"Murder!" He Sensed

(A part of the Jacob's Ladder series & a crossover with "'Murder,!' She Wrote”)




Disclaimer: This is a piece of fanfiction, drawing upon the characters, settings, and concepts of the television shows The Sentinel and Murder, She Wrote.  This is done as a compositional exercise, for amusement and edification; no copyright is claimed to any element drawn from either television show, and all such elements remain the property of their respective owners.  This usage, per counsel's opinion, falls within the fair use doctrine and/or the parody exception.


Archive: Yes, wherever; just let me know.


Feedback: Please; how else am I to get better?  Lawrence81@iwon.com. Previous efforts at www.susans-stories.co.uk


Notes: At the end of The Triangle, as readers of the Jacob's Ladder series will recall, Dr. Stoddard suggests that it might be good if the Guys went on vacation right away from Cascade, suggesting his cousin who owns a guesthouse in an old lighthouse on the Maine coast, near the peaceful little village of Cabot Cove; where, he assures them, nothing untoward ever happens.   (Heh!, Heh!, Heh!)


This is the hardest story to write so far.  Crossovers are hard.  I tried to keep it from being a TS story with Jessica along for the ride or a MSW story with the Guys along for the ride.  I nearly threw up my hands when Jessica started acting like an older version of Megan.  I hope and think that I got the balance right! Thanks to my new betareaders; my old ones bailed on me.  (Thanks to those of you who had the consideration and good manners to write and tell me that you couldn't manage it, rather than just ignoring the request as some did.)


For fans of one show who are unfamiliar with the other:  Background on TS and MSW 


Ave, lectores; moriturus vobis saluto!

The black BMW pulled up to the private airstrip on the outskirts of Cascade, Washington; three men got out--two tall, the other of medium height.  They took several bags out of the trunk and proceeded to a corporate jet bearing the emblem of Ellison Industries.  The crew of the jet stowed the men's luggage and began to prepare for takeoff.


"Remind me to thank your dad for letting us use this," said the smaller man to his tall companions.


"Well," said the younger of the two, "I had that meeting in Montpelier, and Cabot Cove isn't that much of an extension.  Commercial air travel is such a hassle these days--why not avoid it if you can?"


"We do appreciate it, Steven," said the older man.


v v v v v v v v

Some hours later, that same aircraft descended onto a small airstrip on the Maine coast.  Waiting for it was a middle-aged woman in a SUV.  Two of the men--the youngest and the oldest--got out of the plane and walked over to the truck.


"You must," said the woman, "be Mr. Ellison and Mr. Sandburg.  I'm Hephzibah Stoddard."


"Ah, Eli's cousin," replied the shorter man, "I'm Jacob Sandburg, and this is Jim Ellison."


"Please call me 'Jim'," put in the bigger man.


"And you must call me 'Eppie,'" she answered.  "Are those your bags?  Fling 'em in the back and climb aboard."


The SUV bounced down a narrow trail through second-growth woodlands; Eppie remarked that that there was a proper road, but it would take them the long way, and what was the point of having one of these things if you stuck to the paved roads?  Soon they emerged from the shade and joined a winding road that descended to the village; Eppie pointed out various local landmarks as she drove.


"That Victorian is the home of our most famous resident--Jessica Fletcher.  Known to the world as 'J.B. Fletcher.'"


"J.B. Fletcher!" exclaimed the passengers.


"I love her books!" said the younger man, waving his hands excitedly and beginning to bounce against the seatbelts, "So well-written, and the plots are well-constructed."


"I've read them too," said the older one, "and she really keeps me guessing.  Most people in our profession don't like mysteries, but I make an exception for her."


"Your profession?" asked Eppie.


"We're police officers; detectives with the Cascade, Washington, police," said Jacob.


"Goodness!  I hope you're not here to chase down some criminal."


"No, ma'am," said Jim, "we're just on vacation."


"Well, I’m glad to hear that you’re fans of Jessica's; I’ve invited her to dinner tonight, and Sheriff Metzger.  He used to be a policeman in New York City, came up here to retire."


"Well, this would be a nice, quiet place for an officer who didn't want to hang it up totally, but wanted somewhere more peaceful than the big city," speculated Jacob, wondering why his hostess attempted and failed to suppress a sound somewhere between a snort and a snicker, but being too polite to inquire.


The car pulled up to a dock in the pretty little port, and Eppie led the two men down to a boat moored there.


