A Picture Perfect Murder


By Kats

(c) 2002


(Note, this story has a mild PG rating. Kats)


It was raining. Odd in itself as the song suggested that it never rains in California- though the rains that did come brought misery to those it drenched as people scurried between the drops seeking shelter under the awnings and in the door frames. It didn’t do anything to dampen Jessica Fletcher’s spirits as she rode in the back of the taxi with her dear friend Dr. Seth Hazlitt. She had arrived in California for a book signing and had the opportunity to bring Seth along. They rode in silence now, neither needing to say anything, the moment of just being together as friends was enough. The book signing was done and they had free time to enjoy each others company before the long journey home.


A brief trip back to the hotel to drop off some things at the front desk after the signing, and dinner was now in order. Seth said he had a surprise for her. She had laughed, not unkindly. At her age, not much surprised her, nor was anything more needed to make their friendship stronger. As the taxi stopped at a red light across the street from the Parks Theater Jessica regarded a tall, too thin woman with long strawberry blond hair that was pressing herself against the wall trying to keep dry. There was such a look of sadness in the woman’s beautiful face. Jessica saw her pull her dark trench coat about her shoulders a bit tighter to ward off the chill in the air. The door to the theater pushed open and a stocky man with shaggy dark hair stepped out and glanced up and down the street before walking over to the woman. Jessica saw the woman shrink back from the man, yet not flee as he gestured backwards to the street. The light changed and the taxi that Seth and Jessica were in continued on its way to the hotel.


“DID you tell the cabdriver to wait for us Sondra?" asked Martin Goodfellow of his wife Sondra as they stood beneath the theater’s awning, waiting for the cloud burst to ease up.


Sondra closed her eyes, looking down at the pavement. Martin had rushed in to the theater’s office to secure the tickets for the evening’s performance. They were to go to dinner, then return to the theater for the last show.


Sondra heard Martin expel air from his lungs. She waited for what she knew was to come ... waiting, knowing he would never yell at her in front of people. Such a wonderful devoted husband, so handsome, and what a beautiful home in Cabot Cove - of all places! Those words along with ‘You should be grateful that he is a good provider for you!’ rang in her ears, words from his family. His -perfect- family that just shook their heads over

"unfortunate accidents" that she had had of late.


Before he was able to get in a breath to begin, the cab pulled up and the cabbie jumped out with an umbrella to help them into the car. Sondra breathed a sigh of relief as the cabbie gave her a nod and closed the door. Sondra knew that it would take more than just a second as her husband had stated, it all ways did.


The Parks was marked ‘no parking,’ and the beat cops wouldn't care if there was a hundred dollar fair waiting inside, they would have ticked the cab. Sondra had just paid the cabbie to drive about the block until they exited the building. Her husband never would have thought to do that, or even considered the legality of the cabbies position. She could almost hear her husband's words already - she should have picked up the tickets before his arrival, not wait till the last moment, though the theater stated the pre-paid for tickets could be picked up just with ID at the door prior to the show. The taxi trip to the theater was him. Forcing an issue - giving him any reason to confront her.


She closed her eyes, weary of it all - weary of her "perfect husband," of a loveless marriage, of everything. Divorce was out of the question. No one would believe that he was anything less than perfect.  Martin Goodfellow made his living taking photos of people. Being in the right spot knowing how to turn on the charm - that was her Martin. He always asked for permission to take the photo, when he could, and had the knack of getting the perfect photo to ether make or break a person. Sondra wondered sometimes if the big money that he was paid for the photos were from the people out of fear of what he could do with the photos, or if they were really that good.


Sondra gritted her teeth at the thought of what he had planned for the night. She didn't know how he had done it, but, he'd used his charm to change the reservations at the restaurant. It had to have cost money, or simply blackmail to get his latest Photo Opportunity to lose their reservation at the restaurant, and then be forced to sit with him ... and then would come the hook” "You know I take photos, what say I do a free sitting for you and see what develops?” What would develop would be a signed contract that allowed him to dog their every step - and then the "other" photos would be taken. The hush money would follow. He wouldn't bleed them dry. He would just tap them once in a while with a new photo. It would be done so quietly - so discreetly, the people wouldn't ever think that they were being victimized. They were buying silence. Locked in a file cabinet were all the negatives with an impossible lock.


Sondra did allow herself to smile. Of all the people in his life, she was the only one who had never signed one of his contracts giving him permission to photograph her. She had never done anything to be ashamed of - her only regret was signing the marriage contract that read, "Till death do us part"


She agreed to come with him on this trip because he said he needed her. She didn't quite know what he needed her for, she knew that she would learn that later, and perhaps it was best that she stayed innocent of everything.


Martin pulled his trusty camera from his pocket. He gently brushed off the pocket lint and gave it a loving pat. Sondra held back groan.  She knew why she was there...  She was to be bait.


Sondra Goodfellow froze in the lobby of the restaurant.  She could hear a voice discussing the absence of the reservation. There were other people that were told that there would be a table ready in three hours without a reservation and that they could wait in the lounge, and then bring their drinks to the table.


Sondra heard the lady’s voice raised in protest. She knew that voice, and knew that her husband had decided to blackmail Jessica Fletcher. She saw him discreetly take a photo of Jessica. Another photo was snapped discreetly with the high speed film he always used. Sondra had no idea what he had in mind. She dared to look over where the entrance into the restaurant was, and saw Jessica, with Dr. Seth Hazlitt. What were both of them were doing in L.A? But of all people in the town of Cabot Cove, she knew that trying to get one over on Jessica would be the ruin of her husband - or the death of her when it didn't go the way that he had planned. Sondra knew the smart money would to be to turn and run away - for as long as she could. Sondra knew he would follow. She was his meal ticket. Somehow she knew he had managed to book them at the same hotel.


He grasped her hand painfully in his and led her to where Jessica was becoming exasperated. Seth was trying to calm her down, telling her a hamburger at the local deli would be fine. Martin and she arrived just before Jessica had a chance to agree with Seth. Martin was smooth. His words were a balm to Jessica, inviting them both to eat with them, they had a table for four, and their friends had canceled. Sondra could see that it was not quite what she and Seth had planed, and Jessica almost declined completely. But Martin’s charm won over and the four of them were soon seated.


Sondra couldn't even think of food then. A growing fear was in the pit of her stomach. She closed her eyes when she heard the words - his line- and to her relief, heard Jessica decline the offer of the photos. Her husband shifted in his seat. She realized at once that she would receive the brunt of his anger tonight when they arrived at the hotel room. She needed an excuse - any excuse - to escape. Somehow she had to get far away from her husband, and she didn't quite know how.




The dinners arrived on steaming platters. She had hardly touched her drink, or her soup. She saw Martin, take his hand off the table, she knew when he became agitated, and he would grasp her hand and hold on tight enough to break her bones. She avoided his hand by keeping one on her water glass, the other with her fork in hand.


Sondra saw an older red haired tall thin man coming towards her with three drinks in his hands. He was the same one that the restaurant had informed to wait in the lounge. There were two others with him, a dark haired gentleman with deep blue eyes, and a prim lady

who was all eyes for the dark haired man. They were headed to the paths that led directly behind Sondra to their table. The red haired man was leading the way, and turned to speak to the people behind them. Sondra took that split second to shift her chair slightly back. The tall redhead missed the narrow opening and impacted with Sondra, drenching her with the contents of the glasses. Ice-cold white wine soaked her thin silk dress, and her skin.


