MSW/Jessica Fletcher and the people of Cabot Cove belong to someone else. (Have no money, make no money - written for something to do over the summer.) The character Tipper Henderson belongs to Anne and is used with permission. Willie Mac (& his kin), Taylor (&her kin) and any others that are not of the MSW world were created by my wild plot bunnies and may only be used with direct permission from me. Thanks Anne for being my Beta!


Murder by Skullduggery

Finished July 24th 2006 © Kats


Frank looked up from the sofa where he was writing and regarded his mother as she entered into the front parlor of his Aunt Jessica’s home. Lucky looked up as well and thumped her tail as Donna sighed and sat across from him. Frank placed the note book on the coffee table and looked up at his mother.


“Honey, it’s a beautiful day out there, why aren’t you with your friends, maybe riding bikes or something? I know Grady said he was going to take you to all the places he used to play when he comes back from moving everything, but that will be next week and I hate to see you cooped up in here all that time.”


“Willie and Taylor are still on their honeymoon, and Tipper is working today, as is Dr. Hazlitt. There isn’t far to ride around here on bikes and I - I haven’t made any other friends. There hasn’t been time. I’m still an outsider, Mom - I‘m ‘from away.’ Besides, I’ve taken a whole week off of my lessons and I have to catch up with them. I’m not really into playing sports, and anyone who is my age around here is helping on their parents’ lobster boats.”


“Well, if Willie and Taylor were here, what would you be doing with them?”


“Carding wool, and learning how to weave – it’s pretty cool. Mom, are we going to stay here in Cabot Cove? Even though it’s quiet, I kinda like it better than the city.”


Donna regarded her son. “What exactly do you like the most about Cabot Cove? The people or the seafood?”


Frank shook his head. “Um, I’m not wild about the fishy stuff. Moo is better. I’m learning things here, Mum, real things that, well, they don’t teach in school and maybe they should. I’m just a number when I am in the city schools. Here, they know me as Frank Fletcher, son of Grady and Donna Fletcher, great nephew of Jessica Fletcher, and it doesn’t matter that Aunt Jessica writes books, they still like to talk about me at Loretta’s beauty shop, and its not because I stink at English, its because I am a kid.”


“There are other things you can be doing, Frank,” she said encouragingly.


“I’ve already cut the grass, and taken out the trash, and swept the back porch, and clipped off the dead roses, and swept the upstairs, but I didn’t clean the bathroom yet…”


“The last time you were this ambitious with helping was just before you came here, and something was bothering you. Does it have anything to do with the discussion you and Tipper had the other day?” Donna inquired.


“No,” he said softly.


“Frank? It is, isn’t it…?”


“I would rather not talk about it, Mom.” His voice became softer.


Donna leaned forward and took his hands into hers. “You know you can tell me anything, honey.”


Donna watched the struggle on Frank’s face before he spoke in a soft voice. “She hurts inside, Mom. Someone wanted her to autograph the picture that came out in the newspaper, and it had Faraday’s picture on there. I remember what it was like to wake up in that place, and I know there are people in this town who probably think Fordham was right all along. I even hated Faraday because he made Tipper laugh, and because she looked at him like that. The way you look at Dad some times. I found myself even liking him later. If I keep doing my homework, and the stuff around the house, then I don’t have to think about what happened. I’m eleven and I feel old, Mom. I know you say I can tell you anything, but I can’t tell you everything. Not that you would love me less, but because it would upset you and Dad said we have to keep you calmer than normal,” he said ruefully. “In a way, I don’t want to go back to my old school. I don’t fit in there anymore."


A voice called from the kitchen. “Hello?”


Both Frank and Donna straightened up. “Aunt Jessica!” said Frank, springing from the sofa and covering the distance to the kitchen in leaping bounds to embrace her in a long hug.


“Well, my goodness it’s only been three days!” she said, returning his hug.


“I’ve missed you.” The door opened and Mort entered carrying someone.  Frank goggled.  “Ian!” he gasped, softly regarding the sleeping boy over Mort’s shoulder.


“In Frank’s room, Mrs. F?”  Jessica nodded. Frank looked at Jessica quizzically.


“Ian will be staying with us until Taylor and Willie return. They are in Portland attending to some things, and he will be living with them for a while. It’s been decided that he will be Willie’s apprentice.”


“Apprentice? But Aunt Jessica, he’s only nine!” gasped Donna.


Frank shrugged. “Willie said he was helping to deliver babies since he was eleven. How come Pattie didn’t come too?” he asked, curious.


“Because she is being apprenticed by Gram. Each of them will learn different things, and later Pattie will come here, and Ian will return home.”


Frank looked at his mother. “Does this mean Willie will be taking his boards to practice medicine here? He could be your doctor, Mom… I know he could make the baby healthier.”


“Honey, I know he is your friend but we’ve talked about this, and about living with Grandma and Grandpa Mayberry,” she said firmly.


“Just give him a chance, Mom! Please!”


Donna struggled with what she was going to say next. She looked into her son’s earnest eyes and said softly, “I am sure he is a wonderful doctor, but I don’t know him that well, and I don’t know if you would understand this, but there are ways that things are done when having a baby. It’s very difficult to, well … things are very personal.”


“If Willie can help save my baby sister, then you need to get over the personal things, Mom,” Frank said evenly. Snagging Ian’s bag he carried it upstairs as Mort came down.


Mort looked puzzled between the two women and the upstairs. Donna threw her hands up in the air. “I don’t know what to do with him. He loves it here, and your offer is very kind, Aunt Jessica, but - “


“You don’t have to explain, Donna - I understand.”


Donna closed her eyes. “Is he a good doctor?” she asked Jessica softly.


It was Mort who spoke up as he came down the steps into the room. “I don’t know what is going on, Mrs. F, but I can tell you that when Willie first arrived to claim that sword, I ran a check on him. He is one of the foremost authorities on immunology and he heals with herbs and plants. You don’t know him, but Taylor’s gentleman friend Anthony was in a bad accident, and he nearly died, and Dr. Hazlitt said Willie made a paste that all but cured him. He still has a long way to go, but he is alive. Frank is right - if anything can be done, Willie would be the one to do it.”


Donna turned to Jessica and shrugged with her hands in despair. “Aunt Jessica!”


“It’s all right, Donna. I understand.”


“But you agree with them,” Donna said with a sniff. “Does that make me a horrid mother that I won’t…?” Donna turned around and went into the parlor where Mort heard her sniffing.


“I’m sorry, Mrs. F. I didn’t know it was such a sensitive topic.”


“Mort, it’s all right. I expect there will be more tears and yelling until things are resolved. It wasn’t the peaceful vacation that was planned.”


Upstairs Frank ran to the bed where Ian lay and climbed beside him. He was careful not to wake the young boy with his movements, but he couldn’t help the tears that came or the gulping sobs that he tried to keep inside of him.


When Jessica looked in on them later she found both of them asleep, wrapped in each others’ arms. Sighing, she made her way back downstairs to where Donna was laying down on the sofa with a cold cloth on her head. It had been hard for Sara to agree to allow Ian to come to America, and George had been a tremendous help arranging for his passport to be expedited. Gram had been firm, though, and as the head of the house her decision stood for all of the families involved. Healing needed to be learned, given and shared. There were all types of healing lessons, and it was time for healing in many ways to be done.


She paused and saw Frank’s open note book that had fallen off of the end table in the excitement of her arrival. Picking it up she glanced at the scrawled writing and sat down as she began to read what he had written:


Week three of my summer. It’s hard to know where to begin, when trying to explain what you feel inside. Things you can’t tell adults or your friends because either they worry, or they think you’re strange. I feel ill inside, remembering, trying to fathom how greed and hatred can ruin people. How we take things for granted, and that there are others who live in such conditions that it makes me ashamed to have so much. To have parents who love me, and family who owns up to being related to me with pride. In all of their love and understanding I know I can’t tell them what happened, not all of it.


In the middle of celebrating something good and pure, my friends and I were snatched away, and held in a place where others had died. I saw things: things that gave me courage, things I can’t explain. Things that others may not have seen, or understand. I think, sometimes, that I am going mad - maybe it was the moment, or the danger that we were in. I knew if I could not find the way to safety, no one would. Sometimes I wish that moments could float away on the breeze and never be seen again. I can’t speak of what I feel in my heart, yet I know my friend who was there hurts more than I do. I know that things won’t change soon, but I worry about my mum, and my dad, and my Aunt Jessica, that the same people who have done these things would want to hurt them. Or that I would do something, and not know, and it would cause them distress. I am eleven, but I feel old before my time - it’s a burden that I can not fathom, it’s a guilt that I should not have to bear, but I do…


I want to be a kid again. I want to do things to get into trouble because I need a reason to be yelled at, so that I have a reason that can justify my tears, and the horrible feeling that has been a monster inside of me. I know my parents will love me regardless, so I need them to be firm with me, so that I have a reason to yell, and scream, and flail my arms around like windmills and maybe break out of what has been hurting inside of me. But I can‘t. I can‘t bring myself to do that because their lives have been up ended as well as mine. They hurt for different reasons, and I can‘t burden them with what has been stabbing through my heart since then. I know, now, why Willie cried when the storms came. I know why there is a haunting in ones heart… I don‘t know where I fit any more…”


Jessica closed the note book and placed it back into his back pack, zipping it closed. She regarded Donna as she slept. She understood why Donna would want to go home during this time. Children grow up, and they learn to find order in their lives. It kept things normal. For Frank and Ian, and she presumed Tipper as well, the recent events had ripped the normal away. Under the best of times victims would require years of counseling. Of course, after growing up in the Mayberry household, Frank might need even more counseling than he did from being kidnapped.


Settling back on the oversized chair Jessica felt her eyes growing heavy. The time difference was going to take a bit to get used to, and she had informed Donna that they would eat after everyone took a nap. It just seemed like a few heartbeats when she woke to the sound of a scream, pots falling and the distinct sound of Donna being ill. Rising from the seat she hurried to the kitchen and saw Donna clinging to the counter. A carton of eggs was tipped over and a few had rolled across the counter. Donna had knocked the frying pan to the floor. Jessica hurried forward to see what was wrong as Donna swayed and retched again.


It was then that Jessica saw the eggs. Every single one of them had things drawn on them. Realistic eyeballs that were bloodshot stared back at her. Some had the words

“Bum Nuts” written on them. One had a set of teeth, another had a boogey nose. One had

“Peep Inside” and another had “U Crack ME UP!” One looked like it had a very realistic worm coming out of it.




Frank lifted his head up and looked groggily around. Ian was awake. Frank looked at the younger boy and said, “Best you stay put, mate - she’s got a full head of steam and there will be a lot of shouting.”


Going downstairs he peeked into the kitchen and saw Aunt Jessica was trying to calm Donna down, and Donna snapping at Jessica, “STAY OUT OF THIS!”


Turning, Donna saw Frank in the doorway and started yelling at him. Jessica saw Frank didn’t flinch, though he wore a slightly baffled expression on his face until he walked forward to the sink to clean up the mess and saw the eggs. He didn’t try to defend himself, he didn’t try to calm her down, he just stood there and listened to her as she berated him. He only turned his head when he heard a catch of a sound in the doorway from the upstairs. She was yelling at him to continue to clean it up as she saw him leaving the kitchen.

“YOU GET BACK HERE, YOUNG MAN!” she thundered following him, then came up short as she saw Frank holding Ian as he sobbed.


“I’ll take care of this, Mum,” Frank said softly. “He is just scared.”


Jessica touched Donna on the arm and turned her back to the kitchen. “Donna, the eggs came that way.”


“What?” Donna gasped turning back to where she saw Frank comforting the younger boy.


“It’s a marketing strategy they have been trying out to increase poultry sales because of the cost of shipping the product up here. I tried to tell you.”


“Why didn’t he - why did he let me yell at him then?” asked Donna stunned.


Jessica glanced back to the room where the sounds had turned to noisy hiccups. “Because he knew that disagreeing with you would upset you more. I understand things are not going well, Donna, and I know how much you want to get things back to what you can deal with. Sometimes you need to accept the help of others, even if your heart yearns for familiar comforts.” Jessica escorted Donna back to the kitchen and into a chair where Donna placed her hands over her face and let out a moan.


 “I’m a terrible mother,” she said before bursting into tears.


Jessica saw the two boys enter and go to where Donna was sitting. Ian lifted her wrist and began to rub the inside of it gently. “Shhh Mum, tis all right,” he said softly. “Come have a lie about until dinner.”


Obediently Donna stood and followed him into the front room where he guided her to lie down on the sofa. In a heartbeat with him rubbing her wrist gently, she was asleep. Frank tugged a blanket over her and then the two boys left the room. Ian looked back at Donna for a moment before following Frank and Jessica into the kitchen to help Frank clean things up.


“Tears I understand…the shouting scares me the most. Back home, at the neighbors it was followed by beatings, and screams… and if the Met would come then there would be shootings sometimes through the walls. I didn’t know where to go to hide.”


Frank scooped the egg mess into Lucky’s bowl and called her over. In a few gulps and a whirl of her tail, the mess was gone.


“That wrist thing, where did you learn that?” asked Frank, curious. He saw a far away look in Ian’s eyes.


“Mam’s been ill with every one of the lot, and Grama Rosemary said Gram used to do it for her. I watched, and when Grama Rosemary was working an’ Mam was ill, I would do it and she would settle some. After the crying she did, she’ll nae want to eat eggs, or bacon, or things of that nature…”


Jessica came over to the boys. “I will make dinner… Frank, why don’t you take Ian outside and show him around? Dinner will be in about half an hour.”


Frank checked the clock on the kitchen wall then nodded to Jessica, and borrowing her cane for Ian, the two boys went out the back door. Ian looked at the rose garden and then buried his nose into one and looked up at Frank. “I read about a place like this, that all they grow is flowers … never thought I would live to see the day, though…” His fingers traced the soft petals of one and he breathed in the scent of the rose again.


Taking Ian by the hand Frank led him to the swing and helped him sit on it before sitting down on it himself. “I didn’t see much of Ireland, not as much as I guess my teachers would want me to write a report on, but from what I did see, you’re in for a bit of a shock while you’re here. We have things called ‘malls,’ that are as big as the village with all sorts of shops, and even the grocery stores can be huge. For the most part people here are nice, but there are some here who still follow Fordham and they don’t know any better. Sheriff Metzger is trying to get all of them, but there may be a few that are still hidden. When your leg gets better we can ride bikes about the town. That’s Willie and Taylor’s house, and over there are the Brayber’s. They are nice people. Tipper lives up that way on top of the hill. She has cats. Dr. Hazlitt lives over that way. People don’t drive much - they either walk, or do the bike.”


He saw Ian stand up and walk to the edge of Jessica’s property and look into the yard of Taylor’s. “You will be here for the rest of the summer? Will you be returning next summer?” asked Ian.


Letting out a careful breath Frank said softly, “I don’t know what’s going to happen to us. I’m not particularly chuffed about going to live with Grandma and Grandpa Mayberry. I want to stay here, but I understand Mum wants to be with her family. “


“An’ your da lets her get away with tha’? Back home, it was what the man of the house said, an’ the women listened.” Ian blinked a few times and then looked away.


“Was your dad like that?” asked Frank softly.


“My Da was a good man. He didn’t deserve to die like he did in the factory. Mum would have been there too - and even with Grandma Rosemary, we would have been sent to the Orphans’ Asylum. The girls would have a chance at being adopted, but, well, I’d be on my own.” Ian dragged a design with his foot in the dirt.


“It won’t ever come to that now Ian. You have a huge family now.”  


Frank saw the sadness in Ian’s eyes. “It already has happened, me being packed away and shipped here. Gram is 97, she’s nae going to be able to teach Pattie very long. Toot’s been remanded for the killings, though Inspector George says that’s just until the judge signs the papers to release him, an’ that could be ages. With the new babe on the way an’ Margarita, well, even at Mither’s there wasn’t enough room for me. Mum wanted a proper raising for me around a man, nae so many women. I keenly miss Pattie, though. Nae used to sleeping without someone else in the room, even if it is a little one.”


The porch door opened and Jessica’s voice came wafting over to them. “Dinner is ready, boys.”


It was later that evening that Donna looked in on them. Ian had nestled next to Frank who had his arm around the sleeping younger boy protectively. He looked up at his mother as she crossed the room and sat on his bedside.


“Frank, I am so sorry…”


“Mom, I love you, but I can’t deal with your problems and mine at the same time. I can’t even handle the thought of moving in with Grandma and Grandpa Mayberry - I want to hide in a corner and rock myself, or throw up, and I can’t breath. I want to scream and throw things. I need to heal inside, Mom. I can’t do that if every time I turn around I get hurt with you yelling at me for things beyond my control. I know you don’t mean what you say, or the anger that comes out. I think that it’s in best interest of our family and my best interest if I stayed here, for good. I ...“


He saw Donna shaking her head, and the look in her eyes. Reaching over he took her hand in his and covered it with his own. “Every day for the longest time, months, you’ve yelled at Dad, or me, or the landlord, and neither Dad nor I deserve it. ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t mean anything anymore because tomorrow you will yell, and the next day, and the next day. I can’t tell you what to do, Mom. You have to decide, but if all the doctors that you have seen can’t make you feel well enough to get through a day without causing the people who love you distress, then it’s time to see a different type of doctor, even if it’s one that you just talk with.“


Frank saw the tears well up in his mother’s eyes. “I’m scared, Mom. I love you,” he said, sitting up and wrapping his arms about her. “Gabe told me that there are times that we do what is best or what is right and it depends on what is the most important thing. I know its right for you to feel comfortable with the doctors that you know, maybe, though it would be best if you just spoke with Willie. The most important thing is the baby to be born alive, isn’t it?”


“Frank, please don’t make this any harder than it already is… you don’t understand,” she said softly.


“Help me understand, then,” he said urgently.


“The baby won’t be able to breath right, it will probably have many birth defects, and if it does survive, chances are that the baby will be mentally challenged… profoundly…”


“That wouldn’t change how we love her,” he said, taking his mother’s hand. “She could be just fine as well. Just think about it, okay?”


Donna sighed then nodded. Kissing Frank on the cheek, she pushed him back down on the bed and tucked the covers over him. “Goodnight, honey,” she said softly.


“’Night, Mom.  Mom?… I love you.” Frank watched his mother smile as she stood up and stood over the bed.


“I love you too, honey,” Donna said, then went out of the room and closed the door.


She found Jessica downstairs still up sitting in the parlor with twin cups of tea on the side board. She picked up the tea cup with trembling hands and regarded the dark hot liquid.


“Frank used to act up. Now he is soft spoken, and considerate, and responsible. He doesn’t want to come to my parents’ house. What changed him, Aunt Jessica? I used to be able to out think him… now I can’t do that. I feel as if I have lost my son in all of this. I’ve lived my whole life with traffic outside the door, and people who didn’t know you and a place where people are still up at ten pm and the sun comes up at a proper hour. He wants me to talk to Willie, and everyone keeps telling me to do that, and I know I have to be the one to make that decision, but …”


“What is your reservation about speaking with him, Donna?” inquired Jessica gently.


