Murder by Trust


Written by Kats,

© April 11th 2006


(In memory of all those who have passed on before and wait)




Donna Mayberry Fletcher sat on a bar stool at the island in the center of her kitchen in their apartment, holding a wet cloth to her pounding head. She knew that she wasn’t allowed to beat her husband, or her child, but that didn’t make what they put her through any easier.  Renting was good, it saved on the taxes and if there was a problem they could call a landlord who put them on the bottom of the list.  Not only did the kitchen sink develop a clog every other day, today it was leaking. Not the lower drain area but where the faucet was - huge arcs of water that soaked her to the bone when she went to get her water for tea.  She had called and informed the landlord two days ago. It still wasn’t fixed and now the only way to prevent it from running all the time was to climb under the sink and turn it off at the main. Now that too was leaking.


She didn’t exactly scream at the landlord or threaten him, but he called the police on the “crazy lady in 204.” Of course the landlord made it seem like she called about petty things, but when they came in and stepped in two inches of water and one turned on the faucet, everyone got drenched and she stood there and lost it. Of course the drain decided to back up just then, spewing a glop of something over the officer while the landlord went on about her saying things were wrong, and nothing was wrong except she was a crazy lady and waving his arms around like a chicken in front of her face.


Grady had chosen that moment to come home and heard the landlord, and not seeing the police there said, “Be careful, the last guy that got on her nerves ended up dead in a pile of frozen mackerel.”


“It was cod,” she snapped before she realized that the police had their hands on their guns. It took half an hour and a few calls to get things straightened out. The police called a plumber who took another hour to get things fixed. The landlord just wanted him to turn the water off and forget it.  Donna sat in her kitchen with the wet cloth to her forehead knowing her day by the noon mail was just going to get better. 


11 year old Frank Fletcher sat on the edge of his bed peering down at the cards spread over his bedcovers. He cracked open the cover of the book that was in his right hand and read a few paragraphs before turning over another card. His brow furrowed. It wasn’t what he expected. He was so absorbed in what he was doing he failed to hear the knock on his bedroom door, and didn’t react until his door was swinging open. Hastily he swept the cards together and shoved them into the book, and pushed the book under his pillow and leaned on it.


“Frank? What are you doing?”


“Uh, nothing Dad. Just thinking.”


Grady Fletcher looked at his son. He could always tell when something was troubling him, or when he wasn’t telling the truth. “It’s too nice of a day to be lying in a stuffy room. Isn’t there a window garden that needs to be weeded, or a garage that has to be swept out?” asked Grady, gently testing his son.


“Did that this morning Dad, and I took out the garbage, and folded the laundry for Mom.  She seemed like she was having a bad day,” said Frank as he brushed back the curly sandy blond bangs from his forehead.


Grady sighed. “Yes, I know. And I know we didn’t ask you to do that, so the question is, why? Either you wanted to avoid someone or get some free time to do…something else besides studying.”


As Frank shifted on the bed to sit up a bit, Grady saw the corner of the card and raising his eyebrow, leaned forward and picked the card up. For a moment Grady had thought the worst - that Frank, learning to be an adolescent, had found his way into an unseemly shop and purchased things that would embarrass his mother.


“It’s not what you think, Dad!” said Frank. “I’m not into the worship thing with them like the other kids, I just wanted to… to, well, know and understand them.”


Grady ran his hand through his thinning hair. He had taken in a breath and tried very hard to be in control when he let it out.


“Frank. Your mother and I have talked to you before about this stuff. It isn’t safe, and there are other things that we would rather you were working on, like your English report for next term.”


“I know, Dad. I just haven’t figured out what to write for it, and I’m not - using the cards, I am just reading about them. There is a whole world of things that people never talk about and I want to know the stuff. I don’t want to be afraid of what I don’t know,” said his son in a pleading tone. English was his least favorite subject. He hated it, and the teacher who wrote those long notes to his parents asking why he couldn’t understand simple sentence structure.


“Frank. It’s not just that - these things that you have. These Tarot cards. They are like a key through a doorway, and when people get involved with them, they get lost in them as well. They wrap their whole lives up in believing something that could be random chance, or something darker. And the cards lead to the board, and that - well. The boards are – an open invitation to something very dark.”


“I know Dad. I have listened. I want to learn though. I want to understand about all of this.”


“Why?” asked Grady with honest concern.


“Because, well. I have a friend who had a reading done. And she kept a list of everything the person said, and it came true. But I was reading in the book, the meaning of the cards that were laid down, and what she had didn’t match up with what the fortune teller said would happen. She was told she would suffer a great loss twice. A week later her house was robbed, and they don’t know how it happened, but whoever did it had a key to get in, and they were thinking it was her boyfriend, and she had to give him up. And her parents blamed her for the robbery. But the cards she had – don’t say that at all.”


“Ah, well, there is another point, that they are used by unscrupulous people and not by young gentlemen. Your mother and I hope that you will decide to undertake an interest in a productive career,” said Grady letting the air from his lungs out slowly.


“Dad, not everyone can be an accountant or an event planner…” Frank said seriously. “I want to learn things, but not like, well, school stuff. There are other things out there that people have forgotten. That’s the stuff that interests me.”


“You sound like your Aunt Jess,” smiled Grady. He saw the dismissive look on his son’s face. Being compared to an elderly 75 year old aunt was probably not a high point in his life. When Frank was younger they would take trips to see Jessica all the time, but once he started school, it became harder. Grady did make the trips to see her once a month, to do some repairs on the house, and they spoke on the phone daily, just a call in the morning to see if everything was okay.  Frank wasn’t always able to go up – his schooling was paramount, and for a while his grades had slipped so badly that for a few terms he had no life except to study with tutors to make it through school. Summer school and intensive work with tutors for the last 5 years had taken away any chance of going up to Cabot Cove for a vacation for him. The tutors had said the same thing. He was a bright boy, but what the teachers were teaching didn’t interest him. Grady realized that Frank had not seen his Aunt Jess since he was about 8, and even then it was to hide shyly behind Donna the whole time. He had found out that she had been a school teacher, and from there, well, he just didn’t want to have anything to do with her except being polite.


Frank looked up. He heard the sound of the mail box being opened and closed and his mother opening the door. Grady could see his son almost cringe. He knew his parents had been on the phone discussing his grades, and he had really tried to bring them up. The principal had been non-committal about if he would have to start summer school on Monday.  He understood when his father had said to enjoy the day outside; it might be his only chance of having any vacation at all. He closed his eyes as he heard his mother coming up the steps. The phone rang, and she answered it. Both Grady and Frank were looking at the door when she came in. She held an opened envelope in her hand, and a note pad in the other. They could see where her hair was wet from the cloth and her eyes were red rimmed from crying before. She gave a sniff then said,


“Mr. Danvers called. Mr. Peterson caught chicken pox from his son, and can’t finalize the Bishop account. He wanted to know if you would be able to, and I told him you would call him shortly…”


Frank looked at his father. He had overheard his parents talking about that account. Grady had been the primary accountant on it, but because of summer school, and other things, wasn’t able to do the required traveling that came with it. They had tried and it didn’t work. Frank had promptly given the tutor such a hard time he had called them after a week, and the sitter had refused to deal with his antics a day more. Grady had told them it was more important for the customer to be happy, and put Peterson on the travel end of it to finish the deal they had been working on. Their son was small and his wife didn’t mind staying at the hotels with her son during it. Most of them were resorts. It had been ages since Donna had a vacation. Dealing with Frank had been her primary concern.


“I could stay here by myself, or you could get someone to stay with me while I go to summer school,” said Frank a bit too eagerly.


Donna handed the envelope to Grady and for a moment he looked at the contents. He gave a sigh, looked at Donna, and then standing up he went out of the room. He closed the door and they could hear him on the phone speaking to someone. It was a few moments before he came back in. He sat down on the bed and looked at his son.


“I’ve called Mr. Danvers, and his secretary has set up the flights for us… Frank, we wanted to wait until we got the report card to tell you this, but you managed to pass this year, except for one course, English. Your principal has agreed to the suggestion that your mother and I had for him. We both feel that you being here over the summer with your friends hanging around are distracting you. The account has to be managed, and your mother needs a break. We decided to send you to stay this summer with a relative who will help tutor you until you’re able to complete the work required to not only pass, but to have an acceptable grade for next year as well. This slacking off has gone on far too long.”


“Fine. Send me off. They can’t make me study any more than the rest of the others,” he said sullenly.


Donna looked at Grady. Frank was right. The last time that Grady and she had to have someone take care of Frank due to the job taking them both away, according to her parents, had been close to nightmarish for everyone concerned. Frank had spent the first day in a tree refusing to come down. Her father’s answer was to leave him up there - but her mother had been disinclined to do that and called the fire company. By then the whole town had turned out to see what had happened. Frank had refused to eat anything unless it began with a Q.  The following day he wouldn’t eat anything at all. He refused to do any work for the tutor, and didn’t speak for 3 days. Her mother had discovered he had packed candy in his bag, and was living off of that. Once the candy was taken away, Frank ran away to be found at the bus station by the authorities. After that he became sullen. It wasn’t until their return that Donna’s temper took over and he managed to squeak by with the lowest grades that the tutor had ever seen.


Grady saw Frank’s arrogant smirk. He knew that given the chance, Frank would do things to make life as difficult as possible for whoever was taking care of him. Donna had questioned if it was wise to send such a hyperactive, high strung child to Grady’s elderly aunt, and the answer was, “Do we have any other choice? If he gets out of line, Mort will lock him up for a while.”


“Grady, I’m serious!”


She saw Grady’s expression didn’t change. So am I.”


Frank sat up and gathered all of the cards and the book and pushed them into the carrying case. “Fine. So, when do I leave for Grandma and Grandpa’s? What did you do to get them to take me back?”


Donna breathed in and let it out slowly. “Your Grandparents aren’t the ones who will be taking care of you for the summer. You will be staying at your Aunt Jessica’s.”


NO WAY! There is NO FRIGGEN WAY that I am spending the ENTIRE SUMMER with a SMELLY OLD LADY!” he yelled waving his arms in the air to emphasize his point. “No No No No No. You can’t make me go, and I won’t go.”


“Well you should have thought about that before you skipped 40 of your English classes!” said Donna, exasperated. “And you should have thought about it before you alienated every single tutor in 50 miles. Honestly! I don’t know why you think it’s cool to be so---“


“Stupid? Yeah, that’s me, your stupid son.”


“We have never called you that, Frank,” said Grady gently. “You’re a brilliant child. Sometimes things just don’t work correctly”


“And I was going to say arrogant!” said Donna. She took a breath. “Your flight leaves this evening. I have everything all packed for you and your father and I will be taking you to the airport and checking you in. I want you to understand something, Frank Fletcher. It is not the same as getting on a bus to go to the zoo. The airlines do not tolerate any out bursts, any high jinks, or any disruptive behavior. They don’t care that you are 11 years old. They take the welfare of everyone on board and the security of the airline above all. They will put you in prison with out a trial and you won’t get out until you’re a grandfather. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR YOUNG MAN?”


Frank swallowed, and then nodded. His mother was just working up to a second full head of steam, and while he knew arguing the point would bring no joy, part of his mind was sorting through the things that needed to be done before he was shipped off. The more time that he spent arguing, the less time he had to deal with things.


“FINE,” he said standing up and dragging his pack across the room. He began reaching for his electronic game system when his mother said, “No. That and your computer stay behind. As well as your cell phone. You will be out of range and Aunt Jess will not be paying for your long distance internet access. The library in Cabot Cove has a computer that you’re allowed to go to with supervision.”


“Aw Mum!”


“No ‘Aw Mum’ me! I know what happened the last time you went to the library alone!”


Frank scowled.  Yeah, she would remember that. On the pretext of going to study for a report, he went to the library and instead of using the ladder or calling for assistance he just climbed up the shelves to get a book that to this day he wouldn’t tell his parents what the title was. The shelves of books came down doing untold damage to several hundred books. Frank escaped with just a twisted ankle, but he was not allowed in the library again. He put his pack on the floor with a thump. Something wasn’t right. He turned and looked at his parents. “Hang on. You already had me packed? You knew I was going even before you got my report card, or the call from Dad’s boss, and you have my tickets. How long have you known about this?”


Grady’s voice said softly from where he still sat, “A month, since our last visit with your principal… It was the only way that we could convince him to not suspend you from school.”


Frank tilted his head. “How would shipping me off to an old aunt’s house for the summer prevent that?”


Donna’s sudden giggle couldn’t be stopped.  Frank looked between his father and his mother, very confused. His father was sitting there looking a bit worried now, as his mother was leaning against the wall gasping for breath.


“This is too weird…” Frank said.


His mother pulled a small purse-like thing out of her pocket that had long strings on each side. Frank had seen his dad wear one like it when he traveled.  She tossed it on the bed. She wore a happier expression on her face than when she first entered the room. “In there are some credit cards. They have a pre-set limit, and if you use them wisely, they will last the entire summer. If you don’t, you’re s.o.l. It also contains your passport for ID purposes.”


“Where would I be going that I need a passport? I have my student ID…”


Donna and Grady just shrugged. His mother was still smiling. “You won’t know until you get there…” said Grady. He eyed Donna with concern. Taking her by the elbow he led her out of the room and closed the door between them and their son.


They gave Frank a good two hours to absorb the fact that his summer plans had radically changed. Frank used the time to get online and list his favorite web hang outs on a web page, then he checked his email.  There were two that demanded his attention. The first he recognized from his friend Dot by his cool gold avatar of a triangle with an hourglass inside of it.  He clicked open the first and read the information. Dot, for all that Frank knew, or cared, was a kid his age who had the same interests as Frank did, and much better grades in school. Dot lived in LA, and had to fight his 3 brothers for the use of the computer every day.  Frank rather liked Dot, but he was smart enough not to tell even those he felt were friends anything.  Dot’s email hinted that the group had a lot of problems that were going to come to light very soon. He couldn’t tell Frank any more and cautioned him to remain silent about what he had been told. Frank knew that in order to get more inside track information, he had to curb his interest in what Dot was talking about.


His parents just didn’t understand the internet.  His mom used it to look up recipes. His dad used the email to contact people and do some research on investment houses, but that was it. Frank had found a whole – way of dealing with things. There were gamers. People who took factual or fictional information and made a game of solving the clues in it. The latest game everyone seemed to be playing was “Where is Ben Stove?” At first Frank thought it to be real events, and it was a bitter disappointment to discover that it was some guy who was pitching the idea for either a game market, or a movie. He wanted – something really worth doing. Then his friend Dot had informed him of another group, one that searched for answers in real life events.  They had a case file, and people who were in the area did the research and it wasn’t a game, it was real. Real life, real people that he could go on line and look up where they lived, and where things happened and it was like standing right next to where it all went down.