Sondra gathered her purse and said that she would take a moment to dry off in the lady's room. She told Jessica and the other lady who they called Diana to stay she was quite capable of mopping her self up Sondra went to the ladies room and saw a pay phone. She dropped five dollars worth into it, and dialed a single number that she knew wouldn’t pick up.


After four rings, she hung up, leaned against the phone very weary. She gathered her change out of the phone, and walked into the ladies’ room where she sat with some paper towels and began sopping up the spilt drinks. She took her time, getting every last bit and then using wet towels, went over the stain area over and over again, and followed by drying the material.


She was on her fifth time with now going over with a dry towel when Jessica popped her head into the ladies room. “Sondra? My word, that dress is taking a long time to dry," Jess said coming closer.


Sondra shook her head. "I just don't want to smell like a brewery, that's all. It's been a long trip, and I've no way of getting this cleaned before we go back. Can't have people thinking I'm a lush..."  


"Oh, they wouldn't Sondra! It's almost dry, come eat with us, you must be famished!"


Sondra reluctantly stood up and followed Jessica out. They had to go by the lounge to return to the tables and by chance, the same tall red hair man was carrying more drinks out, and distracted, impacted with her again, soaking both of them this time. She looked at her dress, and shook her head.  "Uncle," she said, turning to Jessica. "Tell my husband that I will see him back at the Doubletree hotel. I can't stay in these clothes.” Sondra

shook her head and went to the coat rack.


Jessica went to where Martin was and let him know Sondra was going back because she was drenched again. Martin, since he had offered to pay for the dinner, couldn't leave. Inward he was furious with the situation.


Sondra went out to the doorman was and asked him to call a cab for her. She knew she had very little time. It was a quick trip to the hotel, to shower and change. She grabbed a small bag with her personal things, and then she took what money she could find. She tossed the key on the bed, and left the hotel to walk to the nearest cab stand and had him drive her to the airport. She waited until he picked up an outgoing fair, and then took a second cab back into the city where she found an inexpensive hotel and tucked her self in for the night


All she could do was look at the telephone, and pray that someone would never make the connection of what she had done. Sondra realized that she couldn't ever go back. She would have to make a new life for herself and hide forever from her husband. Morning would come soon enough.






Martin Goodfellow scowled as he strode down the Parks. No cab would pick him up in his current mood. He had given the tickets to Jessica and Seth, telling them with Sondra not going that he didn't have his heart in it, and if they could turn the tickets back in for him. Sondra needed to be shown she had to support her husband.  He knew the hotel was just a few blocks away from the restaurant. The evening had almost tapped him out. Getting the table switched had been a sweet deal. He had come at off-hour and caught on film an indiscreet moment by the current manager. Getting the photos developed swiftly, he returned with the evidence, and was able to get the dinner and the change in reservations for the cost of one of the negatives. But the manager didn't know that what he had were only a copy of the negatives, and that Martin held the originals.  He figured that with enough of the negatives, he could milk this guy for a few great dinners, and then toss him a bone now and then.


He patted his pocket, and with a shock realized that his camera was gone. At first he began cursing Sondra, but then he realized he had it on the table after she had left. He could have sworn that he had put it into his pocket. He turned on his heel and marched back to the restaurant




Jessica Fletcher looked over at Seth as they made themselves comfortable that the same red haired man that was in the restaurant was in the seat next to them. Seth followed her curious gaze, and saw that he had a drink in his hand. Quite dryly Seth said to him "I do hope you have a firm grip on that young man?"  


The red haired man looked a bit surprised to see them. He flushed and apologized, moving the drink to his other hand.  "My Pardon ...Where is your other friend?"


Seth shrugged. "Said his heart wasn't into the evening without his wife. Hopeless romantic, I guess. You're awfully friendly for an LA'er"


The redheaded man chuckled. "Part of the job description to be a people person." He held out his hand "Anthony Thomas, and you are …?"


Seth carefully shook his hand, his eye on Anthony's drink. "Seth Hazlitt. This is Jessica ... Jess, this is Anthony Thomas, from the restaurant. He says he is a ‘People Person.’”


Anthony saw Jessica's questioning eyes regard him, puzzled. Before she could make any comment, the music began to swell and the lights dimmed. In the darkness, Seth sought her hand and gently cradled it into his. Nether saw Anthony Thomas give a worried frown before settling back into his cramped seat.


Two rows behind them sat the other two who had been to the restaurant with Anthony. Donald Brook leaned over to whisper softly into Diana's ear "What could possibly be a motive for blackmail for those two? Is Tom sure of his facts from his informant?"


Diana nodded. "He is still running through the id's for those two. In the mean time, you DO owe me a night out on the town, may as well enjoy the peace while we can." 


Diana snuggled back into the seat with Donald's bemused grin looking down on her.  Intermission found Donald stepping outside the theater to light up a cigar. Diana called them a nasty habit, and wouldn't let him smoke them in the office.


He saw Tom Mallard stride down the sidewalk toward him, his face grim. Tom stood tall lean and lanky, never to be able to find a chair that didn't look like it belonged to a child when he sat in it. He slicked back his blond hair and fixed his handsome mug in a half smile when he saw Donald outside the building. 


"What do you have for us Tom?" asked Donald, a gleam in his eyes for the latest scoop.


"Not much that you would like. Your gents a doctor, just a regular GP, widowed for over 17 years, has a daughter, son-in-law, and a few grandkids. Resides in Cabot Cove, Maine, no warrants, no traffic tickets, and the sheriff, Mort Metzger had only good to say about them both. Now, the lady is another piece of work. Retired school teacher of English, she's been a widow for about 15 years. No children, only nieces and nephews that she visits. It seems everywhere she goes, people turn up dead."


"You’re kidding!" gasped Donald.


Tom shook his head. "Nope, no joke. At last count, it's been 263 people who have died where she either vacationed at, or visited, or lived. That's only in the last 12 years!”


"Is she responsible?" asked Diane.


Tom shrugged. "Not that they could prove ... I was able to book rooms for you, Diana, and Anthony at the Doubletree, across the hall from them, and my operatives have moved some things in for you." He handed Donald a set of keys. "Third floor, rooms 314-317. Uh oh, they're giving the signal for the end of the intermission ... Last bit, um, Donald, my operative tailing the suspect's wife lost her. She went to the hotel, was up there for all of ten minutes, and then came down with a bag-hopped in a taxi and went straight to the airport. He lost her in the crowds. He can only say that she placed a long distance call on the phone, but because there was no answer, and rang under five times; the phone company has no record of it."


"Keep at it, Tom. Anthony thinks we don't have a lot of time on this one..."


Tom studied Donald closely "Exactly what does he have on you, that we are involved in this?"


Donald only smiled mysteriously before entering into the theater again. They still had a few moments before the curtain went up again.


Diana looked at him as he sat and said softly, "She’s beginning to wonder what is going on. She saw me in the ladies’ room."


"Did she say anything?" Donald asked


Diana shook her head. "But she keeps glancing up here when she speaks to her friend... wondering why with empty seats beside Anthony we are up here."


Donald saw Jessica turn to listen to a comment from Seth, and he knew that the glance their way was coming soon. "Then we have to give her a reason," he said softly, tilting her head upward to give her a soft kiss on her ruby lips.