There was struggle on the young woman’s face. A single tear traced down it.


“Is it about the dreams that you had? When we were in Ireland?”


Jessica saw Donna close her eyes against the memory. There was pain, greater than Donna had ever had. She heard herself screaming - writhing, to escape it. There was a noise behind her- music that she didn’t understand. She felt hands reaching into her body, and looking up she saw Willie’s face as he lifted something up from her belly. He bent over and then lifted his head. There was blood on his mouth, blood all over him as she felt her world slip away.


The same dream had come to her every night even before she had met Willie, even before she had learned she was pregnant. The dream had come to her every night for months, and it was only afterwards that she had a name to put to the face. She had found him kind and gentle, but the memory of the recurring dreams had made her disinclined to consider the thought of seeing him as a doctor. Dreams that she couldn’t confide in anyone, only tell the people who had been awakened by her gasps from the nightmares that it was just a bad dream. Considering all that had happened, it wasn’t unexpected. There were others, too - other family members who had bad dreams when they were together at the bed and breakfast, but none would talk about them. Tipper’s had been the most pronounced, but given the fact she had survived two nightmarish moments it wasn’t surprising.


“Donna?” She felt Jessica take her hand in hers. “Are you all right?”


Donna opened her eyes and looked at Jessica. “I’m afraid of him, Aunt Jessica.”


“Afraid? How?” Jessica asked, perplexed.


Donna swallowed. Jessica could see the younger woman’s hands were trembling as she picked up the tea cup and took a sip then set the cup down on the saucer with a clatter. “He is kind, and sweet and charming, and my son adores him. He has a way about him that people listen to, a charisma that makes people follow him and accept him. A sort of magic… I had the same dream, before I met him. He was in the dreams that I have been having. I… I died in that dream by his hand, Aunt Jessica, and so did my baby… and now everyone is trying to convince me to go to him about the baby, and I can’t… I can’t.”


“Would it help if Seth was there?” inquired Jessica.


Donna shook her head then sniffed back tears. “No. Frank thinks that I should go see a psychiatrist. What should I do?”


For a moment Jessica regarded Donna in silence. “How do you feel about seeing a psychiatrist?” she asked.


Donna studied the pattern of the tea leaves inside the cup awhile before looking up at Jessica.

“I need to speak to Willie - about the baby, and my dreams, don’t I?“


Althea Blair strode into Joshua Peabody Memorial Elementary School office briskly and set her briefcase down on the floor as the school secretary finished typing from the list of names the school counselor had provided and glanced up at the young woman.


“Hello, Ms. Blair, is it? “ The young woman nodded as the frumpy school secretary extended her hand to her. “Mr. Charles is still away; he was delayed in one of his interviews and is in Portland right now. He is picking up our new vice principal, Mr. Murphy, but he let me know you were arriving sometime today and asked me to fill you in on your duties. Have you found a place to stay? Oh, I’m Kristin, Mrs. Gibby to the kids of course." The older woman stood up and walked around the counter to where Ms. Blair stood and reaching down took the younger woman by the hand to lead her through the school.


“Enrollment is down this year, which is sad of course – it’s always nice to see little ones growing up over time. There are still five more weeks of summer left for the students, but it’s never enough time to write the lesson plans and prepare for next year. I know Mr. Charles said that you were going to teach 4th grade, but that may be changed to 5th grade if Jake, um, if Mr. Edger takes over the 6th grade, or they may split it - the budget is a bit tighter this year, and while in the past we had one teacher for each subject, the board has decided to have one teacher per grade this year. It cuts out four head teaching positions, though we still need someone to cover the science department two days a week. The state was pretty firm about that. While your little monsters are having their science lesson, you will be helping cover either lunch or recess for the students, depending on the schedule. Oh, here is your classroom. You should know, no contract with the town has been signed that has a budget that is going to work. The increase in the elderly population has decreased the amount of revenue that we can gather. It used to depend on how many children you had going to the school at one time. Even though you’re told to go out and buy whatever you need for the projects, there is no money to reimburse you. We’re lucky just to have enough paper for the first six weeks. The books are in the storage area, and your students will have lockers 400- 425. Ohhhhh, there he is… There’s Jake Edger!” She said softly to Althea, “Don’t let him break your heart, dear, he’s a horror with women to love.”


Althea looked in the direction that Gibby had indicated and felt her heart skip a beat. Jake Edger had peeked from his office by sliding his chair out the door and waved in their direction. Too tall for the chair, his lanky frame sprawled in it. His wavy dark hair was cut short, and his smoldering black eyes were intoxicating even from a distance.


Swallowing, Althea nodded. “I know the type.” She saw him unfold his frame and stride down the hall casually until he came to where the two of them were.


“Now, Mrs. Gibby, you’re not spreading rumors about me, are you?” he said in a deep mellow voice, flashing a perfect grin in her direction. He turned, regarding Althea. “Hello, Ms. Blair,” he said, extending his hand. “It has been a while.” Shyly Althea took the offered hand and shook it firmly.


“You know Mr. Edger?” asked Gibby, raising her eyebrows.


“Ms. Blair was one of my students several years ago. One of my top students, one of the three that was able to take my ‘Awful Awful Final’ and receive a perfect score… How is Al’s mother doing?” he asked politely.


Gibby didn’t miss the pause in Althea’s voice. “She went into remission. I will let her know you asked about her… she always liked you,” she said, then thought to herself, “When no one else would!”


He regarded Althea as she smiled at something Gibby said to her.


“Well, we will let you get back to your work, Mr. Edger. Now, Ms. Blair, down here we have the art department. If you want to put on any plays with your students, you will need to work with Cynthia Bohen. She has to account for every ounce of crayon that is used – a pity. Some of the students are quite talented, and there are lots of things they could be doing…so much… but we are stuck with the basics. I would hope to think that we enable the children to use their imaginations to their fullest potential,” she said with a sigh.


“Do you have any applicants in mind for the science teacher position, or will that be added to the curriculum that we will be teaching?”


The older woman sighed. “Well, our last vice principal was the science teacher as well as the physical education teacher, but his heart attack this spring sidelined him and we haven’t really been able to fill in with someone who can do everything. It was after that the school board voted to return to having each teacher teach everything - it didn’t leave as many holes. Hopefully the person our principal has in mind will accept the position.”


Willie Mac exited the brightly lit room and closed the door behind him, shaking his head. He saw Taylor sitting on the uncomfortable studio couch reading a large colorful newspaper. She wore a smirk on her face that widened into a grin as he came towards her. Standing up, she stepped into his arms, giving him a hug.


“Well?” she asked, curious.


“Don’t know. Oddest way that I have ever had exams before. Thousands of questions and none of them specific. Three ways to end the exam: two an a half hours pass and the screen goes dark on ye, or if out of all of the questions ye answered enough to pass, or enough that you wouldn’t pass. Na a bloody leaf in sight to say, ‘Aye, tha’ would certainly put hair on his chest.’ But the most distracting part about the whole thing was knowing that just outside the door, you were waiting for me…” he said, his voice dropping softly as he pulled her close for a tender kiss.


Taking a breath they parted. She glanced at the clock on the wall. “You were only in there for half an hour. That rules out that you exceeded the time, leaving either you failed - and I can’t believe that you would - or that you passed your boards for the State of Maine.”


“It’s been awhile since I practiced medicine, Wife. Things have changed and a lot of it is different than what I would do. Prescribing bits in tea wasn’t on what they had as questions. I was thinking in reverse terms in there - I knew the plants, I knew the way to use them and the chemical, but in there they had the chemical, and then how to use them. It was agony. Pill photographs with numbers and manufactures, knowing the difference between colors to tell the dosage, an’ some of the new fangled treatment protocols - an even if I do pass this, it won’t make a bit of difference except the letters after my name that I could put on my checks.“


“In three months you could take it again, if you wanted to. You don’t have to, Husband.”


“Gram said as much. If I am to be a proper teacher for Ian, though, I ought to be able to have some practice for him with the real live persons,” he said ruefully.


Taylor placed her hand on his chest. “About that… You realize that people may view the apprenticeship as being a bit odd …”


He gave her a curious look. “Odd? Ohhhh. Well. Nae, we won’t be starting out with much more than learning the plants first - that takes well over two years before they even learn to take a pulse. Pattie may be present when her mother gives birth, but only since Gram will be the midwife.”


“And what will happen when our children are born? Will Ian be there?” Taylor asked, regarding him curiously.


“Wife, I’ve nae ever delivered triplets. Owing to the possibility of complications, would you be wanting to have the delivery in the hospital, with Seth helping, or somewhere else? If it’s at the hospital, nae, Ian would na be able to be present at the birth.”


“I don’t know. Let’s see how today goes, and the months ahead…” She saw the door open and a thin man peek out. She nodded to him, and was a bit surprised when he came out from the room and closed the door, approaching Willie.


“Might I have a moment of your time?” he asked, opening the door on the other side of the hall.


Willie and Taylor entered the room. There was a desk with a large chair behind it, and three in front. He closed the door behind them.


Willie turned to Taylor.  “This is Dr. Norris; he is in charge of the licensing testing. Dr. Norris, this is my wife, Taylor.”


Taylor saw Dr. Norris give her a once over, then nod. “How do you do?” she asked politely.


Dr. Norris nodded again then indicated they should sit down. “I’m going to be very direct here. I’ve questions for you, and while the board would feel a hearing may be in order, I would rather clear up anything before the results are posted. Quite frankly, you currently hold the fastest time for taking the exam in the State of Maine. Do you know what that implies?”


Willie raised an eyebrow. “That your testing system is lame-ass backwards. Ye canna know what’s wrong with someone from general terminology nor understand what really may be wrong with them without caring for the whole of the body. I’ve na been fond of the pills under the tongue or down the throat because they are bits of poison that may do more harm than good, but give me the plant and I can tell you how much would do better than what comes from a man who failed the hard work in medical school.”


Willie felt a tap on his arm from Taylor. “Yes, Wife?”


“It implies that you had the answers before you took the exam.”


“Well, of course I had the answers. Did ye think that I was lollygagging away the years awhile back? An’ if I didn’t know what I was doing then, I shouldn’t a been with a patient in the first place.”


Taylor placed her fingertips over Willie’s lips. “Husband, he needs to know how you know. How you learned.”


“Oh… My Gram is a healer. All my life I have been around the plants that go into the wee pills, an’ when I was of age I was sent off to formal learn - I knew, though, most of what they were trying to teach everyone, an’ so I spent time in research. I did work in hospitals as a doctor for several years until, well, until I went home and found there had been a great deal of trouble going on. I only applied to take the test today because my wife wished me to be able to practice in your fair state. The outcome doesn’t change how I live my life or what I would do with it. I’ve been told by a young friend of mine that if my name was …” He turned to Taylor – “What is that nonsense word Frank used, Wife?”


“Google,” Taylor said, trying to contain herself.


“Aye, that’s it. If you would use your computer you could Google my name and see some of the papers that I’ve written. Imagine my surprise to see that after all this time anyone can take a peek at the thoughts I worked out - all over the world an’ nae even be a doctor, though unless you were, or had quite a bit of understanding on the subject, it would be nonsense.“


Taylor saw Dr. Norris blink several times. “Is something wrong?” she asked at last.


Dr. Norris leaned forward and looked directly at Willie.  “Please explain to me why you took this exam?”


He saw Willie frown. “The same reason why everyone takes it: to be licensed to practice medicine in the State of Maine. I called and made an inquiry and was told the first testing date, and I sent my information in. Was there something that happened that is improper about all of this?”


“Am I to understand that you have already passed exams for the university that you attended?”


“Oh, aye. Top of my class. Top of ‘most all of them, come to think about it…” Willie said, puzzling over it.


“I see… Well, thank you for your time - you will be notified by mail of the decision within two weeks. Good day.” Dr. Norris stood and held the door open for them.


They heard voices coming down the hallway as they exited the room. Taylor saw Willie’s face change from puzzlement to recognition.


“Hullo, Mr. Murphy, what brings you to Portland? Wife, this is Mr. Carol Murphy. He’s the vice principal at Frank’s school. Mr. Murphy, my wife, Taylor…” Turning to the gray-haired, tall man beside Mr. Murphy Willie extended his hand to him. “I don’t believe we have had the pleasure of meeting, sir?”


The tall man took his offered hand and shook it warmly. “Gordon Charles, principal of Joshua Peabody Elementary School in Cabot Cove. The pleasure is all mine; I have heard so much about you. I’d heard you would be here and hoped that I might have a moment of your time - I have come to you today with a proposal. We faced the last term with the loss of our vice principal, Mr. Edwards, who was our phys ed teacher as well as the science teacher for the school. I’ve been able to convince Mr. Murphy, who I’ve known since college, to take on the position of the vice principal and phys ed teacher. He recommended you to perhaps take over the position of being the science teacher … from our understanding, your education was directed towards biology, which fits perfectly in our curriculum. It would only take two to three days a week and it would be a tremendous assistance for the community."


Taylor regarded Carol Murphy, who was positively beaming at the idea. She knew from the discussion that she had with Frank that Mr. Murphy was one of the few really good people who believed in the students.


“Mr. Charles, your offer is tremendously kind. I will have to discuss this at length with my wife and will let you know what has been decided. It was lovely to see you again, Mr. Murphy. Gentlemen, good day,” Willie said, inclining his head to the men. Placing his hand to the small of her back he escorted her out to the car. He opened the driver side door for her, waited until she got behind the wheel then got into the passenger side and buckled himself in. “I’ve got to bloody well learn how to drive on the wrong side of the road, don’t I?” he asked, frowning as she pulled into an open slot between the cars on the road and began the trip home.


“You could just walk, or ride a bike to the school if you decide to take the job, or take the bus with Ian. He will have to go to school here, you know.  Maybe when we are settled in, we can arrange to have him tested to see where he fits into the curriculum. I dare say he may be a few grades ahead… Did Gram say what she thought was going on?” Taylor inquired as Willie looked out over the engine of the car, trying to get used to the movement of the traffic.


“I was small for my age, too… but even Seth noticed how thin he is. Pattie said he gives the little ones most off of his plate, saying he wasn’t hungry. She’s heavier than he is, and a mite taller too. It’s like he stopped growing two years ago. Sara said that was the last time he had new shoes and they still fit, even his clothes are the same. He may need to snuggle up with us until he gets used to having a room by himself… though I don’t think Aunt Jessica would mind keeping him just one more night while we are on the box - we are, after all, still on our honeymoon…”


“Mmm, well, I will leave it to you to explain to Sydney why you’re in my bed.”


“Ah, that says a lot regarding your virtue, Wife,” he said, teasing her.


“Yes, it does, and you’d better be prepared, because she’s not used to being in a kennel and she may be a bit peeved that you were the reason why.”


Frank heard the car pull up to Taylor’s house first and happened to glance outside from the windows upstairs as he helped Jessica fold laundry.  “It’s Willie, and Taylor - she must be hurt, he is carrying her to the door…”


Jessica looked out the window and saw Taylor with her arms around Willie’s neck, kissing him as he opened the door then closed it. The blinds wobbled a bit as they dropped into place.


Frank looked back at Jessica, a bit perplexed. “Why wouldn’t they come over to get Ian?”


“They will, probably tomorrow. Willie has had a long day, and I expect Taylor is exhausted as well…”


Frank gave Jessica a look.  “Uh huh,” was all he said.


Jessica pulled the blind down to give them privacy then tossed a sock at Frank. “Come on, only two more baskets to go.”


Althea shook the sleep from her mind as she walked up the steps to the apartment that she was renting and gathered the mail that had been pushed through the slot of the door. She knew that Jake taught at that school, knew that in all of the years that she had worked as a teacher, trying to get his attention, that he was a rat when it came to the heart. Sorting through the mail she saw a letter from Al and opened it, dropping all of the other mail onto the table. Al was at the other end of the spectrum. Patent, kind, sweet, he was taking care of his mother, and she had told him she understood. She would wait. He wasn’t dashing, though, and he didn’t have a clue regarding the effects that a roguish grin had on the heart of a young girl. How even going for a simple cup of coffee could set one’s heart a-flutter.


Dear Thea,

I hope that this letter finds you well, and that everything is in order for your new job in Cabot Cove. Mother says hello. She is improving slightly since you last saw her, though there is little hope that the improvements will last long. She said I couldn’t possibly abandon her now when she needs me the most. She said you would understand…’


She sighed as she stuffed the letter back into the envelope without reading the rest. Althea did understand. There were some women who could use guilt to get what they wanted, and Al’s mother was one of them. Al had been a classmate of hers; both of them had Jake as a teacher at the same time, and it was only Al’s lumbering patience that had prevented Jake’s barbed remarks from upsetting the young man. Coffee had led to going to the movies, but all the dreams that followed were just that - dreams.


Glancing around, Althea noticed that half of her boxes still needed to be unpacked. She really was going to do that - sometime or another - it was just that she wasn’t sure until that very day if she could face up to Jake, or flee back home to her parents’ house and give up being a teacher.


Teaching had been her life’s dream. Teaching jobs were far more difficult to get: there were far more teachers exiting the universities than teaching positions. Once in a while the school would have retirements, or someone would move on to a different position. Small schools had very little money, but the dangled offer of housing within a mile of the school with utilities included was an incentive she couldn’t resist. She now could offer Al a place to move into - after, of course, his mother died. Althea wondered sometimes if she should worry that Al would perhaps fall in love with the nurse who cared for his mother, and if she should look around herself and find someone to spend the bleak winter hours with… There is always, Jake, she thought to herself, smirking. Even if he was twelve years her senior, the age difference wasn’t that noticeable.


Guilt worked both ways. Jake owed her more than he could ever pay back, in ways he couldn’t ever understand. His departure two years ago from the private school three states away had been unexpected to the staff and students who were reeling over the tragic death of two of their classmates when the raft they had been using overturned during the summer vacation. Jake had been grief-stricken and blamed himself for the accident. He had encouraged the girls to try something new, and being young, without fear, they did. Both had life jackets on, but the autopsy showed they had indeed drowned in the river. Why they didn’t have an experienced guide to take them down was unknown. Jake had leant them the equipment, and had instructed them who to contact before they went down.


Althea had seen the looks the girls had given him the day school let out, the hugs he had given them and the quick look in his eyes. She had seen that look before, and known the same hugs. The day she turned twenty-one was the day things changed. He became distant, polite, and was seen taking the two girls out for coffee when he had promised that he would take her out for her first big event - going to celebrate her being twenty-one at the local bar. He hadn’t shown, and after two hours of swirling her olives, she decided to walk home. She was in the mood for coffee - she needed something sweet. He never saw her, never looked up to see her standing stunned as his head bent over the table in low discussion with the girls. The accident happened two days later, or rather, their bodies were found two days later. Water deaths were a bit tricky when it came to determining the time someone had died. The caskets had been closed, and in his grief Jake had disappeared up north. Althea was able to follow where he ended up by the subscribing to the peer review circulars that listed job postings. She knew her job was far more important than the feelings lurking in her heart, and she would remain professional no matter what he did, or tried to do.