"The lighthouse isn't precisely on an island," she explained, "but the causeway is too narrow to take a car.  Now, if you'll stow your grips there.  Good.  Now. . .Jim was it?. . .yes, Jim--I think you'll be more comfortable here--room for those nice long legs of yours.  Jacob. . .ah, yes, you'll be quite comfortable there.  No, no--the engine is a bit tricky, you have to know exactly how to start it, but I'm quite used to it.  If you would cast off the lines. . .  ?  Good.  We're off!"


With their hostess at the helm, the boat backed out into the harbor, turned around, and began chuffing towards the entrance to the bay. At that time of day the fishing fleet was still out, so there was little other traffic.  Eppie waved to several people on the various docks, commenting about who was related to whom and in what degree, who was friendly with whom and who was involved in which side in various local feuds--all of which meant very little to her guests, but provided Jacob with some fodder for a projected article on the social dynamics of small-town life.


The lighthouse was almost exactly as they had imagined it. The tower was perched on a headland at one end of what would naturally have been an island, but which was now connected by the mainland by a narrow causeway--as Eppie said, too narrow for a car, but perfectly suitable for a bicycle, ATV, or even a horse.


In the middle of the island, connected to the tower by a covered walkway, was a substantial brick house of nineteenth century design.  There was a deep wraparound porch, a couple of turrets like miniatures of the great tower, and a widow's walk along the peak of the roof.


"Most of the guestrooms are in the main house.  There's a little apartment in the tower I sometimes rent summers to artists and writers and the like--people who want to be left alone. Nobody there now, of course," said Eppie, leading them up the neat graveled path, "I've a garden out back--what I and my guests don't eat, I can for the winter.  I hope neither of you are allergic to shellfish.  I'd planned on lobster tonight, but we can have something else if you can't eat lobster.  Lobster's fine?  Good," smiled Eppie at her guests' enthusiastic reaction to the idea of lobster.


They passed across the porch, through the entryway, and into a large living room full of antiques. She led them up a flight of stairs and down the hall.  The house had, apparently, been added to several times.  The hallway branched once, twice, thrice, and went up and down a few little flights of stairs.  Finally they came to a door leading into a small sitting room.  Off it was a bathroom, and through that one reached the bedroom; both the sitting room and the bedroom had bowed windows, each with a window seat--places that invited one to curl up with a book.  The sitting room had a large couch, two deep armchairs, a desk, and a fireplace.  The bedroom had two canopied and curtained beds, each with a nightstand, two chiffarobes, a couple of chairs, and a ceramic stove.   Although the house had electric lighting, there were several candlesticks and oil-lamps in both rooms.


"We do, sometimes, have power outages here," explained Eppie, "and the fuse box can be temperamental. I'll leave you to settle in.  Did you have lunch?  No? Dinner's at six, but if you can't wait that long I can whip up a light snack for you--cheese and crackers, and a bit of soup?  Give me half an hour, then. Out in the hall, if you open the door at the very end, you'll find a winding staircase.  It comes out in a closet off the east parlor; I'll serve you there, if that'll be convenient.  I hope you enjoy your stay here, and if you need anything, just let me know."


"Whew!" said Jim, as soon as their hostess was gone, "she talks nearly as much as you, Chief."


"You can tell she's related to Eli, the way she's interested in people and their relationships."


"Anthropology as gossip?" replied his friend, then seeing the larger man turn slightly pink, "No, Jim--I'm not a bit offended.  Gossip is a valid source of raw data for studying a society, and the exchange of gossip is important in establishing group solidarity, because. . ."


"Chief. . ."


"I'm babbling again?"




They quickly unpacked and descended the winding stairs to the parlor, where they found a carafe of tomato-beef boullion keeping warm over a spirit lamp, and a tray of sliced cheese and crackers, two cups, and two plates.  A note from their hostess read: "I've had to take the boat to pick up the other guests.  I hope you enjoy your snack!"

The other people staying at the guesthouse were a couple from Boston, a Library Science professor from Simmons College and her husband—a trauma surgeon from Massachusetts General. Eppie had also invited two people from the village to dinner--a dark-haired middle-aged man with a New York accent, and an older blonde lady with striking blue eyes and an indefinable accent--not quite British, but slightly more precise in her diction than most Americans are wont to be.


