glass lens from the shelf of rock.  When he did, the achingly painful spot of brilliance vanished, and the sunlight streaming through the hole resumed its usual gentle warmth and appearance.

            Letting out a sigh of relief, George leaned against the rock for a moment to collect himself, certain in the knowledge that if he had arrived even a few minutes later, he would have been much too late. 

            Pocketing the lens, he returned to where Jessica lay, now bathed in a golden puddle of sunlight. He felt for her pulse and found it, strong and steady but slow.  George shook her gently and called her by name, but she did not wake up.  The reason for this became apparent when he found the discarded syringe lying nearby – no doubt intended to be destroyed in the expected fire along with its victim. 

            There was no question that he could not leave her where she was to wake up – the murderer might come back at any time to make sure that the job had been done.  He thought of the secluded glen by the stream – it was close enough to carry her to, but far enough away for them not to be found without determined searching.  It was as good a place as any to wait for her to recover, so he carefully picked her up and carried her back down the hill.


            Jessica stirred and woke to the sound of running water, and a familiar voice that she thought she would never have the opportunity to hear again:

“My Jessie’s asleep by the murmuring stream;

Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.”

            “George,” she tried to say, but it came out more as a hoarse whisper followed by a dry cough.  She turned over, and found that she was wrapped snugly in her wool cloak against the cooling air of early evening.  But something didn’t feel right about the way the cloak felt around her – it took her tired mind a few minutes to figure out what the problem was, but when she did, the shock of the realization was enough to drag her the rest of the way to full consciousness.

            “George,” she said more clearly this time, as she carefully sat up to lean against the bole of the tree she’d been lying under.  “George … what happened to my clothes?”

            The nearly level rays of sunset illuminated George, sitting next to her wrapped in a blanket and wearing a relieved smile.  “Jessica – you’re finally awake!  How do you feel?”

            Jessica drew in a breath and let it out before answering. “Fine, I think.  Just some bruises.” She moved her left arm experimentally. “No more damage to my shoulder than there was before, I guess.  George, my clothes?”

            “They’re over there, drying in that tree,” George said, nodding in their direction. “They were soaked with petrol. I had to get them off of you and wash them in the stream. Don’t worry,” he added, trying to look gallant, “I averted my eyes and thought about cricket the whole time.”

            Jessica laughed in spite of herself and drew the cloak tighter about her. “If it were anyone but you, I would be dead of embarrassment.  And what happened to your clothes, if you don’t mind my asking?”

            “Not at all. I got them almost equally soaked in petrol carrying you out of that cursed stone ring.”

            “I don’t suppose they’d be dry by now.”

            “Not a chance. I don’t think I wrung them out as much as I should have.  But then, I’ve never had to do laundry on a rock by the river before.”

            This earned him another smile from his companion. “How long was I asleep?” she asked.

            George became grave. “Probably two or three hours,” he said. “And it was a near thing, finding you in time to get you out.  Your assailant intended to make a Midsummer Eve bonfire out of you.  I got to you with about … oh, five minutes to spare.”

            Jessica opened her eyes wide. “Five minutes?”

            “Well … it might have been less than that.”


            A long moment of silence passed between them.  At length Jessica cast her eyes downwards and said, “I thought I would never see you again.”

            “Aye, Jess,” he said. “When I realized you were missing the same thought crossed my mind.”

            “Do you remember …” Jessica began, trailing off.  She took a deep breath and began again: “Do you remember the first time I came to Wick with all of my friends from Cabot Cove, and you asked me if I ever was lonely?”

            “Aye.  And you told me that you never were.”

            “I know.  But earlier today in the stone circle, before I lost consciousness, I felt lonelier than I’ve ever felt in my life … and suddenly the most important thing in the world to me was seeing you again.  And I had dreams … at first they were nightmares, but then I saw Frank …” Here she put her head down on her knees and drew a great, shuddering sob before continuing. “And he looked exactly the way I remembered him.  And I asked him if I was dying, and he didn’t know.  But he said that if I did live through the experience, I needed to really live … live without regrets.”

            She had related this tale with downcast eyes, but now she looked up and met his gaze. “If I had died, it would have been with the eternal regret that I never told you … never showed you … how much I care … how much I love you.”

            George thought that his heart would burst.  “Oh, Jessie,” he exclaimed.  “You cannot fathom how much I have yearned to hear you say that.”

            “I know. I’m only sorry it took this long and a near-death experience to realize it for myself.”

            “Nay, no sorrow, Jessica,” George whispered, his lips drawing nearer to hers.  “How can there be sorrow, now that it’s been said?” And on impulse he took her face in both of his hands and kissed her.

            She hesitated at first, but then began to return his kisses with an intensity that caught him off guard. He experienced an even greater shock when Jessica moved to push the blanket he was wearing back from his shoulders, even as she deliberately let the grey cloak slide off of hers. The sensation of her body against his, oft dreamt of but until now never realized, made him feel positively lightheaded. 