The slow chug of the lobster boats leaving the harbor at four am woke Taylor. Willie was sleeping peacefully, a slight smile upon his face. There were things to do - unpacking, laundry, go through the refrigerator, the mail and the arrival of Ian. Softly she kissed Willie’s lips then swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stretched.


Willie opened his sleepy eyes and glanced up as Taylor rose from the bed and walked out of the bedroom wrapped in her frumpy robe. Her footsteps took her down to the kitchen where he heard the sound of the refrigerator opening and the beep of the answering machine with a woman’s voice coming over the speakers. The voice was one that he didn’t recognize, but Taylor didn’t let the message get past “Hey Ra-" before skipping to the next one. Slipping on his own robe, he walked down the steps and heard the answering machine confirm that she wanted to delete. She was sitting in front of the fridge with the door open and the trash basket to one side. A few moldy carrots were tossed up on the counter “Science experiment?” she asked, curious.


He shook his head.  “Who was that on the answering machine?” he asked, picking up the milk carton to give it a shake. The lumps moved inside of it. “Ooohhh, cottage cheese!” he said before dumping it down the sink, followed by water to rinse down the smell.


“Just Jordan.”


“Ah… so, you knew what she was going to say without listening to what the message was?”


“Yes. Every time she comes around there is trouble, and it winds up being very expensive, both financially and emotionally for me. It only suits her, and the rest of the time, I don‘t exist. From the time stamp on the calls they began right after the story broke regarding the discovery of the treasure.”


“It might be something else! It sounded as if she called you a dozen times and you don’t even see what she has to say.”


“Three dozen times. I got tired of being invisible. I became tired of having what I did, what I look like, how I dress, criticized as not being good enough. I could never fall in love with the right person, and nothing I did was good enough. If I said anything regarding her behavior I would be curtly informed not to step on her toes. Jordan could hiccup and everyone would rush her off to the hospital. I worked until I dropped, and it was three weeks in the hospital before she noticed that I hadn’t sent her a birthday card. She came into the hospital and began to yell at me because I ruined her perfect birthday. Not to mention that she had forgotten mine for the last eight years… Don‘t be surprised if she shows up, and when she does, you will be invisible too unless there is something that she wants from you. She is mean-spirited, selfish and self-gratifying, and if people don‘t stroke her ego there is hell to pay. Just promise me you won‘t let her into this house.”


Willie noticed the small beads of sweat that were forming on Taylor’s brow. He slid her chair back and closed the refrigerator door. “That can wait for later, Wife,” he said gently, taking her hand in his and escorting her to the sofa where he made her recline. “I’ll make a nice cuppa for breakfast, and then we can have a snuggle or two…” he murmured, brushing a stray wisp of her ash blond hair from her cheek.


There was a knock at the back door. “I’ll get it,” he said, kissing her lips gently. Striding to the back door he pulled the blinds up and saw Tipper standing on the back porch with Sydney in her arms. He opened the door. “Tipper, come in. Would you care to join us in a cuppa? This is a bit unexpected - wasn’t the kennel arrangements for another two days? Is something wrong?”


Tipper entered in the kitchen and placed Sydney on the floor. “Sorry for the early hour - I got a call from the kennel at three this morning. There was a raid on a puppy mill upstate and they are moving the dogs and puppies to the kennel for quarantine, so I thought it best that Syd not be exposed to what they may be bringing in. How did your state boards go?”


“Well, I think there is just one more that I have to get through, and then I may well hang up a shingle…though I was approached yesterday by Mr. Charles to be the new science teacher at the elementary school. That would mean more testing, though, and some other paperwork, I am sure."


Tipper nodded. “They tend to test you on everything you might possibly have to teach.” There was a faint whirring from her pager on her hip. “Uh, gotta go. I’ll take you up on the cuppa later. Welcome back!” she said brightly before heading out the back door.


Willie closed the door and put two mugs in the microwave. It wasn’t the most proper of ways to make tea, but it would do. While the unit counted down, he leaned on the counter and began to sort the mail. It went into two piles, bills in one, circulars in the other. Tossing the circulars in the trash he was about to dump the carrots in the bin on top when he saw the corner of an envelope that had missed his sorting. Curious, he plucked it out and flipped it over to see what it was. In neat script he saw just Taylor’s name and address, and a post mark from Maryland. He opened up the envelope and unfolded the single sheet of paper. It took a second for him to glance at the bottom to see who it was from, then another moment to read the contents of the letter. The beep of the microwave jerked him back from his musings.


Folding the letter he pushed it back into the envelope and left it on the counter. Being very careful he dropped two infusers with tea into the cups and dunked them a few time as what he had read worked through his mind. When the tea was done he carried it to where she lay and placed it on the coffee table. She sat up so that he could sit in the corner of the sofa and then laid her head on his chest. His arm went around her waist and his hand rested upon her belly.


“Wife?” he asked softly.


“Yes, Husband?”


“Were you concerned that if you told me about Jordan, I would have invited her to the wedding?”


Taylor drew in a long breath then let it out slowly. “I didn’t know, years ago, that what I was feeling in my chest was my body warning me - that my heart couldn’t take what she was saying and what she was doing. I used work to escape - she knew she couldn’t call there - and she would call at the wee hours of the morning to berate me about things. A photo ran of Anthony escorting me to an awards ceremony and two days later at four am she is telling me that the only reason why he was dating me was out of pity, how old I looked in the photo, how I had let myself go, and how desperate I had to be to think that someone like him would actually like me… I went to the courthouse to speak with him that day about his feelings, and I saw him leaning against the wall speaking to the other District Attorney - she’s quite lovely - and he had a smile on his face… and my heart believed what she said, and it broke. The next thing I knew I was in County General Hospital and it was three days later and Gabe is there telling me that he was my new adjunct… After her visit I had a second attack, and I made up my mind that any more contact with her wasn’t a good idea.” Taylor reached over and snagged a sip of tea, then placed it on the coffee table.


“So, if she decided to come to Cabot Cove for an extended vacation, how would you handle it?”


Taylor looked at him, curious. “Ah, well, the Hill House has vacancies. What makes you think she is coming here?”


It was Willie’s turn to take a breath and let it out slowly. “In the mail was a letter, just addressed to you, and I didn’t know if it was a bill, or ad, so I opened it … an’ she is coming with her son and a few others. She said they would be arriving sometime today.  I’m na doubting ye, wife, I just don’t know how the two of ye could have come from the same womb and be so different. Ye could have told me about her, and that you didn’t want her there before we were married, and I would understand…”


She rolled on the sofa so that she faced him. “I am afraid for our children… I am afraid what may happen if she tries to get her way and I have to get the brunt of it…I can’t deal with her any more…”


“Shhh, Wife… You won’t have to. I‘ll take care of things.” He saw tears beginning to form in Taylor’s eyes.


“I don’t want you to get hurt by her…”


“Dearest Wife, there’s na much that she could say to me or about me that hasn’t already been said. In all the world, though, there was only one who looked past what others saw first, directly to my heart…The most fairest sight my eyes had seen, and that my life took new meaning for.“ He kissed her gently. “I think today, Wife, you will have a fair bit of resting to do while I play man of the house and wear an apron to do the cooking… if that’s alright with you? Then tonight, you may have your way with me…”  


Jessica heard the familiar thump-bump of Ian coming down the steps in a hurry as he dragged his small duffle behind him and took it to the door. He was washed and dressed and, she could tell, eager to go over to Taylor’s house.


“Whoa, slow down! It’s just five - they may not even be up yet! And you haven’t had a proper breakfast!” said Donna from the corner of the kitchen.


Ian turned and saw what she was eating, saw the pot on the stove, and shook his head. “Thank ye, no, I ... I’m na all that hungry this morning.”


Frank came up behind him rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Don’t be daft. Lunch is a long way away, and you don’t have to have oatmeal. We have other things to eat, all sorts of cereals and toasts…”


Ian shook his head again. “Wouldn’t be right to take more from ye,” he said softly. “Nae while there is good food tha’ ye made.”


Frank guided Ian to a chair and helped him get comfortable. “Let’s have a cup of tea,” he said, getting the kettle and placing water in it.


Donna was about to say that tea wasn’t proper for young boys to have at all, but then she saw Ian nod, and give a sigh. She looked at Jessica, who was studying the interaction between Ian and Frank with concern. Turning, Jessica opened the bread box and withdrew a loaf from within then pulled the toaster from the corner and popped two slices in. While they cooked, she retrieved butter and orange juice. She poured two glasses of the juice and slid it in front of the boys. Leaning over she said softly to them, “Donna can’t abide orange juice. I thought she would like it. Could you help me finish up the carton?”


Ian nodded, his nose twitching at the smell that wafted from the toaster. “What is that, Aunt Jessica?” he asked, curious.


“It’s cinnamon bread. It goes very well with tea and juice.”


His nose twitched again.  “Does it now?” He watched fascinated as the toast popped upward. Jessica carefully lifted the hot bread out of the toaster and spread fluffy butter over each slice then cut them into fourths before placing the plate in front of the boys. She put two more slices in the toaster and depressed the button.


Donna watched as Frank placed two of the squares for starters before Ian. Ian studied the bread, then with his fingers tore off a small bit of the bread and placed it in his mouth. He chewed it for a while before taking another bit off the edge. His eyes widened as Jessica slid the next two slices on the plate besides the first ones.


“Oh, ye shouldn’t be going to such fuss, Aunt Jessica. This is a plenty,” he said, pointing to the half he was working on.


“Well, Mum’s gone for thirds on the oatmeal, and Aunt Jessica’s had her breakfast, and I can’t finish all of that, so you will just have to help eat it,” said Frank, trying to keep his voice steady. Ian glanced at the sound of a slurp coming from the corner. Frank and Jessica followed his gaze and were surprised to see Donna lowering her bowl from her lips. There were patches of oatmeal on her face and a milk mustache.


“Would ye care for some cinnamon toast, Aunt Donna?” Ian asked as his hand went to the plate to offer it to her.


Donna gave a shudder. “Noo, noo, noo," she said, waving her free hand. “No thank you. I was never one for cinnamon.”


Frank turned back to Ian. “Close your eyes and open your mouth.” Puzzled, Ian did as he was told. Frank lifted the piece of cinnamon bread and placed it in Ian’s mouth upside down. “Bite down now…” said Frank. He saw Ian’s eye brows go up in surprise as he began to chew with increased interest.


“Oh, that’s lovely,” he said after swallowing. He took a sip of tea then blinked. “You’re right, Aunt Jessica, it does go well with the tea.” Glancing down Ian saw Frank had slipped the lion’s share of the toast onto Ian’s plate.


“I’ve eaten my share, that’s yours,” Frank said, holding up another corner upside down for Ian to eat.


In short order the breakfast was finished and the dishes cleared away from the table. Frank saw Lucky lift her head as Sydney moved through Taylor’s garden. “Ah, Sydney’s out, they must be up…”


Ian stood up and went to Jessica. “Thank you, I had a lovely time.” Nodding to the others, he gathered his duffle and went out the back door over to Taylor’s house. Frank watched from the door as Willie opened the door for him and issued him into the home.


Frank closed the door. For a moment he just stood not moving. When he turned Jessica and Donna saw tears in Frank’s eyes. “He is going to die if he doesn’t start eating more, isn’t he?”


Jessica sat down on one of the kitchen chairs. “We don’t know. Willie and Seth are going to do everything they can for him.”


“Then with Ian coming here, it isn’t to learn about being a healer, is it?” Frank asked, needing to know.


“Oh, yes, Willie will be teaching him everything he can… He is in very good hands, Frank, and I am sure that things will work out,” said Jessica, brushing the tears from Frank’s eyes. “In the meantime, perhaps you could get changed, and take your mother for a walk down to see how much the docks have changed since she was last here.”


Jake Eliot strode past the small tourist shops down to Ye Ole Tyme Mini Mart. Fishing several quarters out of his pocket he approached the pay phones and lifted the receiver. Leaning against the building he turned to watch the people as they strolled along the sidewalks. He heard people calling hello to someone and shifted his interest in that direction. Now there is a dish worth dipping into…” he mused, watching Tipper enter into the mini mart.


A short, curly haired young man who was oddly dressed nodded as he stepped into the sweet shop that was next door to the mini mart. A younger boy that Jake didn’t recognize was helping a ditzy blond past the ice cream shop, scolding her for something - she had chocolate on her face and he was trying to get her to wipe it off as she slurped ice cream from the bottom of her cone.


His eyes panned the crowd and found his mark. Althea was a creature of habit. In the two days that she had been in Cabot Cove it had been simple to follow her morning routine. Early rise, coffee, and then a brisk walk. She was right on time. Glancing at his watch he knew that things were about to become interesting. He hung up the phone and followed Althea a few paces behind her. He knew she would take the short cut across the lower harbor. He was counting on it and ignored the babble of voices behind him.


Feigning surprise he called to her. “Althea! Hey, Althea! Wait up!” He ran ahead of her, blocking her view of the bridge.


She continued walking, forcing him to walk backwards in order to keep in front of her. “I have nothing to say to you, Jake.”


“Well, I do. I was a fool, and I am sorry and I love you,” he said, grasping her by the shoulders gently, then lowering his head he planted a firm passionate kiss upon her lips as he turned her around in his arms.


She heard a perplexed voice behind her and tried to pull away. “Althea?”


There was a shout of “TIPPER, LOOK OUT!” as Jake slammed into her and she tumbled backwards into Al, who lost his balance and fell against the rail.


The rail didn’t hold. Parts of it flew in all directions as he tumbled off the low bridge and into the icy water head first. Jake stood frozen as someone brushed passed him and jumped into the water and pulled Al up to the surface.


“Help him!” gasped Althea as she saw the smaller man struggle to get Al to the side of the bridge.

“Oh my gosh - it’s Al!" she said, grabbing Jake by the arm and pushing him to the edge of the bridge.


Sighing, Jake grabbed Al by the jacket and hauled him on to the bridge. The shorter man climbed up out of the water and moved him aside. Jake saw the shorter man tilt Al’s head backwards and blow air into the larger man’s lungs. Al gave a convulsive jerk, and then water spewed in a gurgle from his mouth.


Mort hurried down the bridge. “One of the shop keepers called it in, the ambulance is on the way," he said, then looked at Tipper. “Dr. Henderson, you are a walking menace. That’s four you’ve manage to up end this week – twenty-three this month alone from the reports I get from the shopkeepers! I’m going to get a flag tagger and attach it to you so people can see you coming! If Willie hadn’t have been here, he would have died. Next time someone else may not be so lucky!”


Mort saw Tipper become pale as she bit her bottom lip. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that I’ve become such a nuisance…” she said quietly. She stood up, then backed up about to leave them when Frank went to her


“Angela, something is wrong with Mom, she’s gone a bit wiggy. Can you help Willie and me get her back to his shop?”


Tipper regarded Donna. Frank had been telling Willie that Donna had eaten four bowls of oatmeal, then two Snickers bars and had almost inhaled a triple scoop ice cream cone when the accident had happened. Donna now sat in silence, just looking at Willie as if she had seen a ghost. Althea had moved to the other side of Al and held his hand in hers. Jake was nowhere to be seen. Tipper nodded, then walked with Frank to Donna and helped her up to her feet.


Mort placed a blanket over Al, and then another over Willie’s shoulders as Willie shivered in the brisk morning air. He watched as Tipper and Frank helped Donna to her feet and with the three of them, go off the bridge up the walkway. One of the shopkeepers tried to hand Tipper a grocery bag, but she waved it away.


The ambulance driver brought the gurney from the other direction. Al was mumbling something and the woman beside him informed the ambulance driver that she was riding to the hospital with him. Mort sighed as he dispersed the crowd, then from habit he began to pick up the things that had fallen aside. Not that much of it could be salvaged - the eggs were always a total loss and the milk had leaked everywhere. But the cheese that was in the zip lock bag was okay, albeit, a bit damp. He rescued the can of peaches and noticed something on the bridge as he straightened


“Son of a gun…” he muttered. Realizing that the tide was going out and taking the evidence with it, he sighed then removed his shoes, wallet and radio and went into the water, swearing at the bitter cold as he came up. It took a bit to get to the pieces of wood. Making his way back to the bridge he was almost too cold to move to get himself back up onto the safety of the wood. He held up the pieces of wood and regarded the ends. Shivering he picked up his radio and keyed it. “Floyd, I need you to get down here to the causeway bridge in the harbor, ASAP. We have a crime scene here.”


Tipper sat with Donna as Willie changed in one of the upper rooms. Frank had been sent up the hill to let Jessica know what happened, and that they would be delayed in their return. She looked up as Willie came down the steps dressed in a white T shirt and blue jeans that were a bit too long in the leg for him. Tipper noticed the shirt fit him across the chest just right. “Had to run in the family,” she thought. He had something in his hand that he presented to Donna. Tipper could see it was some sort of cracker-type bread. Donna looked at it, and began to nibble on it after thanking him.


Tipper had risen to her feet and was about to slip out when she felt Willie’s hand capture hers and pull her back.


“Hang on a tic. I need to speak with you,” he said softly.


Tipper looked down at her pager. “Uh, gotta go,” she said as she tried to pull away.


Willie didn’t let go of her hand. “Angela, it didn’t go off. What Mort said…”


“He was right. I should have one of those flags so everyone can avoid me. It’s how I met Taylor, did she tell you that? One of the worst days of her life, and I just plowed right over her - twice! The only ones I haven’t knocked over in this town are Seth and Jessica. It just happens - has happened all of my life. Even my parents call me Tipper… That young man would have died if you weren’t there to save him, and it would be my fault, just ...”


“Like Faraday?” he said gently. He saw her straighten up and look him in the eye.


“Flynn shot Faraday. I just couldn’t save him. It would have been my fault just like what Mort said.”


Althea paced in the hospital waiting room, wringing her hands with each step. What was Al doing in Cabot Cove? Why hadn’t he told her he was coming? She stopped her pacing. The letter. She didn’t finish reading it. She smacked herself on the forehead and groaned.


It still didn’t explain the timing. Lousy timing. Jake’s kiss had left her breathless and wanting more, and it complicated things horridly. Not only her feelings for Al, but on a professional level. There was no way that something like this could happen. Not now. Not now when she thought her life was just coming together.


She heard footsteps, and a nurse entered the waiting room. “Ms. Blair? Your fiancé has been moved to a room. The doctors wish to keep him overnight for observation… you can see him now, Room 230 by the window.”


Nodding her thanks, Althea strode down the hall and took the elevator to the second floor. For a moment she paused. Only family was allowed to see someone after they were admitted. Saying that she was his fiancée was not entirely untrue; he had asked her to marry him a few times. Part in jest, then the last time she saw that he was serious, and she couldn’t answer. He was always taking care of his mother, and Althea felt suffocated by the woman. She knew that even after his mother died, she would still have the woman’s ghost around.