Frank was a bystander in all of it.  His nickname on the boards was Quillgoi. He felt himself to be the sensible one in everything, urging caution to the others in what they said or did. He was his usual vocal self about things, but he didn’t get into it like the other ones did. Some of them would travel to where the events had taken place, some of the others would actually make contact with the people involved in secret and then post what had been said and done. In Frank’s eyes, that was one of the most stupid things they could do.


The last case they had been working was regarding a girl older than he who had been found at the road side early one morning near her home in Orange County. She had been beaten so badly that the police refused to let her parents see her to identify her body. While the case took place in another state, and was several months old, nothing had been discovered regarding who had done it. The last person to see her alive was the clerk at the convenience store. That was at 4 am when she left after trying to buy cigarettes. The time line they had made showed she was late coming in to her home, about 11:30 pm, she went out again to have a fight with her boyfriend in the driveway at 1:20 am, and she arrived at the convenience store at 2 am to try to buy the cigarettes. Her purse and cell phone had been found on her bed the next morning by her parents.


The moderator of the group board had made contact with the boyfriend on a chat site. After that it became a tumble of information as more of the girl’s friends were investigated by the group. Frank held fast in his beliefs of who could have been capable of doing something so wrong. Everyone was in to this case for different reasons. Most of them wanted a chunk of the reward money. Some wanted to earn their living by doing this. Franks motivation, as he kept telling them, was just that her parents could sleep at night when it was all done. No one understood that. There was no material gain from it.


His second email was from the moderator of the group. It called him out on his position, and it blasted him for making a comparison that what they were doing - which in Frank’s eyes was blatant harassment of the young woman’s boyfriend - to how the moderator would have felt if it was done to him. Frank took a breath and typed in. “I am going to have to think about where I stand in all of this. You will get my answer soon enough.” Frank set his Email on auto response. “Hey, Have a summer of tutors to deal with, leave a message and if I can and I am not grounded for the rest of my puberty I will get back to you.”


He disconnected from the internet then, and unplugged his lap top. It would be so simple just to slip it in the bag… but he knew that it would show up on the x rays, and it wasn’t safe to be kept in the check in bag. He lifted it. 15 pounds. It wasn’t worth dragging it to wherever. His cell phone was different. He won that at school, a bean counting contest. It was small, light weight, and … the more he thought about it, being wherever his great aunt lived, was probably out of range. He put it in its case and then covered both the computer and the cell phone with a pillow sham on the bed.  He noticed his father had placed the card he had picked up on the dresser. Pausing he looked at the cardboard box that the cards were in and the book. His parents didn’t say anything about not taking the cards, and they didn’t know about the rune set ether.


Not knowing what he was going to do for the whole summer, he grabbed what he thought would be necessities. His sketch pad, his pen box now stuffed with the tarot cards and the rune set. His parents wouldn’t object to him taking a few books to read, the tarot book and the rune book fit nicely within the other two that he had picked up at the shop. Looking around the room, he thought to himself. If something happened to the house, what would he want to take from it the most? His eyes fell on the photo of his mom and dad and him that was taken at the last Christmas party. While his face showed a far away sad look, his mom and dad were looking at him as their pride and joy. Tucked behind it were two other photos. One was one of the few photos of his dad’s parents, and the other was of his mom’s parents. He knew his that his dad’s parents died in an auto accident when he was young. Suddenly feeling very frightened he pushed the pictures into the pouch that held his passport and the credit cards and put it around his neck. The weight of it comforted him. He went down the steps dragging his book bag behind him. Donna peaked inside of it, and saw just books and his pencil case.


“Mum … I’m sorry for being such a pain, and for being a jerk around grandma and grandpa,” he said softly. “Do I have to go?” he said at last.


Donna sat down on the sofa and held her hand out to Frank to come and sit beside her. “Your father and I think it would be best if you did spend some time with Aunt Jessica. She is a very special person to your father and me, and loves you just as much as if you were her own grandson. She’s getting older, and we don’t know how much longer we will have her. It’s important that you get to know her while you can… I realize it’s not the summer you were expecting. In my own way, I would like to trade places with you.”


“Why?” he asked, curious.


She only gave him a smile.



It was an hour later that they arrived at the airport. Because he was a minor and traveling alone both Donna and Grady were allowed to escort him to where he would board the plane. The flight attendant put a lanyard about his neck with his photo id, and his first name with his destination code on it. A bracelet went around his wrist.


“Some one will be there to meet you at Portland’s airport.  I don’t know if it will be Floyd or Seth, but the airline people will know when you land, and get you to the right person, who will take you to Aunt Jess’s house. She has all of the medical papers in case something should happen, and where we can be reached. ... Frank, your mother and I will be out of the country for a while and won’t be able to get back if there is a problem, do you understand? Your Aunt Jess will take care of you if something, happens that we can’t get back to you when we plan to. She’s your legal guardian, in our wills.”


“Dad, don’t talk like that!”


“I just want you to know that someone will always be there to take care of you.”


Frank gave his father a long hug, then his mother. “I love you,” he said to them, and then the boarding call was made. A stewardess escorted him onto the plane and into the first class area. Frank was by the window seat nearest the terminal, and he could see his parents looking at the plane, seeing him and waving. He placed his hand on the glass and waved back. His father gathered his mother up in his arms and held her while the plane boarded, and the last that Frank saw of his parents was his father wiping the tears from his mother’s eyes before the plane pulled away from the gate.


He didn’t notice at first that there was someone in the seat next to him. He studied the man – at first he thought he was a kid, like him, for the man stood about four and a half feet tall.  It was the presence of a stubble beard that was peaking through that convinced Frank that he was not a kid at all. The man’s head was tucked against his chest and soft snores were coming from him. Frank looked at him again. The man’s coat was rough dark blue linen, his shirt was – different. It had a woven pattern style that Frank had never seen before. The man had a silk scarf about his neck, and had a dark vest. In the vest pocket a slim chain lead to a gold pocket watch. Looking at the man’s head again, he saw his hair was curly locks, as if it hadn’t been cut for a long time. What made this man interesting was that his ears seemed to be – well, if you’d asked Frank’s opinion about them, they looked a bit… elfish. Stretching his neck Frank could just see the tips of the man’s shoes, and to his disappointment they were just like his dad’s shoes with laces, not the buckle ones that you saw in the movies that leprechauns wore.


“Did ye lose somein lad?” a gentle Irish burred voice asked behind him.


Franks eyes went wide and he pulled back to his seat and leaned against the window as he shook his head Even the man’s accent was right for one of the wee folk. Stories of what he should do flooded his mind as he could only gaze at this man with abject curiosity. Realizing the man wanted an answer Frank couldn’t help to blurt out,


“No sir, are you a leprechaun?” 


The man gave him an appraising look then tilted his head.  “Would ye be after m’ gold if I was?” he asked with a twinkle in his hazel eyes.


Frank had to think a moment. He shook his head. “No. It would be too difficult to get it exchanged, and it wouldn’t help matters in the long run.”


“Ah, well, that’s a wise decision then. Money isn’t what the world was made for.” He extended his hand. “My friends call me Willie Mac, the polite ones at least.”


Frank took the man’s hand and shook it “My friends call me Frank.”


A stewardess came with a cart and had milk and a sandwich for Frank, and a cup of tea and another sandwich for Willie. To Frank’s disappointment Willie nodded off to sleep again after he was done eating. Frank caught the attention of the stewardess as she passed by. “Is he ok?” he asked, concerned. She nodded, but didn’t say any thing else.


Frank sighed and dug through his pack to find the book on runes.  At first he had been excited about getting the runes set, but now, he realized it read like an English book. He thought about just tucking it in the pocket of the seat. He could leave it behind, but it had cost him a week’s worth of chores to get it.


The plane gave a horrid bump. Frank stuffed the book in his back pack when the plane bumped again. He zippered his back pack and stuffed it under the seat as the plane bucked in mid-air again, forcing a frightened cry from his lips. Instinctively he hugged his chest, feeling the soft pouch hanging about his neck that held his family’s pictures.  He heard the DING as the ‘no smoking’ and ‘fasten your seat belts’ signs came on.


Willie Mac woke at the second bump, and at the third one heard the sound come from Frank.  He reached over and patted Franks shoulder “It’s alright Lad, just a bit of turbulence, happens all the time. We’ll get to land soon enough.” He saw Frank look at him.


“It’s the method of how we get to land that concerns me,” Frank said in a tight voice.

Frank looked at Willie Mac, who didn’t make light of his concerns.




The summer storms delayed their landing for half an hour. Frank had thought at first to just hide his name badge that they had given him, and wiggle out of the bracelet and maybe follow after another adult. He had money. He didn’t know how far it would get him, or if they could trace where he was going - and he did remember the numbers to his savings account. Not that he had his passbook with him, but he had successfully removed money from the account a few times before to pay for some things online before his parents found out. He had his passport. He could go anywhere, and never have to worry about going to any more school. The turbulence changed things though. Suddenly he wasn’t too wild about being in a stormy area on his own. 


As the plane taxied up to the gateway Frank turned to Willie. “Thank you,” he said, extending his hand.


 Willie shook it as if Frank was an adult. “It was a pleasure to meet you Frank.”


The stewardess came for Frank and escorted him out of the plane. Frank saw the airport was tiny. The gift shop was just a circular area, and it had three gates - one was an international gate, the other two were local. There was just one way in and out. She took him to where an older man stood wearing a police officer’s uniform and a cowboy’s white hat.


“Welcome to Maine, Frank. I’m Sheriff Metzger and I will be taking you to your aunt’s home.”


Frank looked at him. He knew he could outrun him in a cold second, but as they had to go through the gate and there was a guard there, Frank wouldn’t get far. They had his luggage ready for him by the time he reached the way out, and as Mort closed the trunk he saw that Frank had already climbed into the back seat with his back pack. He was looking, however, at a short man in a blue coat get into a taxi and as it passed them the man nodded to Frank, who returned the nod.


By the time that Mort got into the front seat, Frank was already buckled in and had pulled Mort’s over coat over him. Mort looked back “So, do you want sirens, or just the lights?”


Frank just shrugged. “Sirens would wake people up. Just the lights,” he said with a sigh as he leaned against his back pack. He saw the time - it was 11:30 pm, way past his bed time. The rain began to fall again as they pulled away from the curb, and into the night.


Frank was asleep by the time they reached Jessica Fletcher’s house. Mort sighed. Jessica’s light was on, and he could see she was in the front room waiting. Leaving the bag in the trunk, Mort opened the door and carefully lifted Frank into his arms and over his shoulder. He would come back for the back pack and bags in a bit. Jessica opened the door for them and showed Mort where Frank would be sleeping. Mort carried Frank up the stairs, and then laid him on the bed. Jess looked at Frank and for a moment, and saw a very young Grady. She sat on the bed and removed his shoes, She wasn’t going to try to get him ready for bed; a blanket over him would do for tonight.  She left a night light on in his room and one in the hall next to the bathroom if he would happen to wake up.  Mort carried Frank’s things into the house and the heavier suit case upstairs. The back pack he left by the steps. From what he felt when he picked it up, it was just books.


Mort saw Jessica just standing looking at Frank as he slept. He put the suit case down by the door, and touched her arm. Jess let out a slow breath and followed Mort back down the steps. She saw him look back up the steps then he looked at her. “If there is anything you need Mrs. F. please let me know,” he said, his voice soft, but full of concern.


“Everything will be fine, Mort. Thank you for picking him up at the airport.” Mort nodded. “It seems like yesterday that they brought Grady here, Frank carried him up the steps just like you did…We were watching him while they went out, and it was late. Grady wanted to stay up until they came home, but they never did… Seeing him tonight. He is very much like his father was.”


Mort gave a half smile. “I have a feeling Young Mr. F. has no idea what his summer is going to be like… it’s been a few years since he was here last…”


Jess nodded. “Once he learned I was a school teacher, he wouldn’t say anything to me. I think I frightened him.”


Clearing his throat and resisting the urge to laugh, Mort said, “Good. Kids need to have a healthy fear of adults sometimes. Especially school teachers with long rulers…”


Jess laughed softly. “And I suppose your school teachers broke a few with your name on it?” 


From the look in his eyes Jess knew she was right. Mort bent over and gave Jess’s cheek a kiss. “Good night, Mrs. F,” he said smiling before he went out the door into the rain to where his police car was. He heard her say good night to him, and he waved as he drove off down the street to do a quick drive-by of the town on his way home.




Willie Mac paid the taxi cab driver then carried his bags down the sidewalk to the dark building and leaned them against it while he fished in his pocket for the code to the real estate box that hung on the massive oak door. It hadn’t been hard to find. There was only one Oak Street in Cabot Cove, and there were three houses on Oak Street and one business.  On the other side of Oak Street there was a bed and breakfast and a small parking lot that was for the boat tours that left the harbor at 8, 11 and 3 to see the whales.  Willie carried his things inside and shut the door against the cold rain and relocked it from the inside. He didn’t expect the lights to be working yet, or for there to be any water, but he was pleasantly surprised that the heat was working. He had spoken to the real estate person regarding the business and while there was no promise made as to when they would be turned on, it would be sometime during that week. Willie Mac looked around. There was a lot of work to be done, and it was late. Not knowing where the light switches were he pulled out a flash light and made his way up the steps to where he knew the apartment area was of the shop. There were no beds or furnishings in the rooms, just boxes and packing material. Sighing he placed his bags down and removed his shoes and his coat. He hung his coat on the hook on the back of the door, pulled a rug over him, stretched out and turned off his flash light. In a moment he fell asleep. Morning would be time enough to get things going.




Tipper Henderson stretched out in the most uncomfortable chair in the back office of the animal clinic. There were other chairs more comfortable, but she was working the night shift and the thought of a comfortable chair would have her asleep in a second. While there was nothing to do except wait for an Irish Setter bitch to whelp any hour now (the dog residing there while the owners were conveniently on vacation), she had picked up a book from the many they kept in the waiting room for the people to read while their pets were being seen by the vets.  She had to be awake too for any emergency calls as well. A good book or even a bad book would keep her mind occupied while she waited. She looked over at the dog whose belly was huge. At least 3 pups that they knew of. The dog thumped her tail twice, and looked at her belly as it moved under her fur. Sighing, the dog laid her head back down and went to sleep.


Tipper opened up the book again as she rubbed her eyes. She was reading a passage regarding Belladonna and something seemed very familiar but she couldn’t place her finger on it. She knew she hadn’t read any of the books before. Closing the book she glanced at the cover. It had a pair of eyes on it, ones with the irises was wide open, and between the eyes was a long sharp sword with the handle that had triangle markings on it with the infinity sign interwoven into it.  She looked over at the Irish setter who yawned, then back at the book.  “Belladonna,” she said out loud. She had to smooth back part of the cover that had become winkled to read the authors name. Thaladirith Mac.  The name meant nothing to her. She turned the book onto its side and saw ‘Sutton’ on the inside cover - it had a note that Sutton was a subsidiary of Coventry House Publishers.