            Before he even had a chance to stop and think about what she was doing, she was pulling him down to lie in the grass with her.

            “I think I should warn you,” she told him between kisses, “I’m somewhat out of practice.”

            “No more so than I, love,” he replied.

            For being “out of practice,” George was pleasantly surprised to find Jessica a very warm and responsive lover.  He traced the line of her collarbone with his lips, eliciting a shuddering sigh, and she playfully nibbled at the tip of his earlobe in return, making him gasp in delight.

            Finally, when the buildup of tension was more than he could bear, he willingly passed the point of no return and entered into her embrace.  The spasm of pain that crossed her face made him regret this decision and he started to pull away, but Jessica clung to him all the tighter and put a finger to his lips when he started to protest.

            “It will pass,” she assured him.

            George looked in her eyes, saw the desire and need burning in them, and could not look away.  Apple-green eyes locked with sea-grey as he surrendered his trust to her and proceeded, slowly and cautiously at first, then with increasing confidence.  He had the fierce satisfaction of seeing her come to a climactic height that made her let out a cry of pure ecstasy before he himself was overcome with a blinding wave of joy that burned through every fiber of his being like fire.

            How much time passed before he came back to himself and moved off to lie beside her, pulling the cloak up over both of them, he could not tell.

            “Ye gods!” was all he could say when he found his voice again.

            “I – I hope I wasn’t too forward,” Jessica said softly as she nestled closer to him.

            “Forward?  Ah … no.”  Then he looked down at her and was shocked to see tears streaming down her face.  “Jess, are you all right?  I didn’t hurt you too badly, did I?”

            Jessica smiled through her tears, and the effect was like the sun coming out during a summer rain shower.

            “All right?  I’m better than all right,” she told him, putting his concern to rest.  “In fact, I’m better than I’ve been in a long, long time.”

            Feeling perilously close to tears himself, George gathered her in his arms and held her close as she rested her head on his shoulder.  For many long heartbeats they were silent until Jessica said, “Thank you, George.”

            “For being me?”

            “For being you.  For saving my life again.  And … for everything.”


            It took a surprisingly long time for their clothes to dry completely.


            By the time they had, the sun was long gone and it was fully dark.  The stars peeped through the canopy of leaves above them as they sat next to each other beside the babbling stream on George’s blanket, picking at their much-belated picnic.

            “I hate to say this, Jess, but you’re still in danger,” George said, reluctantly breaking their companionable silence.  “The bleck who did this to you is still out there, and my guess is that some time tonight he will come back to the stone circle to make sure everything went off according to plan.  He won’t be happy when he finds out you escaped.”

            “The bleck is Shamus O’Malley, George,” Jessica said, holding out her wine glass for George to refill.

            This made him sit up straight in surprise, his hand halfway to where he had left the bottle of white wine chilling in the stream. “You saw him?”

            “When it was too late to do anything about it, yes.  But I suspected it was him before that – that was why I went to the circle in the first place.”

            George was stunned by this unexpected revelation, so much so that it made his hand shake as he poured from the bottle.  “Why didn’t you say so sooner?” he asked her.

            Jessica took a sip of her wine appreciatively.  “Because there were more important things to say at the time.”

            He was not about to argue with that sentiment! “Nevertheless, I feel I need to go back up to the ring to wait for him, and collar him if possible,” he said reluctantly.

            Jessica set down her wine glass. “I’m going with you.”

            George hesitated, uncertain about what to do. “Are you sure that’s wise, Jess?”

            “Well, there’s no way I’m going to sit here shivering by myself, wondering if you’re all right,” she replied.

            George was about to reject her offer but caught the determined look in her eyes and bit back his protest. “I have no liking for this, Jessica,” he said instead, shaking his head in resignation. “I would far rather leave you here in the glade, where you’re safe.”

            “I know that,” she said as he helped pull her to her feet. “Nevertheless, I’m going with you.”


            Leaving everything behind in the glade except the blanket and her cloak, they made their way back up to the crown of the hill.  The stones of the ring, casting long black fingers of shadow by the light of the rising moon, appeared even more imposing than usual as they reared up to pierce the night sky.

            They entered the deserted ring, and settled themselves on the blanket underneath the hole stone, sharing the cloak for warmth. They spoke of insignificant things while the stars slowly wheeled overhead. At length George ventured to ask the question that had been nagging him since he had found her, but had been reluctant to bring up.

            “Jess,” he said carefully, “what happened up here? Can you talk about it?”

            For a long time she didn’t answer, and George was afraid that he had broached the subject too soon.  But then, just as an apology was forming on his lips, she began to speak.