Al lay so very still beneath the covers that Althea could hear the hiss of the O2 tank as his chest rose and fell with every breath. Thanks to the stranger who had pulled him out and done mouth-to-mouth Al had only been without oxygen to his brain a short time. There were serious risks, though, with having seawater, or any water, in the lungs due to infections.


She regarded his scruffy face. Forever trying to grow a beard, it never came in right, but without it, his baby face made him look like a teenager. “When I find Jake… I’m going to kill him,” she thought as she sat on the chair at his bedside and picked up Al’s hand. Idly she fished her cell phone from her pocket with her free hand and began to scroll down through the options.


High Tide brought the ringing of a shrill bell and the steady footsteps of people who flocked to the local grill for the 50 cent Cabot Cove’s Blueberry Piña Colada. Jake Eliot was one of the throng. Finding himself a quiet spot away from the bar he withdrew his cell phone and began to read the message on the screen. “Jake Eliot you have a lot of explaining to do, and if it’s not to my satisfaction you are so dead.”


He was interrupted by the waitress. “Can I get you a double BPC?” she asked, smiling.


“Make it a triple,” he said, smiling at her. He glanced around the bar area and was surprised to see Gibby sitting at the bar nursing a drink. Her eyes met his, and with a nod of his head, his silent invitation was accepted. Gibby slid into the seat across from him as he placed his cell phone on the table beside the salt shakers. The waitress brought his triple and left them with a set of menus.


“I shouldn’t be seen with you,” she said at last.


“Two co-workers having lunch isn’t a crime,” he said, flashing her a toothy grin.


“Or having a walk along the docks?” she said under her breath.


His grin froze. “What ever do you mean, Gibby?” he asked, keeping his voice light.


“Ms. Blair is a lovely girl. Sweet, innocent …She deserves better than the likes of you. If you don’t stay away from her, it will be your job.”


“Althea and I are old friends. Nothing improper has ever happened,” he said, waving his hand loftily in the air.


“Did I suggest something improper?" Gibby said sweetly as she took a sip of the purple drink.


“Good heavens, what a suggestion,” he said with a forced chuckle, taking a sip at his drink.


Gibby noticed the cell phone tucked to the side. Her eyes flashed with a dark humor as she leaned forward. “Jake, be a dear, won’t you? Things have changed since you came. You do realize that, don’t you? Just how long do you think it would be before the board discovers the relationship between you two? Ms. Blair has an exemplary record, outstanding actually. Yours … well, they didn’t look too closely at it. I am quite sure that the board would be very interested as to how she passed your ‘Awful Awful Exam.’ You are, after all, a creature of habit…” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Frank hurried up the hill. puffing as he came to the street where Jessica lived. “This comes from being a mouse potato,” he thought. He could see a SUV parked on Taylor’s yard and several people milling about, poking at things. Blinking in surprise, he used the front door to go into Jessica’s house and found her on the phone.


“Thank you, Andy,” she said, then hung up and regarded him.


“Mum’s gone wiggy and Willie and Tipper are at the store with her. Who are those people, Aunt Jessica?” he asked, pointing to where they had moved onto the back deck and were looking in the windows as they rapped on the door.


She gave a sigh. “I don’t know. I called the Sheriffs Office when they drove up on the yard and began to try to get into the house, but Andy said that Mort was busy investigating a crime on the causeway bridge.”


Frank frowned. “That was an accident. Tipper didn’t mean to bump into the guy at all.”


“She never does. Perhaps you’d better tell me what happened?” she said gently.


Taylor shifted on the bed and handed a chunk of cheese to Ian. She grinned as he wiggled on the bed in time to the music they were listening to with duel headphones. Once in a while Sydney lifted her head and turned it to the door, but a hand signal from Taylor had her lay down on the bed covers again. She watched as he nibbled the cheese. Brunch, she had said, was best taken between the time of breakfast and lunch. “Small bits now and then will be easier on him than stuffing him like a turkey,” Willie had said as he cut the rind off of the cheese and presented it to Sydney. “I’ll do what I can regarding your sister, but I canna fix everything that’s between you two, an' before she leaves, it needs to be done. You won’t know peace until it is, and ye would have far too many regrets if something did happen.”


Willie regarded Tipper. “What is in your heart right now?” he asked gently.


“That maybe I’ve worn out my welcome here in Cabot Cove. That maybe I should just pack up and go somewhere else where there are less people for me to knock over. That Mort is right. I am a menace.”


“Well, I don’t know why you bump about so much. Could be many things, you know - you could have one leg shorter than another, you could have a difficulty with your vision, a blind spot, or a hearing problem, the wee hairs in your ears moving in odd directions at any given moment. Or ye could just be so much in energy that ye haven’t ever slowed down. Wearing of flags and thinking of going elsewhere isn’t the answer, though. It doesn’t change that people respect you and care deeply for you. You have made a difference in people’s lives. You have helped them, and their pets, and if you would leave it would be a very sad day for Cabot Cove and for those who love you. Give your heart’s feelings a few days to decide, Angela Elizabeth Henderson.”


Letting her breath out, she nodded then turned to Donna. “All right… so…what’s going on with Donna?”


Willie glanced over at Donna, who was nibbling the crumbs off of the paper. “You tell me. You’re a healer, too…and by your laws, I canna practice medicine until I have the final test taken.”


“That didn’t stop you from helping Taylor…” Tipper said, sending him a sidelong look. She walked over to Donna and sat beside her. “Were they good? Seems to me that your baby decided to have a few snacks today. It’s a sign that she’s growing, maybe?”


Donna blinked. “I was just hungry all of a sudden. What was that I ate?”


Willie moved to the other side of Donna. “Traveling bread. It keeps a long time, and can fill in for meals when ye have no time to stop. I can make ye more if you want, if they help fill inside.”


“Thank you." For a moment Donna sat in silence, looking at Willie. Finally she struggled with what she was going to say and blurted out, “I have been having the oddest dreams… before I even met you… Before I knew I was going to have another baby. It scared me and I couldn’t talk about it. It… wasn’t until just a while ago that I knew what you were doing in my dream… You were breathing into my baby’s mouth, to get air into its lungs. But there was blood on your mouth, and I don’t know why that would be… I didn’t hear the baby cry…and the dream always ends the same. I … I die. I thought, ‘If I go home to my parents, then the dream won’t come true.’ It’s why I didn’t want to stay in Cabot Cove, and I am sure you’re a wonderful doctor … and everyone says I should just talk to you … I knew I couldn’t. Not until today. But, if you know what the dream is, then maybe it won’t come out bad. Can you save my baby? I… I know that if there was a choice to be made, I would want my baby to live, and know that I love her more than my own life.”


For a moment Tipper watched as Willie picked up Donna’s hand and traced a pattern on the back of it. Finally he sighed and looked at her. “There are a few things that may have happened. Rubella - though I know they have said it’s been pretty much taken care of in the states, it can still happen, and cause many problems for the baby. I know you do not drink, nor smoke, but your hands and nails tell me that all is not well within your liver and kidneys, and that can cause problems. Last is that perhaps the dates are off - it happens. In which case your baby will need care because of your liver and kidneys, and will be born later, and not sooner. If that is the case, then it explains why all of a sudden you’re hungry. The baby is saying, as Tipper says, ‘Feed me!’ Being so young she canna tell ye what she wants to fill her belly, which is why you seek to eat anything that will stay down. An’ we can work on that so your baby is happy and you are kept well.”


“My liver and kidneys?” Donna asked, surprised. “One of the doctors said my liver panel was up, but he said it was to be expected, and didn’t think anything of it. How do you know without blood work?”


“Oh, your hands tell me. An’ your nails, by the shape, and the color, and that they are puffy, an' nae from salt or heat. Your cravings for sweets and your moods tell me your sugar levels are off. A proper diet - an’ that means nae more sweets - will help ye feel more up to snuff. The bread is helping already. You feel better?” Willie asked.


He saw Donna think about things for a moment, and then she nodded.  “I don’t feel so foggy,” she said, blinking several times. “Thank you both,” she said.


Tipper patted Donna on the arm “Everything will be all right, Donna,” she said, reassuring her. “I have to go, or the lads won’t be happy with me…”


Willie stood up with her.  “Angela, don’t pay Mort any mind. He didn’t mean it. You know that.”


She gave him a brisk nod before going out of the shop. For a moment she just stood where she was watching the sea gulls go by. She felt rooted to the spot, and as the sea air swirled around her she bit her bottom lip. She heard people coming up the street, the sounds of the flags snapping in the wind. She loved Cabot Cove. She stood next to the street sign that said ‘no parking’ and leaned against it. It had been her home, and she was comfortable here. She would just have to be more careful - that’s all.


She looked up the street. She needed cat food for her lads, but she didn’t know if she could face the shopkeeper again, and she had just enough to get through tonight for them. She was about to begin walking up to her home when she felt someone bump her from behind. She heard a scream behind her and instinctively reached behind her, pulling the woman who had bumped into her back to the safety of the sidewalk using the ‘no parking’ sign pole for balance as a car went zooming by.


“Are you alright?” Tipper asked the woman, who was casting fearful glances about herself.


“Yes. Thank you,” Gibby said, holding her purse close to her chest. “Yes… I am fine… now…”


“You should watch where you’re going,” snapped the woman’s companion.


Tipper turned to look at him. He seemed familiar but she couldn’t recall from where. Tipper found herself looking beyond the man, and saw someone sitting on the bench not far up the street, watching her. Mumbling an apology she walked away from them up the street to where the man was.


“May I join you?” The man nodded. Tipper sat on the bench and kept looking at the dark haired man with a gentle smile for her, biting the bottom of her lip. Finally she blurted, “You look like someone that I saw not long ago - but that was in Ireland, and that would be impossible. You were with a man and a woman. And I loved him …and then he was gone.”


“Why would that be impossible?” he asked her softly.


Perhaps it was his tone, or the sincerity in his eyes, but Tipper felt her heart racing in her chest. “Who are you?”


His smile was enigmatic. Before he could answer, Tipper looked up to see the woman that she had pulled from the path of the car walk by with out saying anything. There was no sign of the man, and when Tipper looked back at the person on the bench, he was gone.


Shaken, Tipper stood up and hurried up the hill to her home. She could see her cats through the window following her path as she came to her side door and let herself in. She put the pager on the desk then sat down on her wicker couch. She knew she had a stray package of noodles some where that were ages old, but she just didn’t feel like eating just then. She felt a thump on the sofa beside her and heard a plaintive ‘Meeewww’ as her cat walked across her lap. Hugging Dante to her chest she buried her face into his soft fur and closed her eyes, letting her heart be healed by his rumbling purr.


Willie walked Donna up the street back to Jessica’s, and seeing the people still milling about the back, helped her to the front door. Jessica met her there and nodded her thanks to Willie.


Swallowing Willie took a breath then went around the side of the house where the people were. He nodded to them and went to one who was casually smoking and dropping the ash into the tomato plants. He took the cigarette from the man’s fingers and put it out in the bird bath.


“Hey!” the young man exclaimed, startled.


“Nasty habit, that… There is no smoking allowed on this street.”


“I don’t need no gay college pool boy to tell me what or what not to do. Do you know who I am?” the young man said, looking down at Willie.


“More trouble than you’re worth, no doubt.” said Willie with a smile. “Excuse me,” he said, then turned to the group. “I’m nae sure who the lot of ye are, but I am sure that what you’re expecting you will nae find here. I would suggest that you seek another location to loiter as it’s due to rain shortly and it would be a shame to have your fine clothing soaked.”


A tall brassy red head with deep blue eyes strode over to Willie. Her neck was heavy with diamond strands that curled to embrace a 7k emerald cut diamond that hung at a level that most men would be wanting to look at anyway. Her ears held matching solitary diamonds, and each finger on her hand had a collection. Her wrists were garnished as well. She wore Italian leather shoes, crisp white linen pants and a cream silken blouse that fluttered in the brisk air, giving her an ethereal quality.


She hesitated a moment before smiling. “I’m Mrs. Phillips. Perhaps my sister, Rachael Andrews, informed you of our plans to stay with her during our visit to your quaint town?” She gave him a coy flirtatious smile.


Willie’s eyebrows rose as he allowed an expression of enlightenment upon his face. “Ah, well, they may well be your plans, Mrs. Phillips, however, you are at the home of Dr. Thaladirith Razanur and his wife, who hold no such plans for any other guests as the spare room is already occupied by someone else. Might I suggest the Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast down the road to the left? The Hill House has become a bit of a dodgy place.“


Rain began to hit the deck. Mrs. Phillips stepped under the overhang with Willie and gave an irritated glance over her shoulder. The young man whom Willie had taken the cigarette from walked over to Mrs. Phillips and held out his hand. She handed him the keys and then waited until the others had filed off of the deck before putting her hands on her hips and snarling a half inch from Willies face, “I don’t know what game she thinks she is pulling to embarrass me in front of my family and friends but it won’t work.“


“What did you expect, Jordan?” he asked softly. “Who were you hoping to be embarrassed? Did ye ever think that she may not wish to see you because it is more pain for her than she can take?“


“What would you know? And how dare you call me by my given name!”


“Ah, a wee less than what those give me credit for sometimes. I’m still learning regarding the likes of women, and I canna fathom how the social dynamics of the family structure can be so diverse within the range of siblings. I have to ask, in what manor did you plan to see your sister? Alive and well, I hope?”


“What sort of a question is that?” she asked, confused.


“A valid one. I request your word of honor you will not do or say anything to distress your sister from now on.“


“Excuse me?”


“Or, for that matter, anyone who enters into this household as a friend.”


“Just who do you think you are?”


He held out his hand. “Dr. Thaladirith Razanur. And my wife is your sister, though she is known here as Taylor.”


Willie flicked an eyebrow upward at her expression of shock He caught her lightly by the arm and guided her to the deck chair.


“She’s married? Married to you?” she gasped with disbelief. “She never told us she was getting married! Why didn’t she tell us? When did this happen? We could have changed our plans and come up for it!”


“Ah, well, it was in Ireland, and things were a bit complicated to say the least.”


“But she was in love with Anthony, and they were going to be married … We saw the papers, with them together… Are you after her money?” Jordan said, narrowing her eyes at him suspiciously.


Willie chuckled. “No, lass. Nor is she after mine. “


“Not even the family heirlooms?” she asked slyly.


Willie blushed. “Ah well… That’s between my wife and me, now, isn’t it?”


Jordan tilted her head to the side. “I suppose… May I see her?”


“If ye behave, aye.” Jordan nodded. Sighing, Willie unlocked the door and then held it open for Jordan. “This way,” he said, leading her through the kitchen around to the steps upstairs.


Taylor felt soft warm lips caress hers. Drawing in a breath she opened her eyes and found Willie sitting on the side of the bed, leaning over Ian to kiss her. He tugged off the head set from her ears and then kissed her again. She puzzled for a moment, regarding the t-shirt and jeans. “Your suit?” she asked softly.


“At the shop. How did brunch go?” he asked, looking at Ian as he slept nestled in her arms.


“Better than expected. He loves Mozart,” she said with a smile.


Movement in the doorframe caught her attention. Looking down, she saw that Sydney had her ears perked and was regarding the person in the shadows. “Hello, Jordan,” she said softly.


Heels clicked across the wood floor, walking around the bed to the side that was free. Jordan sat on the bed and studied her sister and the sleeping child.  “Well. Today seems to be full of surprises. I’m told you’re married, and that there are many things going on. Do I have the right to know what they are?”


“Only if you’re interested…” Taylor replied, keeping the tone of her voice neutral.


Jordan picked up Taylor’s hand. “I am…”


“Lets see… Willie takes his Clinicals sometime this week, we don’t know when, and then his teaching certification for Maine… Ian will be with us for a while,” she said, inclining her head.


“Bit big for an afternoon nap as a seven year old…” Jordan said with a shrug.


“He’s nine… and he’s dying,” said Willie softly.


Jordan looked at Willie.  “Why isn’t he in a hospital? Or where they care for people like … like that,” she stammered.


“It’s just as easy to care for one person who dances with the Angel of Death as it is for that person to care for two…or five. Here we know we are surrounded by love, and family. I died twice in the hospital, Jordan. I do not plan to do it a third time - I would rather have my husband at my side.”


“They … they said you were fine. To get on with your normal life - and you run away here to this forsaken area …”


Jordan,” Willie said to her. Her head snapped up and looked at him. He saw the acute pain on her face, the glittery tears in her eyes. “Get over it. There will be nae weeping an’ wailing in this house over things tha’ we can strive to change the outcome for.“


Ian stretched, extending his arm to yawn in his sleep. Snuggling closer he opened his eyes sleepily and focused on Jordan. “Hullo,” he said in a curious low tone. “You’re my Aunt Jordan, aren’t you? Your nose is the same as Aunt Taylor’s. Oh, Uncle…” he said wobbling to sit up.


“Yes, Ian?” Willie asked as Ian beckoned to him. He tilted his ear to Ian’s mouth. “I’m going to burst soon, uncle - I couldna ask Aunt Taylor to help me get there.”


Willie took a breath and turned around on the bed so his back faced Ian. “Climb up, and hold on…” he said, then as he stood lifting Ian piggy back he said, “Back in a tich,” before they went down the steps to the bathroom.


Jordan regarded her sister, the trace of tears gone as quickly as they had come.  “What’s it like to die? See any bright tunnel lights or Angels? Is this the same rabid rat dog that savagely attacked Joshua?”


Taylor regarded her sister, then lifted her head and tapped her finger to the bed. Sydney came over to Jordan then sat with her nose bent over, sniffing Jordan’s hand. She sat back and looked at Taylor, giving a sharp yip. Taylor worked her way into a sitting position. “Back still giving you problems, I see… must be nice to have a doctor who gives you vicodin without question. I used to believe that you were the way you are because of the ‘pain and suffering’ you were enduring. That the pills they gave you changed you inside. You were giving as you got and every other word I heard from you was, ‘That is not acceptable.’ I did wait - you know, for you to keep your promise. That no matter what you did, you would always be my sister. I loved you without question, without reservation and unconditionally. You want to know what death is like?  It’s the empty feeling of bitter disappointments. Being invisible to those you love, seeing them from a distance and knowing they have forgotten you long ago. That’s death. The only reason why you are here in my house right now is that my husband wished me to have the chance to tell you, and have no regrets.”


“So, you made me wait outside with everyone to show me what it feels like to be invisible? To be not heard? And then you have your husband - and might I add that a man who wears women’s clothing is a bit … swishy? - dare to tell me what I should or should not do? How dare you!”