“NO WAY!” she gasped, now most certainly wide awake. She opened the book back to the first page and began reading with renewed interest. At first she had thought it to be one of those historical novels that people thought up, most of them turning into tawdry romances. This started in a small village in Ireland, small enough not to be on many maps in a world forgotten. Things were done the old ways, and one of the ways was to learn the way of healing as an apprentice. As Tipper became more engrossed in the book, she began to be able to tell where the writer’s work had been edited by the publishing house. She heard the bitch whine. Sighing, Tipper dog-eared the page and stuck it on top of her pack. She scrubbed her hands and knelt by the bitch who tried to rise up to lick her face.  At least her night was going to be a bit busier than she expected.


Several hours later the bitch and 4 pups were nestled on new bedding. It would be another 2 before someone came in so she could go home.  Wired now, Tipper picked up the book and began to read again. The story was taking a nasty turn as several people of the town were turning up dead, the only clue that the local constable could find was that their irises were wide open. Mid way Tipper learned the cause. She was so engrossed in the book between checking on the bitch and pups, that she lost track of the time until she heard the door chimes in the outer waiting room.  She closed the book and put it with her things. It would be worth staying up just a bit longer to find out what had happened.


Morning had brought a heavy mist as Tipper walked back to her home. Something made her walk along the lower side of the town for a while then up a street that she had avoided for several years. She stopped outside the Nightshade store and looked at the building. Flashes of memories came back to her. Sitting with her tranq gun, waiting. Learning about the man who had been killed. Metzger’s determination to get her prints, and how for a while that symbol that Taylor had pointed out to her kept cropping up every once in a while. From what Taylor had told her, once the company had their books looked into, with the proof, it ended. People who had been addicted to the stuff had gone through withdrawal, and after a while felt very foolish overall. The wind chimes and all trace of the cult that was built around the book disappeared.  She stood looking at the building and then something caught her eye. Blinking a few times, Tipper gathered her wits about her and began walking very fast up the hill to where she knew someone who would understand and listen to her lived.


Taylor Andrews heard the door bell ring again. Sydney looked at her expectantly. The fact that Sydney wasn’t barking informed her that it was someone that Sydney knew very well. Wrapping her robe about her thin shoulders Taylor went to the door and saw Tipper there. The wind blew Tippers hair into her face as she looked both scared, and exhausted.


“Can I come in?”


Taylor opened the door for her, and as Tipper closed the outside door, Taylor asked her, “Tea? You look half frozen.”


Tipper nodded and crossed through the living room following Taylor into the kitchen. She set her bag on the floor, but pulled out the book and placed it on the table.


“I don’t know who left this at the clinic, but I thought you may want to read it. I’m almost done with it, but I, well, looked at the ending, so…” She shrugged.


Taylor poured hot water into a mug and dropped a tea bag in it and handed it to Tipper.  Both of the women sat down on the sofa at the same time. It took a moment for Taylor to look over the book. Tipper knew everything took time with Taylor now-a-days.


Taylor placed her right arm down on the book. Her heavy medic alert bracelet jangled softly upon striking the surface. “Oh,” she said softly. “So, this started it all?”


Tipper nodded. “Must have missed the recall of them. It’s a first edition.”


Taylor looked over the book again.  “Well. If you think about it, the Doctor who owned the practice that started the clinic left Cabot Cove about a month after that store was closed up. Rather in a hurry.” She regarded Tipper. “But the book wouldn’t be something that couldn’t wait… I know you too well. What is it?”


She saw the young vet take a deep breath before Tipper said, “I walked past Nightshade, just to look at it, and the real estate lock box was off of the front door. With Jessica living across the street, and she knowing everything going on in the town, I was wondering if, well, you had heard anything.”


It was true that Taylor saw more of Jessica than most people did. Several years before, when Taylor had arrived in Cabot Cove, Maine to take a much needed vacation, events beyond her control changed things forever. It had taken the rest of the time she had for her vacation to get things resolved, and the difficult step to walk away from all that she had known.  Her health had been precarious but with the fresh Maine air, and the peace and quiet, Taylor had begun a new life in Cabot Cove, one spent in hours of sketching Jessica’s roses, and painting the light houses in that section of Maine. Everything else seemed unimportant. Staying in Maine forced her decision with the man she loved. He was better to stay where he was - he was needed there, more than she needed him with her. They were still friends, but the miles had grown a distance between them that time couldn’t heal.


“Only that Jessica’s great nephew was arriving. I saw Mort’s car late last night, with the lights on. He was picking him up at the Portland airport.” Taylor saw Tipper yawn and relax on the sofa. She looked out the window at the sound of the rain which was beginning to come down pretty heavily. “Maybe Jessica does know something - but it’s too early to wake her with it.”  The rumble of thunder made Taylor look at the window, and not hearing a response from Tipper, she turned to look at the young vet and saw she was sound asleep. Taylor grinned, and then carefully moved Tipper’s legs so that she was in a semi-comfortable position before covering her with a blanket.




Jessica woke to the sound of running water in the bathroom next to where her bedroom was. There was the diligent scrubbing of teeth followed by a gurgling sound as Frank gargled in every key that he could before spitting the warm liquid from his mouth. She glanced at the clock across the room. 5:45 am. Perhaps it was the rain storm or the rumble of thunder that had awakened him. She heard the quiet squeak of her door. She knew he was peaking in to see if she was awake or not.  She covered a yawn then beckoned him into the room. For a moment he just stood there, not moving before he opened up the door enough for him to come in. She saw his eyes dart to the window as lightning flashed and the booming thunder rolled across the cove. Jess rolled on her back and patted the other side of the bed. “Come on in,” she said gently.


Frank stood still for a moment. She didn’t smell any different than his mom did. The last thing that he remembered was hoping that Willie Mac had found where he was going, and then waking up in the bed and realizing he had to find where the bathroom was. Coming out of the bathroom he had found the door to his Aunt Jessica’s room slightly ajar. Curious, he had opened it just to see if she was as scary as he remembered. It was the lightning that convinced him that she wasn’t going to eat him just that day or anything.  He climbed onto the bed and regarded her.


“I had made up my mind to run away from here, before I got here last night,” he said to her finally. He studied her face and found it full of curiosity, and no anger.


“Oh? What changed your mind?” she asked gently.


“It was raining and I met a man on the plane that looked a lot like a leprechaun, even sounded like the ones you see in the movies, but his shoes weren’t right. They were the same type that my dad owns, the lace-up kind. He was wearing cloths that – well, had to have been homemade, none of his buttons were quite the same, and his shirt looked like it was made from the same material that you would make a girl’s shirt from. And I realized that if he could go about the world like that, and be as short as I am, he had to learn to deal with a lot worse things than not wanting to go to English class… and I still don’t know why my mum giggled so when I asked how coming here was going to help with English. And how do you know Sheriff Medler?”


“Sheriff Metzger and I are friends. It’s a small town; every one knows ‘most everyone else. Most of them will recognize you the moment that they see you - they’ve seen most every photo that your parents have sent me.”


“Why?” he asked, curious


“Why?”  Jess repeated, not knowing quite what he was asking.


“Why would you show them around? You haven’t seen me since I was little, and you’re not even related to me by blood. I’m no one to you.”


“Blood isn’t the only thing that makes a family, Frank. And of all my nieces and nephews, and great nieces and nephews and cousins, you are the most dear to me. Your uncle and I couldn’t have children, and your father became our responsibility when he was quite young. In a way, it’s as if you’re my grandson, and I know your uncle would be very proud to know you carry his name.”


Jess saw Frank sigh.


“I suppose we’re going to jump right into the lessons…” It was as if his entire body deflated. Something else was bothering him, something that caused him not to like the subject and she knew that before she could get him to remember anything first and foremost she had to find out what was wrong with the English classes in the first place - though she had a pretty fair idea.


“Oh, I don’t know. Breakfast first seems like a better idea. What time is it anyway?” she asked covering her yawn with her hand. Jess knew what time it was actually. While the sun rose very early along the Maine coastline she could guess the time by how bright it was outside even with the storm going on.  She watched as he turned his head searching for the clock and how he leaned forward squinting slightly to see the time. It told her much of what she needed to know.


“Um… almost six.”




The rumble of thunder woke Willie Mac. He sat up where he had made his bed the night before and looked around. He had lost count of the times he had less than a rug to sleep on and at least, from what he could tell, the roof wasn’t leaking above him.  Stretching his arms up he took a deep breath. The house would need a proper airing, and a lot of cleaning. He had been informed that one of the people who had worked at the shop had died, and how they had died in graphic detail by the real estate agent Eve Simpson. Not that he minded working with women, but he had the distinct impression that she would be sadly disappointed in his height when he arrived at her office to give her back the lock box later that day.


Standing, he walked over to the shuttered window and looked outside. He saw people moving about on the street, used to the rains as they walked with large umbrellas and made their way down to the docks. The thrum of the lobster boat engines had long since faded, and it was now the shop owners who were coming to work. Eve had said that Cabot Cove’s day began at 4 in the morning and ended at 8 at night. By his watch it was past 6 and his belly reminded him he hadn’t had anything to eat since the airplane ride to Portland. He went to his bag and pulled out a change of cloths and took a walk down the hall. To his delight the water was now on, as well as the electricity and a quick hot shower was enough to wash away the sleepiness from his body and prepare him for the day.


The rain had let up a bit as he pocketed the key to the front door, and with the key box in hand he started down the street whistling a nameless tune. There would be time enough for breakfast - he wanted to settle some matters first. Customs had regarded what he carried in his case with curiosity, and the documents in his pocket weighed heavy on his mind. He had a lot invested in this day. His journey had taken four years to come here to this place. He sighed as he came to Eve’s real estate office. She wasn’t there, but she had a box for returned key boxes. With a satisfied nod he placed it in the box and then walked down the street to where he saw the sheriff’s office. The rain began to fall again and he was pleased to discover the door to the sheriff’s office was open. He saw a young deputy look up from his desk and give a nod.  Willie noted the name on the pin said ‘Broom.’  He returned the nod and said politely,


“Good morning, I was wondering if Sheriff Metzger was in? I understand he had a late night last night, but I was hoping I could have a matter resolved in short time. My name’s Thaladirith Razanur and I’ve come to recover something that was stolen from me a few years back that turned up here in Cabot Cove… I’ve papers of proof of ownership, and a letter from Scotland Yard as well.” Willie Mac lifted the scabbard from where he had been protecting it under his coat and placed it on the desk. “I believe you have the sword that fits within this in what you call an ‘evidence lock up’?”


Andy Broom almost fell out of his chair at the sight of the scabbard. He found himself nodding. The sword was still wrapped in oil cloth in the lock up, the trial long over, as no one from Sutton House had come forward to claim it. Mort, knowing it was valuable, had kept it safe, wrapping it himself to protect the blade and taking time to carefully clean off the blood that was on the blade so that it wouldn’t pit. “Let me call the Sheriff,” he said, swallowing. He stood then turned to look at Willie Mac “Would you care for some coffee or tea while you wait? He may just be getting up and it may be a while before he arrives.”


“Tea would be lovely, thank you.” While Andy called Mort, he poured a cup of hot tea for Willie and handed it to him.  Willie waved away the offer of a doughnut. He had seen some odd things that Americans had eaten for breakfast, and had tried a fair few, but doughnuts were just not right at all. The taste reminded him of the English Yorkshire Puddings, and that left a bitter taste in his mouth. He took a sip of the steaming liquid and settled back in his chair.


It was a good 15 minutes later that Mort strode in and shook the rain off of his overcoat as he hung it up on the coat hook. “Morning Andy… Hullo. Mr…” he said turning to see Willie and extended his hand.


Willie stood and took Mort’s hand in a firm grip that surprised Mort with its strength. “Thaladirith Razanur, I’ve come to reclaim the item that was taken from me, and to my sadness, learned that it was used to kill someone.”


“You have papers to prove ownership, Mr. Razanur?”


Willie’s eyebrows rose. Of all the Americans that he had worked with over the last few years, Mort was the first one to pronounce his name correctly after hearing it just once.


“Oh aye,” he said, pulling out the envelope of papers including his passport. 


Mort regarded the description of the sword and frowned. “The one we have in the lock up is a bit longer, and yours doesn’t have the things on it…”


Willie nodded and flipped to the next page where there was another picture, one that was taken by Sutton House for the book cover. Next to it was a photo of Kent Fordham. Mort straightened up.


“Him I know, and yes, this is the one we have in the lock up. My question is, how are you involved in the Nightshade case?”  Mort saw Willie’s gaze didn’t waver.


“I wrote the book Belladonna, which Sutton House published and took the rights over as Nightshade. After that, well, things went a bit bad. I’ve been using the last few years trying to make things right, and to search for the sword that’s been in my family for the last 3000 years. I found the scabbard in the place you call your City of Angels last month, and a man there told me that the sword was most likely here. Kent Fordham came to my village to get pictures for the book, saw the sword, and asked my Gram if he could take photos of it for the book. She said yes, and the kettle that she had put on for tea whistled, and she went to make some. When she returned he was gone - she thought to just get his camera. It was a bit later that we learned the sword had been removed from our home. When it showed up on the cover, and his name appeared as the photographer, well, it took several trips to Scotland Yard to convince them that it was the same sword, and to do something about it. The chief inspector Mr. Sutherland was quite nice about calming Gram, telling her that we would get it back. He gave me his business card if anyone had questions about it.”


“But they look like two different swords…” said Andy.


Willie nodded, and then laid the photos side by side. “Aye, but if you look here, on the blade, you can see something that shows up even with their best attempts to hide the sword. The rune beneath their wax came up in an indentation.”


Mort picked up both photos and studied them. “Well I’ll be,” he said. Putting down the photos he looked over the rim of them. “Andy, go get Mr. Razanur his sword.” 


Andy came back in a moment and held the oil wrapped cloth. Mort watched Willie’s face as it was gently unwrapped and laid on the desk. He saw tears in the man’s eyes and realized how much it meant to him. Willie took a breath then pulled out a small pair of fingernail clippers and clipped one of the wires that wrapped the handle of the blade. Andy and Mort watched as Willie unwrapped the wire from the handle and freed the large red stone that was on the handle as well as the intricate scroll work of the triangle and infinity symbol. With distaste he crushed the wire in his hands, twisting the triangle, snapping it. The stone he set aside. Mort saw him take the file of the nail clippers and wedge it between the handle and the blade. There was a soft click as a section of the blade fell away. Andy gasped thinking the blade had broken. Mort had to blink a few times before he realized what they had done to conceal the blade. They had used bees wax, and parchment, then silver leaf over the top portion of the blade to hide the runes beneath. The handle of the sword, while elegant, was now smaller. With a twist of the file again, the other side of the blade was free. Mort saw relief on Willie’s face, and tears that streamed down his cheeks as he lovingly picked up the sword and held it to his chest.