            “I went to the circle to test a theory,” she began quietly, her voice unusually empty of emotion, “hoping to prove to myself that what Shamus O’Malley was claiming about Shannon’s cottage could not be true. I needed to look through the hole stone myself, before the solstice happened, so that I would be ready to prove my point the next morning.  But I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts, I didn’t notice him following me out of the village.” Here a wave of guilt and self-reproach bordering on disgust clouded her features.  “So he caught me looking through the keyhole – he got hold of my bad arm, so he was able to overpower me easily.  He injected me with drugs to keep me from struggling – a paralytic mixed with a sedative, if I’m remembering correctly – and set me up on that pile of wood to burn to death when the focused sunlight hit me.”

            “But why wait?” George asked, confused. “Not that I’m complaining, but why not simply light a match, throw it down, and walk away?”

            “Too risky. Someone might have spotted the smoke, and seen him returning from the ring, and put two and two together. The beauty of letting the sun and the lens do the lighting was that it gave him a solid hour to get away from the ring and back into the village – preferably to someplace with a lot of people to vouch for his whereabouts when the fire actually got started.”

            George took her clenched hands in both of his and kissed them tenderly.  That it had never occurred to her to wait for him before going to the ring alone was a foregone conclusion, but he could not find it in his heart to hold that against her.

            “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” he told her. “You did what seemed best at the time.”

            Jessica looked away. “I suppose so.” She didn’t sound convinced.

            He cupped her face in his hand and coaxed her to look at him again. “If you had to do it again, would you have done anything differently?”

            “Probably not.”

            “Well, there you are then,” he said warmly. “A life without regrets. Everyone should be so lucky, Jess.”

            This brought a wry smile back to her lips. “Most people would go out of their way to avoid my kind of ‘luck,’ George Sutherland!”

            “Not me,” he replied, and gave her a slow and loving kiss.

            Jessica rested her head on his chest as he gathered her into his arms and sighed. “I’m happy for that,” she said. “Very happy indeed.”


            The eastern sky was beginning to lighten when Jessica woke up.  Only the brightest stars still pricked the deep blue sky. In the west the moon was still high, but its silver light was beginning to give way to the rosy glow of the approaching dawn.  Like the steady beam of a lighthouse, the morning star hung above the horizon, heralding the rising of the sun.

            The rising of the sun … Midsummer …

            The events of the night before came flooding back into her memory, and she realized that she was lying on the blanket inside the stone ring.  She had fallen asleep, when she had promised George she would stay awake to help him keep watch for Shamus O’Malley!  And where was George?  In sudden panic she flung aside her cloak and sat bolt upright to look for him.

            “Good morning, love.”

            She turned and saw George sitting right next to where she had been laying, his knees drawn up against the early morning chill and a warm smile on his face.  Jessica melted with relief.

            “George!” she exclaimed. “Did Shamus come? What time is it? Why did you let me fall asleep?”

            George looked at the illuminated dial of his watch. “Where shall I begin?  The answer to your first question is ‘not yet,’ the answer to the second is ‘almost quarter to five in the morning,’ and the answer to the third is ‘because you were so worn out after yesterday,’” he replied calmly. “Does that suffice?”

            “I suppose so.”  She reached up to run her fingers through her tousled hair, and encountered something she didn’t expect – a wreath of flowers set on her head.  “What’s this?”

            “It’s your Midsummer present,” George said promptly.  “I made it myself, while you were sleeping.”

            Jessica carefully removed the woven crown of bright yellow blossoms and turned it over in her hands.  “It’s beautiful,” she said.  “I didn’t know you could weave.”

            George grinned.  “Neither did I.”

            “Are these flowers what I think they are?”

            “Most likely,” he said.  “After all, St. John’s wort is the traditional flower of the Summer Solstice.”

            Jessica gave him a sly look.  “I certainly hope you don’t think I’m depressed.”

            “After last night?  Hardly.”

            She caressed one of the buttery yellow petals between her thumb and forefinger and breathed in the flower’s delicate scent.  “What is the Latin name … ah yes, Hypericum, symbolic of the sun.”

            “And not just that,” George told her. “Celtic folklore holds that this flower has the power to ward off evil, and if you sleep with it under your head on Midsummer Eve, St. John will bless you and guard you from death during the coming year.”

            “Hmm.” Jessica set the wreath aside and stretched.  “It’s getting late,” she said.  “Where is Shamus?”

            The distant sound of a twig snapping made them both freeze motionless.

            “I scattered some of the twigs from the pyre at the base of the hill, on the path approaching the ring,” George told her in a hushed whisper. “I didn’t want him to take us unawares. Come.”

            He stood and took her right hand to pull her to her feet, then bent down and picked up the discarded cloak. Then he led her to the opening of the ring, where they positioned themselves behind the stones that marked the entrance, one on each side.