““Damnú air!” said Willie’s voice behind Jordan, making her jump from fright. “That is quite enough of a visit today. Thank you for coming, Jordan. If we are so inclined to wish to see you again you will be notified in a timely manor.” He held out his hand to help her up from the bed then escorted her down the stairs, making sure that the door was well closed before dropping the blinds. He stood at the kitchen window watching her make her way to the waiting SUV where she climbed in to the passenger side and brushed the rain from her hair. The SUV went into reverse and backed into the street before speeding off, sending chunks of lawn everywhere.


Willie let out a breath that he realized he had been holding. Sighing, he went onto the back porch with a small tin can and began picking up the cigarette butts that had been tossed about the yard and ground into the potted plants that lined the back porch. As he rounded the back end of the porch he noticed for the first time that the seedlings he had labored to get started had been knocked over and stepped on.


“Damnú Damnú air,” he gasped as he carefully began picking the plants up and tried to save as much of the top soil as possible as he slid them back into the pots. Then he placed them back under the shelter he had rigged up to keep the worst of the rain off of them, yet still allow the air to circulate. He found a miniature rose that had been crushed and ground into the dirt. Sitting on the back steps away from the door he held the crushed rose in his hands. Tears came mixing with the rain as he tried to find some viable part of the plant that could be saved. As best as he could he filled the pot with dirt, placed what remained in the earthen pot, then held it to his chest as he kept his sobs as soft as possible. He didn’t care if the rain soaked him, or the wind drove the warmth from his body. He couldn’t move from where he sat as he looked around the devastation. They were just odd plants to some, weeds to others. To Willie, they were the beginning of his healing garden, and perhaps the last chance that he might have to save Ian. Crushed down by careless, spiteful people.


At first Mort didn’t recognize who sat on the steps when he walked around the back of the house. He had already taken plaster casts of the tire marks on the front yard. The piles of dirt that littered the back yard told him more. He knew what the plants were, and what they meant. Willie had entrusted him with their care when they had gone to Ireland. He’d gotten a fair few foot prints along with the tire treads. Going back to the cruiser Mort sat down and keyed the mike, sending a message to Andy. Getting out of the car again he dodged the rain and went to where Willie sat and placed his hand on his shoulder.


“Willie?” he asked softly.


Looking up through puffy eyes, Willie focused on Mort. “I didna understand, before. Now I do. Taylor said every time Jordan comes around, it costs her… I didna understand… if I had na been saving that man’s life, I could ha stopped them from doing this wanton act. Now even Ian will suffer for it as well.”


“This morning, what happened - what do you remember about the bridge?”


“That? Frank was telling us Donna was eating everything in sight and looking for more, an’ the people in front of us stopped all of a sudden - Tipper bumped into them. I didna know why they fell over as they did, it was hardly just a wee bump, and then the other went through the rail, and I went in after him. You weren’t the kindest to her you could ha been, after wha’ she’s been through.”


Mort looked at Willie curiously. “Granted, she was shook up about it - but she’s a walking cyclone, wrecking a path …”  Mort saw Willie close his eyes. “She was a bridesmaid at a wedding and went on a treasure hunt and was able to figure out where the treasure was - what’s the big deal with that?”


Mort saw Willie press his eyes tighter and saw tears coming again. “I don’t have it in my heart right now to discuss that, Mort… Ye should know, though, she‘s deciding to leave Cabot Cove because of your words. I know you don‘t mean them, nae in your soul - if ye do, your na the type of man I would want to know.”


There was a moment when Mort was about to argue the point, then realized that Willie was feeling abject misery. “Let’s get you into the house and warmed up…” Mort said, gently helping Willie up. Carefully he placed the miniature rose under one of the slatted tables on the porch where it would be sheltered from the worst of the rain and guided Willie inside. He could feel Willie shivering violently. Ian wobbled out of the front room and regarded him before placing his hand on Willie’s forehead.


“Get his things off, he canna stay in wets,“ said Ian, taking command of the situation. He wobbled to the dining room where he found a basket of clean laundry and snagged two blankets and something for Willie to wear. He wobbled back to the kitchen, and Mort heard the beeping of the microwave being programmed. When he returned Mort had Willie tucked onto the sofa.


Willie’s hands shook as he held the mug to his lips. “Thank ye, lad,” he said softly, taking another sip of the tea.


Regarding the two of them, Mort sighed. “I have some things to do. If you need anything, let me know.”


Ian nodded, then escorted Mort to the door. “Thank ye, Sheriff, for your kindness.”


Mort nodded to Ian, then strode across the back porch through the gate to the back door of Jessica’s house. He was surprised to see Jessica answer the door, and even more surprised when she pushed him backwards onto the porch and closed the door of the house.


“What took you so long, Mort? Did you see what they did to Willie’s herbs? They were drop kicking them across the yard! I called the station three times! Where were you?”


“Whoa, slow down. Someone cut every third timber on the railing posts for the causeway bridge over the harbor. I made a judgment based on what I had been told - I am painfully aware of the damage done to those plants, and steps will be taken. Hell, I can’t say anything to make things right again. What I need now are answers, Mrs. Fletcher, regarding what happened while you all were away. What is going on? I know weddings are stressful, but according to the reports in the paper everyone should have had a wonderful time. What happened that I should know about?“


Jessica sighed then moved to the oversized white wicker chair and indicated that Mort should sit down.


“Well, George was able to locate Willie’s mother, and bring them to where we were staying. You’ve met Ian. Things started happening, Mort. Frank, Ian and Tipper were kidnapped - Ian’s leg was broken in the process - and they were thrown down into a dreadful place under the estate. Frank managed to figure a way out, and just as Willie, Faraday and George were heading in to rescue them they ended up bringing Fordham Sr. out before the explosion. Willie saved his life. He had been poisoned - and I had a hunch who was responsible. The next day we went back, and discovered that Flynn, Faraday’s stepfather, was the one who had kidnapped them, and poisoned Fordham Sr. I confronted him, Flynn went to shoot Tipper, and Faraday saved her life.“


Jessica stopped speaking. Mort could see the tears welling up in her eyes.  “This doesn’t have a happy ending, does it?” he asked softly.


“No,” she said, shaking her head slowly. “The bullet traveled through both lungs, and clipped an artery. There was nothing they could have done to save him.”


“How was she after?” he asked, curious. He watched as Jessica regarded her wedding band - something that he had never seen her remove.


“Tipper had a series of nightmares; one caused her to sleepwalk during the midday. She fell down some steps, and her heart stopped. Willie and Seth were able to revive her. Then the old parish priest who murdered Flynn and Fordham Sr. tried to kill her when she was in the hospital. After that - she still had dreams, but they were different. It affected her, Mort. It affected all of them. She’s put up a wall again – but those who meet her casually wouldn’t notice any difference. Frank feels as if he is going mad inside from everything.”


“What about Ian?” Mort inquired, directing a nod to Taylor’s house.


“I don’t think he has the physical energy to deal with thinking about it. In cases like his, the mental processes slow, so that it all becomes just the task to survive. He took it upon himself to make sure his sisters and mother had enough food by doing without for himself. They made the decision to bring him here to break that cycle - they knew that with him staying, he would fall into the same pattern, and even with plenty of food not live to see his 10th birthday next month. “


Mort gently wrapped his hand around Jessica’s. Their fingers intertwined. “And you?”


Jessica was about to brush off his concern.  “I won’t deny that the memories of the events haven’t interrupted my sleep upon more than one occasion. George was a tremendous help, though…”


She saw Mort look at her a bit oddly. “Why would Inspector Sutherland be with you at night?” His question caught her off guard causing her to blush deeply and avert her eyes from his scrutiny. A thought crossed his mind, one that he was going to dismiss but as her blush deepened he gave her hand a squeeze. “I’m sorry, that’s none of my concern. I… I just thought that with Seth there, he would be the one… to help… be there, at night.”


It was Jessica’s turn to look at Mort oddly. “Seth? We’re just friends,” she said, a bit confused. She saw Mort look at her with something akin to satisfaction of knowing something, discovering something that she in all of her years of uncovering the truth hadn’t realized. His thumb played across the back of her hand as his eyebrows arched upward, watching the realization occur.

“In love, with me?” she asked Mort in a whisper, afraid to say it any louder lest it become a statement of fact instead of suppositions. She saw Mort regard her tenderly. “Why didn’t he say anything?”


“Because he’s stubborn. It took him years to admit it to himself and longer to accept that he wanted you to be happy with whomever you decide to care for. I just thought, given the events of the moment, of the wedding, that - well, more than one romance can happen under the given circumstances, and that it would be Seth. It makes sense now, with the looks George and you were exchanging last time he was here - like two teenagers.”


“Did you dismiss the notion because of our ages?” she asked curiously.


Shaking his head Mort said ruefully, “No, because of your respectability. It would be like accepting that Dr. Henderson would be the type to wear a black strapless beer dress and dance on tables at bars.”


“Yet, it’s easier to accept that Tipper is responsible for bumping over half of the population of Cabot Cove? Frank told me about what you said to her on the bridge. I spoke with Seth, and he didn’t have any reports of injuries at all except for the one today that was connected to her.”


“Why would someone make up something like that?” Mort inquired, puzzled.


Jessica shrugged and shook her head. She was about to answer when Frank opened the door and came out onto the back porch.


“Aunt Jessica… may I go to Tipper’s? I’m worried about her. I could use the bike to get there. I .. I just feel that something very bad is going to happen…”


Jessica thought for a moment to reassure Frank that everything was fine with the young vet - but the closeness that had formed between the two - the bonds of friendship - told her that he might well be more sensitive to her moods than one would realize.


Mort spoke up, interrupting her thoughts. “I’m heading up there shortly. I have to speak with her regarding the case…”


He saw something in Frank’s eyes - something bordering on defiance, the same look of protectiveness for her that he had seen in Seth’s eyes when discussing Jessica and George. A flicker that said that if Mort hurt her, he would have to answer to Frank.  “If anything is wrong, you will be the first to know,” he said quickly. He saw Frank had noticed that he was holding Jessica’s hand in his. “Thank you, Jessica,” he said, leaning over to give her cheek a quick kiss as he squeezed her hand gently.


Mort opened the passenger side of his cruiser and extracted two bags of groceries. It wasn’t hard to go back down to the mini mart and make inquiries regarding what she had purchased, and he knew that it would be the talk of Loretta’s Beauty Shop that he had put the grocery bill for her on his tab.


Juggling the two bags and holding them a bit higher to save his back he navigated down the walkway to her home and knocked on the door. He noticed a few things as he stood there - one, carrying the bags in close approximation to how he had witnessed Tipper carrying them, it was pretty easy to be thrown off balance. The second thing was how quiet her home seemed, and that there were two cats regarding him from the window. He wasn’t fond of cats. One of them gave a soundless meow as he waited, and knocked again. Not getting any answer, Mort balanced the bags one more time and tried the door knob. No one locked their doors in Cabot Cove, and Tipper’s door was unlocked as well.


He remembered briefly being in her home years ago when he had called upon her to help with the Nightshade case. Placing the bags on the counter, he shooed the cats away from the fresh meat. Glancing about he noticed she had a large refrigerator and a smaller, four foot high one sitting on the counter top. Opened her larger fridge he could see that it was divided in two sections: one side was empty, and on the other side the top two shelves had various containers with writing on top of them. He noted with interest that on her shelves she had two cans of mushroom soup that were outdated years ago, and a small box of dog biscuits.


It took only a moment to place the food in the larger fridge. Folding the empty bags he placed them in the space between the wall and the fridge. Curiosity got the better of him as he reopened the fridge door and took a peek at the writing on the containers. He didn’t know what to expect - pot roast, perhaps - but to his surprise he found a partial name, and a series of numbers. LAB-HRTAUTPSY. Cracking the lid, he peeked in. There was a clear fluid that smelt familiar, though he couldn’t name it until he gave the container a swirl and saw something that made him close the lid quickly and seal it again. Blinking, he opened the smaller unit and saw her regular food in it. Shaking his head he removed the food from the larger unit and placed it in the smaller unit.


“Nothing like bringing your work home with you,” he said, noticing the focusing microscope on her kitchen table alongside a clean dissecting kit.


Walking through her kitchen he found himself in the living room. There was no sign of Tipper, but on the coffee table there was an open thick envelope that bore several stamps from Ireland. Picking the pictures up he flipped through them - they were, as expected, wedding photos that showed the bridal party, and the dancing and celebration that followed. There were several shots of Tipper in the arms of a handsome man, including a few of them gazing into each other’s eyes. Mort realized the man was the same as he had seen in the paper. “Faraday,” he murmured to himself.


A thud from upstairs jolted Mort from his reflection. He replaced the photos and put them back down on the coffee table before starting up the steep “stairs of death” to the second floor of Tipper’s house. There was another sound as he came to the top of the steep steps. A catch of a sob. She didn’t hear the quiet knock on the door as he stepped into the room. What he saw made him catch his breath. It wasn’t black - it was red and clung to every curve until it ended just below the legal limit. Her back was to him and he could see that she was struggling to pull the zipper up in the back. The progress was halted by the sobs that came from her. In two steps he was in the room and with a quick hand he took the zipper from her, tugging it upward. She gasped, whirling around in his arms to face him.


“What are you doing here?” she demanded, brushing the tears from her face.


“Delivering the groceries you left behind…” he said.


“You didn’t need to do that, I wasn’t going to cook tonight anyway…” she said, composing herself. She saw Mort look at her akin to the way her father would have if he had seen her in that dress. “Why are you here?” she demanded again.


“I am looking for answers, Dr. Henderson,“ he said, trying to keep his tone professional.


“Haven’t you made up your mind regarding what a klutz I am already?” she snapped, pulling away from him to walk across the room to her dresser, where she fumbled with her earrings.


“About that…”


“Well - you don’t need to concern yourself with it, Sheriff. I’ve sent my resignation in to the clinic, and I’ve taken an offer upstate. I won’t be plowing over hapless tourists any more,” she said, picking up a small red purse that matched her shoes to hunt for her car keys.


Mort’s hand covered hers as she extracted the keys. “You’re not in any condition to drive, Dr. Henderson.“


“Don’t be silly. I’m fine. And I would thank you to remove yourself from my bedroom,” she said, trying to tug the keys from him.


“This is not going to bring Faraday back!”


Tipper kicked Mort in the shins and snatched the keys from his hand, wobbling on her high heels as she strode to the door. Mort was two steps behind her - as she started down the steep stairs he noticed someone standing at the bottom of the steps. Reaching forward, he pulled her back towards him as her foot twisted in her shoe, pitching her forward. For a moment his left hand grasped air but his right hand felt her thin arm beneath his fingers. He knew he had given her one heck of a bruise as he hauled her back up the steps. Mort could see her chest moving convulsively, gasping for air. Glancing down the stairway again as he wrapped his arms about her he saw the man at the bottom of the steps incline his head before disappearing into the shadows. Her knees buckled and together they sat on the top landing with her cradled in his arms.


A sob broke from her. “Damn you. Why didn’t you let me go?” she asked, gulping for air.


“I was told not to,” he said softly.


Drawing in a breath he took her keys that she still had in her hand, placing them into his pocket. Shifting her to one side he stood up and went into her bedroom to return with a bundle of clothes rolled up with a pair of her shoes on top. He went down the steps first. “Come on,” he said, taking her hand in his and pulling her forward.


She winced as she stood up on her twisted ankle. “Where are we going?” she asked, using him as support to make it down the steep staircase.


“Well, you have a choice: either the jail for assaulting an officer…” he said with a hint of mock humor.


“You were in my bedroom unasked!”


“… or someplace where we can get this worked out once and for all.”  He saw she was wobbling as she walked. Thrusting the cloths and shoes in her hands he sighed, then swept her off of her feet. Instinctively her arms wrapped about his neck clinging for dear life.


Althea regarded her cell phone with a grimace of incredulous suspicions. Jake had texted her back, pleading his innocence in what had happened and saying he needed to speak with her as soon as possible. She glanced over at Al. He was going to be okay, they said. She bent over and kissed his forehead.

“I have to go, and get things straighten out,” she said softly. She sighed. At least at the school there would be other teachers there - though she really didn’t want to run into any of them just yet. She had noticed that Joshua Peabody didn’t have security cameras, and they were pretty lax about having people sign in and out. She walked to the nurse’s desk and waited as an older doctor with white hair answered his page.


“Dr. Hazlitt speaking… Yes?” He sighed as he listened to the rushed explanation on the other end of the phone. “I expected as much. Yes, I can be there shortly…”  Seth sighed again as he hung up the phone.


“Excuse me, could you tell me where the cafeteria is? It’s been a long day…”


“Down the elevator to the ground floor, make a left,” Seth said, trying not to grumble. The signs for it were clearly marked on the wall for visitors.


She nodded, thanking him before catching the next elevator down. Seth picked up the phone and began to dial. As it rang, he noticed that the elevator stopped on the first floor for an extended time before coming back up with several doctors.


“Must be looking for the ATM,“ he mused. He had no idea why they didn’t just put the two of them together, unless it was because of accessibility. Part boredom, part curiosity, he saw that none of the elevators went down to the ground floor.


There was a crisp “Yes?” from the Ward Nurse.


“Cici, I’ve an emergency that I need to tend to- one of my patients …” Seth stopped and sat down. She heard the catch in his voice. “I have to go and see to her, Cici - can you have Dr. Bradley just keep an eye on things until the next shift comes on in an hour, please?… No… she’s… she’s in police custody right now… Thank you…”


Seth put the phone down. It took a moment for his heart to stop bounding in his chest. Mort had been brief - he had placed Tipper in the back of the cruiser and standing outside the car, used his cell phone to call him at the hospital. “….if I hadn’t been there she would have died, Seth. I’m taking her to Jessica’s, and I need some medical back up to know what to do with her. Something is very wrong… and I don’t want to make this official unless necessary.”


Walking to his car he fumbled for his keys out of his pocket and dropped them three times before he managed to get them into the lock. Once the door was opened he dropped them again when he pulled them out, and then dropped them again onto the floor mat.


When he sat up, he placed the keys into the ignition. He was about to start the card when a small wren landed on his hood and hopped up to regard him through the glass. It lifted its head and broke into song. Mesmerized, Seth watched the tiny bird. Ruth loved birds of all types, welcoming even the common sparrow into the yard. He listened to it for about half a minute before it was interrupted by the screech of tires and a taxi racing through the parking lot swerved and nearly struck his car before it swept out of the exit and onto the highway. He turned and saw the passenger was a woman. Sighing, he shook his head, then saw the little bird still regarding him, having hunched down while the taxi had passed by.


Seth drew in a breath. “Thank you,” he said to the little bird. It chirped, and flew off in a flurry of wings. He knew if he hadn’t have stopped to listen to the little bird that the taxi would not have stopped for him.


Jordan strode across the wooden planks at the small bar and grill and sat down on the chairs overlooking the water with her family. Her son Joshua was ripping apart his lobster and waving the claws about like antenna while a cigarette hung from his mouth. Her husband Gene didn’t say much. Not that she would let him get a word in edgewise when it was something she wanted her way. She had married him young, and they had worked hard for what they had so that their son would have the best of everything. He had talent and looks and *the smile* - he could sell holy water to the devil and have the devil like it.