“Hello, old friend,” he said softly to the blade, kissing the handle.


Mort went to his file cabinet and pulled out a bottle of oil that he placed on the desk along with a cloth. At least they had the sense to oil it before applying the bees wax. An inspection of the blade against the original photograph showed that it was the missing sword. Once it was clean he slid it into the scabbard.  Andy looked at the wire bits and asked curiously.


“So, the whole cult thing - that was made from the book…”


Mort saw a pained expression on Willie’s face. “I wrote the book awhile back after we had a rash of deaths due to one of the healers misusing belladonna on some of the young people to give them what you call hallucinogenic trips to control them. It’s more dangerous, more, sensory than that drug LSD, and not illegal in the least in any land. Gram found out what he was doing, and he nearly killed her with what he had laced her tea with. I came back from graduating from the university and saw that most of those whom I knew were dead and gone and Gram ill - I knew something was badly amiss.


“When it was done and over, I wanted to find a way of warning the young ones na to do it. It’s a deadly game that he was playing, one that you don’t win at. I sold the manuscript to the publishers, and I didna know what editorial prerogatives was, and I was informed I didna have that right to stop what they were changing in the book, and when they began opening up the shops, they explained that people wanted to learn about the old ways, and it sounded like a good idea from where they were. We didna know what they were doing, or how they were doing it. They dinna include any money for the shops in the royalty checks for the book, and in a way, I am relieved about that because it was easier to settle things in court afterwards. Since the trial I’ve been going from store to store closing them up and sending the stuff back to Sutton House, and then ending the contracts for the buildings that they were using. The one here is the last one that they opened, and the last that I need to deal with.” Willie gathered the papers and his passport and placed them back into his pocket, leaving a manila envelope on the desk.


“And then it’s home to Ireland?” asked Andy where he was looking at the mess of gem stones on Mort’s desk from the corner of the room.


“Nae, while my Gram will be happy that I’ve found the sword, when all of this happened, I became a most un popular fellow. The book brought many curious people into our village, none of them really knowing what they wanted, and it made the village very sad. We like a peaceful life. Motor cars just upset the chickens so much they don’t lay any more, and a hen that does not lay ends up in the stew pot. I purchased the building that was the Nightshade shop, and I may make my home there, for a while.”


“You know, a man died there.”


Willie nodded to Andy. “Aye,” he said sadly. “I know.” He took a breath. “And some how I will make amends for those whom have been hurt by this unwillingly.”


Willie began to walk to the door. Andy called after him, “Wait, what about the gemstones?”


Willie stopped. “They are nae mine, but if you contact the name on the envelope on the desk he will tell you who they belonged to and help you return them. They were na stolen, but are nae part of my quest.”


Mort stood up as the rain thundered against the roof. “I have to pick Adele up at Loretta’s.  Would you care for a ride home?” He saw Willie take a breath, then nod. “Thank ye, Sheriff. That’s most kind.”  He nodded to Andy, who he saw scooping all of the gem stones into the envelope and sealing it then placing it in the safe and closing the door. Their eyes met across the room. Willie gave another nod, then walked out with Mort.


In the quiet of the police car Willie saw the worry lines on Mort’s face. “The people here aren’t going to be too happy to see me, are they?”


Mort took a slow breath in then let it out.  “A lot of lives were changed by it. You know that though. You know the damage they did to the community. I know, though, how things become promoted. How promises are made, and money is taken from those who don’t know any better. I learned, though, who I could trust that week, and who my friends were. I was glad that they were the same people that I always knew.  A few people in this town were deeply hurt by the methods that were employed by that company.  Decent folk that didn’t have anything to do with what was going on. You’re worried that some will think its your fault, but its not. Unless you were the person who was directing everything going on. If you were, you wouldn’t have left those gemstones behind. What I can’t understand is why that sword is so important to you that you would spend years tracking it down.”


“It’s my heritage. It’s who I am. It proves who I am.”


“The owner of an old sword?”


Willie shook his head. With a careful hand he unscrewed the top of the handle of the sword and slid his small finger inside. Papers slipped out in a tight roll. Some of them were small enough to uncurl from the roll and were caught in Willie Mac’s hands before they fell off of his lap. He looked at Mort. “My birth records, and that of my parents. I didna know where my family had hid them until after the sword went missing, and my Gram told me that she and my mother had placed them in the handle of the sword to prove that I was the rightful heir of it.  Do you know your parents Sheriff Metzger?” Mort nodded “I do not. My da died before I was born and my mother came to the village looking for him. My Gram took her in during her confinement, and then my mother left me in her care. I have na seen her face, nor known her voice all my life, an only part of her name. There were reasons why she left me that you may never understand… some that I don’t ether. Do you know what a Mc is? Or as ye say it some times, a Mac? It’s what some are called if they have a certain faith, the type that they have been fighting over for far too long. My Mother was a Mac, and my da didn’t care. Nor did my Gram.  She’d seen too many die for want of a potato to live offa.”


Taking a breath Willie slid the papers back in and screwed the handle knob back into place.


“Aren’t you going to look?”


Willie shook his head.  “Na now, maybe later after I have a chance to speak with my Gram about things. She needs to know the sword’s been recovered so she can rest at last. Thank you for the ride, Sheriff,” he said as they came up to the curb.


Stepping inside the building he left the door ajar to allow fresh air in. He strode up the steps and placed the sword in his suitcase, and closed it. Looking around he saw the folded boxes in the large crate and the rolls of packing tape. He opened his carry-on bag and slid out an envelope that contained labels. Tossing some of the boxes over the rail he went down the steps and went to work.




Frank Jr. sat at the door between the dining room and the kitchen looking at Jessica as she prepared breakfast. She hadn’t mentioned anything dealing with English.  He wasn’t sure how he was going to learn last year’s work, and then next year’s at the same time. It wasn’t like summer school at all. The phone called her away and in that time he got up from the chair and wandered about the house. There was a locked room and when he looked through the key hole he saw books everywhere on shelves. She had a desktop computer in the corner. He regarded the lock. How hard could doing what he had seen on tv be? He realized though that he would have to relock the door and that might prove harder than getting it unlocked.  He heard her calling him for breakfast and with a sigh, he went to the kitchen.  He didn’t realize how hungry he was until he slid into his seat but he waited until Jessica sat and nodded before he began to eat.


There was a knock on the kitchen door before it opened. Frank looked up and saw a kindly gray haired man enter and give Jessica a kiss on the cheek before he sat down.


“Hello, Frank.” Seth said gently before his hand snuck over to Jessica’s plate for a piece of her cinnamon toast. Jessica held on to her cup.


“You’re on your on for your cup of tea, Seth,” she said smiling.


Frank was still blinking very fast. A man had come into his aunt’s kitchen and kissed her with out so much as a by-your-leave. His brows furrowed. The name Seth… was familiar to him. He looked at his aunt, and then back over to the man. “You’re Dr. Hazlitt - Dad talks about you a lot.”


“Well I expect he does…How was your flight in?”  The next half hour was spent in animated conversation as Frank recounted every bump of the turbulence and meeting Willie Mac. Jessica sat watching him, watching every move that he made, and her heart was filled with joy. Seth could see it on her face. He knew not having children was something that had greatly pained Jessica after Frank had died. He knew she wouldn’t smother him or spoil him, and it would be her greatest triumph if she could teach him what he needed to know about English in the whole summer. She didn’t have too many summers left. Too many had gone by with just Grady visiting, and the light of her eyes missing what she wanted to share - memories of the grandparents he never knew.


They were playing catch with a balled-up napkin. No matter where Seth tossed it, Frank seemed to just miss it. While it seemed a game to Frank, whose giggles were infectious, Jess could see exactly where Seth was going with what he was doing. When she had Frank help carry the dishes to the sink he gave Jess a quick nod.


“Bring him around tomorrow at 10 and I will run a base line on him for his eyesight. He’s about the age that it develops and it may explain certain things.” 


Jessica nodded and turned her head to see Frank washing the dishes before putting them on the side board. When she turned back, Seth had stepped up to her and had leaned forward close enough to make his lips meet hers in an unexpected kiss. It was gentle and sweet and when their lips parted he saw it had brought color to her cheeks. He stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers. “That shade of pink looks good on you” he said softly.


The telephone rang, interrupting what he was going to say next. They heard Frank say “I’ll get it,” and then they heard, “Hello? Hi Dad!… It was okay, kinda bumpy… Aunt Jessica is just kissing Dr Hazlet in the hall  he had breakfast with us… Oh... here is aunt Jessica … I love you dad…”


Frank handed the phone to Jessica and then waved to Seth as he went out the back door. If they weren’t doing English today, maybe he could convince her to go to the library with him so he could use the computers there and check his email and the message boards. He saw that it had stopped raining. The sun was peeking out and as he stood at the back door he saw a woman in the house next door to where they were sitting in her back room drawing something. She looked up at him and waved, then returned to her drawing.  Frank sighed. There wasn’t any way he was going to get away with anything in that town. He withdrew from where he stood and went back to the dishes in the sink.


He had just dried the last one when Jessica came into the kitchen again, the blush still on her cheeks. She was smiling though, so Frank knew he had managed to get away with something on the grounds of cuteness. He wasn’t going to push his luck.


“So, what would you like to do today?” she asked. 


He shrugged. “I don’t know. I never really had a vacation before. I always ended up in summer school about now,” he said glumly. Looking at her he said, “So, when do we start my English lessons?”


Jessica pulled up a chair and sat down facing him. “Frank, I’ve informed your parents of what I think may help you, and Seth agrees as well… We think some of your problem may be that your eyes aren’t seeing what is on the black board, and your father’s confirmed that you sit in the back of the class because you’re seated alphabetical. You’re not hearing what the teacher says, am I correct?”


 Frank gave a shrug. “Well, I did tell them that. They think I wasn’t paying attention.”


Jessica raised an eyebrow. “Were you?” she asked gently.


Another shrug from Frank.  “At first I did. I really tried to. But it sounded like something from a cartoon of someone speaking. And she would always pick on me, and the kids would laugh because I didn’t know what she was talking about. It was easier not to go after a while. They didn’t listen to me, so I stopped listening to them.”


“Well, we have a lot to cover then. Not today though. Tomorrow after we see Dr. Hazlitt we can start the lessons. I think you will like them, once you get the basics down. How do you feel about exploring the town as far as our legs can carry us?” she said reaching for her cane. 


“Are you going to show me off to everyone?”


Jessica laughed. “I might.”


He gave a sigh. “Ok… Can we stop at the library? Dad says that I have to use their computer under supervision.”


 Jessica saw he was holding his breath waiting for an answer. “We’ll see if the rain holds out that long,” she said with a smile.


Frank let the air out with a rush. “Ok, lemme get my shoes!” he said, racing up the steps in his stocking feet. 


Jessica and Frank walked slowly to the library only to discover that it was closed due to a power failure. She could see the disappointment in his eyes. He scuffed his toe in the dirt as his body deflated. Jessica led him over to a bench for her to sit down. He sat beside her with his elbows on his knees, his face in his hands.


“Do you want to talk about what is so important about going into the library today to use the computers?”


He looked at her - she wasn’t anything like he had expected in a great aunt, and so far she had been pretty decent about everything he had done, including keeping her cool when he told his dad about them kissing.


“I have a friend, Dot, who showed me this web site that has a message board on it. And, well, it’s real life things that we investigate… There are other web sites that have almost the same thing, but that’s all made up, half of the people on there don’t know it’s a game and the other half don’t care. This board though, it’s not a game. A few months back a girl was coming home on her bike in the early morning, and they found her dead. We’ve narrowed the suspects down to the guy who saw her last at the store, her fiancé, or a friend of theirs, because only the three of them knew where she was going. One of the people on the board actually made contact with a couple of the people involved, and I told them that that was pretty stupid to do because, well, one of them could be the murderer. I got told off for that, and it was yesterday and I told them I had to think about what I was going to do next.  Mum says I shouldn’t expect to use your computer because I would probably be on it all the time. Aunt Jessica? How come people can trust some one and not see if they are bad inside or not? Or let themselves be killed? She had to have known the person. She wouldn’t have stopped her bike if she didn’t, right? They are all kids, not even 20, how could they do something like that?”


“How deeply are you involved in this Frank?” she asked gently. 


Frank sat up and shrugged. “I just want her family to know what happened to their daughter. They have a reward, and I told the others that if we solved it that I would want my part of it to go to make something that her family could remember her by forever. I suppose you think that’s a stupid way to spend my time.”


Jessica shook her head. “Frank, wanting to help people isn’t stupid. But what you’re trying to do could be very dangerous, and at least you have the sense to see it. You’re 11. When your father was your age he was spending time hiking and fishing with us, and he loved to read. They didn’t have the internet back then, and I admit that going forward into the computer age can be a bit frightening for some, but you have such little time to

be young.” 


She saw him sigh. His whole face became dejected.


“Tell you what - tomorrow, after we see Dr Hazlitt, we will come back here and I will go over what the evidence is, and if it’s a waste of time, I will let you know,” she said, trying to boost his spirits. “My computer modem isn’t working right and I am waiting on the part. Until it comes, we’ll just have to use the library one.”  She saw he was regarding her quite puzzled.


“You’re just an English teacher. What would you know about solving crimes? Or is it because you’re old ... um older than me that you know this?”




Tipper woke and rubbed her neck. For a second she looked around, focusing on the room, and saw that Taylor was sitting across the room with her sketch pad on her knee. Her fingers held several pencils at once. Craning her neck Tipper saw that she was the subject of the day’s art. It had stopped raining and the sun was beginning to dry things up.

“How long did I sleep?” she asked, yawning.


Taylor looked up.  “About 2 hours. Would you like some breakfast?”


Tipper shook her head as she folded the blanket up and put it on the back of the sofa. “I have to see Dr Hazlitt at 11, and then I have to call in to see if they need me tonight to puppy sit…Thank you though.”


It was past two in the afternoon that Taylor finished the drawing and flipped the pad over to the next page. She had drawn her day’s quota. She wasn’t hungry for lunch yet, even though it was past the hour for it and it was warming up outside at last. She sighed. It was one of the problems living alone. You could spend the day in bed, or running around in your bunny slippers and it wouldn’t make any difference at all. She heard a snuff as Sydney came over to her with her leash in her mouth. Sydney had her own area that she could go out to do her thing when she wanted, and it wasn’t often that she wanted to go on a walk.


“And where do you want to go today?” Taylor asked Sydney. Sydney gave a soft “Wuff.” Clipping on the leash Taylor picked up her key for the house and walked next door to Jessica’s house and put the key under a flower pot in the garden. It was her habit. She knew if she carried it, she would lose it, as she had in the past, but she never lost it when it was under the flower pot. Some people didn’t lock their doors at all. Taylor did- for reasons she couldn’t explain. Sydney gave a wuff, then lead Taylor down the hill. She had a grand time barking at the birds and giving the squirrels what for. She didn’t stop until she had lead Taylor down to Oak Street and to the front of the Nightshade shop.