            “Here,” he said, handing the cloak back to her.  “Put this back on. The grey color will help camouflage you among the stones.”

            As Jessica swung the cloak back over her shoulders and raised the hood over her head, she had a sudden idea: “Half a moment!” She went over to the pyre and picked out a sturdy-looking stick, about five feet long.  George didn’t have time to question her as to what she planned to do with it; by the time she had repositioned herself by the entrance, the approaching footsteps were nearly upon them.

            The visitor to the ring paused before entering, apparently ascertaining if the way was clear or looking for some sort of trap.  Jessica held her breath, afraid that the thudding of her heart would give her away, and gripped her stick tighter.

            At last Shamus O’Malley stepped into the ring. The first thing he beheld in the strengthening twilight was the pile of sticks, unburned and without its crowning centerpiece. He spat an oath under his breath, and started across the ring to look for the lens.  Before he had taken more than a step, Jessica swung the stick low across his path, striking his shins and causing him to trip and sprawl flat on his face. George sprang on him that same instant, pinning him to the ground with his knee and twisting his arm behind his back.

            “Jessica,” he said, “would be so kind as to lend me the laces from your shoes?”

            Jessica knelt down and deftly undid the laces from the hiking shoes she had worn up to the ring the day before, knotting them together to make a longer whole.  She handed them to George, who used them to bind O’Malley’s hands securely behind him.

            “There,” he said. “That should hold him for the time being.”

            “What the hell do ye think you’re doing?” O’Malley protested, trying to twist around and glare at George.

            “Placing you under arrest for the murder of Colleen Kirk and the attempted murder of Jessica Fletcher,” George said.

            “I don’t know what ye be talking about!” O’Malley spat.  “I didn’t murder anybody!”

            “No?” Jessica stepped into his line of vision, causing the captured man to blanch the moment he saw her. “You definitely intended to kill me.  And I can prove that you killed Colleen Kirk.”  She looked at George.  “How much longer ‘til sunrise?”

            “Half an hour, more or less,” he said.

            “I think we should take Mr. O’Malley down the hill to Shannon’s cottage.  We can just make it – and everything should become clear there.”


            With a firm hand clamped on his shoulder, George marched Shamus O’Malley back down the hill from the stone ring towards Shannon’s cottage. Jessica walked along beside them, holding her stick and anxiously hoping she wouldn’t have to try to use it. Luckily for her and her left shoulder, O’Malley did not make any move to escape George’s grip.

            They came through the sheep gate and entered the dooryard just minutes before sunrise.  Around fifteen people from the town and its environs were milling about a bonfire burning low in the yard, waiting for the Summer Solstice dawn.  Shannon spotted them, detached herself from the crowd, and ran forward. Sergeant Boyle, who was keeping a close eye on her, followed at a slightly more dignified pace.

            “Jessica!” Shannon cried. “Where on earth have you been? I kept calling your room at the Thistle Inn, but there was no answer!”  She stopped a few paces short of the trio and stared at them. “You two look like you’ve been out all night!”

            George held up a hand to forestall any more questions. “We have been out all night,” he said. “We were hunting.  And this is who we caught – Colleen Kirk’s murderer.”

            “Shamus O’Malley?” Boyle said in amazement. “What’s this all about, now?”

            Jessica looked anxiously over her shoulder at the eastern sky. “Perhaps it would be best if I explained everything down at the house,” she said.

            Jessica recognized some of the people gathered for the sunrise; others were strangers to her.

            “Shannon Kilcannon did not kill Colleen Kirk,” she said once they had the attention of the group, “and when the sun comes up, it will prove to everyone why.”

            A murmur of astonishment mingled with doubt ran through the crowd.

            “Look, Jess,” George said quietly. “The sun is about to rise.”

            The assembly looked to the northeast, and held its breath. The sky turned rose, then golden, and then, at last, the sun peeked above the horizon.  A few moments later a slender beam of golden light spilled across the threshold of Shannon’s front door. The crowd gasped aloud.

            “There, you see?” O’Malley cried. “I was right! The ley-line runs right under her cottage.”

            “No, Mr. O’Malley, if anything that light only proves how wrong you are,” Jessica said, stepping forward.  “The fact that the light falls here means that there is no ley-line under the cottage.”

            Everyone turned back towards Jessica and George, whose hand was still firmly planted on O’Malley’s shoulder.

            “What are you talking about?” O’Malley said. “Are you blind? The light goes straight from the hole stone to the house at dawn on Midsummer Day – that’s where the ley-line goes!”