"Drs. Flora and Martin Hamilton, Mr. James Ellison, Mr. Jacob Sandburg," said Eppie, "these are Sheriff Burt Metzger and Mrs. Jessica Fletcher, two of our leading citizens."


"Jessica Fletcher?  J.B. Fletcher?" said Jacob, bouncing over to her, "I so admire your work!  Jim does too."


"Really?  I'm glad to hear it."


"We especially like how you don't get into details of the police procedures and forensics, but what you do put in you research thoroughly.  Civilian writers so often botch that part."


"Civilian?  Are you police officers?"


"Yes, ma'am," put in Jim, "Over in Washington--the state, not D.C.."


"I put in my twenty years in the Big Apple," said Metzger, "Where in Washington?  Seattle?"


"No.  Cascade, just north of there."


Dinner was, as promised, lobster, with a green salad fresh from the garden, followed up by a blackberry cobbler--also made from local fruit.  The wine was an odd one; the Sentinel almost zoned.  It wasn't sweet, but there was an odd flavor to it.  Finally, he had to ask.


"What is the wine, Eppie?"


"That is some of my home-made mead.  Ever heard of it?"


"Yes," said Jacob, "mead is made from fermented honey.  I'd never had it before, but I always assumed it would be sweet."


"It can be.  It depends on how you make it.  You see, you mix the honey with water and/or fruit juice, and then ferment that; you adjust the proportion of honey to liquid depending on how sweet you want the final product to be.  This was just honey and water--no flavorings.  Sometimes I mix in various fruit juices, or infuse the must--that's what you call the mixture--with some herbs."


"That," said the physician, "is most interesting.  I've read in some old books about the medicinal use of honey/herbal concoctions."


"And I've read some of those same books, and use some of the formulae.  Of course, I don't pretend to diagnose or treat--I'm no doctor, after all--but I use them for things like indigestion, sore throat, constipation, and the like."


After dinner they spent some time in the parlor, talking about several subjects.  Jessica and the Sheriff left, intending to walk down the causeway to where the latter's car was; Jessica produced a large flashlight from her purse against the darkness.  However, less than five minutes later they were back, Jessica looking sad and Mort firmly in his 'Sheriff Metzger' persona.


"Ms. Stoddard, I need to use your telephone.  Mrs. Fletcher and I found Boaz Hanratty in your garden."


Eppie said a few words that one wouldn't expect a lady like her to know, much less use, ending with:


". . . and I told him not to ever set foot on my property again!  I hope you arrested him for trespassing."


"Hard to arrest a corpse, ma'am."


“Corpse?” said Dr. Hamilton, "Are you sure he’s dead?  I’m a doctor. . . .”


“Quite dead,” replied Jessica.


“Perhaps, though, you’d like to take a look and put your head together with our M.E.?” suggested Metzger.  He then looked over at Jim and Jacob, “Of course, you two are out of your jurisdiction, and on vacation, but. . .”


“If you order us to stay out of it,” said Jim, “we will, of course.”


“Not that we’d be able to think about anything else,” said Jacob.


“Well, if you really want to help, raise your right hands and say, ‘I’m a deputy.’”


“I’m a deputy.”


Boaz Hanratty had no shortage of enemies.  A thoroughly unpleasant fellow, he had quarreled with almost everyone in town for one reason or another.  His disagreement with Eppie was fairly typical.  He had undertaken to do some minor repair work on the house, but had done such a bad job on it that she had had to pay about three times what he had charged to have the work done over.  She had sued him, won, and had to garnish his bank account to collect.  In his turn, he had taken it out on her with petty harassment, and had been under a court order to stay away from her and off her property.


“Look at that line around his neck,” said Burt, “He was strangled from behind with a thin cord.”


“And,” said Jacob, pointing to the corpse’s jeans, “he was kneeling at the time.”


Jim was examining the welt around the neck, and pronounced his opinion that the cord was of silk; he then stiffened, his head swiveling to one side.  Without warning, he took off towards some bushes to the left. There was a loud yell and a dark figure erupted from the other side of the shrubbery; it ran to the edge of the pseudo-island and down to the water.  The tide was low, and whoever it was apparently knew that, as he—or she—ran right into the water, which was little more than ankle deep.  Jim was on the figure's trail, and Jacob followed after him.