Jessica was answering a question posed by Anthony, who followed her gaze, and saw Donald and Diana kissing. Jessica flushed briefly, then saw Anthony grin. "Bout time," he said indicating back to them with a tip of his head in their direction.


Seth missing it all and nodded. "Ayah, curtains just..." A ring of a cell phone interrupted him.  The cell phone’s shrill ring echoed from the breast pocket of Anthony Thomas. By the third ring, he had silenced the phone. He glanced at the message on the display, and then pocked the phone. Jessica saw the brief frown before he relaxed and looked to the stage to follow the second half.  Seth just shook his head. He couldn't see the sense of getting away from everything to relax just to be interrupted by a cell phone.


Donald and Diana had heard the cell phone's urgency. Diana rose from her seat and went out of the theater to the lobby, to return a few minutes later. She slid a small fold of paper into Donald's hand. He glanced at it, shook his head. Diana rested her head on his shoulder. In their line of work, there were no happy ever afters. She saw Seth place his arm about Jessica's shoulder and pull her in closer. There had to be a moment, like this in every friendship. One where time, the world didn't matter. One could only hope that the moment would last forever. She looked up at Donald, her employer, friend, and confidant for so many years. She could count the number of times that he had asked her to marry him. If now, when ladies could work and keep house, was then, she would have. Diana wondered if in the friendship between these two there had been the talk of marriage, or would it be forever friendship? All too quickly the moment and the play were over. The house lights came up.


Anthony waited until the others had stood up before unfolding his lanky frame. He saw that his getting up caught the attention of Jessica. "Not as nimble as when I was young," he shrugged, slowly rising. He moved slowly with them to the front of the theater. Donald and Diana were off to the side. The rain had stopped and it was becoming a warm night.


Seth saw the mob of people rushing to the taxies, and turned to Jessica. "There are far too many of them, and too few cabs. We could take the bus?"


Jessica smiled. "Or we could walk." 


Anthony looked a Donald and Diana with a small shrug. Diana stepped up to them. "Well, we're all at the Doubletree, and our car is in that lot. May we walk with you? Unless you wish to be alone..."


The comment brought a faint flush to Seth's cheeks. "Wouldn't want to put you out of your way. Easier for three to get a cab than two."


Donald shook his head. "Not at all. After that meal, a walk would be welcome."


The five of them strolled slowly. Donald and Diana walked arm in arm, as did Seth and Jessica. Anthony felt a bit out of place as he walked with his hands in his pockets.


"So where is your date for tonight, Anthony? A handsome young man like you shouldn't have any problem with the ladies if you’re the ‘people person’ that you say you are," commented Seth 


"He is a confirmed bachelor," said Donald.


"All work and no time to look is more like it," replied Anthony sheepishly.


Seth studied him "And just how can a people person BE a person people if he hasn't time for the female people? What exactly do you do?"


Anthony shrugged. "I help people. I give Donald gray hair and Diana something to do."


Donald became indignant. "Gray hairs? That's been your plan? Diana, take a memo. Send a bill to Anthony from my hairdresser."


Diana tilted her head and studied him under the lamp light. "I think the gray makes you look distinguished." There was tenderness in her eyes.


Donald kissed her cheek softly. "Thank you, dear."  It was several blocks to the Doubletree Hotel. The five of them made it into the lobby just before the rain began to fall in a heavy down pour. The wind picked up with sudden furry, and hail began to pelt the windows.


Anthony looked at Donald before going to Diana and giving her a sound kiss on the cheek. "That's for having foresight to book us within walking distance, a drive home would take till morning..."


Diana gave a side glance at Donald who wore a bemused grin before saying "No, Anthony, you cannot have Diana work for you." He held up his hands in surrender.


The lights flickered then the hotel was plunged into darkness when a loud BOOOOMMMM! reverberated in the hotel. Jess felt someone bump her in the dark, knocking her off her feet. She banged against Anthony and was caught by him as the emergency lights came up. She felt something very wet against her arm and looked down. Anthony followed her gaze and saw her sleeve was soaked in what looked like a bloody handprint.


Anthony gently steadied her on her feet as she looked at the stain and said, "Oh dear!"  Donald saw the blood as well and quickly glanced around the hotel lobby for any one that had blood on them, or was moving about too quickly. Most of the people were still standing very still until they knew that the lights would stay on. Some were moving to the steps to go to their rooms Seth guided Jessica to the lobby sofa, with Diana taking the seat beside her. Carefully he rolled up the sleeve, and was relieved to see that the blood came from the outside, not her.


Jessica shook her head "I'm alright Se..." Her voice faltered as she looked up and saw someone looking at her from across the lobby. Seth followed her gaze and saw her looking at a tall exotic plant.


"Jessie, we are getting you up to the room, even if I have to carry you myself..." Seth said sternly.


"I can walk Seth. Maybe I am tired, that's all," she said, tearing her eyes from the man whose presence brought back such painful memories. Seth and Anthony helped her up to her feet and across the lobby to the now clear steps. It took a while to travel up to the third floor and then down and around to where there rooms were. Diana was making a joke about probabilities when she saw the blood coming out from beneath Jessica's ajar door. Seth's door was also open as well, and a trail of splatters led inside as well.


Diana looked at them and said, "The men can handle this, Jessica – we ladies can kick off our shoes in my room for the night. If the police have any questions, they'll know where to find us."  Numb, Jessica looked at Seth, who nodded.


They waited until the door was closed and they were safe inside before Anthony pulled out the cell phone and dialed a single number. "Arthur? Could you get the boys down to the hotel? ... A what? All right. Well, have them seal off the third floor, and get them up here as soon as you can. No, just missed ... okay." He hung up the phone.


Seth regarding him with a very stern gaze. "Now, young man, would you please tell me exactly what you do as a people person?" 


Anthony pulled out his wallet and showed him his ID. "District Attorney for Orange County. Arthur Taggart is the chief inspector of homicide. They have another murder to investigate before they come here."


Seth turned and looked at Donald. "And you work for him?"


Donald shook his head. "Gracious no! I work against him at every possible moment! We're close friends, and rivals."


Seth sighed, then said, "Best we see what happened." With the edge of a pen, they slowly pushed the door open to Jessica room.  The walls of the room were splattered with blood. A trail of it lead from the door where it had puddled out, to the bed where a naked young man lay bound with the cord from Jessica's bathrobe, his throat slashed from ear to ear. From the pallor, Seth knew he had been dead for a while. Following the blood trail, they opened Seth's door, and found a large silver handled, razor sharp letter opener that was tossed onto a crumpled bed cover. Through the bloody smears the words "To Jessie, all my fondest love forever and always, Seth." On the dresser, a box, and a receipt with Seth's credit card number and a signature.


Seth looked at it, and then them. "Looks bad for Jess and me, doesn't it?"


 Donald looked at him. "Did you buy that for her?"


Seth shook his head. "Highly impractical for Jessica to use a letter opener that size with her arthritis in her hands. Gave her one of those pinch letter openers for easy opening two months ago. If you don't mind, I'm going to check up on Jess. Not like her to be so rattled like she was in the lobby...”


Anthony nodded and gave Seth his room key. "You need to kick off your shoes yourself for a while. Donald and I will keep an eye on this."