The door was standing open. Almost in a trance she felt herself being drawn up the steps and into the shop.  She stood in numb silence looking at the place where the sword had hung, but it wasn’t there. The incense brazier was gone too. There were boxes everywhere and some of them were sealed with shipping tape with labels on them. She closed her eyes as images flashed in her memory. She fell to her knees, the tears coming down her cheeks freely. 


She felt a gentle touch on her cheek, and opened her eyes. She didn’t remember lying down, couldn’t remember where she was or why. She saw a man’s face regarding her with concern.  Sydney was licking the tears from her face. The man was holding her hand, looking at her finger nails and then a cool cloth moved over her face.  Her feet were up on a small packing box and her blouse was opened a few buttons.


“Easy, lass. Don’t try to move just yet. Give your heart a chance to catch up with the rest of ye.”


“Where am I?” she asked in a bare whisper.


“In my home. Ye came in through the front door and went down like a sack of potatoes.  Yer sweetie set up such a howl beside you I thought the banshees were comin’ for sure. May I ask what you’re doing here?” 


Taylor gave a shrug. “I don’t remember where – here - is.” 


Willie’s hand moved behind her head and felt for bumps. His fingers moved over her cheeks and touched the lower part of her eyes opening them to peer within, before moving to lie on her chest “Well, your heart has stopped racing like a cart horse after an apple… Do you have these spells often?”


“Not that I would admit,” she said in a matter-of-fact voice that was tinged with sadness. “Where am I? And who are you?” she asked again, looking around and seeing the packing boxes.


“At my home. My friends call me Willie Mac.”


She moved her feet down from the box and managed to sit up with her eyes closed. She found him steadying her and she blinked as the dizzy spell washes over her, bracing her with his body. 


“Easy now, lass.”


“This used to be a store… I fell, here, along time ago, just here… my life was changed that day. You weren’t there though. They all went away for a long time and sometimes the dreams they made me have come back and I see the blood all over again.”


“I’m sorry lass, for what they did to you. Truly I am. If I had known all of this was going to happen… I would ‘ave nae written a word down.”


She looked at him – looked into his eyes. She had seen those eyes before, with the sword in the middle. “I’m in that shop, aren’t I?” he gave a nod and then pulled up a box for her to lean against,


“Well, you’ve gone from grey to ashen, so that’s a good measure. Do you know who you are?” He asked placing his hand on her chest again.


She blinked a few times. “You’re a bit free with where you’re placing that.”  He felt her heart skip a beat and saw a faint blush coming to her cheeks.


“Your having what your doctor would call a PVC, a premature ventricular contraction –  one chamber of your heart is beating before the other one, and your heart stops to catch up with it. The danger of that is ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillations where ...”


Taylor placed her hand over his as it rested on her chest. “I know,” she said quietly.

“The spells pass quickly though, and then I am no worse for wear, just feeling older”


He looked at her a moment, not moving his hand “Do you know who you are?”


She looked at her wrist where the medical bracelet jangled. “My name is Taylor Andrews. It says so here so that I remember when I can’t remember.”


She leaned forward with the intention of getting up.  He moved his hands to her shoulders and with gentle pressure downward with them, kept her from rising. “I don’t believe that is the wisest of actions to take at this time, Lass. You need more time to let your heart settle.”


“I can’t just sit here. The end is going to be the same. It’s just a matter of when.”


Willie picked her hands up in his and kissed the back of them “If it’s all the same to you, Lass, I would be hoping it’s much later than sooner. For I have na seen a flower as fair as you in all my years come into my life and bring such beauty and grace.”


His words left her speechless for a moment as she blushed, suddenly very shy of the handsome young man who was sitting beside her. “Thank you”


“If you’re wanting something to do while your color returns, you can fasten the labels on to the boxes for me - most of them are low and it isn’t hard at all. I only have a few hundred to be shipped back day after tomorrow… if ye would be inclined?” Taylor nodded as he handed her the label packet. 


He found and washed out two mugs and a plate and during a brief break he made tea for her, as well as opening up some crackers for them to eat as they worked. Willie made sure he kept an eye on Taylor. Her color was returning, but she looked exhausted from her spell. The more labels that she put on the boxes, the better she looked until after several hours she asked, suddenly curious, “Where do you sleep?”


“Ach, well, until a proper bed comes, I have a rug that I used last night for my bed. I’ve slept in worse places so don’na worry about me,” he said, coming over to her to check her pulse.


She placed her hand over his as his. “I understand if  your have other plans, but you probably have had much of the same, which was very sparse to eat, and I see no reason why you couldn’t come back and have dinner with me, and stay in my guest room until such time that you’ve a proper bed here, or where you wish,”


“Stay with ye? And what would the neighbors say?”

“About bloody time.” It took him a moment to understand what she was saying and it was his turn to blush, and to look shyly at her.


“I thank ye but…”


She covered his mouth with her finger tips. “Please? You could keep an eye on me tonight and I could give the ladies at Loretta’s beauty shop something to wag their tongues about for the second time since I came here, and know they were wrong on both accounts.”




Anthony Thomas frowned as he heard the answering machine click on again at Taylor’s house. He had tried several times that day since he saw the AP headlines in the morning paper, and the photos that were included in it. He needed to speak with her, to explain everything. He knew she shouldn’t have to find out from some other person. It should come from him.  Anthony knew she wouldn’t return his calls. She hadn’t for at least the last two years. She had informed him that no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. He didn’t know if she had seen the paper already, or if she was avoiding him - he sighed and then, becoming concerned that he hadn’t been able to get a hold of her, dialed Jessica Fletcher’s number. He realized Jess didn’t have an answering machine turned on. He saw the message light flashing on his phone. He had turned off the ringer after the 30th call that morning regarding yesterday’s events.


Maybe he had bad Karma when it came to women, or how the press viewed them. Yesterday started as a perfect day. At 9 am he received word from the presiding judge that the plaintiff had changed his plea to guilty, and that he had accepted the punishment that had been set forward by his office. He had gone to lunch with a lady friend whom he had been seeing at the same social events, one who had come over to him at a very stuffy testimonial dinner, and in the back of the room they made soft small talk. At the very most he would hold her hand when crossing the street. Then yesterday, after lunch when they went back up to the court house, Alice Stewart had turned and stepped into his arms and given him a kiss that made his socks roll up and down his legs. He found himself stepping into the kiss and holding her as their worlds melted together. When they parted she blurted breathlessly “I have been wanting to do that for the longest time just here and now… and the sex with you isn’t too shabby ether,” she said kissing him again pressing her body next to his.


To his knowledge, they had never had sex. Not even in his wildest dreams. It didn’t stop the papers or the reporters who happened to be just there, with their cameras ready to snap the photo of them kissing. What stung was that when they kissed, when she kissed him, it was if his heart and soul had merged with hers. Now, it just left an empty, hollow feeling inside, rather sickly as he knew how Taylor would take seeing the kiss, or reading the comments that were made by the paper. The mayor’s office had been furious. He knew he had been set up in the worst way. Not only did it hurt his reputation as an honest district attorney, but deeper, it hurt those who cared about him, and those he loved.  He looked at the paper again before crumpling it into the trash basket.  There was a double knock on his door before it opened without him telling the person they could come in.


Standing in the door with a folded newspaper in his hand was Donald Brook, his face masked with concern. Anthony sighed and waved him in. His chair creaked as he sat back. Donald closed the door as he entered the room and stood at Anthony’s desk waiting. “You’ve never been one to kiss and tell before.”


“Well, there is always a first time,” said Anthony with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders. “The hell of it is, the readers and the mayor won’t believe anything else of it except the worst and if I deny it, what type of a cad does that make me when she turns up pregnant and names me as the father? Everyone would believe that the courts hid the truth about the results, and it just becomes worse after that. I tried to call Taylor, to explain what happened. It’s made for tabloid scandal, and I don’t want her to be hurt more from it… She must be off walking, or something. Even if I left right now to explain, it would take too many hours to get there. I’m worried that news like this" - (he closed his eyes) “… and it would be my fault.”


“I can give you some information that may not make things easier to accept, but it does offer an explanation to it. I had one of my men go to the newspaper who ran that photograph, and asked to have a part of it enlarged.  I think you should see this before you feel too bad about what happened…” Donald laid the paper down along side the photograph.  “I also think it would be prudent for you to stay in someone’s company until this can be resolved properly.”




Jessica and Frank started home from their walk. They had seen a large part of the town from the deck of one of the bed and breakfasts, and she could tell that the fresh air was quite telling on Frank as he was yawning a few times too often. Gently she guided him home and after he scrubbed up they had a light dinner before she tucked him into bed. She passed by her husband’s photo and stopped for a moment. “He looks so much like Grady at that age, Frank,” she said softly, touching the face on the photo with her fingertips. “Goodnight, luv,” she said before going up to her own bed room. She paused and glanced out the window towards Taylor’s house. Both bedroom lights were on and Sydney was walking around the back yard sniffing out things. Jess was about to turn in when she saw a shadow cross the window shade. One was shorter than she knew Taylor to be. The one light went off, and another shadow joined the first, stepping closer. Jess stepped away from the window. She hadn’t meant to eavesdrop. It just never occurred to her that Taylor would have any gentleman company stay at her house. Anytime that Anthony came, he always stayed at the Hill House. Jess frowned. She didn’t remember a car parked outside of Taylor’s property.


Sleep came quickly to Jessica. She knew that tomorrow was going to be a busy day and she wanted to be at her best for it. Her thoughts tumbled into unexpected dreams of her last visit with her cousin Emma on her 70th birthday. She had found Emma in the garden looking very sad.


“Emma? What is it?” Emma turned and brushed away a tear. “Nothing,” she had said, biting her bottom lip. Jess waited. Emma could never hold back from anything. “I only have one regret Jessie - I was selfish in my youth… I wanted to be on the stage, and I gave up so much to do that. More than anyone would ever know, and it hurt people dearly for me to do that. I can’t make up those years, and I wouldn’t know where to start now. It’s too late, was too late many years ago and I always wondered if things were different … if I hadn’t followed the call of the theater … what my life would have been like. If I would end up with 20 children and a husband who smoked his pipe by the fireplace and drank ale. I’m a horrible mum to the lot I look after let alone any of my own… Can’t even keep my lover from being poisoned with pickled herring. It’s my fault that I am alone now. Should have said no when I said yes, and yes when I said no. No one now left to carry on the MacGill name.”


Jessica rolled over and looked at her clock. It read 4:45 am. The sun had been up for a half an hour more than she had been. She tossed back the covers and walked to Frank’s bedroom. He was still fast asleep. Jess took her things into the bathroom, and after a quick shower dressed and went down to get the morning paper. She looked and confirmed that there wasn’t any car.  Looking over into the windows she saw that Taylor was up moving about her kitchen in her robe. Jessica opened the paper and looked at the headlines. Taking a step backwards she closed her door and hurried over to Taylor’s house in her bare feet. She knocked once, then opened the door and entered into Taylor’s house. Taylor looked up at her and saw the expression on her face.


“Good morning, Jessica... what is it? What’s wrong?”


Taylor, get your clothes, and your friend, and his things, we have to get you out of here and get your place locked up as well.” Jess began moving about the house pulling down the blinds. “Hurry, before they come!” 


Taylor moved from where she stood and gathered her things and went up the steps. Jessica heard Taylor say something muffled, and in a moment she came down with her clothes tucked under her arm and Sydney on a leash. Behind her was Willie Mac, who was just fresh from the shower. He had his pants on, but stood bare-chested looking concerned.  They were out the back door and into Jessica’s house and into her front bedroom looking through the blinds when the local news van pulled up in front of Taylor’s home. A slim perky blond reporter in a snappy power red blazer strode across the front yard and rapped sharply on the door.  When there was no answer at the door she pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number and waited.


Taylor sat down and looked at Jessica. “What is going on?”


Jessica sighed and went to her. She pulled up a chair and took Taylor’s hand in hers. “Anthony’s involved in a bit of a mess right now, and the press here ran your photo next to his on the front page. I dare say they want your reaction to all of it - once it gets out, well,   your phone is probably ringing off of the hook right now.” Carefully Jessica unfolded the paper and laid it on Taylor’s lap.  Willie watched her face become sad for a moment, and then a bit of a blush crept to her cheeks as she looked up at him.  Jess saw Willie cross the room from the window and take her hand. 


The commotion outside woke Frank. He yawned and wrapped his robe around him and, curious, went down the steps. He paused in front of the clock and peered at the hands before going to the front window and looking out. Seeing movement at the window the camera man moved over to film while the reporter began rapping on the window for him to open it. Frank slammed the blinds down in their stunned faces, went to the phone, picked it up and began to dial.


When the 911 operator answered Frank made his voice quiver with fear as he told her that there were strange people outside his aunt’s place where he was staying and they were trying to get into the house and he was afraid. His aunt was elderly and he knew she wasn’t up just yet and he was very scared.  The operator could hear the insistent pounding on the door and the breaking of window glass of the back porch outside door. and Frank began to cry.  It took all of 4 minutes for Mort and several state trouper cars to pull up to the area with a lock-up van. The press paused as Andy and Floyd and the state troopers began to slap handcuffs on the wrists of the people who were standing on Mrs. Fletcher’s property, and began to work their way down the street and arrest reporters who were on other people’s property as well.  Mort pulled out a bull horn and got their attention to speak to the people standing in the street.


“You have one minute to disperse or the rest of you will be arrested as well.”


“The public has the right to know!” shouted one of the reporters over the din.


“As well as be protected. Our dispatch has received numerous calls from terrified people who live on this street that people were trying to break into their homes when they didn’t answer the door. It’s five am. No one has to be dragged out of bed to answer any of your questions at this hour. Go home before I arrest the rest of you for disturbing the peace. If they have anything to say to you, they will let you know but don’t hold your breath.” 


He gave the bull horn to Floyd then crossed over the yard to Mrs. Fletcher’s house and knocked quietly. The press watched as the door opened and Frank came out and threw himself into Mort’s arms sobbing in fear. Mort picked him up and turning he faced the crowd with a dark look and then went into the house and closed the door behind him.


 Mort growled into Frank’s ear. “You little scamp,” he said as he locked the door.  He heard Frank sniff as he tried to pry his arms off of around his neck. He set him down and saw the tears were real. Mort knelt down and brushed away the tears from Frank’s cheeks. “You’ve never seen how a press mob looks have you?”


Frank shook his head. “I’m only 11. And there was a guy who broke the window on the back porch door and got as far as the kitchen door but I made sure that was locked. He ran away when you pulled up.”