            But Jessica shook her head. “No,” she said. “Something Shannon said to me made everything fall into place: ‘The earth does not stand still in its orbit.’ It doesn’t – it wobbles on its axis, and over time that changes the position of the sunrise and sunset on any given day of the year.  In the three thousand years since the stone ring was erected, the position of the sunrise on Midsummer Day has moved a full degree to the north of where it once was.  That changes the angle of the beam of sunlight coming through the hole stone by a degree as well.  So if today that beam of light falls on Shannon Kilcannon’s cottage door, then three thousand years ago it fell in a completely different spot south of the house. I did the calculations, then checked my math by looking through the hole stone myself.  That spot is where Shannon’s well is now.”

            “So if ley-lines exist, or ever existed, the one from the henge followed a path from the hole stone to the well,” said George. “Not, as Mr. O’Malley would have had us believe, from the hole stone to Ms. Kilcannon’s front door.”

            “On the surface, Shamus O’Malley doesn’t have a motive for the murder, or for concocting a story to convince Shannon to sell her farm,” she continued.  “But then George and I saw him speaking with the two representatives of Emerald Spring Bottle Water.” Here Jessica turned and looked squarely at O’Malley.  “How much did they offer to pay you, Mr. O’Malley, if you convinced Shannon to sell out to them?”

            O’Malley stared back at her in defiant silence for a moment, but then under the pressure of her gaze he bowed his head. “One hundred thousand pounds,” he muttered.

            “Your plan worked, at least to an extent,” Jessica continued, continuing to glare at him. “You set up the accidents around the farm, and then you convinced Shannon to sell by blaming the accidents on a ley-line.  The only problem was she had decided to sell to Emerald Spring’s competition, the Cork Nature Conservancy.  So, knowing that Colleen Kirk was coming to meet with Shannon at noon, you arranged for Shannon to be conveniently elsewhere – without witnesses, naturally – then you killed Ms. Kirk and set up Shannon to take the blame, knowing full well that with Shannon in jail, the farm would eventually be put up for auction. Emerald Spring is a big enough company, it would have easily outbid any other group or organization interested in acquiring the land.”

            “You also knew that Shannon doesn’t make a habit of locking her door,” George said. “After you killed Ms. Kirk, you went inside, picked out a card that would seemingly implicate Ms. Kilcannon – the tarot card that represents betrayal – and placed it in her hand so the police would find it.”

            “That card, the Three of Swords, was well chosen, but not for the reason you intended,” said Jessica. “It did indeed point to a betrayal – but of a friend betraying a friend.”

            “Was Shamus’s dowsing completely faked, then?” Shannon asked, her face pale.

            “Not entirely,” George acknowledged. “Mr. O’Malley is a genuine dowser – for water.  He’s successfully pinpointed the locations for seven new wells in and around Kilcleer over the years.  When he was dowsing your dooryard, Shannon, he was probably picking up on a real line, but it was a water line, not a ley-line. It’s probably this underground water line that feeds your well … and it’s the main reason why Emerald Springs was so desperate to gain control of your farm.”

            “I’ve heard enough,” Boyle said. “Come along, now, Shamus.”

            Boyle led O’Malley away, guiding him into the back seat of his patrol car and driving away.  The rest of the crowd soon followed suit, departing in groups of twos and threes.  Jessica watched them go, a comforting hand on Shannon’s shoulder.

            “Bastard,” Shannon said.  “I cannot thank you enough, Jessica.  To think that I trusted that man …” She took a deep, shaky breath and wiped away angry tears as her friend looked on sympathetically. “Well.  He’ll get what’s coming to him, I’m sure.”

            “What are you going to do now, Shannon?” George asked her.

            “I don’t know. I need some time to think about it.  But as for right now, I think I’ll go collect Shep from Tom and Kate.  I missed him terribly every minute I was locked up in that horrible jail.”

            “Good idea,” Jessica said.

            As Shannon made her way into the house, George put his arms around Jessica and was concerned to feel her trembling.

            “Are you all right, Jess?”

            “I’m fine … no, I’m not. The enormity of everything that’s happened, the terrible reality of what could have happened … I think it’s starting to catch up with me.  And now, even though it’s over … I’m scared to death.”

            George held her tighter. “Poor lassie.  It’s natural after everything you’ve been through.  You just need some time, a hot shower, and then a proper breakfast.”

            “Those all sound good.  Especially the hot shower.”

            “Good,” he said. “I need to go collect the picnic things from our refuge by the brook, lest Shannon’s sheep trample them to dust.  Why don’t you catch a lift back to the hotel with her when she goes to fetch Shep, and I’ll meet you back there after you get that shower?”

            “All right,” Jessica said wearily.

            George released her then, just as Shannon re-emerged from the cottage with her car keys in hand.


            Back in their room at the Thistle, Jessica let the hot water of her shower fall over her like rain, a balm to both her spirit and her body which, it had become plain to her, had suffered several bruises in the course of her misadventure the day before.  Besides the ever-present background ache of her left shoulder, she had bruises from being mishandled by O’Malley in the stone ring, bruises from being dropped on to a pile of scrap wood, and bruises from sleeping with little more than a thin blanket between her and the stony ground.  Jessica lost count of them all and continued to let the hot water work its small miracles.