Seth nodded and went off to Diana's room. When he was out of the room Donald asked softly, "Another murder, Anthony? Who?"


Anthony swallowed. "The mater'd at the restaurant was discovered dead near the same time that the intermission happened. If we hadn't been there..."  Anthony shook his head.


The victim’s clothing was over the chair. “He was one of the waiters at the restaurant. Martin Goodfellow is known as a blackmailer, but never did he do violence to someone. Which leaves his wife, who was terrified the entire evening. We can't rule her out."


Anthony tilted his head.  "Why not? Tom had a tail on her..."


Donald shook his head. "She lost the tail, but she had her bags, and as the blood is fairly fresh, and she left this hotel before the first act, I doubt if it was her... and both Seth and Jessica were with us during the entire time, except for their journey to the theater, but Tom had been tailing them and they came straight to the theater."


Donald saw a brown envelope stuffed hastily under the corner of the chair in Jessica's room. He pulled out his handkerchief and carefully pulled it out, then opened the envelope and slid its contents onto the dresser. There were photos of Jessica and Seth, together. The graininess of the photo suggested that they were taken with a long lens through a window. The positions and the content of the photos spoke of a far more intimate and revealing relationship between Jessica and Seth that would undoubtedly cause a scandal in the small town of Cabot Cove. Perhaps, with Jessica's worldliness, she could shrug it off, but in a small town where people’s tongues wag like puppy dogs tails, the photos could be the ruin of Seth's medical practice. 


"Is it evidence? Or playing into the blackmailer’s hand?" asked Anthony from Donald's elbow.


Donald handed it to Anthony. "Personally I don't think it’s to point to Jessica or Seth being the murderer, but an attempt at justifying the murder. If you look closely at the shoulder you will see the angle of the shadow changes. These photos have been retouched. There not photos from this room, or his, suggesting that they are works of our blackmailer. No negatives. We do know that Martin didn't go to the theater. My guess is he planted the photos first, and then went to look for his wife."


In Diana's room Seth sat on the side of Jessica's bed. She had removed her shoes and had a blanket over her knees. He held her hand gently and spoke to her in a low voice. Diana, across the room, could hear the conversation - one of concern and reassurances to her. He finally asked, "So, who did you see in the lobby?" 


Jess studied her best friends face. In all the years she had known him, there were some things she never could confide in him about. He had turned to her and Frank when his wife Ruth had died and she had found comfort by him after Frank's death. A single tear came down her cheek.


"Jess, who is he that upsets you so much?" 


She closed her eyes willing away the tears. “Someone I haven't seen since Frank died. I never knew his name. But at the end, when Frank was struggling to breathe, he opened his eyes when that young man came in, and he said, ‘Oh, well, I guess its time.’ Frank looked at me as the man came to his bedside and took his hand. He said, ‘See ya, kiddo, love you with all my heart...’ and then he breathed for the last time. I hugged Frank, and when I sat up, the young man was gone." I felt an incredible peace, Seth - even with

all the sorrow and pain my heart was going through, I felt peace."


"And you saw this same young man tonight?" She nodded. Seth felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand upon end.


There was a knock on the door. Diana went to the door and checked the peephole before opening it. An elderly man with the beginnings of a dowager’s hump entered the room. He was dressed in a rough gray tweed suit, and had an unsmoked cigar in his handkerchief pocket. He smiled at Diana and asked, "How is it, m'dear, that you meet the most interesting people?"


 Diana answered smoothly, "I work for the best."


The man came over to them and extended his hand to Jess. “I'm Arthur Taggart from homicide. Your rooms have been sealed until the forensic boys can go over them. Though the hotel could give you another room for your stay here, we think it's best if you both stay with Miss Parks and Mr. Thomas. We don't know the motive yet, beyond that there has been an attempt to frame you for this. The hotel staff will be providing you with anything that you need. We have this floor guarded, so you're quite safe."


There was a knock on the door. "Must be room service now," Taggart said as he opened the door. A young lady in a hotel staff blue suit pushed a cart in that held several bags on the lower shelf, and a large urn of coffee with many mugs on the top. 


Seth looked at Jessica. "Don't think any of us will be doing much sleeping tonight..." He saw a look in Jessica's eye. "What are you thinking, Jess?"


"I think I know what the motive for this murder was.”


Seth placed his finger tips on Jessica's lips. "Shhh... Jessie - maybe it’s best if we let the

police handle this one. Let them come up with who the murderer is, and the motive. I'm worried about you Jessie; it scares the daylights out of me that some one got close enough to you to leave that hand print on your sleeve. It could have been a knife, or a gun. And it doesn't do my heart any good ether to learn that someone broke into our rooms. I may be selfish here, but I want to keep you alive and safe for a long time."


Jessica studied Seth's face, so full of love and concern. He removed his fingers from her lips, bent over and kisses her cheek softly. "Rest now."


Anthony looked at the photos, now placed safely in the evidence bags. Turning it over he saw printing in a dark black ink. Most of it was numbers, and some letters. He frowned, and wished he had some knowledge of what they meant. He went over to the forensic photographer, and had him make a Polaroid close-up of the printing for all of the photographs. He went over to Donald. "I'm going to see if I can track down when the photos came here.  If you find out something, give me a call."


Donald nodded and watched him go. Normally he would have Tom do the running. He couldn't afford to tip his hand on this one. Not when they were so close …


Adam, the Woodrain Hotel manager, let Anthony know where there was a full service 24 hour Photo Lab in the city. "But they just print photos, there a quick and dirty lab. You don't want to go there- you want to speak to Taylor over at the Hill-N-`Dale Mall. She's the one who can help you get the best photos in the state of California."


Anthony shook his head. "I have the photos, and I need information on them, but she is a start. How far away is this mall?"


"Five miles, they are closed right now, but the switch board to the mall is always open... hold on."


Ten minutes later with an address in his pocket Anthony was driving to a middle class neighborhood wondering if he would ever see his pillow that night. The switch board operator was hesitant about giving him her name, but once he had it, it was simple to get her address from the DMV. He saw a small compact car in the driveway, and pulled in behind it. Bright flowers lined steps and a light sensor clicked on, illuminating his way to the front door. He heard a small dog begin to bark, and howl as soon as he pressed the



The inside light clicked on, and a slender middle-aged lady in a frumpy flannel robe and a net over the curlers in her ash blond hair came to the front door. She opened the door with the chain still latched and asked "Yes? And you are?" A deep growl came from her little dog


"District Attorney Anthony Thomas, and I need your help. May I come in?" He looked at the dog who tried to worm its way outside to chew on his leg. The growl deepened.


"It's 3:45 in the morning. Can this wait for a few hours? And may I see some ID?" 


He reached in his pocket and held it up. She shook her head. "Nuh Huh. Gimme."


Anthony, startled, handed her his entire wallet through the space of the door and was surprised when the door closed. He was even more surprised a few moments later when his phone rang. "Hello?... Hello??...


There was a sound at the other end that seemed in stereo, and he realized that it was the sound of the door opening. He saw she had a small cell phone in her hand and a bemused smile on her tired face. She unchained the door and let him into her home. Anthony's eyes adjusted to the dim lamp-light. She pointed to the sofa, and handed back his wallet before going into her kitchen. He placed it back in his jacket pocket, and sat. Her dog, a small ball of fluff, came up and sniffed at Anthony before sitting down at his feet. Anthony eyed the dog for a moment then saw her reenter with two large mugs. She handed one of them to him. He thanked her, and took a sip. It wasn't coffee, he wasn't quite sure what it was, but it was hot and dark and strong, yet soothing.