“Where is Jessica?” Frank shook his head. Mort took a breath, stood then took the steps two at a time. He hurried down to her room, and finding it empty, knowing which one was Frank’s room Mort opened the door on the only room left upstairs. He first saw Willie Mac standing still beside the formal wide back upholstered chair by the window, holding someone’s hand. At first he thought it was Jessica’s, but she was sitting in another chair with the news paper on her lap looking very concerned. Mort strode over and saw Taylor looking very pale, her eyes were closed but better looking in shade than several times that he had seen her before. A glance as he crossed the room at the paper on Jessica’s lap told him everything he needed to know.


Frank brushed passed Mort and went to Jessica. “Some man broke the outside porch window to the door and got as far as the back door,” he said going to her side, “and I called the emergency operator just like they told us to do in school.”


Mort looked at Willie, whose hand rested upon Taylor’s cheek.  He picked up her other hand and felt that it was ice cold. She opened her eyes and regarded him


“He’s trying to get me to have a bit more color in my cheeks,” she said softly to Mort. “I guess I had a bit of a surprise this morning.”


Frank’s voice piped from beside Jessica. “Willie Mac could kiss you. That brought color into Aunt Jessica’s cheeks when Dr. Hazlitt kissed her yester…day”


Mort turned and looked at Jessica who didn’t budge in her expression.


“The ways between men and women don’t work as all that simple, Frank. I’ve only known this lass for a day, and while her heart is filled with kindness, it may take a wee bit longer to fill it with love for a man such as I am.”


“Willie Mac? But, your papers say Thaladirith Razanur. “


“Oh Aye, they do. And I am that same man. But it was far easier for those at the university of Cambridgeshire and Manchester to pronounce than my given name They’d hear it once and send me off to the Celtic classroom when I was looking for the greenhouses.


“I started better off than the rest of them as Gram used the same plants as they taught for healing. The more I learned, the more I discovered how little is known about what is provided for us. All I wanted ever to do was to make my Gram well from that which twisted her joints. Bone bender we call it, you know it as congenital rheumatoid arthritis.


“The laws had changed by the time I had reached my teens. Healers and midwives weren’t allowed to apprentice more than one every seven years and Gram had been given a lad that was well liked and his family had to learn the craft. I still learnt though, and faster than he did. I didn’t know until later that Gram had taken him on so that the money would be there so I could go on to the university. She hoped tha’ I could go further with a piece of paper behind my name. I was too young to question why the lad, if his family had the money to send me off, didn’t send him instead. Gram knew though that the lad’s heart wasn’t into making people well. Healing can be turned both ways, and she hoped to turn his heart and hands for good. When it was all done, and I came back after passing the boards, and saw what had happened while I was gone, and how things ended, I wrote that which was published as Belladonna. An even tha’ turned out not how it was expected. I would have had a better practice had I studied after the sheep and goats of the town. “


They heard footsteps coming up the steps, light ones. Sydney looked up then lay back down again and sighed.


“Jessica?” said Seth’s voice coming through the doorway. Taylor groaned and put her hands over her face.  Willie Mac pulled them back down to her lap. “Ye need to breath, lass,” he chided her.


“In here, Doc.” Behind him was Tipper, who looked at the crowd and then saw Taylor on the chair. “It’s all on the news, every channel. The reporters are furious that they can’t speak with you, and don’t believe you’re not hiding in any corner of your house.  The moment that I saw Sydney looking at them through the window, I knew you were here…” She nodded to Willie Mac and then turned back to Taylor with a raised eyebrow.  Taylor gave her a glance that spoke volumes as Tipper cleared her throat.


“I, um, got a call from Anthony… he’s been trying to get a hold of you since yesterday. He said that it’s not what they are saying it is, and not what anyone thinks.”


Taylor let out a slow deflating breath, then asked, “What did you tell him?” 


Tipper blinked a few times. She had ripped into him for every day that had gone by while Taylor had waited for him, and the days that followed when she gave up on waiting. How it had taken all the strength that could be mustered to get out of bed and face another day.


“What you told me, to tell him if he ever did call. What you could not tell him yourself. That you did care about him and your lives would be entwined, but the time had passed when you needed him, and he should get past needing you.”


Tipper saw Taylor close her eyes and tears form under the lashes as she turned her head away from Mort, Jessica and Frank. Mort stepped back from the chair when he heard a catch of a sob from her and went to Frank. “How about you helping me make up some tea for everyone?”


Jess saw Seth go to his bag that he had placed on the low table against the wall and stood up. “I’ll show you where things are,” she said and the three of them left the room, closing the door behind them. 


Tipper stepped back to where Jessica had been sitting to be out of the way.  She had the suspicion after her discussion with Anthony that he was going to do something stupid like coming to Cabot Cove to speak to Taylor for himself.


She watched as her friend’s shoulders shook with silent sobs, and how the shirtless young man bent over, gathered her into his arms and holding her while speaking soft words of comfort to her.  Tears glistened on Taylor’s cheeks reminding Tipper that, save for Seth being there, it was straight off the covers of one of the romance novels. Giving herself a shake she saw Taylor shake her head no to the suggestion of a sedative. Where once her cheeks were pale, they now were flushed and her eyes were glistening. She overheard Willie Mac say something about her blood pressure had gone up and Seth’s answer of being held in the arms of a handsome young man with no shirt would do that to most females.


Willie Mac looked at Seth as if he had taken leave of his senses. “What are you goin’ on about Dr. Hazlitt? They donna give me a second glance a count of I’ve the height of a youngster,” he said, dismissing the notion.


Seth’s eyes twinkled. “Perhaps it comes with age young man, but I did notice the looks these two exchanged in regards to you, and it was in the favorable direction. They can’t take their eyes off of you.”


Willie Mac blinked a few times. “Really?”  It was his turn to blush, and reaching to the hook he snagged his shirt and slipped it on over his bare shoulders.  Tipper picked up a small pillow from the chair Jessica had been sitting on and threw it at Seth.


From Seth’s smirk Tipper surmised he had been baiting her to see if she had noticed what was going on. Seth also knew that Tipper didn’t tell Taylor everything. Some things could wait though, for a while. “Well, if you feel you don’t need something to calm you down, then I would suggest perhaps shifting yourself out of that chair and doing something productive besides feeling sorry for yourself.” 


Taylor didn’t move. She sat still except for her head, which was down and her shoulders moving with silent crying. Seth looked on as Willie Mac gently wrapped his arms about Taylor’s shoulders and pulled her into his chest.  Willie lowered his mouth to her ear and murmured something into it. Seth saw her nod and give a sigh.  After a moment, her whole body went limp and Willie gently laid her sleeping form back into the chair.  Seth’s only reaction was to raise his eyebrow and to gently reach over and take her pulse. It was steady.


“If they bottled you as a tonic young man, you’d make a fortune,” said Seth softly.


“Ach, I’d ‘ave to pose shirtless for the label and I am prone to drafts. Wouldn’t want to catch a chill now, would I?”




Tipper stayed up with Taylor while Seth and Willie Mac went downstairs with the others. She had known from Anthony’s tone of voice that he was going to come to Cabot Cove to hear it from Taylor himself.  She had tried to tell him that it would be the worst thing he could do – no good could come of it. But it was that damnable noble spirit. The group that had created Nightshade had resurfaced, and they had photographic proof the woman who had become close to Anthony was involved with them by the jewelry she wore. He cautioned Tipper to look for it on anyone that tried to come close to them.


In the hallway after closing the door to the room so as not to be overheard, Willie Mac turned to Seth and looked up to him.


“You should know that yesterday Taylor collapsed in my store, and it took a while for her color to improve. She said it happens more times than she is saying. Her heart was racing, and missing many a beat with premature ventricular contractions. She seems resigned to what has been happening, like there’s na to be done.  She’s still young. Why ha ye na given her hope?”


“Young man, I am not accustomed to discussing my patients care with those who are not their relatives. The question is now, as I am familiar with all of the shops about here, which one do you own?”


“That which was called Nightshade, Dr. Hazlitt.”




A knock at the door prompted Mort to go and open it, but instead of reporters he saw a young man in a brown uniform with a package for Jessica. Mort was going to sign for it, but the young man wanted Jessica to do it. He flushed when she wrote her name. “I’ve been a big fan of yours, Mrs. Fletcher, for many years,” he gushed.


Jessica thanked him and carried the package into the house. She saw it was from the computer company and it was an external modem. Frank Jr. saw her looking rather perplexed with it as she put it on the end table.  “I can help you with that later, Aunt Jessica,” he piped up. She nodded, and returned to her guests.


Mort saw that all but a few of the reporters had withdrawn, realizing she wasn’t at home, and were searching the town for where Taylor could be. Picking up his hat he went to Jessica and said, “I have some things I have to check on, Mrs. F. If you need anything, let me know…”   He stepped up to her and gave her cheek a kiss, then nodding to Seth, he strode out the door to where the reporters were lingering.


Jessica saw Seth raise an eyebrow before turning his attention to Frank Jr.  “Your appointment was to be today, but as things became a bit hectic this morning, how about we do things here?” he asked. Frank Jr. regarded him then nodded as Seth led him into the back parlor area.


They could hear Seth’s voice speaking to Frank Jr. and his replies. Willie Mac turned and asked Jessica, “If you have any spare glass, I can fix the broken window before something else comes in…”


“There is some tucked behind the swing on the porch, as well as the clips to secure it. With Frank coming, well, his father broke many windows while learning to play baseball over the years… Thank you.”


In the parlor area Seth had brought the basics for an eye test. He wasn’t an ophthalmologist, but he had with him the tools to see if there was something functionally wrong with Frank’s eyes.  He couldn’t prescribe glasses, but there was a good doctor in Portland who could and he would see that they got an appointment as soon as possible to be fitted with glasses.  His father had preferred wire rims, but that would make most kids look a bit nerdish, as his granddaughter would say. 


Seth held the paddle up to Frank. “Cover your right eye. Can you read this line?” he asked.


“E- W- L …”


“What about the next line?”




Mort went to his office and dug out of his files the business card that he had been given by Jessica several years before when she was traveling overseas. He compared it to the same one he had been given by Willie Mac and frowned. Willie’s card had a different number listed under Met - 020 7233 4128. But the number for George was the same. His hand hesitated over the phone. It could be that he was bluffing, that everything Willie Mac had told them was the truth or that he could be as wicked to the bone as the rest of them. The thing was, if he was a confidence man, by passing the card to Mort to lend credibility to his story, he was counting on the average police officer not to follow up on it - the cost to call the UK alone would be prohibitive for most departments. Mort sat down in his chair and looked at the card again. Flipping his over he saw something that he had missed before when he had first placed the card in the file.  He booted up his computer, logged on and began to type.  It was ten minutes after he had hit the send button on the email that his phone rang. When Mort hung up the phone his face was troubled. 




Tipper came down the steps and saw Willie Mac fixing the window.  She could hear Seth giving Frank some sort of exam.  Jessica was sitting at the table with the modem out of the box looking at the instructions. The tea was on the tray, untouched. Tipper snuck another look at Willie. She didn’t know how Taylor managed to meet him, and as the door was closed between the kitchen and the back porch she was fairly certain that Willie wouldn’t over hear what she had to tell Jessica.


Jess looked at Tipper. “Yes, I saw the book over at Taylor’s house this morning. He also said upstairs that he wrote it after he came back from Cambridgeshire and Manchester.”


She saw Tipper thinking. “Well, that makes sense,” she said slowly. “His written English is flawless, but his dictation of the language is … unique.”


“I noticed that too. I do know that my cousin Emma has the same speech patterns as he does, but when she is on the stage speaking in a role; her English can be from any quarter of the UK. I’ve taught students who were learning English, and who had spoken it, returned home, and then had to speak it again. They find it difficult to think in English, and to find the words.  They hesitate and slip back into familiar patterns when it’s not forced upon them.  He seems to have a genuine concern regarding Taylor.”


“One can hope for the ‘happy ever after,’ Jessica,” she said turning her head to watch him work.


“And he isn’t too shabby on the eyes either?” asked Jessica. 


Tipper fought not to grin too hard. “Ayuh, you’d be right on that account,” she said with a smile.


Tipper was just pouring the tea when Seth entered into the room. Jessica knew what was coming as he handed her a slip of paper. “I have made arrangements for you two to be taken to Portland this afternoon at 3 o’clock to meet with Dr. Samuels who is an ophthalmologist, and you may be able to fill Frank’s eye glass prescription in a few days.   From what I have been able to ascertain, it may be all corrected with glasses, and perhaps some eye exercises. He was ecstatic to be able to read very fine print with my bifocals. Hopefully…” he shrugged.  


The door opened and Willie Mac entered into the kitchen.  “Your window’s in, and the glass is up off the riser.  There are still a few reporters who are nosing about your neighbors’ yards, but no more of them in yours, or Taylor’s. She’s still asleep, then?” he asked Tipper, who nodded.


“No, I’m up now,” said her voice from the living room as she crossed the floor. She had dressed and had her shoes in her hands. “We have a lot to do today,” she said to Willie,


“What did you have in mind?” asked Tipper, suddenly interested.  “I have the next 3 days off, can I help?”




Seth, showing an interest in seeing what was planned, offered to drive them to the shop, and, as he put it mildly, “Make a fast get-away if the press is hanging around.”  That left Jessica and Frank, who did want to go, but understood that he would need to get ready for the eye exam in the afternoon, and didn’t want to lose track of time. Besides, there was the trip to the library to use the computers that he so desperately wanted to log on to so he could see what was happening. He saw the modem on the table.


“Is that all you need to be hooked up?” he asked, curious, after they had left.  Jessica nodded. “Piece of cake,” he said, picking it up and looking at his aunt.


She took a breath. “All right. If we can get this working, for today you may check your web site.”  


Frank started for the door, then waited as Jessica reached in her pocket and pulled out the key.


“Why do you keep it locked?” he asked. “Because of me?” 


Jessica shook her head. “No. The hasp has problems staying unlocked. There is a spring missing, and it’s just become easier to carry the key than to have the lock replaced.”


Frank unplugged the computer and then the old modem, and re-plugged in everything in proper order. In a few moments they were online and he was entering in his passwords. Jessica was curious and stood behind him as he clicked on the entrance to one of the web message boards.


“Huh?” he said out loud.


“What is it?” she asked, curious at his disappointment.


He turned in the chair and looked at her.  “It’s all gone. Everything. No explanation, either.” Rubbing his chin he hit the back button and tried the second link to his personal message area. There were twenty PMs from several different people. Curious, he pulled up the one from the Moderator of the board that they were just on.


“Whoa…” was all he could say.


Jessica caught the tone of the message and turned his chair around. “Frank, tell me exactly what is going on. Why is he so upset with you? What did you do?” she said, trying to be very calm about what she had read over his shoulder.  The moderator was furious and using language that even as an English teacher she had to think of what the meanings were.  She also saw that the moderator wasn’t conjugating his verbs and nouns properly.


“The last thing that I told him was that I was going to think about what was being done on the board, and that he would have my decision shortly.”