His charm hadn’t been very helpful, though, when they were at the Lighthouse. They were informed that they only had two rooms, and that they would have to share. All hell broke loose when Jordan informed him that was unacceptable. The manager withdrew the rooms, apologized and then sent them on their way. Three other B&Bs that had shown ‘vacancy’ signs had ‘NO vacancy’ when they drove back through town. They were at one of the smaller B&Bs in the heart of town. They were basic over-priced rooms with tiny beds and they wanted a cash deposit for the first night. There was a small common living room, no tv’s in the rooms and a pay phone in the hall. There was a shared bath area on the floor they were on, but, they didn’t realize it until they had placed their luggage in the rooms. There was no other place to go. Belatedly they learned the Lighthouse B & B’s rooms were suites, and they would have had better accommodations than what they had now.


They had walked across the street to the bar and grill, and demanded the best table in the house. The waitress had given her a funny look then escorted them to the outside deck where they had an uninterrupted panoramic view of the harbor. The service was excellent. Their lobster took exactly 13 minutes to cook, the order was taken properly and delivered precisely. Because of serving restrictions they had to go inside if they wanted drinks, but that was no problem. The problem came when every time their cell phones rang, a ship’s horn sounded nearby. In order to hear what the person was saying they had to go inside to the bar area.


Jordan had just returned from one such call. She had to take off her diamond earring to use her cell phone, and knowing that she had several more calls that would be coming, she removed both and briefly placed them on the bar beside her purse on a napkin. She saw a tall, handsome man with dark curly hair and deeper eyes regard her. He had bought her a drink while she waited for information and gallantly kissed her hand before she left, his other hand closing about the napkin on the bar beside her.


“Don’t forget these,” he said, giving her the napkin with one of the earrings peeking out from the folds. She thanked him, then taking her drink, she rejoined her family.


Jake waited until she was outside before slipping his hand into his pocket and striding from the bar. He wasn’t greedy. Well, he was, but he knew that it was easier to have one diamond reset than a pair where they would attract notice. He nodded to the barmaid who flashed him a grin. The town knew that Jake hated to cook, and that it was easier for him to eat out when possible, or have someone cook for him. He went to the parking lot and slipped behind the wheel of his Mercedes.


The school. Common, safe ground where he could finish what he started. Gibby had asked him to move the things from the storage room to the upstairs science room so the new teacher could take stock in what he had to work with. He was the only male teacher, but rather than use the female teachers who could get hurt lifting, he was called. He did mind. Using people was his prerogative, not hers. But as Gibby had pointed out, by doing helpful things the school board tended to look the other way. His black car pulled smoothly into its spot as he noticed a taxi driving away at high speed. It could only be Althea …


Gibby had already put her to work sorting things, and flashed Jake a knowing glance as he strode into the class room. There were some others who were there as well - not the quiet moment that he wanted, but that could wait. He could see Althea was beginning to work up part of her famous temper. She hadn’t lifted or sorted anything, and it didn’t look like she was going to. Realization had sunk in: Jake had suckered her in once again. Leaving now would look bad for her if she wanted the other teachers to help her in the future. She knew she had informed the taxi to be back in an hour, but the one driver who seemed to be on call had terrified her with the way he drove with no hands as he waved them to emphases his point. She doubted that he would return due to the distance he would have to take to where she waited - it was much easier for him to pick up one way fares from the B& Bs in town.


Jake looked over the boxes of chemicals. Some of them were so old that they were eating through their corks. Some of the labels had faded. It was impossible to know, without a science degree, what was good or bad. Jake sighed. “Gibby, you could have said something before. We really shouldn’t let anything be used from this stuff. We have no idea what’s in some of these bottles, and if there has been contamination…”

“What do you suggest, Mr. Eliot?“ Gibby asked, regarding how he kept looking at Althea. She had crossed her arms and was tapping her foot.


“Well, the safest thing would be to dispose of them and get fresh, and I know THAT was in the budget because every student pays a 25$ lab fee every semester if they want to take chemistry. There should be a lot of money earmarked for that because these haven’t been replaced since then … and it looks like all the beakers are there, as well as functional Bunsen burners. We could just dump the stuff…” he said, waving a hand to the sink.


“Oh, no you can’t,” snapped Althea. “I know Chemistry was never one of your strong points!” she said with a grin to diffuse the look Gibby was giving her. “The simplest way to legally dispose of them is to take them to the nearest pharmacy, and let them do it… they may be able to get the chemicals that we need faster, and without going through InSchool Chemical. We did that at the previous school where I worked,” Althea said, pointing to the label on the bottle.


“Well, since you know exactly what needs to be done with them, Ms. Blair, why don’t you take charge of the project?“ said Jake with a tight smile.


She shrugged as her smile widened. “Sorry, my car is parked in town, and I will be picked up by a taxi shortly. I thought there was an emergency here, not a clean up in aisle 5. And according to my contract, I am not even being PAID until next week!.”

“Alright, uncle… Well, at least could you help me carry them to my car?” he said pointedly.


She raised her eyebrow, noticing that Gibby was watching their interaction with curiosity.


“Why of course, Mr. Eliot…” she said, this time with a sweet smile. She took the box that had just a few half empty items in it. “And I would be happy to dump it in your back seat!” she thought, smirking to herself. Most of the boxes fit in the trunk. At Althea’s insistence, the bottles containing liquid would ride up front with Jake. Some of them tipped slightly, spilling stuff that smelt like cat vomit over his leather seats.


“OOPS!” she said, smirking and giving the bottles a good tight twist of the caps. She extracted one of the hand wipes used when one ate lobster from the ash tray area that Jake had snagged from the bar & grill. She was very careful to remove every little bit off of her hands as he carried the last of the boxes to be placed in the trunk. As he slammed the trunk shut she saw something roll out from under the seat in the back. Curious, she picked it up. The bottle was almost full, but the top seal had been cracked. She sighed. Leave it to Jake to have a party on wheels. He had never changed.


Glancing up she heard the beep from the impatient taxi driver who, to her relief, had returned. Waving to Gibby, she got into the taxi and was whisked away into the afternoon.


Jake saw Gibby grinning as he came around to the driver’s side of his car. “Cripes! Wha- ?” he gasped, waving away the stench and groaning at the permanent stain on his soft leather seat.


“Oh don’t be a wuss!” she said, reaching in his coat pocket and pulling out the breath freshener she knew was there. Sticking her arm in the car she gave the spot a few blasts with the breath freshener then stuck it back into his pocket. “I wouldn’t wear that - the sleeve would probably stain when you drive.”


Sighing, he took his jacket off and tossed it in the back seat. Snagging him by the tie she pulled him to her. “Don’t get any ideas, Jake… good or bad…”


Jordan looked at the sign over the bar as she went in to place another call. They had been there several hours now, and the novelty was wearing thin. It was then she noticed that the bar and grill would be closing at 6 pm that night so that they could do the once-a-week-if-it-needs-it-or-not scrubbing and waxing of the floors.


Jordan flashed a smile at the barkeeper. “Where’s the best place for some night life around here?” she asked, leaning against the bar.


She saw the barkeeper regard her. “The best place that you will find is three miles up this road to your left and then make a right on the interstate. Look for the signs that say ‘Pirate’s Peek’ and follow it in. It gets crowded sometimes on the weekends, but during the week days it’s very nice.”


Slipping him a folded bill, Jordan went out to where her son was placing spoons on his face and laughing at the sea gulls who he tossed bits of shell to. Sighing, she picked up her purse and snagged the keys to the SUV.  “I have an errand to do, Sweetie…” she said to her husband, who nodded without looking up from his palm pilot. “Kissies,” she said, sending one in his direction.


She walked away from her family without a backwards glance. They could walk to the rooms. Belatedly, as she pulled on to the interstate, she realized she had the room key for her husband, but, knowing him, he would probably be up half the night with his electronically gadgets. Her son was a dismal failure when it came to money - except for spending it, which he did with the greatest of ease. She didn’t mind him smoking, as long as that and drinking were all that he did … his father was rather old fashioned in that regard.


Snorting to herself she remembered they had left their friends Chad and Claudette back at the bed and breakfast’s tiny library. They said they weren’t in the mood for lobster, and would snack on something from the diner next door later. Well, from what Jordan saw the town folded up at eight, and later better come sooner for them, or they would be very hungry…


She found the sign for Pirate’s Peek easily enough, and drove down the coast the required mileage before she saw the upper parking area. There was only one other car that she saw in the lower area, which she pulled down and parked next to.


She didn’t know what she expected - a sleazy Honky-Tonk, perhaps. It wouldn’t matter. No one knew her up here, but she didn’t care; it was her vacation. As she rounded the stone path downward, she noticed that there was nothing except a wrapped wire fence and a few of those one armed bandits that you placed money into to have a view of very far away. She saw the driver of the Mercedes along the fence - he had a box and he was throwing something over the fence that she could hear break as it hit the rocks below.


“Excuse me - is this Pirate’s Peek?” she asked, approaching him.


He paused in mid throw. “Yes…” he said, sending the bottle in a perfect arc over the rocks to crash down below as the tide danced out to sea.


“But - where is it?” she asked, puzzled. She saw him turn slightly, and recognized him as the person who had purchased her a drink at the bar.


He gave a mellow chuckle. “You’re standing in it, on it,” he said, chuckling again.


“They lied to me?” she gasped, stamping her foot.


Hearing her ire Jake turned. “Let me guess - you asked where there is some night life, and they directed you here? Well, for 50 cents every fifteen minutes you can use those things and watch the boats come in from their runs, and then after, if you’re game, you can sometimes use them to spy into people’s homes across the way,” he said waving his hand in the direction of the town. She saw him pick up another bottle and pitch it.


“And exactly what are you doing that’s more exciting than the night life here?” she asked, curious as she strode to him, taking note of his firm build beneath his open shirt.


He stopped. “Ah, well, a fool’s errand. Was given this lot to take to the local pharmacy to be disposed of, got the bright idea, after most of this began leaking in the car, to actually ASK them if they would, on supposition, take old chemistry stuff for disposal. The answer was no, and of course the recycle place doesn’t want them. The good news is that the pharmacy was able to get replacements for everything, and those will be delivered tomorrow. In the meanwhile, I’ve got a smelly car, and no place to store this stuff, so… I decided to do what I did with my own chemistry set years ago… mix them to see what happens! “


“Which has been what?” she asked, leaning against the rail looking down at the mess upon the rocks.


“So far, it’s just been the powders… Ah, here is something that should brighten up the night,” he said, hefting the glass jar upward and holding it up to light. “Magnesium, or Manganese… I can’t make it out, but it burns, if I remember… “


“You failed chemistry, didn’t you?” she asked, regarding him. He was so handsome it took her breath away.


“I - won an award for creativity,” he smirked, then saw the way she was looking at him. He handed her a bottle.


“Hold that,” he said, going back to his car, and when he returned she saw he had a folded blanket and the opened bottle in his other hand.


She eyed him suspiciously. “Pray tell, what is that for?” she asked dryly.


“Well, if you don’t have anything to do, and I don’t have anything to do, then why not do anything together?” he asked, giving her a roguish smile.


Jordan studied the man before her. “I don’t even know your name, and how do I know you didn’t put something in there?”


He shrugged. “You can burn a capful to see if it goes blue, and do you really want to know my name? Or can I be that tall, dark, mysterious stranger that you meet on vacation and sweep you into adventure?” he asked, dropping his voice and making her lean closer to catch what he was saying. He unexpectedly gave the bottle of chemical he was holding a toss over the edge. She heard the breaking of the glass then gasped as the chemicals below ignited and burned upon the rocks in a myriad of colors.


Demurely she placed her hand upon his elbow and allowed him to lead her to a place where they could study the night life with a better view.


Mort paced in Jessica’s parlor. It had taken some convincing to get Willie and Taylor and Ian to come over, until he informed them it was a come-as-you-are event. Blankets in tow, the three came over after Mort helped Taylor down the steps. Donna was munching away on carrot sticks, and Frank was giving Tipper a worried look as she sat wrapped in Mort’s coat, refusing to change what she had been wearing to what he had picked off of her bed for her.


Seth had come, and given the group and Mort a curious regard. It wasn’t what he had expected. He didn’t know quite what to expect after the call he had received from Mort. “Sheriff, I do hope that there is a reason why you called me away from my duties at the hospital?” Seth waited for an answer.  


“Yes… I understand that the trip that all of you took to Ireland may not have turned out exactly as planned, but today I have seen things that I had hoped I never have had to see again.“ He turned to Willie. “I could blame you for a lot of things, but that wouldn’t be fair. Odd things have always happened around Mrs. F, but either there is a conjunction of solar flares and sunspots mixed with a full moon, or all of you have something that you’re not saying. Something that scares me more than the street gangs and facing the tax man at the same time. Tippers told me she is leaving Cabot Cove. Willie is crying over plants. And you, Frank - when your parents asked me to pick you up at the airport, I had a fair idea that you were going to be trouble for Jess, but that never happened. I want to know what did. What changed you all? And don’t say, ‘You had to be there!’”


“It’s your fault,” said Frank.


“Mine?” Mort said, confused.


“It wasn’t Tipper’s fault that the guy fell in, and you didn’t need to say what you did. That was just – mean,” Frank said, moving over to where Tipper sat and giving her a worried look as she huddled in Mort’s jacket, shivering. Frank picked up Tipper’s hand.  “It’s okay to talk about it, Angela… it’s okay to tell what happened… “


Tipper shook her head. “Nothing more to tell than what everyone else knows,” she said, biting her bottom lip.


Donna regarded Tipper. “How do you keep that from sliding down?” she asked bluntly as she began another carrot.


Tipper looked at Donna, and it took a moment before she realized what Donna was speaking about. “Oh… uh, the two-sided tape that’s for the plastic on the windows in winter time,” she said, giving it a bit of a tug to be sure that it was up. “And you have to sit very carefully.” she added.


“All right, before we get going on fashions let’s get back to what’s going on and what happened in Ireland, and I don’t care if it takes all night - I want to know everything,” said Mort, looking around the room. The only one who showed hesitance in their eyes bout revealing everything was Jessica, who sat with a faint blush upon her cheeks.


“You first, Doc…” Mort said, pulling up a chair and pouring himself a cup of coffee from the carafe. If he asked in the right order, he suspected he would get his answers without having to place Jessica in the position of stating what she and George did in their own time in front of the family.


It was much later that Jordan struggled to get her shoes on with out dragging dirt in to them. Jake was already dusting his hands and impulsively dumped the rest of the bottles over the fence, tossing the box over to float away on the waves. He glanced at his wrist watch, and grinned. Eleven pm. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that the sun would be up at a brutal time. He always pulled the blinds down and slept away from the rising sun when he knew he would be out late. Together they walked to their cars. He pulled her in for a fumbling kiss and offered her the last of the bottle. She waved it away, and smiled as she strode to her SUV and got behind the wheel, starting it up. She saw him stand outside of his car and tip the bottle upwards then walk to the fence to toss the bottle over the edge of the fence with the others.


She sighed happily as she made her way to the road that led to the interstate and began the drive to the bed and breakfast. He had been exactly what she had needed to make the whole horrible day better. It was several minutes down the road that she saw a sign that she didn’t recognize and realized she had made a wrong turn. Slowing down she made a U-turn in the middle of the road and retraced her path. He made her feel – special. He was tender, and romantic, and he - he didn’t say anything about needing a tummy tuck, or a lift job.


Jake sighed as he opened his car door and settled into the driver’s seat. If he had his choice, he could have just stayed right where he was at and spent the night, but he knew that the police would be cruising by around midnight checking out for teenagers looking for the night life. He heard something. A drone. He felt something brush by his cheek and swatted something rather large away towards the passenger side seat. It thwacked against the window. “Damn moths,” he grumbled as he put his car into reverse then made his way out of the parking area without his headlights on. He knew the road; he could see fine by the moonlight as he pulled on to the road that lead to the interstate.


He heard the drone again, this time more insistent, and as he slapped it away again he felt a sharp pain in his hand. He put his foot on the brake and looked at his hand - something was moving on it causing him extreme agony. He smacked his hand against the dashboard and heard another angry drone rise from it. Something hit his lip, as the moon grew brighter.


Humming, Jordan tried to compose herself. It would never do to arrive at the bed and breakfast with a silly grin on her face. She checked the mirror to see if she had been able to get all of the briers picked out of her hair.


Something made her look ahead as her car wobbled on the grooved edge of the road. What was that in the road? A moose? Jordan thought as she slammed her foot on the brake peddle. She felt the SUV slide on the slick oil-chipped road. Not a moose…was Jordan’s last thought before the impact between the two cars.


The SUV flipped the Mercedes on its side to slide down the road sixty-five feet before coming to a rest on the edge of the hill. Bouncing off of the car the SUV hit the cliff face and spun around in the opposite direction as the air bag deployed.


Mort glanced at the wooden clock on the mantle. 11:20 p.m. Willie and Taylor had given him a look and simply said they had gone to Gram’s the night of the wedding and tucked in before falling silent.


“And?” Mort prompted.


A Tarzan’s yell came from the jacket around Tipper’s shoulders. When it yelled again her hand fished in the pocket and her eyes fell on the display before handing it to Mort.


He pressed the answer button and held the phone to his ear. Andy was brief, and Mort could hear the wail of sirens coming from down below at the fire company. He glanced at the people in the room before leaning against the wall.  “ETA fourteen minutes,” Mort said, looking at his watch. “I have three that I will bring. Thanks, Andy.” Hanging up the phone he strode to where Tipper had placed her things.  “You need to change, now. Hurry,” he said, pushing her to the other room and closing the door between them to give her privacy.


“Mort? What happened?” asked Jessica as he slid his coat on.


“The bus with the 4-H kids coming back from the county fair had an accident on the road near Pirate’s Peek… They need every one with medical knowledge to help. Mrs. Fletcher - would you come too - to help figure things out…”


“Of course, Mort.”


Tipper came out of the room tucking her t-shirt into her jeans. “I don’t have my tranq gun…” she said, trying to steady herself as she wobbled on her sore ankle.

“I’ve my rifle in the trunk… and my pistol.”


Willie had left the house briefly, and returned with a leather bag that he had slung by a thick strap over his shoulder. “I’m nae legal yet, Sheriff,  but I can splint…” he said as he kissed Taylor, then Ian and inclining his head to Ian, placed him in charge of Taylor.


Mort looked at Seth, then back to Willie as he headed to the door with the group. “I don’t think the State of Maine is going to worry about legalities tonight, Willie.”


Tipper learned quickly that there wasn’t much she could do for the animals that had been in the accident. When the bus had impacted it had rolled, sending the cages of the smaller animals end over end with enough force to snap bones and crush fragile bodies. The bus had cracked open, spilling its contents and scattering its precious cargo. There were too many to use a bullet on each for the smaller rabbits, and as they lay in their smashed cages panting from the shock, Tipper moved from cage to cage carefully lifting them up and giving them release from their pain.