She sat at the other end of the sofa and pulled her feet up. Her dog jumped up on the sofa at her feet and curled up between them.  "Okay. So what do you need?" she asked, taking a sip of her mug.


He pulled out the packet of Polaroids and handed it to her. "I was informed that you know what there is to know about the photographic industry." 


She gave him a look of "yeah right" before glancing at the Polaroids. She tilted it to the light and looked at the markings. "What did you need to know?"


"Everything that you can tell me."


She shrugged. "It’s Aps film that's been processed on a Fuji Frontiers that has a VFP unit and a photo digital net hookup. Newer lab, on the east side."


"You know that just from the back?" he asked incredulous.


She shrugged. "Well the six digit code is the id number from the APS system. The Frontiers is one of the few hybrids that can do a mixed order, and there are only two of them in the Orange County area. Each chain lab uses a four digit code to identify its location ... and each different store chain uses a different brand of paper. So, tell me, what is this evidence for?"


"Murder, and blackmail. You said photo digital... what's that?" 


"Photo digital net takes your photos and places them on an internet file system. You can go to any location that has it, punch in your account, and get the photos reprinted from the digital file, without the negatives. If you want some retouching done, that can happen as often as you like. Most people send the access number to a relative, and they can order how many photos they need in what ever size, and they can do re-touching at ether end."


"Can they take parts of one photo and put it on another?" he asked.


Taylor nodded, turned, and picked up a slim laptop computer off the bottom of the stand. She looked at him. "Do you want the rest of his photos?"


 "Um... That's a sensitive area. I may need a search warrant to make it legal evidence in court. How exactly do you know this information?"


She looked a bit surprised. "Of all the photo finishers in this area, why me?"


The question caught him a bit off guard "Adam, the manager at the Woodrain Hotel, said you would know everything. So, how, do you know this?"


She shrugged. "Years in the industry. Had a really handsome photography teacher in college, and I was hooked. ...Adam, huh? I'll have to have a word with him."


In Diana's room things were becoming settled. The hotel had brought Jessica a change of clothes for bed, and the police had taken her dress to be tested, to see if the blood on the sleeve matched the victim. Seth had kissed her good night, and in short order she was fast asleep. Diana stayed up for a while, waiting for word from Donald, or Tom. She bit her bottom lip and frowned, wondering if Donald had discussed the information she had received from the operative. She looked out at the city. The signal that there was information was the quick call to Anthony's cell phone. The words had been scrawled, in a code that she and Donald knew. Just after the second act had been begun, Tom's operative had discovered that the Goodfellow home in Cabot Cove had been destroyed in a raging fire and they had no clue as to how it began.


In Anthony's room Seth sat in the near darkness with the last dregs of the coffee cup in his hand. Donald sat across the table from him, and the photos were on the table between them.


Seth looked at the photos then up at Donald. "I'm her doctor, of course I have seen Jessica. And I do know her as intimately as you know your Miss Parks. If these photos would hit the tabloids, would it matter? Probably not. People’s reaction ether would be

shock that two old people can still have an intimate relationship, and the key word is OLD, or they may react as "Ewwww! Gross," as my granddaughter would say. My question would be, if I was that intimate with Jessica, why would I still have my glasses on? And I would love to know where the scars are from Jessica's back surgery? And her hip surgery..."


Donald held up his hand. "Uncle... Yes, we had a fair idea that the photos were retouched.  In themselves, they are not the motive for the murder..." 


Seth drew in a breath and let it out slowly. "Jessie said she knew the motive, but... I don't want to involve her in this, Donald. It scares me too much to believe that she could be a target for this." 


Anthony handed the phone to Taylor, who listened and nodded, then asked for a follow up written warrant for the company records. After she hung up, she turned on her computer and looked up as Anthony warned, "These photos, are - quite - sensitive."


Taylor's giggle surprised him. "Can't be any worse than c- section photos, or the one we do for the coroner’s office." It took a moment to get online, and another before she could enter the photo file area. She frowned. "Password lockout... mmm...What's his last name? Or his phone number. If the guy isn't too bright, he has to put one in that he can remember. My administrative codes can only get in so far.... or...."


He heard the sound of her typing. Then, "Ah ha....oh..." Anthony saw her face go from triumph, to disgust. He moved over, picking up the dog and displaced it on to his lap to get closer to her and the computer screen. He saw a row of thumbnails, of a sight that sickened him.


She said dryly, "Well, yeah, I'd say two men in the cooler doing that would qualify as a health code violation... Anyone you know?" 


"Both of those men were found dead hours ago... are there more photos?"


She clicked at the bottom of the page. It brought up the photos of Jess and Seth. To

his relief, the originals of both of them were very innocent. There was a few of an older lady and man, both naked, that had been used as the bottom stock photos.


She saw the retouched ones and raised an eyebrow. "Your guy is a real prince.... Most companies have a policy that they won't print this type of stuff. Gray area there... did you move Sydney?" She saw her dog quite comfortable on his lap.


 "Well, Yes... Was I not supposed to?”


She shrugged. "Last man who went to move her ended up with 18 stitches. She must like you...." Her computer beeped urgently.


"What is it? What's going on?" Anthony asked, leaning closer to her.


"He is so grounded..." she said flatly before continuing.”The lab is closed at this hour, and unless I miss my guess, someone at the lab is currently uploading photos to this site."


 "Do they know that we are accessing the photos?" he asked concerned.


She shook her head then closed her eyes. "This isn't good. No one should be in the store at this hour, and using the equipment. I should thank you for bringing this to my attention, but on the other hand, I know the company isn't going to like the publicity that is going to follow..."She opened up her cell phone and hit the small numbers.  "This is Taylor Andrews, CDOM for F'Stop's Photo, we have an unauthorized use of our equipment at your mall, please apprehend and detain all persons present in the store... We also need video surveillance tapes of that location after hours for the following last three days between 2:30 am, and 5:20 am ...oh, Authorization code 347-74-3924 Alpha... Thank you." She hung up the phone and looked at him. "Well, that blows my Saturday off out of the water..."


He looked puzzled. "Why?"


"Someone has to cover the store. From my guess, the only one who should have the ability to do the retouching like this is the lab manager, unless the photographer knows how to work the equipment. Even then, he isn't allowed to. The policy of the store is to not print photos of sensitive nature.....Blackmail is about as near sensitive as you can get..."


Anthony nodded, the asked, "So what are they uploading now?"


She clicked on the bottom of the screen and pulled up photos of Jessica and Seth at the restaurant that evening. There were even a few wide shots that had Anthony in the background. Other shots she couldn't quite make out, and then there were shots of a young man on the bed, his eyes were wide and afraid. His hands were bound in the next one, and the following shots showed a close up of his throat being cut. Taylor closed the lid of the laptop and covered her eyes with her hands. "Oh God..." she gasped.


Anthony put his arms around her and hugged her gently. "He isn't in pain anymore... the doctor said that he died rather quickly ... I'm so sorry you had to see that..." He heard a soft whine from Sydney. Anthony reached down and stroked Sydney's ear. "Its okay, everything will be okay," he murmured.