            When she finally emerged from her long shower she was feeling somewhat better than before.  The thick robe of deep blue terrycloth provided by the hotel felt wonderful as she shrugged it on, and it had an ample enough sleeve that she didn’t even have to struggle to pull it over her stiff left arm.  She had just finished drying her hair and was in the process of brushing it when she heard the sound of a key in the lock and George came into the room.

            “Oh!” she said when she saw him. “I didn’t expect you back quite so soon.”

            “You’re not unhappy to see me, are you?”

            “Of course not,” she said as she finished her last few strokes with the brush. “But I would have been dressed by now if I’d known when you were coming back.”

            George came up behind her and put his arms around her. “So instead you’ve been lounging around in that sumptuous bathrobe, indulging in unaccustomed luxury.” He bent his head and kissed her tenderly on her neck.  “I daresay you’ve earned a little indulgence, Jessica.  Don’t you?”

            Jessica willingly leaned back into his embrace. “Well, maybe a little.”

            George let her go then and went to where he had left the retrieved items from the previous night on the desk.  He returned with the wreath of flowers.

            “You left this up at the stone circle,” he said as he replaced it on her head.  “There.  Now you really are my elf princess.”

            Jessica looked at her reflection in the mirror and admired the effect of the yellow blossoms and green leaves against her rich golden hair.  “Elf princess,” she repeated with a smile.  “You do have an active imagination, George.”

            George sat on the edge of the bed and patted the quilt next to him for her to come join him.  When she had seated herself next to him, he looked fixedly at a point on the floor and said, “Um, Jess, about last night …”

            “What about it?”

            “Well … I recognize that you were feeling a great deal of stress at the time, and moreover you were recovering from whatever foul drugs it was that O’Malley put into you.”

            He paused then, so Jessica filled in the gap for him: “You’re afraid, then, that I didn’t mean what I said to you when I woke up?”

            “Aye, something like that.  And it’s all right if, having had time to reconsider, you want to recant. Just like at the hunting cabin back in Wick, the situation was highly charged emotionally. It would hardly be fair of me to hold you to what you said under such circumstances.”

            Jessica sighed and picked at a thread that had raveled loose on the sleeve of her robe.

            “I appreciate what you’re saying,” she said. “I suppose that being a gentleman demands it.  But I assure you I had full control of my wits last night. I knew exactly what I was saying then, just as I do now.  Look at me, George.”

            George looked up and met her eyes, renewed hope dawning in his heart.

            “Surely you, a seasoned Inspector for Scotland Yard, will recognize sincerity when you see it,” she said to him, taking his hand in both of hers.

            “Aye,” he said, smiling again. “I recognize it.  Jessie, I love you so much. I didn’t mean to doubt your word.”

            Jessica planted a playful kiss on his lips. “I love you too.  And I know you were just making sure we were doing the right thing.”

            George took a deep breath and let it out gustily, suddenly relieved and deliriously happy all at the same time.  “Well!  Now that that’s out of the way … I believe it’s time for that proper breakfast.”

            He started to rise, but Jessica caught him by the sleeve and pulled him back down.

            “Not just yet,” she said, a mischievous smile playing about her lips.

            By the time they shared that “proper breakfast,” it was actually more of a “proper brunch.”


            That day was their last in Kilcleer.  Jessica’s plane home was scheduled to leave from Dublin the next morning, so that evening they met with Shannon and Sergeant Boyle for a farewell drink around the fireplace in the Thistle Inn’s grand common room.

            “Not only did we nail Shamus O’Malley for the murder of Colleen Kirk, he’s given us enough information to go after those people from Emerald Springs for conspiracy and bribery charges,” Boyle told them, sounding pleased.  “They’ll not be troubling Kilcleer again.”

            “What have you decided to do about the farm, Shannon?” George asked.

            Shannon considered the ice cubes in her glass. “Even though I know now that what Shamus was telling me about ley-lines was complete bunk, I’m still going to sell the old place,” she said.

            “Really?” Jessica asked, her eyes wide in surprise.  “To whom?”

            “To the Nature Conservancy.”

            “I thought Colleen Kirk’s death would put that deal on the skids,” Boyle said.

            “I thought so too, Terry.  But they contacted me this afternoon, and they still want to go ahead with the sale – and keep me on permanently as caretaker,” said Shannon.  “The Conservancy folks are in a much better position to provide for all the fields and buildings than I.  And all I really want is my home, my sheep, and my dog.”

            “And the people of Ireland will have access to the historic sites on the property,” George said. “It sounds like a happy ending for you after all, Shannon.”