It was a clear night, under a full moon; to Sentinel eyes, it might as well have been noontime; his Guide, unfortunately, had only normal human eyesight.  The Sentinel was closing on his prey, and would probably have caught it, when he heard a crash and a loud yelp behind him. Responding to the sounds, he turned and saw his Guide prostrate on the ground, clutching his right ankle.  The Guide is hurt—help the Guide!’ screamed an ancient voice in his soul, and he broke off the pursuit.


“Chief, what happened?”


“Rabbit hole, I think.  My ankle.  . . .sprained.”


“Broken, Chief,” corrected the former medic.


“I’m sorry, Jim; you almost caught him.  You should have just let me lie here.”


“I couldn’t do that.  And it was a her.  A tall, flat-chested, broad-shouldered woman.”


“Are you sure?”


“A distinct wiggle in the hips as she ran, among other things. But let's get you taken care of, first.”

"I really appreciate your putting us up like this, Mrs. Fletcher," said Jacob, hobbling into her house.

"Think nothing of it, Detective Sandburg. I couldn't leave you out in that rabbit warren. Eppie would have been all day running up and down all those stairs with trays and things--or you would have to be struggling with your crutches on those same stairs. You can spend the day here on the living room couch, and only one flight of stairs up to the bedroom--you can manage that mornings and evenings. And you must call me 'Jessica.'"

"Only if you call me 'Jacob.'"

"I'll take our things up," said Jim.

When he came down, he found his Guide comfortably ensconced on the sofa, a colorful afghan draped over him and a stack of books at his elbow.

"Are you sure you'll be OK, Chief, while I'm out with the Sheriff?"

"Yes, Jim--I'll be fine. Jessica will be here most of the day, the doctor will be here for lunch, and his nurse will look in on me a couple of times. I'll be fine."

"I don't know--who ever it was may think you can identify her and. . ."

"Jim--I may have a broken ankle, but I'm not helpless. See all this bric-a-brac? Jessica insists that they are things she won't miss--and they're all where I can get at them to throw at someone. I have my crutches handy, assuming they get that close, and I have my gun and my cell phone under the afghan. I may not be the best shot on the Force, but I'm not the worst, either. I'll be able to hold them off long enough to call for help. Now, go--do what you have to do. I'll veg out here. Shoo!"

Jim turned to Jessica and said in a stage-whisper, "Bossy little thing, isn't he?" and left as Jacob mimed throwing something at him.

Shortly afterwards, Jessica also left, first making sure that Jacob was quite comfortable on the couch. She took her bicycle down to the Cabot Cove Public Library where she checked various proprietary databases. She made some notes, printed some items out, and left with a thoughtful expression on her face.

Later that afternoon, Jim returned, tired and frustrated. He found Jacob asleep on the couch, a book open on his chest. Jim tried to move quietly, but his Guide stirred and sat up.

"Oh, hey, Jim. How'd you make out?"

"We were out at Hanratty's place. No clues. I got some traces of an odd scent, but I didn't dare open up without you. How are you?"

"I had an odd dream; perhaps an important one. I'll tell you about it later. Now, tell me about this those traces."

Jim explained, prodded by questions.

"Here's my dream," said the Guide when he had finished, "Your Jaguar, and my Wolf. The Wolf had a thorn in his paw and couldn't keep up. Then another wolf--older, female, an Eastern Red Wolf, rather than a Timber Wolf--joined them. She licked the injured paw a couple of times, then scraped out a little nest for the first Wolf. She sniffed him a couple of times, then the Jaguar licked him, and they left him. The Panther looked back, but the Timber Wolf was asleep."

"What does it mean?"

"I think that Jessica, Mrs. Fletcher is a Guide. I want you to take her with you the next time you go out to Hanratty's place."

"Chief. . .Sandburg. . . .you're my Guide."

"Of course I am. But Megan stands in for me sometimes, back home; she may find her Sentinel someday. Mrs. Fletcher--she either found hers and lost him--her late husband, perhaps?--or never found one. She can pinch-hit for me, though, the same way Megan does.  And look," he said, opening his laptop, “I e-mailed back home and asked Rafe to run her name.  Here are the results.”

“Yeow!  She’s almost as big a trouble-magnet as you!”

Jacob mimed throwing something at him, but only said, “So, you’ll take her along to the farm next time?”

"OK, but what excuse can I give for taking her along?"

"We'll think of something."


 That evening, Sheriff Metzger called a ‘council of war.’  In deference to Jacob’s ankle, rather than meeting at the police station, it was held in the Fletcher living room.