Morning came with a drenching rain and a chilling fog that curled about the city. Anthony took the steps to the hotel's third floor two at a time. The Mall security had arrived to discover that the equipment was still up and running, but no one was in the lab itself. There was no indication of a break-in. The police were called in to dust for fingerprints. The parent company wanted to play it very close to the vest until the police let them know otherwise.


Jessica woke gently, and looked to the main area of the room. She saw Diana crossing the room to answer the door. Anthony entered the room with a broad grin. "We've had a break in the case. We're waiting on surveillance tapes, and an arrest should be forthcoming soon."


 Jess sat up in the bed. "For which murder?"


Anthony looked at her "Well, for both of them. The mater'd and the waiter were killed by the blackmailer, which we know to be Martin Goodfellow..."


Jessica was shocked. "Martins a blackmailer? What blackmail? Who was the subject of the blackmail?"


Anthony felt a bit uncomfortable. "Well, we've evidence that indicates that you were the next person, and we have intercepted photos that we know were retouched that are … sensitive in nature."


Jess shook her head. "What makes you think it is Martin? He is a wonderful photographer, and has a flourishing business! And he wouldn't hurt a soul! ... Sondra! In all of the turmoil, we forgot to check up on Sondra! Is she all right?”


Anthony shook his head. "She left the hotel after dinner with her bags, and hasn't been seen since. And Martin hasn't returned to the room, nor has he been seen by any of the staff or the men since he left the restaurant. Some photos were discovered in your room that we know were to be used by the blackmailer. We discovered the location where the photos were reproduced, and we have a direct link to the murder...why? Unless you have other information?"


 Jessica leaned back on her pillow and pulled the covers up a bit


"Just that it’s possible that the waiter saw the murder of the mater'd and was killed to be silenced - by someone who wants the irony of a murder to happen in a murder mystery writer’s room..." Jess hung her head. "I tend to stumble over so much of this; people have come to think I could be responsible for the deaths. How - why do you feel Martin is a blackmailer?"


Anthony shifted on the bed. "One of his "subjects" came forward and gave evidence that he had to pay blackmail to Martin, and that he knew that you were the intended target." 


Jessica arched her eyebrows "So, it wasn't by chance that you made contact with Sondra in the restaurant?"


He nodded "Oh, that was 100% chance, though I suspect that she did something just to use an excuse to get out of there. She was terrified."


Jess nodded. "Something was upsetting her. But it isn't like her to just run away like that."


Anthony continued. "We learned about the hotel and the tickets, and made arrangements to have you and Seth followed. Martin Goodfellow has blackmailed many people. We discovered his files last night and there are photos from the murder as well in those files."  Anthony's cell phone rang urgently. He answered it curiously. “Hello?"


Even Jess could hear the lady’s voice at the other end - quite upset, though she couldn't quite make out the words.


Anthony listened. Jess saw the confidence on his turn into sadness. "I'll

be there shortly..."


Twenty minutes later at F' Stop Photo he saw Taylor speaking with inspector Taggart. She had Sydney tucked in her arms. She told Anthony, "Sydney found him in the storage area ... he's alive. So who is this bastard?" 


Anthony escorted Taylor over to the side of the lab while the paramedics took Greg Simmons out on the stretcher. He had been locked in the storage area were they kept the paper and the chemicals. It was an airtight area that had humidity control. There were only smeared finger prints on the handle, nothing definite. Taylor had informed the paramedic to consider the young man under arrest, and that they would be hearing from the company's lawyers as to what was to be done with him. Beyond oxygen depravation, the young man was unhurt. Given enough time, yes, he would have passed out completely and suffocated, but he wasn't in any real danger until that time. Taylor closed the gate and locked up the store front. She turned to Anthony.


"Look, whoever dropped off the photos, the film, and the generic bag is still here ...That in itself doesn't make any sense if they were going to take the time to lock him up before fleeing."


 "Your thinking, the person left them and will be back? Then how did he get in the storage area?"


She shrugged. "Easy, crawl in and pull the door closed behind you. Except he didn't know there isn't a latch on the inside to open it. It suggests a lot of things, and I'm not to comfortable any of them. He can't say that he was on the schedule last night and stayed over, because he is off this weekend as a four day week end..."


"Well, that means there is someone coming in to open the store. Which is - when?" 


"In an hour the mall opens to the walkers, and we open in two for sales. You’re thinking the person will come back for the film? I'm not inclined to let my people come in contact with a murderer. AND your people have dust everywhere. This entire lab has to be cleaned from top to bottom before we can open it up to any one."


Anthony looked at the officers that were still spraying the fine powder for dusting about. "It will take the boys about a half hour to finish here, any where we can get a cup of whatever you gave me last night?"


She nodded and led him back to the office. There was a coffee pot with water still hot in it and two mugs. One she knew was Greg's, the other they kept on hand for company.


"You may want to dust that one for prints," she said, pointing to the mug. She turned to Anthony. "Let’s walk up to the mall office. We need to speak with the security office, and I know they have a pot of something brewing."





Jessica and her things were moved to another room and for the first time she had a moment to be alone. Seth had let her know about the photos, and she felt a flush over her at the thought of them. His voice had been tender, and apologetic, and the look in his eyes showed that if there had been any thoughts of it before... well, the thoughts were in the open for all to see. Not that that's what she had wanted, but there were moments that she missed her husband. She suspected Seth had the same feelings about his wife Ruth as well. A flashing light on her telephone interrupted her thoughts. She picked it up and pushed the buttons to retrieve the message.


 To her surprise it was Sondra. Her voice was ragged on the phone speakers. "Jess, I'm sorry. I can't stop him from hurting you, but I can stop him from hurting the people he had before. I really like having you as a friend and neighbor. I can't go back, there's nothing for me to go back too. If I stayed with Martin any longer, it would be the death of me..." (a catch of a sob) "He - none of my family would believe me when I told them about the beatings he gave me. And his mother said if I was the proper wife, he

wouldn't have to correct me... That's not even a good excuse; I was the proper, perfect wife for my husband. We had the perfect home, and” (another sob, her voice becoming ragged) “I just can't take it any more ... I couldn't leave and not tell someone, not and have Martin just sit back and play wounded husband. Don't sign any thing from him, Jess; don't be like the others, you won't ever stop paying for it..." The call ended with another sob, and then a click. There was a hum, and then an operators recorded voice said

"Charges 3.75 for 2 minutes will be billed to your account at Sky View Hotel at 4:30 am..."


Jess set the receiver down and grabbed her coat and purse. She ran to the door that adjoined their two rooms and knocked on it. Seth opened it up and looked at her. He wore a faint blush still, and almost couldn't make eye contact. "Where are Donald and Diana?" she asked softly. He pointed with his thumb at the room that connected to his.


He saw the look in her eyes and stepped into her room. "Something tells me you don't want to involve them just yet ..."


She nodded "I know where Sondra is, and we had better get to her soon... I just hope that the murderer didn't have the same thought that I did!"


Seth grabbed his coat and ducked through Jess’s room to the hall outside. They strode down the hall to the stairs and slipped down them to the lobby. Seth hailed a cab for them and in a moment they were on their way to the Sky View.