            “Aye. And I owe it all to you and Jessica.” She smiled then, taking note of the fact that Jessica and George, who were sitting next to each other, were discreetly holding hands. “Of course, happy endings for me seem to also mean happy beginnings for some others,” she added with a wink at them.


            By virtue of his Scotland Yard badge and authority as Chief Inspector, George was able to accompany Jessica through Dublin International Airport’s customs and security all the way to the gate.  They spoke of this and that until, during an awkward pause, he reached into his coat pocket and produced a small jewelry box, which he handed to her diffidently.

            Jessica’s heart sank when she saw it, guessing what George had in mind; nevertheless, curiosity got the better of her.  She took the box from his hand, opened it, and found the diamond solitaire ring she was afraid she would see.  Holding it up, she observed how the gemstone threw off the harsh overhead lights in a thousand glittering rainbows.  She had never been given an engagement ring before. When Frank had proposed to her, they were young and poor and struggling just to make ends meet; by mutual agreement, they had decided to forgo the formality of a ring.  “Besides,” he had told her, “no diamond on earth could match the light of your bright eyes.”

            “This is beautiful, George,” she said quietly, a lump forming in her throat, “but I can’t accept it.”

            “Wait, Jess,” George said. “What I’m trying to say is …”

            “I know what you’re trying to say, George,” she said as she closed the box and folded it back into his hand.  Somehow, it seemed important to stop him from actually saying the words.  “And believe me, I wish I could say yes, but … I’m sorry … I cannot marry you.”

            “Why not?” George asked.

            “Because my home is not here. It’s in Maine, and that is where I belong, as surely as Shannon belongs in Kilcleer and you belong to Scotland.”

            George searched for an adequate response to this, but finally settled for, “What is there in Maine that I … that you can’t find in the United Kingdom with me?”

            In reply, Jessica took a plain envelope out of her handbag and tucked it into the breast pocket of his jacket.

            “Come and see,” was all she said.

            George could see from the sad but determined look on her face that this was not an argument he was going to win, at least not today.  And at that moment the boarding call for Jessica’s flight came over the public address system. 

            “I’ll cherish my memories from this visit,” he said as he drew her into one last long, loving embrace.  “Safe home, Jessie.  Come back to me soon.”

            “I will,” she promised.  “Safe home, George.”

            She pulled away, leaving wet marks on the breast of his coat from her tears, picked up her bag, and headed for the waiting plane.  At the gate she turned and looked back at him one last time, and then she vanished down the jetway and was gone.

            George paced slowly over to the terminal’s windows and gazed out of them unhappily as he watched the Boeing 747 slowly back away from the gate and head for the taxiway.  A few minutes later the great jet raced down the runway and leapt into the sky, soaring away into the west.  It was only when it had dwindled to a speck and was lost to sight that he took the envelope that Jessica had given him out of his pocket and opened it.

            Inside were a set of round trip plane tickets on British Airways with open-ended dating, passage for one from London’s Heathrow Airport to Boston’s Logan International, with a connecting Continental flight to Portland, Maine.

            “’Come and see,’” he repeated to himself. 

            With new resolve and lighter spirits, he strode away from the gate towards his own waiting flight back to London.



       Seth impatiently paced back and forth in the small waiting area that served Portland Jetport’s Gate 7.  Jessica’s flight home from Boston had been delayed, but finally – finally! – the plane had arrived at its destination, and was even now taxiing to the gate.  Eventually, once the aircraft’s engines had been shut down and the jetway affixed to its door, a stream of weary passengers disembarked, Jessica near the end of the line.  As she emerged into the gate area, naturally the first thing he noticed was the sling.

       “What happened to you?” he asked before he had even welcomed her home.

       Jessica quirked a smile that was slightly strained from tiredness – she had expected the sling to garner just this sort of reaction, and would have been almost disappointed if it had not.  Still, she wasn’t about to let Seth get away with his blunt greeting.

       “Nice to see you too, Seth,” she said pleasantly. “Did you miss me?”

       Her words had their intended effect, and Seth immediately softened his attitude. “Sorry,” he said. “Of course I missed you.” He embraced her carefully, mindful of the sling. “How was your trip?”


       “So I see,” said Seth wryly as he relieved her of one of her bags and they headed down the airport concourse. “So – now can I ask what happened to you?”

       “This?” Jessica said, glancing at her sling. “Just a dislocated shoulder. Nothing serious.”

       “I beg to differ, Jessica,” Seth said, injecting a note of seriousness into his voice. Jessica was trying to shrug this off – so to speak – and he wasn’t about to let her get away with it. “If not treated properly, a dislocation can lead to serious long term joint problems. As soon as we get back to Cabot Cove we’re heading over to my office so I can have a look at it.”

       Jessica groaned. “Seth, I’ve been away for two weeks! All I want to do is get back to my house, drop my luggage in the foyer, and put my feet up with a nice cup of tea!”