“Is there anyone here that you know that can tell you what happened?” she asked, concerned.


“Yeah, Dot would know. And I don’t see any PMs from Dot…” he said, before going to the button that said “new message.”  He waited until it opened and then typed in, “What da heck happened?” in the Message title area followed by, “Dot - I’ve missed exactly what happened on the boards, when I had a chance today just now to check them, everything was wiped out.  My PM box is filled with most of the people in the group saying that I am a lame-ass idiot. What do they think I did? I was shipped off to my great aunt’s house for the summer and between a bad modem and a power failure at the library, I haven’t been able to go online. If you texted me, my phone is back home, it’s out of range up here. Please let me know. Thanks, QuillGoi”


“Kill Joy?” Jess said with a bit of amusement in her eyes.


“They kept calling me that because I kept telling them what they were doing was wrong. I can’t show you the boards, but I can show you how it started.” Frank went back to the home page and did a Google search of a few terms. He clicked a link and the page opened to show a photograph of a beautiful red haired girl wearing a white v-neck cotton blouse. A thin chain hung around her neck with a triangle shaped pendent.  Frank stood up. “It takes a while to read, Aunt Jessica, so you’d better sit down.”


Midway through Frank handed Jessica a box of tissues. When she final was done, she clicked back to the PM area, but there was no answer from Dot. She logged off, and then turned off the computer. She glanced at her watch. “Oh, our ride will be here in 45 minutes, we’d better get ready.” Frank didn’t move. Jessica looked at him.


“I understand, and I will help you in every way I can while you are here to find out who murdered that young woman. I won’t make you go to the library to do it, but I will be right beside you when you log on until you log off, is that understood?”


“Thank you,” he said in a small voice, nodding his head. He looked at her “Am I really a lame dumb-ass?”


“No, you’re not. But when people get upset they say things. It’s hard to say ‘I am sorry I was wrong,’ and often they will not say it in the same place that they became angry in. Don’t hold your breath waiting for an apology, either. Some people are so head-strong they don’t understand how words affect people when they are not said face to face.”


“Nice to know that some adults are mature about things,” he said, keeping a straight face.




Seth sat down on a packing crate and folded t-shirts to go inside of it. The more he saw and listened to Willie Mac, the more he had questions for him regarding how Nightshade had become such a monster.


Thankfully, the lower basement area had been cleaned out by the DEA.  Only a few boxes needed to be carried up the steps by Tipper and Willie before everything was all in the front room. 


“Last is the sign to be taken down. I don’t want anything to do with it,” said Willie Mac. He noticed that Taylor was not in the main room where she had been previously placing labels on the boxes. He heard a gentle sweeping upstairs. Seth saw his anxious glance in the direction of the sound. 


Tipper placed her hand on his shoulder. “She often does as she darn well pleases.”


“Ah, I haven’t met a lady who doesn’t,” he said. “Right, who has the hammer so we can have a go at the sign?”


Taylor went from room to room sweeping up years of dust and small insect bodies that she would rather not think about where they came from or what they were.  She heard the sounds of pounding outside and stole a glance out the window, watching Willie as he removed the nails that held the sign for the shop.  Last night after they had eaten, she had taken him up to where the spare bedroom was. He had said sleeping on the floor was fine for him, or even in a chair, just as long as he knew she was okay. She had smiled, and lifting his hand placed it over her heart which was beating steady.  He took her hand in his and kissed the back of it softly. Maybe what Seth said was true. Maybe it was the accent, or his clothing which made him look all the more like a romantic figure from the past. Maybe it was the look of tenderness in his eyes as he tucked her into bed and kissed her forehead, bidding her to sleep. 


There was the sound of the hammer coming down wrong and a long string of words in a language that she didn’t understand.  She looked out the window to see Willie nursing his thumb. The last blow had freed the sign. Giving it a wrench Willie lowered it to where Tipper was waiting. He looked up, his thumb still in his mouth and saw her in the window holding the broom, the wind gently blowing her hair. He caught his breath. She was beautiful. For a moment he didn’t move until he heard Tipper asking the same question three times. He looked down to answer it, and then looked up. Taylor had moved from the window. Climbing down the ladder he put the hammer into the tool box and breathed a sigh of relief. 


“Now what?” asked, dusting her hands off as Seth dragged the sign into the store.


“Well, I canna ask ye to help with the scrub down and linseeding the floors. And there’s dinner to be taken care of, it’s getting to be that time. Tomorrow two trucks will arrive, one in the morning, to haul this away, and the afternoon one, to bring in the other things…”  He sat down on a crate. “I canna believe that this nightmare is almost over,” he said wiping away sudden tears.


“What will you do now? This place is zoned commercial - not residential,” said Seth, easing himself onto another trunk. “Even before, the people who ran this shop didn’t stay here - the upper rooms of this place always became beastly hot over the summer and ghastly cold in the winter. There isn’t any insulation to speak of, and the wiring in this place wouldn’t support a coffee maker.”


“He will be staying with me,” said Taylor as she came down the steps. Tipper saw Seth’s jaw hit the floor.


“Young lady …” Seth began.


Taylor raised her hand and stopped his reply. “You said yourself that I should have someone stay with me just in case. Well, the way I see it, it’s a win-win for both of us:  Willie has a place to stay, and I won’t be alone when I die, and after, well, he can stay there if he wishes. I’ve been very lucky these last few years. Being here in Cabot Cove has given me an extension on my life, but I’ve come to realize it’s been rather empty. You all have been wonderful friends and you have your own lives, going to your homes at the end of the day, you still have your family at the other end of the phone line. I just have Sydney.”




Mort found himself pacing outside of Jessica’s house waiting for them to return.  With relief he saw the taxi pull up and Frank helping Jessica out of the back of the taxi before handing him the money for the fair.  He saw Frank had heavy sunglasses over a natty pair of thicker wire rim glasses.  Jessica sent him ahead to open the door with her key and faced Mort.


“What is it?” she asked softly. Frank watched as the two adults spoke, then she nodded and thanked Mort.


Mort was about to get in his car to go down to where the Nightshade shop was when Seth’s car came down the street and pulled up behind  Mort’s.   Willie and Taylor got out of the back of the car, Tipper out of the front.  Seth turned off the engine when he saw Mort standing there with his hat in his hand. Getting out of the car he saw Mort walk up to Willie Mac and incline his head to Taylor’s home. Seth knew something was wrong, and he and Tipper followed.


Mort indicated they were to sit down. He paced for a moment then said, “I have to admit, I was more than a bit curious and skeptical about you, Willie Mac, especially when you have two different names.  That card from Scotland Yard had me for a while as well. The budget of Cabot Cove’s sheriff department doesn’t allow much for long distance phone cards, but the internet service can go world wide.  I also happen to have the email address for George Sutherland, who does know you, and your family. He was kind enough to make some calls to the University of Cambridge, and to Manchester. I also put in calls to Coventry House, who wouldn’t discuss exactly what the terms of the settlement were.”


“And?” Seth said impatiently.


“Willie Mac did go to and graduated with his doctorate in medical biology and Herbology 5 yrs ago with high honors. They remember him very well, as he was the only student to walk into the green house on campus and correctly identify every plant inside by their botanical designation, and their common name in two other languages as well as their use - including the weeds - prior to taking a single class.  His height was another thing they remembered. Inspector Sutherland remembers him from not from the loss of the sword, but from the first time that the sword was used to murder his grandmother’s last apprentice, Stephan Furhdaham, or, as it would be Americanized, Fordham, older brother of Kent Fordham who was arrested for his involvement in the Nightshade operation.  It seems that there was a bit of a feud going on between the two families. No one would say how it was started, but the sword had been used quite a few times by both sides to kill off the other.  Stephan was run through with that sword, but no one knows by whom. The blade was wiped clean, and your Gram’s hands were incapable of holding the sword, let alone pushing it through him. You were back from school though. You saw what was going on, and how ill your Gram had become. You’re a smart man as well - you knew who was responsible and why. You came home covered in blood, and the constable let you go. They took the sword only to check for the prints, and then gave it back to you.  You wrote your book, and were out when Kent came to take photos and took the sword.  I want to know why they looked the other way, and didn’t take you in for the murder  The report on the murder said it was the same blood type as his on your clothing - and why they didn’t help you recover the sword if you knew who had it.”


“I dinna kill Stephen, as much as I loathed him and his family. The blood on m’ shirt wasn’t his. It was from Lucy Donahue. Gram was ill, Stephen was drugged out of his mind, and Lucy was in labor. Her Da came for a healer, and I was the only one who could come.  Stephen was the father of tha’ wee babe. The constable only had to go to look, and knew I was there. Lucy almost died giving birth. As for who did it, the only one who knew that Stephen was the father was her father. The laws are particular when it comes to the rights of a father for the dishonor of family. Lucy ha’ just turned 15. I’m na saying that Lucy’s father did the killing - there were others Stephen had taken to bed. Stephen was twice her age. There is a saying, they have, tha if you can’t kill them off, you can knock it out of them.  Do ye know wha’ that means, Sheriff?” Mort gave a nod.


“The sword ha’ been in my family for 3000 years. In tha’ time, yes, it has helped to settle feuds between the two families. He who held the sword, held the land. It was passed down from father to son and the birthrights were placed in the handle each generation. For you, if your country’s wars last 10 years it seems like a very long time. The war to keep the sword has lasted 500 years, and we had kept it. Gram, when she said he could take the photographs of it, gave Kent the words he said to remove it from the house, and none would help get it back because it was not their place. The jewels tha’ were woven on the hilt and that horrid Triangle hourglass were from his family crest. He was remaking the sword as he would have had it cast.  If I wanted my birthright, I had to find it, and get it back myself. I returned the stones, I am na a thief, nor would be called one for keeping them.  It is why he had it on display in every shop, on every book cover, to taunt me to come, and to hide his trail. He even had the contract written for the shops that Sutton House owned everything in the shop at the time that they would close.  It is why I have returned everything to them. The murder and the sword being locked up at the time that the shops closing was the only thing that prevented Kent’s family from reclaiming the sword - it wasn’t in the shop when the company folded up. It fell to me, though, to do the work that they would not, and though they may hope that the sword has been packed away, they know it has not now.”


“If you’re innocent, once you had the sword, why didn’t you go back?” asked Seth.


“He can’t go back, not ever. It’s because he didn’t use the sword to avenge his father’s death at the hands of Stephan’s father,” said Tipper softly. “I did jump to the end of the book, and it said as much,” she admitted.


“A healer does na use his hands for harm. When asked, a healer must teach and put all else aside. Though I have claimed my birthright, I am a healer, and I canna use the sword. I canna fight for the land that I have taken back by the edge of the sword. Only my children can, and I am without issue. But for my Gram, it is enough for her to know that hope lives on. Kent Fordham is the last of his family’s line, as I am the last of my family. None who were by Stephen were ever claimed by him before his death… they weren’t quite right, you see, and none were male to carry on his line.”


Taylor had been sitting in silence the whole time listening to what was being said. She watched Mort look at Willie Mac, then nod.


“All right. I believe you. Maybe it’s from years of working with Mrs. Fletcher that I am beginning to think like her. If Scotland Yard says you haven’t done anything wrong, I won’t say otherwise. What I want to know is, will this feud be carried over by Fordham’s followers?”


“I can’t answer that, Sheriff.  I don’t know if they understand what it’s all about, or if they would know the rules. Unless he has issue that he has claimed, and there is a record of their birth father, then it comes to the end with the passing of his father.”


Tipper stood up and dusted off her jeans. “Well, if that’s all, Sheriff, it’s been a long day and I have to get home to feed my brood before they eat the canary.”


Seth stood too. “Ayuh, tomorrow is another long day, Mort. Don’t you have arm wrestling practice with Adele tonight?”


Mort shot Seth a glance. “Only if you’re going to be available to reset my shoulder again. He saw Seth smile as he nodded to Willie Mac and Taylor. “Good night, you two.”


Taylor walked them to the door and thanked them for their help today. When they had pulled away from the curb, she locked the door and put the blind into place. She saw Willie Mac standing in the door frame.  He had a perplexed look on his face.


“Why would your Sheriff be working with Mrs. Fletcher?” 


Taylor looked over at Jessica’s house and then back to Willie Mac. “Oh, well, she’s solved over 283 murders in the last 12 years.  She’s taught criminology, and she writes murder mysteries… I think her last count of published books is 30.”  She saw Willie Mac look stunned.


“Tha sweet lady?!!” 


Taylor nodded.


It was over dessert that Taylor leaned back in her chair and carefully scooped a small amount of chocolate ice cream on her spoon. She paused and looked at him.


“Willie, if you can’t go back, would you consider bringing your Gram here to Cabot Cove, to live with you? She’s retired from being a healer, isn’t she? Wouldn’t she be happier, staying with you?”


He sighed and put his spoon in his ice cream. “Gram would be happier if I married, and had grandchildren for her. And she’d say that there can be only one woman under a roof if a man is to be happy.” 




Mort pulled into his driveway and sighed. He loved his wife dearly, and would do anything for her. Arm wrestling was just one more thing that he added to the list of things to do to keep a marriage happy.  He sighed and picked up his hat where it had slid to the floor on the passenger side of the police cruiser. He saw a small square of paper that had slipped unnoticed between the bucket seats. Carefully he extracted it, and saw writing on the back of the paper. It gave a date, and a last name. Frowning as to why the name sounded so familiar, but unable to place who it was, he flipped the paper over and saw it was a photograph of a middle-aged woman who was holding a rounded belly. A sad far-away look was in her eyes.  Mort knew those eyes. He knew that face, or more precisely, one that was older.  He picked up his cell phone as his heart pounded in his chest.  He dialed the only number he knew that would be able to answer his questions.


“Doc? … Yeah, I know… just two more things… What was Mrs. F.’s maiden name, and did she ever have a baby?”


Mort’s eye brows went up, and then he became puzzled again at Seth’s second answer.  “All right. Thanks Doc,” he said, slipping the photograph in an evidence envelope and placing it on his visor. It was late. He had to think of how he was going to approach what he had learned in the morning light. Sighing, he got out of the car, locked it, and went in where his wife had her sleeves rolled up and the table ready.




Frank Jr. was restless all through dinner. He was quick to help with the clean up, and had begged off dessert, but he did wait patiently as Jessica had a cookie and tea herself. She knew he wanted to go online and check his private messages. When everything was finished and he had changed for bed, she met him in the study with the computer already turned on. She saw his face light up as there was a note regarding a new message from Dot. Eagerly he clicked the link and opened it up.



Everything was wiped because someone sent her parents a copy of everything on the boards, and the moderator panicked.  They think you did it because you have been so vocal against everything they were doing, and they said every one else checked out, that they didn’t do it. They are freaking out and saying the FBI is going to get involved now because of you… I told them you were going away, but they didn’t believe me. Guess I may be a suspect too. Hang tight.