The ones that could be saved she placed in a common cage - one that the owners would have to sort through by ear tags or markings.


Tipper watched as Jessica moved with Mort, taking in the clues by the bright light provided by the fire trucks. She saw him pause and look away towards where Willie was working over a child. There was abject sorrow on Mort’s face - for a moment Tipper didn’t understand. It was then she saw someone she recognized standing next to Willie. Tipper looked back at Mort - there was a vulnerability reflected on his countenance, and things seemed surreal. A man stood in a white shirt and dark pants looking about confused. She recognized him as one of the people on the bridge that morning. A darkness was surrounding him, one that he began to struggle against. Tipper glanced at Mort. He was looking in the same direction as the man was. Tipper returned her gaze to where the man continued to struggle. She didn’t see Mort excuse himself from Jessica. He came to her, and followed her line of vision. With a silent scream the man gave into the darkness which enveloped him.


Tipper looked down and away, jumping at Mort’s touch upon her shoulder. For a moment he couldn’t say anything. Tipper asked it first. “You - saw that too?”


She saw the conflict on his face. He didn’t say anything for a moment, then he extended his hand to help her to her feet. “The driver of the SUV insists that there was a moose on the road, and that that’s what caused the accident. Her blood alcohol is - well, she’s fairly pickled. You’re the animal expert - it means the difference between telling the families it was a tragic accident, or that this happened because of a drunk.”


Tipper turned to where Willie was still working over a young girl. She saw the man who was kneeling beside them stand and pat Willie on the shoulder. Willie looked up and then nodded as the man moved away.


“It’s not impossible, Mort, for a moose to be this close to the coast. Just - unlikely. We will need your rifles - I don’t particularly feel like getting trampled tonight. We can start by checking the cars to see if there are any traces that would be left behind, like bits of skin and hair,” she said.


He stopped her from going towards the Mercedes. “You don’t need to see that,“ he murmured. “Besides, he had to have rolled over a hornets’ nest - the car was full of them until we used the fire extinguisher on them.”


Jessica paced in the hospital’s 4th floor ICU waiting room. Seth had directed her up to that particular waiting room as being one of the more quite places where she could close her eyes and rest until things were settled, but her mind was working in overdrive, trying to sift through the puzzling clues. Floyd was still at the accident site. There was only one fatality, three still in surgery. The rest had been treated and released to their parents, who looked to Mort for answers. The driver of the SUV was denying responsibility for the accident, insisting she saw a moose, didn’t know where the other car had come from, and only said that the barkeeper had informed her that Pirate’s Peek had nightlife. She flinched when she heard that the other man was a well liked, respected member of the community, and that she was being held accountable for his death. It was four a.m. now, and the sun was just coming up across the tree line. In the distance Jessica heard the train whistle as the Amtrak rumbled through the intersection.


She saw the doors open as Mort pushed in a wheelchair with Tipper riding in it, her leg elevated and her ankle wrapped well. Despite the long night they had endured, Tipper seemed calmer than she had in a long while. “Hairline fracture in one of the bones of my foot,” Tipper said, waving her hand at her bandaged ankle.


Mort leaned forward. “It could have been much worse, young lady,” he said with concern.


Andy came into the waiting room and handed a plastic evidence envelope to Mort. “Found this in Mr. Eliot’s jacket pocket, Sheriff. The micro id’s registered them to Rachel Andrews.“


“That’s not the woman who was behind the wheel of the SUV… was it?” asked Mort, puzzled.


“No, but the tire casts you made yesterday match the ones on the SUV, and Floyd found the same matching tire prints down in the lower parking level of the Peek.”


The door swung open. An exhausted Willie entered with Seth beside him. Both were in hospital scrubs, and Willie had his long hair wrapped in a pony tail. He paused when he saw the earring in the evidence bag. “Where did ye find Jordan’s earring? She’s been going on fierce about it… as if tha’s the only thing she has to worry about.”


Jessica looked at the earring, and then at Willie. “It belongs to Rachel Andrews – as does the necklace that Jordan was wearing today as well, I suspect. I could see her playing with the stone while she paced on the back porch.”


She saw Willie shake his head. “Ach, no - Wife doesn’t own anything like tha’ - what practical place could she wear it?”


“I think it’s about time that Mrs. Phillips had her morning wake-up call,” said Mort grimly.


Seth’s pager vibrated in his pocket. Glancing at it he sighed. “Someone is trying to claim Mr. Eliot’s body. Andy, I believe I will require your assistance on this matter. If you will excuse us? Perhaps the autopsy test results will be done…”


Jordan looked quite plain under the hospital’s dim lighting. Jessica could see where the metal brace stabilized her head, and the series of cables that cradled her hips and right leg. A large patch was over her right eye, held on by thin tape. Burn marks marred the perfect skin along the side of her jaw from the air bag deployment. There was no trace of the perfectly manicured nails, nor of the swept up locks of her brassy red hair - it was clipped beneath a paper cap. Her rings and her jewelry had been removed as well, leaving her long thin fingers un adorned. The hospital gown was clipped over her shoulder, allowing her some modesty as the IV tubes and leads ducked under the cotton sheet. The IV arm - her right - was taped to a board so that she would keep it straight. Her left arm was wrapped in cotton and gauze, allowing only her hand to peek out.


Mort and Jessica moved in quietly to her right side while Tipper rolled over to the window, which looked out over a small park. She really didn’t want to be there. She had heard enough about this woman, and had seen too much the night before.


Flipping the covers back at the foot of the bed Willie ran his thumb on the bottom sole of Jordan’s right foot before repeating it on her left. “How does one make things right in a world made so wrong? Who decides the final justice? What is fair, and what is more than what the truth should allow?” thought Willie as he pulled up a chair on her left hand side and turned it around. Carefully he took her left hand and held it, playing his thumb over the back of it.


Her left eye opened and moved sideways to regard him. The patch blocked her vision to the right completely. “It hurts…” she moaned softly. “They won’t give me anything for the pain … it hurts so…”


“Shhh, Deirfiúr… stop fussing for a bit, and it will be better soon.”


She couldn’t turn her head to look at him, though she knew the sound of his voice. “Oh … it’s you … did they go back and find my earring?”


Willie sighed and leaned closer so that she could see his face better. “Aye, they found it, Deirfiúr,” he said softly.


Jessica walked around the side of the bed and stood behind Willie. “It brings a lot of questions that need answering, Jordan. It was in the pocket of the gentleman you said you’d never seen before. Your SUV’s tire tread was found next to where his were in the lower lot - and you left an empty bottle behind with both of your prints on it. And if I am not mistaken, the bite marks on your shoulder will undoubtedly match his teeth impressions …”


“Make her stop … she - she’s upsetting me,” gasped Jordan to Willie.


“Deirfiúr, a man died last night on that road, and children were hurt. You canna hide what has happened. If it does not come out now, it will come out later for all the world to hear. Ye need to speak the truth.”


“I got lost. I saw a moose, and I couldn’t stop in time!” she said with as much force as she could manage.


Willie eased her back on the bed as Jessica continued more firmly, “I’m sorry, Jordan. Your tire skid marks were eighty-five feet long. There were no signs of any moose - we did check for that possibility. The bartender remembered selling that bottle to Jake the other day – but he couldn’t have had much, since according to your blood alcohol level you were well past the legal limit for intoxication. You may have become disoriented in the dark, and become lost, but you were also speeding for the road conditions. Jake Eliot is dead because of it.”


“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t a clue how he managed to get my earring either! The last time I had them on I was at the bar and grill, and I took them off to have a discussion on my phone. I placed them in my purse - and that didn’t leave my car after I left the bar and grill. I would appreciate its return,” Jordan said with a huff.


“Most certainly it will be returned to its rightful owner - as will the other jewelry in your possession - back to Rachael Andrews,” said Jessica as gently as she could, as if to a child.


“Excuse me? Those are my diamonds, every single one of those things are mine!” Jordan snapped, then squeezed Willie’s hand as the anger she was feeling made her try to get up, causing her discomfort.


She saw Jessica shake her head. “The earring found in Jake’s coat pocket was examined under a high powered microscope. They found registration numbers - for insurance reasons the larger, more expensive gems are marked in case of theft. The earring is registered to Rachael Andrews, your sister. Unless you care to explain? I am sure with a bit more scrutiny the jewelry shop where it was sold can find a record of the purchaser.”


Jordan’s voice dropped. “It was purchased by my grandfather, who didn’t know that a two year old girl has no use for diamonds. Rachael was his favorite. Every Christmas he would send packages for both of us, and I would find them early, of course, and look inside. He would send me old dusty books! What did I want with yellowed handwritten garbage that I couldn’t make out anyway? I would go to the five-and-dime, and just replace her gift with something else. I couldn’t wear them around the house, of course, but someone who is ten has plans, dreams… I wanted to be away from that house in the worst way… but I was there first! Once she came along, she was their princess! She got the attention, she was the perfect, favorite daughter who could do no wrong. I made up my mind at her 3rd birthday party that I was not going to sit on the sidelines any longer.” Jordan chuckled. “It was sooo easy to do things, to break things, and blame her - and of course, I learned how to faint properly. One does not simply fall backwards, but slumps gracefully to the floor at the first sign of a parent’s anger. I always got what I wanted.”


The door opened to her room. Seth peeked in and motioned to Jessica and Mort, who followed him outside into the hall. He was very careful to close the door between them.


“I take it you have the autopsy results?” asked Jessica, curious at Seth’s frown.


“Aya, and after having spent three hours listening to that woman rant I would love to be able to say the best place for her is in a psych ward to serve her time - but Jake Elliot didn’t die from the impact. He was dead before the accident after being stung eighteen times - eight times in the hand, four on his face, and six times directly over his heart - by the same hornets that had to be killed with the fire extinguisher. You thought at first that the car had come in contact with a nest, but Floyd was very thorough, and found no trace of nesting material. He did find patches on the leather fabric that held pheromones that induce bees to swarm. He didn’t find the bottle itself, though he did find a discarded alcohol wipe that had the pheromones on it, and the outside wrapper for it that had a clear thumb print. He also discovered a great quantity of old chemicals dumped over the hill at Pirates Peek … and …”


Mort saw Seth hesitate. “Go on, Doc, it can’t make my day any worse…”


“Floyd discovered that Jake never turned on his headlights, or his running lights. The Mercedes tire tracks are sideways, from a dead stop. He had pulled across the road and died there. The accident with the bus would have happened anyway - head on, instead of the way that it happened. Andy used that new highway safety protocol computer program and ran all the variables. He told Floyd that it could have been worse.”


“So I have nothing to hold her on that would stand up in a court of law that her husband can’t just pay a fine for her … and we still don’t know why it happened, only how…”


“I wouldn’t be too hasty, Mort. I have a pretty fair idea that Jordan still knows more than she is telling, and perhaps even the reason why he was murdered.”


Tipper saw Willie’s fingers manipulate the dose meter for the morphine drip then press the plunger, sending a small dose of the medication into Jordan’s system. It was a few heart beats later that Jordan’s voice faltered, before she asked, curious, “What does ‘derfurr’ mean?”


Willie picked up Jordan’s hand and kissed the back of it. “Deirfiúr means ‘sister.’”


“Don’t… don’t call me that. I - I haven’t been a proper one at all…” she said, giving a sigh before falling asleep.


Willie felt Tipper nudge him with her extended foot. “Willie? Can I ask you something?”


“Of course.”


“The - the man that was with you tonight when you were helping that girl … the one who patted you on the shoulder and walked away … who is he?”


“Why do ye need to know, lass?” he asked, curious.


“He was with Faraday and his sister when they died, and I saw him yesterday outside your shop sitting on the park bench just before a woman who was with Jake got bumped into the street - I pulled her back in time, and it felt like he was watching the whole time….”


“I daresay he was, at that,“ he said, standing up to maneuver her. He was about to wheel her out the door when she placed the brakes on and looked backwards.


“Who is he, Willie?”


“Oh - that’s just Adam. Don’t let him trouble your thoughts,” he said softly, leaning down to unlock her chair to move it.


Her hands stopped his. She turned her face and found her lips at his ear. “I - I saw the shadows take Jake last night. He … he struggled and screamed against them …”


“Did he now?”


Tipper hung her head. “You don’t believe me.”


“Oh … aye, I do, lass. I very well do,” he said, somewhat distracted.


“Then what is it?” she asked, curious over his expression.


“I’m sorry, lass - something tha’ Jordon said. What type of a person would give gems an’ the such to a two year old? Registered, at that. And the likes of hand-written books… no doubt original manuscripts.”


Tipper regarded Willie.  “Someone who had too much money and didn’t know what to do with it, or someone who was hiding their money from the IRS?” she said, guessing. “What are you going to do?” she asked as he finally freed the locks on the chair.


“No idea besides getting a good rest. The family‘s got to be told… ” he said, yawning.


“Uh… you know, the hospital has people who do that, and Seth could deal with explaining what was done, and what she has to look forward to. She doesn’t know, does she?” Tipper asked, looking back up at Willie as they went through the doors towards where Jessica was with Seth and Mort.

“She does, in a fashion, but - it’s nae real to her just yet.“ Willie pushed Tipper’s chair up to the group.


“So?” asked Tipper, curious, as Willie excused himself and sat down upon one of the small love seats.


Despite the exhaustion Jessica felt, she was compelled to follow the information that Andy had extracted from the computer data base. Mort watched as Jessica carefully approached Althea and learned what she knew regarding Jake – how she had received the text message, and had left Al’s bedside for the hour and helped to move the boxes to Jake’s car. She knew about the bottle of alcohol. She knew something had been spilt that smelt like cat vomit, and she admitted using the wipe to clean her hands. Anything else she withheld was personal.


“Look, it wasn‘t my idea! I was just called on to carry boxes and help get them into Jake’s car. They were ancient icky bottles that should have been thrown out years ago. None of the stuff was any good,” said Althea with a shrug.


Jessica gave a quick glance to Mort as they left the hospital room. “If you feel up to it, Mort, I believe we have a delivery to intercept…”


Mort sighed. Adele would want an explanation, of course … but wanting justice was an addiction. “Just tell me where to go,” he said, and saw her look of bemusement.


Taylor moved carefully along the plant shelter area and rotated the pots that held the fragile herbs. She had said they could build a greenhouse, but Willie had shaken his head. It was the wind and rain and sun that helped the plants to grow, and kept the soil alive.


Ian was with Frank and Donna still. Donna had made grits and they were on their second batch. If he kept up his intake, there may well be a chance to save him yet. Sighing, she came along the back way to the porch and saw the small crushed rose bush under the table. She felt her knees wobble. She had to sit down, and with shaking hands she gathered the miniature rose in its pot and held it to her chest.


She saw a shadow fall across her vision and looked up into the eyes of her brother-in-law. He looked anxious, and out of breath, as if he had walked a great distance very fast. “Rachael… have you seen Jordan?” he asked breathlessly.


She looked back down at the rose bush. “I have had this rose for fifteen years … it was the last thing that Pops gave me before he died. Jordan said that as the oldest, she inherited everything - this was the only thing that I was able to have to remember him by.” Carefully she replaced it under the protection of the slatted table. She reached forward and was offered his arm to help rise. Not letting go she took him around to where the battered plants were struggling to overcome the shock they had received the day before.


“Do you know, that there are all types of gardens? Some for flowers, some for vegetables, and some for herbs. There is also a healer’s garden - generation of seeds that have never known hybridizations. A healer plants half his seeds and keeps the other half to pass on to their apprentice. They are the same plants as have grown for thousands of years, helping people live. Pharmaceutical companies have offered fortunes for access to seeds such as these. The body doesn’t recognize these components in pill form with fillers, only in the leaves, or the stem, or the root and only if it’s used properly and at the right time.”


Jordan didn’t come home last night. I stayed with Joshua and when I got up, I found the SUV wasn’t in the lot and her room wasn’t slept in. She doesn’t know anyone up here,” he said with a sigh.


“Gene, she is not my problem, she’s yours. Honestly? I can’t care about her without sacrificing my own family, and she isn’t worth it!”


“She’s your sister! We‘re family.”


“Funny, she never acted like it. Once Pops died, I was invisible. I would hear about the parties and the trips you took everyone else on after the fact, and gave up on ever thinking that I would be a part of it.”


“You were invited! Every time! I made sure of it and I filled out the invitations myself. Jordan said you declined.”


“Did you mail them yourself?” she asked, curious.


“No. Jordan always took care of that…“ His voice faltered. “But you came to the ones that my family asked you to, for a while at least, and you acted odd then. You didn’t speak to many people and you just sat there swilling down the rum and lime Jordan said you insisted on having if you came.”


“I never swilled rum. It was tonic and lime. And it’s pretty hard to pretend you’re having a grand time when you’re told at the door how horrid you look, that you didn’t get enough sleep, that what you wore wasn’t flattering. ‘Oh, couldn’t you have worn something a BIT more indecent this time?’” Taylor said, mimicking her older sister’s voice.


“She was just teasing … she loves you,” he said amicably.


He was unprepared when Taylor’s hand whapped him on the back of the head. His hand went to his head as he turned to face her. “What the hell was that for?” he asked, confused.


“Well, I had hoped to knock some sense into you…” she said with her hands on her hips.


Gene was about to respond when he saw Ian using Jessica’s cane to hobble out the back door and across the yard.  “Aunt Taylor, Uncle Willie asks if you can come to the hospital. I told him you were speaking with a man, an’ he says if it’s Aunt Jordan’s husband to bring him, he needs words with him. He said he will be in the 4th floor waiting room till ye get there, taking a nap. He says it‘s up to you if I come along or na.”


“Let me get my keys…” she said, giving Gene a push in the direction of where the car was parked.  To Ian she said, “Let Aunt Donna know you will be with us, and tell Frank that if there are any problems, he is to call for the police.”


Ian gave her a quick nod then went back into Jessica’ s house for a moment before coming out again and giving the door a good tug.


Gene had delighted in carrying Ian in his arms from where they parked to the hospital. He was feather-light, and his arms wrapped about Genes neck as he snuggled in. Joshua was never one to allow something so simple to be done with him. Ian let himself be carried with total trust, and when they arrived at the inside doors of the hospital, a nurse glancing at the cast on Ian’s leg and swung a wheelchair in his direction. Carefully Gene placed Ian in the chair then followed Taylor to the elevators to head up to the 4th floor.


The doors were closed to the large waiting room with a myriad of people within. Seth and Willie were speaking to some parents regarding their children and Tipper was in her chair by the window. There were some other people in the room we well, some that Gene knew by sight, and others by reputation, and much like his wife, they did not expect to be kept waiting.


Ian looked back up at Taylor as she gasped. He followed her gaze back to the elderly man who was showing his displeasure at having to wait.


“Perhaps ye need this seat more than I?“ he asked, reaching for her hand.