       “Another half an hour won’t make that much of a difference after two weeks,” Seth pointed out reasonably. Damn it all, she was not going to win this argument! Not when her health was at stake. And not when he knew he was right.

       Jessica tried to change his mind for most of the way back to Cabot Cove, but he stood firm, and before she knew it they had pulled up to the curb in front of his office. She went inside with obvious reluctance; Seth knew she’d been counting on at least a brief respite at home before facing the inquisition, but part of his plan in bringing her directly to his office was to catch her off balance and hopefully get some straight answers to some simple questions – such as, first and foremost, how she had come to hurt her shoulder.

       “I fell,” she replied shortly as she slid her arm out of the sleeve of her blouse so he could examine her.

       “Ay-yuh, you fell. Jess, you know that I know that there’s more to this story than that, so why don’t you just tell me what happened and get it over with?”

       Jessica complied while he put her shoulder through various exercises and manipulations designed to test her range of motion, and if truth be told, he got more than he had bargained for in the hearing of her tale. Nearly being shot on the streets of London?  Angry, irrational mobs storming the castle?  Sentries posted to prevent escapes?  It didn’t sound good at all.

       “So it was Sutherland who popped it back in for you?” he asked.

       “Yes,” she admitted. “It hurt a lot at the time, but afterwards it wasn’t so bad.”

       “And when did you get this bruise here?” Seth asked as he continued his exam.

       “That was from Ireland,” she replied. When he seemed to be expecting more of an answer than that, she added, “From lying on a pile of dry wood. It wasn’t my idea, I assure you.”

       “I’m not sure I want to know whose idea it was,” Seth grumbled. “What about this one here?”

       “Spending the night out, sleeping on rocky ground.”


       “As I said, it was an interesting trip,” Jessica said carefully, mindful that Seth’s nurse, Beverly, was probably just outside the door, hanging on her every word. “Look, I’d really rather not talk about it now. How about dinner tonight, and I can fill you in on the details then?”

       “All right,” Seth sighed, signaling that she could pull her blouse back up with a wave of his hand. “What’s on the menu?”

       “Chicken of some sort, I suspect,” she replied, shrugging her arm back into her sleeve. “I think I have some frozen that I can use. And the vegetables in the fridge should still be good. I’ll think of something.”

       “Anything’s fine with me,” Seth said, scribbling some notes on her medical chart. “I’ll provide something for dessert, and I’ll even bring along a bottle of white wine someone gave me as a gift that I’d like to try out. Your shoulder’s in better shape than I feared it would be, by the way.”

       Jessica smiled with a little pride. “I was working at the exercises George’s doctor prescribed the whole time we were in Ireland.”

       “We?” Seth repeated, putting down his pen and leveling a stare at her over the tops of his glasses. “Sutherland went to Ireland with you too?”

       “Well, after everything that happened in Wick, he needed the break just as much as I did,” Jessica explained.

       Seth decided to let the matter drop for the time being. “You’re still going to need several more weeks of physiotherapy to make sure that shoulder doesn’t freeze up on you,” he told her. “I’ll set you up with Maura over at the hospital for some weekly sessions.  She’s good; everyone I’ve sent over to her has spoken very highly of her.”

       “All right,” said Jessica. “Just let me know where and when.”

       “In the meantime, no unnecessary activity with that left arm. No pulling, reaching, or especially lifting. Typing,” he added, anticipating her next question, “you can do, so long as your forearm is on a stable surface and there’s no strain on your upper arm at all. And keep your turns at the computer to no more than thirty minutes at a time, with generous rest periods in between.”

       “I’ll try my best,” Jessica promised. “Now will you please take me home?”

       Once Jessica was safely ensconced in her house, her luggage in the foyer and her feet up with a cup of tea just as she had requested, Seth drove back to his office to fill out the paperwork for a physiotherapy referral. As he did, he pondered what had seemed different about his friend.  It wasn’t just the fact that she’d come home with her arm in a sling. There was something more, something subtle that he couldn’t quite put his finger on, something he had been trying to figure out ever since he’d picked her up at the Portland airport.  He gazed idly out the window of his office, watching the sun duck in and out of the fluffy fair-weather clouds that drifted across the sky.

            The sight of the sun and clouds provided him with the answer: she was glowing. 

            Not literally, of course, but just as he could tell where the sun was even when it was hidden behind one of the fair-weather clouds, he could sense her glowing behind the nonchalance about her shoulder injury and her reluctance to discuss the details about her trip. There was a lightness there he had not seen before, something that, despite whatever dire situations she had found herself in over the course of her journey, had filled her with unforeseen happiness.

       She’d told him that George had gone on her unscheduled visit to Ireland with her.

       Seth wasn’t sure he liked the direction things were heading at all.


The End