“Hanratty,” he said, “grew up around here.  Left after high school, then came back when his parents died.  We don’t know what he did in between.  Since he came back he’s been in some minor trouble—drunk and disorderly, a couple of bar fights, that sort of thing—but nothing major.  He rented out most of the family farm, keeping only the house to live in, and lived on that and doing handyman jobs.”

“And not doing them very well,” put in Jessica, “I’ve sometimes wondered how he managed; he never lived extravagantly, but still. . .”

“Every six to eight months he’d get on the bus to Boston,” continued the Sheriff, “but what he did there, I don’t know.  We’ve sent his prints to the FBI, but haven’t heard back.”

“We didn’t find anything at his house,” said Jim, “except a rather large amount of cash.  A lot of his work would have been paid in cash, and perhaps he hadn’t had time to go to the bank, but still it seemed an awful lot.  I want to go out to the farm to look around tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry, Jim—I can’t go with you or spare a deputy, and your partner’s out of the picture.”

“I’ll go,” put in Jessica.

“That’s generous, Mrs. Fletcher, but you’re not a cop.”

A look passed between Jim and Jacob.

“Fiddlesticks!  I’ve investigated more murders than, say, Floyd, and you know it.”

“You could always deputize her,” piped up Jacob.

Metzger was not a Bible scholar, but he was familiar with the passage about “a time to speak and a time to be silent”, and he knew that this was the latter.


The next day, Jim and Jessica set out for Hanratty’s farm.  Jessica didn’t have a car—indeed, had never learned to drive (Jim had to summon all his childhood lessons in manners not to stare at her as one would any other exotic species)—and Jim didn’t want to borrow a sheriff’s car for a semiofficial errand; nevertheless, they were able to borrow an ATV from a neighbor and come at the farm over some backwoods trails.

They left the ATV in a stand of wild blueberry bushes---“I’ll have to come here in season,” remarked Jessica---and cautiously approached the farm.

It wasn’t much of a farm.  The house was badly in need of a paint job and roofing, and the outbuildings could be best described as ‘dilapidated’. 

“He rents out most of his fields, and hasn’t kept any livestock for years,” whispered Jessica, “and what he hasn’t rented out he’s let mostly go back to forest.”

Jim stood in the center of the barnyard.  The house was in front of him, the barn behind; to the left was a chicken coop and to the right what probably had been a pigpen.  Slowly, carefully, he expanded his senses, searching for anything that did not belong.  Acting on some instinct she didn’t quite understand, Jessica put her hand in the small of his back.

Jacob was right; Jessica was a Guide.  It wasn’t the close meshing he felt with Jacob, or even the rough but familiar feeling he had when Megan tried to Guide him, but it was akin to both.

He turned slowly clockwise, cataloging the sights, sounds, and scents, one-by-one discarding what was expected, seeking out the anomalous. There, a smell—something chemical, similar to but not quite something he had smelled before, in another context; then a small click, and before his conscious mind had processed it, something reptilian emerged from the base of his brain and took over, pushing Jessica to the ground and throwing himself on top of her moments before the house exploded.


Jacob lay asleep under the afghan.  Before Jim and Jessica had left he had reluctantly taken a pain pill, and attempted to lose himself in a Dorothy L. Sayers mystery; however, the pill took its effect and the book soon fell to the floor.

Awakening to a vague memory of a dream in which Jim (wearing a silk dressing gown embroidered with peacocks) was playing a harpsichord in the Loft while Jacob (dressed in a butler’s uniform) was serving tea to Simon and Megan on the balcony, Jacob sat bolt upright at the sound of an explosion. 

Forcing himself to his feet, he grabbed his crutches and hobbled out the door.  From Jessica’s front porch he saw the Cabot Cove Volunteer Fire Department’s members streaming out of the shops and houses and rushing to the firehouse.  Moments later, the pumper roared out of the station, siren blaring, and raced down the town’s main street.  Sure that the explosion had something to do with Jim—he briefly weighed the alternatives of shamanic insight vs. judgment from past experience, and decided six/half-dozen—he painfully hobbled out to the street, flagging down the Sheriff’s car.

“What?!” he exclaimed upon hearing that the explosion was at the Hanratty place, “Jim and Jessica went there this morning to investigate.”

“Get in!” barked Sheriff Metzger.