Frank looked at Jessica. “Guess I have to be the adult and straighten things out…”


She nodded to him and saw something in the corner of Dot’s PM.


“Frank, what is that thing?” she said, pointing to the square that held a triangle with an infinity symbol in it.


“Oh, that’s Dot’s avatar, he said it’s an hourglass in a triangle, though a lot of people say it’s the infinity sign, Avatars are like, a picture, or drawing that they do so it makes it easier to recognize who is who on the boards and who posted what. Mine is that,” he said pointing to a square that had QG linked together.  “There is a larger version of it on his profile. I can call it up for you if you would like.” Jessica nodded. In a few clicks, Frank had pulled up a 3x3 version of the same thing, and at her request, had saved it to her hard drive before he PM’ed the Moderators and explained to them that no, he had not mailed anything to the parents of the girl, he had been on his way to his great aunt’s house shortly after he had sent the last PM, and only was able to get on line that day. He added that his printer didn’t work, and he had no time to print out anything from the message board nor would he have any clue as to what the parents’ address was. Almost right away he got a PM back from the moderator accusing him of doing it because he had been vocal, and said he was going to do “something.” 


Frank sighed, then replied. “Nothing that I am going to say will change your mind. Please contact her parents and ask them what the post mark was on the letter, and the zip, and then compare it to where everyone lives from your records.”


There was a bout a 3 minute pause before he received a terse reply. “The transcripts were emailed, not mailed. Who told you they were mailed?”


Frank sighed then typed back the message, “Dot told me they were sent. I don’t have the parents’ email address and if my life depended on it, I wouldn’t know where to find it,

only the person who joined up after I did, who made the web page for her parents, and you can ask her, I didn’t ask for the email address or even get in contact with her. I have no friggin’ idea what had happened until just today. I won’t hold my breath waiting for an apology, but the least you can do is tell the others to stop sending me nasty grams. My Great Aunt says that you’re misplacing your modifiers as well. She’s an English teacher… and is reading over my shoulder.”


When there was no answer back after a few minutes, Frank sighed, then asked if she had anyplace to go on line. Jessica shook her head. Frank could see that she was thinking, but didn’t know what she was thinking about. He signed off and shut down the computer.  Turning in the chair, for the first time he noticed there was over 30 books on several shelves that had ‘J. B, Fletcher” on them. “Hey, that’s my last name. I don’t know any J. B.'s though. Do you? Are we related to them?”


Jessica laughed, then saw he was serious. “Why don’t you look at the back jacket and see if there is a photograph of the author?” she asked, trying to keep a straight face.


He pulled out the first one and saw that it was The Corpse Danced at Midnight. Turning the book over, he saw a much younger version of his Aunt Jessica.  He opened the dust cover and began to read: “J. B. Fletcher captivates in this daring novel of danger and murder that will keep the readers guessing until the last paragraph. From the small town of Cabot Cove, Maine Hey, that book was written – here!!”  He turned the book over again and looked at it, then puzzled he replaced it and pulled out the last one that had a more recent photograph.


“Whoa. You wrote all of these? But… you’re just an English teacher – but how?”


She sat down. “Well, when your great Uncle Frank died, I needed something to do, so I began to write. Then your father found the manuscript and sent it off to a publisher, and people liked it. Some of the stories that I have written were based on real mysteries that I had helped to solve. Being an English teacher gave me an advantage. I was used to reading, and researching, and it opened an entirely new world for me to find out things that could make a difference in some one’s life. I became more observant, and sometimes the little things would jump out at me, and it helped to solve crimes.”


“Wicked!” Frank thought for a moment. “Why did you have me save Dot’s avatar?” he asked, curious. “Is it jumping out at you?”  He saw she had a very serious look on her face.


“Frank, what do you know about Dot? How long have you known him?”


“Awhile. He was the one who told everyone about the murder in the first place. He saw the posters about it in the windows of different shops. Now, what is so important about the avatar?”


Jessica took a breath.


“That symbol was used several years ago by an organization that, well, was very dangerous. For a while they were here in Cabot Cove, until Dr. Henderson and Miss Andrews discovered that they were lacing products with highly addictive drugs and selling it to innocent people. That symbol was everywhere, in windows, hanging on wind chimes, wind socks, and many people just didn’t understand what it meant. What is puzzling is that in all of the renditions of it, I have never seen it in gold before.”


“Yes, you have Aunt Jessica. The girl who was killed, her photograph had her wearing one on a gold chain. It’s pretty small in the picture, but, well, I saved her picture as my wallpaper on my computer, and you can see it better that way. They must have shopped at the same store.”


Jessica looked into Frank’s eyes and saw trust, and innocence.  She nodded slowly then saw the time. “Good gracious, its almost 10 pm. Way past your bed time, young man.”


Frank went to Jessica and gave her a hug. “Thank you,” he said simply.


“For what?”


He shrugged. “For being the most coolest aunt I have.”


She sat in her room in silence after he had gone to bed and she had tucked him in.  She didn’t know exactly how to tell him what she suspected.  She didn’t know how to go about trying to verify what she was feeling.  She looked at the phone, and then next door, and saw Taylor’s lights were still on in the lower part of the house. She went to the phone and began to dial.


Frank woke to a tickle on his nose. He rubbed it, and felt it be tickled again. Opening his eyes, he found himself face to face with Sydney, who was licking his nose. It was dawn. Sighing to himself that the sun came up way too early for his liking, he put Sydney to one side and walked to the bathroom. When he came out, Sydney was at the door, waiting for him. He looked and saw Jessica’s door was open, her bed still with the covers folded down, and her night clothes at the bottom of the bed. Concerned, he half ran down the steps and across the living room to the study where he ran into her arms as she sat behind the computer desk.

”Aunt Jessica! You’re all right!” he gasped.  He backed up a step, and saw that she was very tired, and still in the clothes from the night before. She looked like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.


“What’s wrong? Did something happen to Mum and Dad?”


She shook her head but couldn’t answer. Frank heard footsteps, and turning saw Willie come in with a tray that had several cups and her tea pot on it.  He handed her a cup. “Drink,” he commanded. She took a sip then set the cup down as Willie pulled up a chair, and then looked at Jessica who gave a single nod. She gripped the arm of her chair as Willie took Frank by the hand and guided him between the two of them.


“Frank, I ha to speak with ye man to man, and I need you to listen all the way through before you ask any questions, okay?” Frank nodded.


“Jessica called me last night to look up some sales records, and we found out things that were very important, and some of them may make ye sad or angry when ye hear them.  The young lady who died was given tha’ pendent of a triangle hourglass because she had worked at the Nightshade store, and she was top sales person for twelve months in a row. There were only 7 that were given out all told, and only one of them ha’ na been accounted for.  It didna’ make her a bad person to be that, in fact, she was a very nice person, one of the best that store had, and she only sold things like t-shirts and crystals and the like, na the stuff that was making people sick.  The night she died, she was wearing that pendent, and it wasn’t found afterwards. The person who killed her took it for themselves.”


Frank shrugged. “Dot must have been one of the 7 then… or he saw it, and got a copy of it somewhere.”


He saw Willie shake his head. “No. On the back is a trademark symbol. No one would ha’ copied it, and there were so few of them out there, tha’ he wouldna have seen it, unless he had gone to the store, but by his accounts afor according to what he wrote, he never met her, an there wasn’t any other store near where he lives tha’ had an employee who won the pendent. He couldna have seen it elsewhere, except on her.”


“But, Dot - he’s my friend. I trust him, He couldn’t have done it. He – he wouldn’t have.”   He turned to Jessica and she saw the tears and the anger building up on his face. “You did this!” he said to Jessica, his anger seething to the surface.


Willie turned him back to face him. “Frank, remember what I said about speaking, man ta man. Please let me finish.” Frank struggled with his emotions, then nodded as he bit his bottom lip.


“Jessica called her friend at Scotland Yard, and he was able to do some checking for us, and then we put in a call to the district attorney in LA, who Taylor knows, and they were able to use the IP address in both the email that was sent to the girl’s parents, an the one used on the board, and it matched that which uploaded the avatar that Dot used. Jessica used the IM and kept him talking until they were able to track him down and take him into custody. He was wearing the pendent, and he confessed to killing her because she wouldn’t go out with him. She trusted him tha’ night when she was coming home, and he betrayed that trust and murdered her. Jessica tells me tha’ he told you it was a triangle and an hour glass. Only the people who wore those gold pendants knew what the symbol really was, because a man named Kent Fordham was the one to tell them. Everyone else thought that it was an infinity symbol - she told him what it was, what it meant, and he took it, ending her time on earth.”


“No…” said Frank, shaking his head, fighting off more tears. “He wouldn’t… he ... he’s my friend.”


“I’m sorry lad. I don’t doubt that he valued your friendship, and cared about you, if tha’s any thing. Her parents know now what happened to her, and they know you’re the one who helped solve what happened to their little girl.” Willie saw that Frank was trembling where he stood. He was fighting off tears, and guilt and anger, and horror, and it was too much for him. Picking up one of the extra mugs of tea, he held it to Frank’s lips. “Drink this,” he said softly.


Frank took a drink and winced. “Ugh, it’s awful!”


Willie let out a slow breath. “Aye, a hot toddy is, but nothing better to calm after a shock. Another sip will do it I think…”


Frank took another sip, and felt his body go warm, and heavier. He looked at Willie, tears in his eyes. “He was my friend,” he said as he began to cry. Willie held him in his arms then lifted him onto his lap as Jessica covered him with a soft lap robe. She swallowed some of the tea. Willie was right about it, about how it calmed the rattled nerves and dulled the pain in one’s heart. 


It was a bit later, when Frank was tucked onto the sofa with the lap robe over him that Jessica came over to Willie Mac and said softly, Taylor told me about what Mort said yesterday evening, and what your book ending said… there was one flaw to the telling of events. Only your grandmother would know the significance of the sword being used to kill Stephen. Lucy’s father wouldn’t, he would probably use his own to do the job, not cross the room, pull it off of the wall and then run a man through with it.  He wouldn’t have left his daughter as ill as she was, not knowing her fate, or leaving it to a strange man to do by himself. That would leave you, or your grandmother. And you were away delivering a baby, one that your grandmother knew who the father was, if that was the motive for why he was killed.”


Willie didn’t change expressions as Jessica allowed her supposition to dangle. Finally he gave a sigh and said in a soft voice, “Do you know what Rohypnol, or flunitrazepam as the generic brand is, or gamma-hydroxybutryate, can do to a woman? One that is in their late 90s? Or why a lad who is nearing 40 feels the need to deliver it to her in her evening tea, and then na care if she’s had enough na to remember before making advances upon her? It was what he had been giving her every other night for several weeks, sometimes just to make her sleep while he searched for the documents that my father had hidden, never guessing where they were. When I came back from the university, I knew by the bruises on her something was amiss, but she didna remember any way they could have happened. The constable found her in a state when he arrived. He, he told me that others had been found in the same way, but didn’t know who the lad was, until that day. I canna say if she did, or didn’t. She doesn’t remember, and there was no blood where she lay. It could have even been the constable, as his daughter was one who had suffered as well. He said Stephen was like a rabid dog that someone was moved to put down… Gram doesn’t leave her house now. She doesn’t heal anyone anymore. She’s lost the ability to trust. Stephen murdered that in her.”




A limo pulled up in front of Jessica’s house later that afternoon. Several people got out and in a moment the doorbell rang. Jessica opened the door to see an older man and a woman whose world ended half a year before. Jessica recognized them and the man who stood behind the couple and opened the door for them. Frank looked up from where he was reading his English lesson for the day. He stood out of respect as they entered the room. Jessica introduced the girl’s parents to Frank, who launched himself across the room and hugged both of them saying over and over again, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” He later flatly refused the reward money for information that lead to the arrest of the person who had killed her, and told them to use it to make something that would be used as a memorial for their daughter.


Anthony drew away from the room and the raw emotions that were swirling inside. Jessica went over to him, seeing the question in his eyes.


“I spoke to Tipper, and she informed me that things were over between Taylor and myself. Was that just her protecting Taylor, or the truth?”


“I can’t answer that. I watched her tell Taylor what she told you, and I saw the pain that it caused her to feel that what you two had was over. I do know that she waited for you far too long.” 


Anthony sighed. “Is she next door?” he asked.


Jessica shook her head. “If anywhere, she is down at the store that used to be called Nightshade, with Tipper and the new owner of the store.”




Taylor had gone down to the store to open it and wait while the truck that was going to haul away the packed up merchandise would arrive. Willie had her stay in bed while he went over, and she left Sydney there so that she would not get underfoot while they were moving things, or get accidentally packed with everything. Scrubbing down the floors then wiping them down with linseed oil wasn’t that hard - well, for some at least – and by the time the truck had come and gone, she had cleaned the entire upstairs and was working on the steps.


Willie came down from Jessica’s house looking very sad.  There wasn’t much time for discussion as the second truck bringing Willie’s things arrived, and the rest of the morning was spent unloading the truck and putting things into the proper rooms. Not that she was working hard - she spent the time sitting on a box checking off crate numbers and then signing off on the paper work. When the truck left, she pulled him down on the box beside her, and handed him her water bottle to take a sip from. She saw the sadness in his eyes as he finally had the chance to tell her what they had found out and how Frank had taken it. 


Taylor reached up and grasped his chin in her hand, turning his head towards hers. She spread her fingers opening her hand as he kissed the palm, then moving closer he carefully pressed his lips to hers and eased his arms about her body. His kiss was shy, gently and fumbling. She parted her lips as she smiled, and when they came up for air she saw there was a flush on his cheeks. “That color looks good on you,” she said breathlessly before they moved in again, this time with more confidence. 


Neither saw Anthony arrive in the open door, or stand watching the two of them kiss, or heard his muffled yelp as Tipper pulled him out of the doorframe and back down on to the street away from their line of sight by his ear. Anthony had faced killers in the courtroom, he had been on stake-outs and shoot-outs, but nothing frightened him more than the look on Tipper’s face as she kicked him in the shins. “What did I tell you about not coming up and causing her more grief?” she snapped.


Anthony hopped on his uninjured leg. “Oww! I have no idea what an equine rectal sleeve is! But I do know I love her!”


“Then don’t cause her pain. She’s in love with someone who is able to actually take care of her for the rest of her life, how ever long that may be.  She isn’t the same person that she was 4 years ago, Anthony. She isn’t the woman you fell in love with.”


Tipper saw the pain on his face as he looked back to the store where Taylor’s soft giggle came wafting through the door.


“Be happy for her, Anthony. Can you do that?”


He looked back at her. In the distance at one of the dock side shops a bell was ringing.

“Come on.” She said tugging his arm and leading him down the hill. “That’s the bell for high tide, and the drinks are 50 cents. I’m buying.”


He gave a last look, then nodded. If only for a while he would have memories of how beautiful the sea was, and the calm that followed as his troubles receded with the tide.



Happy Being Me ~`@