Donald and Diana didn't discover till later that they were gone, and only Adam at the front desk mentioned that he had seen them get a cab earlier. As they wondered why they would leave, and ask if they had any incoming calls, Adam shook his head, and said only the one message that had come in about 4:30 that morning, and they had forwarded to her new room number.


Seth held Jessica's hand during the drive to the hotel.  The message was several hours old and Jess had only said that if they didn't act now, Sondra may move on. His watch said 8:45 as the cab pulled into the parking lot. Seth gave the cabbie his fare, and let him know they would be having a return fare shortly. It took a moment to get the room number from the desk clerk.


Sondra heard the knock, and looked through the peephole. She saw Jess and Seth, both looking very concerned for her. Reluctantly she opened the door and let them in. Her eyes were red from crying and where her arms bare Seth could see the deep angry bruises on her upper arms that continued to her chest.


He said to her, almost as a scolding parent would, "Sondra, all this time you were saying you were clumsy, and it was from Martin?"


She nodded, then sat on her bed and began to cry again. Jessica sat beside her and gathered her into her arms. "I had to... Martin - no one would believe me - he is such a gentle man with every one else, and I kept trying to be what he wanted me to be... and I thought if I just got away from him I would be all right, but it woke me last night, and I had to warn you..."


Seth said gently, "He won't ever hurt you again. Child, if you would have told me, I would have made sure that it stopped and helped you get protection from him, and get him out of your life ... right then and there!"


Sondra looked at him. "And then what? Where would I have gone? A woman's shelter? The Parks? How long would that have lasted with him looking for me and him wanting to ‘Teach me to mind him?’" Jess saw the utter hopelessness in her eyes. Sondra continued. "So many times people say, ‘Just leave.’ It’s not ever that simple. I had to learn for myself that it wasn't anything that I was doing, or not doing that was the cause, and then it’s passed as, he is ‘sick.’ It's not a sickness, it's, it's - his habit. Controlling people and things. Controlling me. Even if it meant hurting me. It's why I had to leave him..."


Jessica saw the dress from the evening before carefully washed and nearly dry. The clerk at the desk had informed Seth that she had arrived early in the evening, and stayed in her room.  Jess asked her quietly, "Is that why you set your home on fire - to prevent him from continuing to blackmail people?"


Sondra, startled looked at Jess, guilt written on her face. "How - what do you mean?" she gasped.


"Sondra, your home in Cabot Cove was destroyed in a fire that they suspect was arson. You didn't know that a private investigator was watching you place the call to your home, and according to the fire marshal, sent the signal to the device that started the fire..." 


"From a phone call? That's impossible!" Sondra shook her head in denial.


Seth leaned against the wall, and waited. He didn't know of any fire marshal report, but, Jess had her knack of uncovering the truth. "The signal was activated by the answering machine. I know mine - if I forget to turn it on and someone calls, it will automatically pick up after several rings. You used this feature, didn't you? Sondra, your husband didn't keep his negatives at the house. He kept them on the internet where he could access them at anyplace and have as many copies as he needed."


Sondra crumpled into a ball and began to cry softly, hugging herself with her arms. "I won't ever be free of him. I won't - not till the day that I die and even then I won't!”


"Yes you will, Sondra. Everything will work out," said Seth softly. He went to her, took her hand, and said, "Right now, you have to come with us. Don't worry, you’ll be safe from Martin... and we will get this all straightened up.”


“I can't go back... I can't..."


Seth drew her up to her feet. "You won't have to. You will only go forward. Come along M'dear...”


Anthony waited in the back room of the F' Stop Photo store watching the split video screen. Half of it was the people coming and going out of the store. The other half were the tapes from the security office of the after hour people who came and went into the store. Taylor had let her company CEP know, and was given the police photographer to work as the counter help in the store. A warrant to search the web storage site was granted, and more blackmail photos were uncovered under the different names of the people he had been blackmailing.


The telephone rang in the office softly. Taylor answered it then handed it to Anthony. She gathered Sydney from the back desk before she had a chance to get into Anthony's drink, then went out with her to the front counter, placing Sydney on a corner of the counter and telling her to stay. A rush of people had entered into the store, and Raphael was becoming overwhelmed with requests to have the one-hour process for the film. It was a crazy rush to fill the orders, get them in order and ready for processing. 


Taylor didn't notice one of the customers standing off to the side watching every thing going on until Sydney gave a low growl in her throat. The growl was low, and deep enough that the sensitive mike that was hidden near the register could pick it up and alert Anthony that there was something amiss. Sydney stayed put on the corner of the counter, and just looked at the man, growling. When Taylor looked at him, she knew him to be Martin Goodfellow.


He looked tired, and as if he had spent the night on a park bench. He stepped up to the other side of the counter, away from Sydney, and handed Raphael his claim check for his photos. He had to dig in his pocket for his wallet, and placed his camera on the counter in the process. Taylor glanced at the camera, and saw a dark fingerprint in brown on the side of the camera. She drew in her breath sharply.


Martin saw her look at the camera, his expression froze on his face. "What are you looking at?" he snapped at her a half second before Sydney launched herself snarling at Martin’s throat. He staggered back and fell to the floor. From his pockets fell several more rolls of film... He found himself being flipped over and handcuffed as his face pressed into the cold tile floor before being hoisted to his feet in an undignified manor and the words of his rights ringing in his ears.


Martin sat on the stiff, straight-backed chair in the interrogation room of the police station. He had thought about all the ways that he could make the owner of the dog pay for the "Attack" by the dog but the gun falling out of his pocket didn't help matters for him. Nor did the fact that the film he had on him were the negative from his last blackmail job. He couldn't figure how they were on to him, but the look that chick gave his camera told him that there was some far more serious things going down than blackmail. He wondered to himself if his "loving wife" had decided to tell the world what a monster he was, not that she could prove anything. None of anything that they had on him could be proved any way.


Anthony sat in the observation room watching Martin sit coolly at the table. Inspector Taggart came in with a sheet of paper, a grim smile of satisfaction on his face. "There was blood on the inside of the camera as well, and it matches the DNA of the mater'd of the restaurant.”


“Has he said anything? We have him on that one at least. The fingerprint on the outside doesn't match ether of the victims, or Martin. Which begs the question, who killed the waiter? Who put us on to this character anyway?"


Taggart shrugged. "One of his former ‘clients’ called it in as an anonymous tip. We only had word that he was blackmailing people. Now we do have the evidence.”


Anthony shook his head. "No, we only have photos of people that haven't come forward, and this last one refused to sign the release form. Yes, we have the blood in the camera, but we don't know how it got in there, and we can't prove that he did anything wrong ..."


Taggart studied him. "You should be angry, but you can't be, because of how your heart feels for her at this moment ... am I right? That doesn't help you solve this case, does it? And her dog likes you too, that's a definite sign this is for keeps.”


Anthony turned in his chair and slowly stood up. "You, old man, are a hopeless romantic." Anthony wore a schooled smile, knowing that his old friend was quite right. There was a knock on the door and then it opened before Jessica entered. Seth was behind her, looking very grim.


Behind them was Donald who said to Anthony, "Mrs. Fletcher found Sondra Goodfellow. She's in protective custody, and receiving medical treatment for physical abuse. Looks like Martin isn't the sweet guy after all."


Jessica looked at Donald. "A murderer seldom wears a sign saying ‘I murder people.’ But I have a feeling I know who the other murderer is..."