Upon arriving at the farm, Jacob saw the VFD attempting to keep the fire (which had engulfed the house) from spreading to the outbuildings, or (even worse) to the fields and forest.  Jessica was sitting on what appeared to be an old milk can, looking a bit rumpled, but intact.  Doc Hazlitt was examining Jim, who was protesting that he was OK.  He hobbled over to Jim, not quite pushing Hazlitt aside, but making it clear that his presence was not required.

“OK, Jim, what happened?”

“I’d grounded myself on Jessica—and you’re right, she is a Guide—and had just caught onto a smell that wasn’t quite right.  I couldn’t identify it, and as I was trying to I suddenly knew that there was danger.  I pushed her down and threw myself over her just before the house blew up.”

“It has been a long time since a handsome man has pushed me down and thrown himself on top of me,” said a voice from behind, “at first I thought he’d gone crazy, but then the explosion came.  Do you know what caused it?”

“We’ll have to wait until things have cooled down, but I’d guess that it wasn’t an accident.”

“We’ll discuss it when we get home.  Jacob shouldn’t be running around on that ankle, and I think we both need to recover.”

“I’m fine,” protested Jim.

“Detective Ellison, I know that you are an ex-Ranger quite capable of killing someone seventeen different ways with a toothpick, and I don’t doubt that if you had to you could hump a full pack and both Jacob and myself through the Great Dismal Swamp with two broken legs—but why do it if you don’t have to?  You’re bruised and battered, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t put your feet up and drink some tea; it doesn’t make you a wimp or a sissy; if whoever did this were here and you were the only person around to give chase, that would be one thing, but he’s not, is he?

("She got that out in one breath?" thought Jacob.)

Between them they maneuvered the stunned Jim into the Sheriff’s car for the ride home.


Back at Jessica’s house, she invited the Sheriff to stay. As soon as she brought out the tea things, Metzger convened an informal court of inquiry.

“This case is getting odder and odder.  First someone kills Boaz, then blows up his place.  We don’t have an arson squad here, but the state police are sending a specialist team up.”

“So, you think it was arson, Sheriff?” asked Jessica.

“Houses don’t blow up for no reason.  Who knew that you and Ellison would be poking around up there?”

“You think it was a trap for us?”

“Well,” put in Jacob, “Jim was very close to catching that person before I hurt my ankle, and Jessica—if you will forgive my saying so—you do have a reputation as a . . .a. . .”

“Snoop?” suggested Metzger.

“Yes, I suppose I do,” laughed Jessica, “But we didn’t see anyone lurking around, and we weren’t close enough to the house to trip a booby trap.”

“That’s why they call it ‘lurking’, Mrs. Fletcher—you’re not supposed to see them,” said Metzger.

“Oh, I’m sure that if there was anyone, Jim would have seen him,” said Jessica with a significant glance towards the Sentinel, at which Jacob gasped.  When everyone turned towards him, he pointed to his ankle and murmured something about having moved it wrong, but not without exchanging an alarmed glance with Jim.

“I agree with Jessica,” said Jim quickly, “I don’t think we were the targets.  Someone set a timer of some sort, and we just happened to be there when it went off.  I think there was some evidence in that house that someone wanted to destroy.”

“Or,” suggested Jacob, “They wanted us to think there had been.”

“Come again?” asked Metzger.

“It is possible that there was nothing special in the house.  After all, your men did search it and found nothing—perhaps there was nothing to find.  However, the explosion might have been to get us to focus on the house, on examining the debris for some trace of evidence, distracting us from the real evidence.”

"So," put in Jessica, "you think we should search some of the outbuildings?"

"Exactly.  We should go out there first thing in the morning and. . . "

"What do you mean we, Chief?  You're still on the injured list."

"Jim!  My ankle is much better, really it is."

"OK, Chief.  If you can climb to the top of the stairs when its time to go to bed--without your cane or your crutches and without holding the handrail, you can go with us.  Otherwise, you'll be spending tomorrow on the couch."



"Your partner's stubborn, isn't he?" remarked Jessica as they approached the remains of the Hanratty farm.

"He has to be, to deal with me," replied Jim, "We've been through some rough times together.  Sometimes I wonder. . ."

"What?  Why he puts up with you?"