Seth looked at Martin. "Um, Jessie dear, there is your murderer, right there ...”


She shook her head. "There wasn't enough time for him to commit both of the murders. The one at the hotel was carefully laid out, and happened just after the second act began. There wasn't enough time for Martin to kill the mater'd, hide his body, clean up, get to the hotel with the waiter, spread out the false clues and murder the waiter before we came back from the play. If he was in the lobby, we would have noticed him. The bloody hand print was of the waiter’s blood. There wasn't any sign of Martin in the lobby when the lights came up."


“So, who killed the waiter, then?" asked Donald. 


Jess looked down and said softly. "It could have only been the person that had access to the photos that were meant to blackmail Seth and me. The young man Greg Simmons - my guess is that he recognized who I was and decided to jump at the chance to make some more extra money. When he heard the security people coming he placed himself in the storage closet and became stuck in there. Is Martin guilty of murder? I don't know. But I have an idea that may work ... and it may take the same technology that he was using to blackmail people with ..."


"You’re thinking is close to entrapment, Jessie... or are you planning to do some blackmail yourself?" warned Seth.


Jess shook her head. "All that we need should be in the negatives found on Martin. Though I understand confession is good for the soul."


It was several hours later that Jessica strode into the hospital room where Greg Simmons lay in the hospital bed watching TV. He wore a smug grin on his face as he sipped the tall icy glass of ice tea. He knew he could play on the sympathies of the nurses, and "getting hurt on the job" was as great as a retirement plan. He almost choked when he saw who it was coming into his room, but composed himself and flashed her a "pity me I'm helpless”

look. He saw she held an envelope under her arm.


“Well, I see you’re feeling much better Mr. Simmons. It shows what some good rest can do after a busy night."


He flushed. "Pardon, do I know you, Ma'am?"


Jessica nodded. "It seems so, seeing how you were in my hotel room last night leaving photos for me … photos that you doctored up..."


His flush deepened. "Hey, I only printed them that's all, it’s my job to print up photos..." 


She shook her head. "There are laws preventing printing up blackmail photos, Mr. Simmons. There are laws against blackmail, and murder. Two murders happened last night. One, in the restaurant's kitchen, one in a room at the Doubletree hotel. You were there, and saw the first murder happen .In the struggle, Martin’s camera fell out of his pocket and on to the floor into the blood. You wiped it off, and took it, and the waiter who had come in and seen the murder as well to keep him quiet. You didn't know you were going to kill him at first, but did, and photographed it in hopes that you could implicate someone else with the photos."


“You can't prove any of this," chuckled Greg.


Jess opened the envelope slowly. "Ah, but the police have... You see, the hotel has surveillance cameras in every hall so that they can see the coming and goings of the hotel. Both of you are seen entering my room.... I believe the photos speak for themselves... Martin discovered his camera gone, but he knew that you had it, so he waited outside the mall until you came, and gave him back his camera. You both went into the back entrance of the mall, and you even made him coffee while you waited for the film to develop before you downloaded them to the website. Martin left you there to look for his wife, and when you heard the security guards come, you placed yourself in the storage closet. You didn't know it latched only from the outside, trapping you. You made several mistakes, Greg, the first, though you had no way of knowing, was that when you paid for the letter opener with the copy of Seth's credit card, the sales person remembered the transaction, and described you. Seth is well past retirement. You hardly fit his description. The second mistake was to allow you photos of why Martin was blackmailing you to remain on the web server. It wasn't too hard for the police to match up people with names after the judge issued a search warrant. The third was coming in on your day off to do this work. They've checked the schedules and discovered that you have asked for these four day weekends as often as Martin has come into town, and the entry's into the computer matched your log in codes, with those dates. Last, the bloody hand print you left on my arm, bears your fingerprints with the waiters blood..."


He shook his head "I was wearing latex gloves... I practice safe photos...” He stopped and his face changed from the ‘pity me’ to a smoldering anger. "You still have no proof ... your wasting my time here..." he smirked. Jess pulled the photos from the envelope.  


"The Aps print format is unique with its three sizes, and with the thinner film, lends its self to very fine detail that can be blown up with out loss of clarity. It wasn't difficult for the lab to rescan all the photos, and in the small photo, of the knife slitting the waiters throat there isn't much to see, but when they enlarged the surface of the knife they found your …”


She saw him lunge towards her his hands reaching for her throat to throttle her.  "You -! I should have killed you instead of him!”


The door burst open and Inspector Taggart entered with a gun pointed at Greg.


"Thank you, that's all we needed... Smile for the camera," Taggart said, pointing to a piece of medical equipment Greg thought was just an IV pole and monitor. On the side was mounted a small remote camera.


Jess walked out of the hospital room and down the hall feeling very old just then. Sometimes there was no sense to violence. She walked faster, away from the hospital room. This entire matter brought up feelings that she wasn't ready to face. She went around the corner and smacked into someone head on. The person caught her and steadied her on her feet. She looked up, and saw that it was the same man from the lobby, and her husband’s death bed. He smiled gently and asked, "Are you all right?"


Jess nodded, trembling. "I - yes, I think so... Who are you? Why are you here?"


There was tenderness on his face for her. "Just doing my job, and a favor ... Everything will be all right now." Jess closed her eyes for a second to nod, and when she opened them the young man was gone. She found the nearest chair and sat down in it.


Seth found her there a bit later. He was full of excitement and fairly bubbled to her, "They got a full confession from Martin and that young man Simmons ... and, it seems our Mr. Thomas the people person has finally found a young lady... Sondra has filed the papers for divorce, and the fire marshal has ruled the fire as faulty wiring... Guess this could be called a Photo Finish ... Jessie, are you ok?"


Jessica looked up at Seth. There were tears in her eyes. "I miss Frank, Seth. I miss the way he smells, his snoring at night, all the things that we shared for so short of time. There are times that I fold up the memories and tuck them safe away, and then there are times that I wonder if I will forget how his laughter sounded... I wonder if there would ever be a day that I would need to seek the same comfort he gave me from another man ... and that though scares me the most ... that and never being loved again."


Seth held his hand out to her and guided her to her feet. "Jessica Beatrice McGill Fletcher. I do truly love you. As does Mort, and Floyd, and Andy, and that nephew Grady, and ALL the Fletcher clan and the MacGill clan, and everyone whose life you’ve eve touched. You are not alone and you have more people who love you than you can count to! ... I know what your heart is going through, and I know why. I know just the thing to cure it too. We both need an afternoon nap. After all, we will need all our energy when we go dancing tonight..."


Jess shook her head and squeezed his hand. "I would rather we spend the evening together, remembering Ruth, and Frank..."


Seth's eyes teared for a moment, and then he kissed Jessica on the lips softly. "I do love you Jess."


She nodded "As I love you."


Arm and arm they walked down the halls of the hospital, pausing briefly at the window of the gift shop that happened to have Jessica’s latest book next to one of a new author in the non-fiction section, Dr. Razanur. She resisted the urge to go in and see how the books were selling, and continued with Seth, walking into the warmth of the afternoon sun. It seemed the rain was over for now. Later this would only be an unpleasant memory. She looked at Seth. Well, there were something's about this trip she didn't want to ever forget. Tomorrow they would return home to the quiet of Cabot Cove and put this all behind them.