"Well, that too.  But he's given up so much for me, that sometimes. . . "

"Whaever you're talking about is none of my business, so don't explain if you don't want to, but any fool can see that the young man is exactly where he wants to be, doing exactly what he wants to do, and that if anyone tried to take him from your side, they'd draw back a bloody stump.  Achilles and Patroclus, Damon and Pythias, Harmodios and Aristogeton, Alexander and Haephastion, Roland and Oliver, David and Jonathan---and Jim and Jacob.  Sorry; as an English teacher and writer I can't help but think in terms of allusions and archetypes, but there it is.  We'll speak of this later.  Now, where shall we start searching?"

"Try the barn."

There was nothing in the barn worth noting, except for a set of china packed in some crates--very old and probably quite valuable.  An interesting find for an antique dealer, but of little forensic interest.  They tried the woodshed, the pumphouse, and the (thankfully long-disused) pigpen with similar negative results.  They finally approached the equally-long disused chicken coop.  Something about one of the nesting-boxes didn't look quite right, and Jim removed the moldy straw from it.  Exploring the boards at the bottom, he found one that was slightly out-of-place, and pulled a small wooden box from below.  Jim noted the time and place of the finding, and called the Sheriff to inform him.  They agreed to meet back at the Fletcher place.


Gathered around Jessica's kitchen table, all watched as the box was carefully opened.  It contained some black velvet cloth wrapped around what appeared to be unset diamonds.

"Jim," said Jacob, in a very odd tone of voice, "if you would go up into my room and bring down my backpack and my laptop?"

Something told Jim that he had better not ask questions, but rather bring the requested items as quickly as he could; which he did.  From the depths of the pack, Jacob retrieved a small leather box, from which he extracted some small tools and a jeweler's loupe, which he fit onto his eye.

"As you may know," he said, "prominent in the New York diamond market are several Hasidic families.  What you may not know is that through Naomi's mother I am related to some of them.  I spent a couple of years there, in preparation for my Bar Mitzvah."

"Naomi. . ." began Jim.

"Was and is a 'free spirit', but she saw to it that I knew my heritage.  Afterwards I spent a few summers there, before going off to Rainier at 15˝; I learned quite a bit.  I'm no expert, but. . . "

He began examining each diamond, muttering under his breath in something that was not quite German, making notes on his laptop with one hand.  The others, seeing that he was (essentially) no longer there, tiptoed out and found other things to do for a while.  Later, Jacob emerged from the kitchen, and announced that he had e-mailed descriptions of the diamonds to his New York cousins.


Upon checking his e-mail the next morning, Jacob learned that the diamonds' descriptions matched those from a robbery some years before.  While some of the robbers had been apprehended, others were still at large, and the diamonds had never been recovered.

"That," he said, "is how Hanratty had been living all these years.  Either he was a part of the original gang, or he had acquired them some other way--perhaps the robbers got robbed in turn?--and had been selling them a few at a time as he needed the money."

"But why hadn't anyone noticed?" asked Jessica.

"If I understand my cousin properly, none of the diamonds are that unusual individually; it was only the combination that enabled him to identify the provenance.  Sold a few at a time, nobody would notice."

"The gang must have tracked him here, then," put in Jim.

"Thanks for the tip," said Metzger, "I'll run Hanratty's prints through the system, and check to see if anyone from the gang has been recently released."

"Don't forget near relatives, too." Jim reminded him, "The person I chased moved like a young woman.  See if any of the gang had a daughter who'd be grown by now."

"Good idea.  I'll get right onto it."


"I don't like the idea of walking out of an open case," grumbled the Sentinel, strapping himself into the corporate jet.

"Jim, it isn't our case.  Burt Metzger is a perfectly competent investigator, and he'll follow up on everything.  Our leave time is up, and we're going home."

"Still, I don't like it."

"Nobody said you did.  But you can learn to live with it."

"What was it that Jessica said to you just before we left?"

"Oh, nothing important," obfuscated the Guide, thinking back.

Earlier that morning:

"Jacob," said Jessica, "I did a little research on you and your friend."


"I like to know who I'm dealing with.  Particularly when a murder happens just after strangers come into town.  I didn't like Boaz Hanratty, but he was from a highly respected family in this town."

"'He may have been an s.o.b., but he was our s.o.b.?'"


"And what did you find out?"

"That there's a secret about you two.  I'm not positive what it is, but I do know that it has nothing to do with this matter, and is therefore none of my business, although I could make a good  guess.  But would you resent a bit of unsolicited advice from a woman nearly old enough to be your grandmother?"

"Not at all."

"There are truths which are best told as fiction.  Now, don't say anything--just think about it."


===The End===