She shook her head. “No, that one’s yours, but there are some over by Tipper, let’s go join her - this may take awhile.”

Tipper flashed Ian a grin. “Heyyyy, slick wheels!”


“Aye, yours are grand, too. Though I feel a bit silly in it - I can walk! “


Tipper gave a dismissive wave. “Yeah, I should have an air boot and crutches, but they said they don’t want the liability if I should fall here.”


Ian giggled softly. “But it’s a hospital! If all they wanted was healthy people here, they wouldn’t have any money, now would they?”


She returned his grin. “Sure they would, they would just get it from the insurance companies,” she said in a low voice.


“Is tha’ who they are? The in- insurance companies?” he inquired, glancing over his shoulder at the group of men in three piece suits around the elderly man who sat cooling his heals.


Somehow word had gotten out that one of the people who had helped rescue the children at the crash site was there. The families had come looking for answers just as the elderly man had arrived demanding to see his granddaughter, flailing his arms about when Willie informed him politely that the contact with the immediate family had to be made first before any one else could go in. For a moment she thought it was going to get very ugly. The suit men had stepped forward and said something low to Willie. From the sneer on the man’s face it had to be pretty rude. Willie had just flicked an eyebrow upward and then indicated to the elderly man where he could sit while he waited.


People poured in then, coming over to Willie - distressed parents, weeping siblings. Seth came in and between the two of them they managed to tell the parents that the police were still investigating the cause of the crash, and that they would be the ones to give the final reports to the parents. Tipper watched as Willie interacted with the children, telling them how the accident affected their sister or brother, and that he didn’t know about the wee creatures that were with them, except that some went to heaven, and the rest were in one rather large pen together, and if more wee ones happened because of it, it was meant to be.


When the room cleared Willie sighed and leaned against the back of the chair. Seeing Ian, he gave him a wink. Taylor hadn’t moved from where she stood near the door. Seth motioned for Gene to follow him, taking him back to where Jordan was.


The elderly man stood and hobbled over to Willie. Straightening slightly he looked Willie in the eye and thumped his cane to the floor. “Now young man, I would like to know the status of my granddaughter…”


Willie studied him for a moment then asked. “If I may inquire, sir, how did you learn your granddaughter was here in the hospital?”


The elderly man waved his hand over to the gentlemen who stood three steps behind him. “They woke me at two this morning and told me that Thaddeus had received an inquiry regarding one of the registered earrings. The call came from right here in this hospital’s board of directors’ office. I was informed that there was only one woman driving separately, and that she was on this floor, and that you were the one responsible for her care. So, young man: where is my granddaughter Taylor Rachael, and what have you done to her? If anything happens to her…” He wavered. “If any thing happens to my little princess, I don’t know what I would do…” he finished weakly.


Willie helped him sit down on a chair and then sat next to him as he shot a glance at Taylor, who stood frozen to her spot. “Mr. Andrews? It wasn’t Taylor who was in the accident - it was Jordan. How the earring became involved in it is a long story best left for another time. Jordan lost control of her car, and skidded on gravel before her car impacted with another man’s car - he was across the road with no lights. She has some damage to her right eye and part of her face from the air bag, and some burns on one arm. Her other arm was cut, but na so much that it can’t be made right soon. Her pelvis was damaged, though, an’ at this time the nerves in her legs to her feet are not responding, but it is possible that with therapy she will be able to lead a normal life. As for Taylor, I married her a bit over a week ago.”

“Married her? Oh no you’re not!” he said with sudden anger. Breathing heavily he closed his eyes to calm himself. “How much?” he asked, looking at Willie shrewdly.


“Pardon?” asked Willie, a bit shocked.


“How much money will it take for you to go back to where you came from and forget you were ever married to her? Ten? Twenty million?”


Willie’s eyes glinted as he leaned forward. “I will make a deal with you. I will turn over what I have to you - a bride price - as a sign of my love for your granddaughter if you and your family leave us alone and in peace… an’ you’re welcome to revoke any trust that you may have for her as well. The condition being that ye never see her or our children ever again.”


“What could a medical student possibly have that could be of any value to compare to the love I have for her?”


“Do ye na believe I could love her as you do? When I met Taylor, it was na about money or family, because she said she had none, and I didna know my own. She accepted me and I accepted her as we were. Keep your money, an’ have mine, just do na be hurting her with your words anymore.”


“I could never hurt her!” he gasped softly.


“Ye have. She’s been in this room a great while an’ ye never even noticed her. She said she’s felt invisible to her kin, an’ now I see how. It’s about money and what is acceptable, na loveable … Wife?” he said, calling halfway over his shoulder.


“Yes, husband?” Taylor said softly.


“Would that be a fair trade? He keeps the money and you are na hurt any more?” he asked, turning in his seat.


“Would you ask that of me, husband?” she murmured. “If he wished for the money, it would be his, but do not ask … do not ask for me to stop loving him.”


“I didna ask that - ye loved Jordan all along,” he said tenderly, rising from his seat and going to where she stood.


She resisted moving at first. “I could not accept that they would never wish to care - that would be more than my heart could take.”


“Then I canna ask that of you to accept. He can keep the money, come and go as he wishes, but canna forbid us to love as a family even if he leaves you in your shift an me in my britches,” he said, kissing her lips softly.


Tipper cleared her throat. “Not to sound factitious, but that’s well near a billion you’re tossing over to Jordan, you know…”


Willie waved his hand at the suggestion. “Ah well, she will need it for the medical insurance premiums now, won’t she? I could always sell the estate - but the going mark for haunted places is a bit down this year…”


“You dare jest with me, sir??” thundered Mr. Andrews, thumping his cane on the floor with a sharp crack.


Willie sighed and pulled a thin leather wallet from a pocket of his scrubs. He tossed it at one of the men. “They can look it up if you wish them to.”


For the longest time there was an uncomfortable silence before Mr. Andrews held out his hand for the wallet and said to the men, “Step outside, I wish to have a discussion with my granddaughter and the man who says he is her husband…”


Willie turned and walked over to Tipper. “Lass, could ye be introducing Ian to what they call junk food? Just a wee tich of it, mind you…” he said with a wink. Nodding, Tipper led Ian out and down the hall away from the waiting room.


At the vending machine Ian regarded Tipper. “Why didn’t you tell Sheriff Mort everything last night?”


Tipper worked the buttons for the soda. There was a soft Clip CLUMP as a bottle of root beer tumbled down into the slot. She put more quarters in and pressed a few more buttons for her soda.  “I didn’t hear you tell him everything either,” she said, rolling to the next vending machine to plug in a dollar for a bag of Aquatic Fish. She tugged them out of the dispenser and tore open the bag.


“What is junk food made from?” he asked, taking a bite of a blue sea horse.


“Uh, I think cows’ hooves…” she said with a twinkle in her eyes.


Ian took another bite. “No… I’ve had the inside of cows’ hooves an’ it makes a decent broth, an’ it tastes nothing like this… an’ I’m na even ten, so how can ye let me be drinking beer?”


Mort sorted through the papers on the secretary’s desk and picked up Althea’s profile. Skimming through it, he looked up at Jessica and raised an eyebrow. “You know, when I went to school all the female teachers were old, married and carried long rulers to crack knuckles with. This one is single, young, and according to her record of teaching never has to raise her voice for the boys to behave. Wish I had a teacher like that…” He sighed and picked up the next profile. “What exactly are we looking for?“


“A reason for murder besides the missing funds, though that’s a fair motive. There had to be a catalyst that made the murder more reasonable now, more so than before.”


“So far the only ones that have any connection are Ms. Blair and Jake, and that was from years ago at White Pines, her high school…”


“What are you doing here?” asked Gibby from the doorframe.


Mort waved a piece of paper. “Search warrant, Mrs. Gibby. Probable cause for embezzlement and murder… is that the delivery you were expecting, Mrs. Fletcher?”


Jessica looked up. “Yes, it is … Oh - catch her, Mort!” she exclaimed as Gibby made a bolt for the door.


Mort neatly stepped in the path of the fleeing secretary and caught her arm none too gently.

“Kristin Gibby, I am arresting you for the murder of Jake Eliot…”


“I had nothing to do with his death!” she gasped.


Mort looked at Jessica. “The proof is in the boxes that are being delivered,“ Jessica said grimly.


It took a while for the boxes to be unloaded from the truck and signed for. Mort eyed the contents and then leaned into where Jessica was lifting each bottle out and turning them so she could read the label. Finding the bottle that she was looking for, she handed it to Mort, who read the label then looked at Jessica curiously. “I don’t get it…” he mumbled under his breath.


“Althea said that the boxes they carried out were ‘ancient icky bottles that should have been thrown out years ago,’ and that ‘none of the stuff was any good.’“


Mort leaned forward. “And that leads us to this bottle?”


Jessica turned the bottle in his hand, and Mort’s eyebrows went up. “This breaks down to carbon monoxide. If this stuff was old, there wouldn’t be any way that it would have attracted the bees, but the lab boys said the sample that was in the leather of his car looked like a cat had been sick… this doesn’t have those properties,” he said, frowning.


“No doubt it was mixed with glycerin to cause the oxidation process to slow down. It would have been impossible for an old bottle to have that chemical still in its active form. It could have only happened if it was new. We checked at the supplier, Gibby, and discovered that you had ordered two bottles of this about a month ago, receiving it a few days before the vice principal, Mr. Edwards, died. What we want to know is, why, Kristin? Why kill two people? Was it the money?”


Kristin snorted. “Money? What money? The money collected for the students to have their labs? No, there isn’t a lot of that - maybe five hundred dollars a semester. No, it was all about Jake. He never passed his teaching certification… but he had a way with the ladies, and young girls. Made you feel special - worth something more than just a secretary. Jake got careless, though. Maybe he thought that with Althea coming he wouldn’t need my help anymore. Edwards started asking questions, and I knew that it would only be a matter of time before they found out that I knew all about him. We were going through the old chemicals, and I remembered something from high school - the entire school was closed for a week because someone dumped a whole bottle of this stuff down the ventilation shaft over the weekend, and the school had swarms of bees everywhere. I risked everything for him …and he used me. I couldn’t just let him get away with that, now could I?”


Mort sighed. “Kristin Gibby, you have the right to remain silent…”


Gibby gave a smirk. “You should thank me, you know… If I hadn’t kept him occupied, there would have undoubtedly been more deaths, just like the ones at White Pines…”


Mort sent Jessica a glance. Unrepentant murderers made his skin crawl.


“All right, you go first. What do you think I didn’t tell Mort?” Tipper asked Ian, curious. They had wheeled to the far side of the wing at the end of the hall by the window to be as far away from the waiting room as possible. Ian had a fair pile of different snacks on his lap, as did she. He had seen the corn chips, and she had seen the Twinkies – and it had been ages since she had snacked anyway.


Ian swallowed the corn chip he had been chewing on and held up his small hand to tick off his comments. “One, ye didn’t tell him about your nightmares, which, by the way, scare the bejeebers outa me when ye let our yer shrieks. Two, ye never told him about the daisy chain Faraday made for ye. Three, there was na even a mention regarding the kiss you asked for on the steps of the estate from Faraday…” His voice raised a bit in a fair imitation of Tipper’s: “‘Faraday…. Kiss me…’” he said with a glint of mischief in his eyes.


“Whoa … hang on,” said Tipper, leaning forward. Her voice dropped. “I didn’t tell any one about that. How did you know?” Her hands clutched the arm rests of his chair.


Ian saw bright tears forming in her eyes. “Ye are na the only one who had dreams about the white steps an’ the windows. I’m sorry that I caused you pain remembering tha’. I shouldna ha’ teased you so. It was the moment you accepted you loved him, wasn’t it?”


“It was the last happy moment we had before he died…” said Tipper, leaning back in her chair.


“Oh, lass, then I am doubly ashamed that I teased you about it,” Ian said hanging his head.


“You didn’t know.”


“I should ha’ asked Aurth. She would ha’ told me if it was right or na to say. She ha’ been spot on about other things before,” he sighed, and fell silent.


“Who is Aurth?” inquired Tipper gently. She watched as he gave a shy grin.


“Oh, she’s a wonderful older lady, speaks quite oddly, doesn’t sound like anyone that I know, so I’m na sure where she hails from. Granmum said she was the first friend they made when they moved into the projects area awhile back, an’ she would come around when there were problems in the house an’ help us. We used to ha’ long talks about why I was so skinny. Mum realized Pattie was taller than I was. She told mum na to go in the day that she wasn’t feeling well, the day that Da died when the factory went up… If she hadn’t been there to tell mum tha’, we would ha’ lost them both… One of the last things she told Da was tha’ she knew of a doctor across the way tha’ might be able to help me get better, a Dr. Buhmer. Da looked in the phone book but he couldn’t find any doctor with tha’ name… Now, what were you believing tha’ I didna tell the sheriff?” he asked, raising his eyebrow brashly.


“I wondered if you’d seen something when we were kidnapped - there were just two of them, and I know I didn’t see anything or realize what was happening until I was pulled backwards, and Frank had the same memory - so that would leave you. You were standing beside Frank, and you had to have seen something. It wouldn’t make sense that we weren’t hurt, but you were. Why didn’t you tell any one what you saw before?”


Ian hung his head. For a moment Tipper thought he was going to burst into tears - he had his eyes tightly closed.


“I saw Faraday hugging you from behind, and he took your face in his hand like he was going to kiss you, and you melted into his arms. I heard Frank gasp, and then saw Flynn had him, and he was on the ground, an' you were too and Flynn looked at me. and knew it was something horrid, and I went to scream, but I couldn’t. Flynn grabbed me and I bit him hard, He said I was very well going to hell, and na to make a sound on the way or my family would be joining me. I bit him again, and he brought his foot around onto my leg, an' the nasty bit of flannel on my face. When we got back to the bed and breakfast, I was scared that he would make good on what he had said, so I pretended. We were found then.“


Ian lifted his face, looking miserably up at Tipper. “Faraday might well be alive had I said something, or my family be dead - an’ what was I to do?“


Tipper shifted in her chair, regarding the young boy. “Flynn was a very bad person. Faraday didn’t want to see anyone get hurt.” She shifted forward again, taking his hand. “Faraday would have rather died than to see you and your family come to harm.”


Ian studied her face. “Do you forgive him, for what he did? Can ye forgive me, for staying silent all this time?” he asked softly.


Tipper saw that tears were welling up in his eyes. “Oh, sweetheart,” she said gently. “Come here.”


Ian looked up at her, then moved the small bags of food off of his lap and set them aside before moving over to sit on her lap. He was very careful not to bump her ankle and when he looked up at her, he saw tears in her own eyes.


“Ian, I want to ask if you would forgive me, and all of the others…” she said softly.


“What did ye do?” he inquired, laying his head on her shoulder as she wrapped her arms about his thin body.


“We were so caught up with everything. We should have known something was wrong when you were so quiet about everything, how you sat still, and were so very good about helping, that we missed how much all of this had hurt you inside. We were wrong not to ask, or try to find out. We tend to speak out a bit more here - we let our children know that if something is wrong, to tell someone they trust, so that we can help fix it.”


I didn’t know who to trust. An’ your na one for opening up yourself,” he said, looking up at her.


Tipper smiled gently down at Ian who yawned and snuggled next to her. “I’m getting better at it though,” she murmured.


Waving the tumbler of Irish whiskey in the direction of Tipper, Mort raised his voice above the din of people who were crowded in Taylor’s living room to wish Tipper well on her new job. “And if it hadn’t been for the reports regarding Dr. Henderson’s unique ability to bump into the most interesting of people…“ he began as he smiled in her direction.


Jessica finished for him. “We would have had three unsolved murders, possible four before the school year started… Mrs. Gibby had no difficulties explaining that Jake had been calling in the complaint reports so that when Al came down the bridge, no matter where they were, he could count on Tipper’s reputation to give him an alibi: she bumped them, and the bridge rail would give way. His next target would have been Althea, and perhaps even Mrs. Gibby.”


With his arm wrapped around Althea, Al looked puzzled. “But why kill Althea, and me? What did we do?” he asked, curious.


Jessica shrugged. “Mrs. Gibby said it had something to do with what happened at White Pines High School a few years ago. The only thing that we could find was a reference to two girls who had borrowed his camping gear and had been found dead several days later. Jake Eliot swore that he knew nothing about the deaths, and then left town to come here. My guess is that when he learned Althea was coming here, he panicked. He learned that from a letter from you, Al… didn’t he?”


Al hung his head. “Yes… I - I wanted him to know that even though Althea was going to be working at the same school as he, that, well, she was spoken for, and he had to keep his hands off…or else. I guess he took that as meaning I knew something else, and was going to tell someone.”


Turning in his arms Althea looked at Al. “That’s why Jake asked about you mother - he didn’t know that I hadn’t received your letter saying that you were coming… I saw Jake with the girls on my 21st birthday at the coffee shop. I always suspected that he had something to do with their deaths, but could never prove anything, let alone admit that I had almost fallen for his line. But you knew, didn‘t you?” she asked her young man softly.


Al gave her a cheeky grin. “Yes, I knew - that you had said no to his advances way too many times for his liking… I thought, if she could turn him down, what chance would I have… until, well, Mother pointed out that it’s not looks that win the heart, but the heart itself…” Lost in her gaze he lowered his head and kissed her.


Frank and Ian looked at each other and shook their heads trying to suppress their giggles. The other adults in the room politely looked away, giving the two a brief moment of privacy. Mort saw something in Tipper’s eyes as she stepped back through the door on to the back porch. Wordlessly he put his drink on the counter and followed her out while the others resumed discussing the coming semester. He came up beside her as she stood at the rail taking in the night stars over the ocean.


“I’m sorry…” he began.


“Ah, it was bound to happen, my reputation preceded me…” she said, waving her hand, dismissing his apology.


“I’m sorry about Faraday. I called George after we arrested Mrs. Gibby, when I had time at the office, and he - he told me what happened. Not just that Faraday was shot and died, but what really happened…”


“Stop…please,” she whispered, leaning against the rail. She took a step away from him as if she was going to flee. His gentle hands lay upon her shoulders, turning her around to face him.


“I can’t - not till you hear what I have to say. Look, I know you have every right to work where you want to, and live how you want to. I was wrong to say what I did, and I am sorry that I jumped to conclusions. Had I looked at the reports, I would have seen that some of the times you were knocking over people was when you were in Ireland.“


“It doesn’t matter, really…” she murmured, shaking her lowered head.


“Yes, it does. Angela, in your house that night, I saw at the foot of your stairway that guy we saw later at the accident.  If you go, how am I going to look after you?“


“You don’t need to,” Tipper said firmly, looking at him finally. She was surprised to see tears in his eyes that shone in the moonlight.


“I think I do, for a while at least.”


“I don’t need you to look after me!” she said, a bit sharper than she meant to. “I don’t want you to care about me, or fuss over me, or want to rescue me.”


“You asked why didn’t I let you go, and I told you that I was told not to. I was told by that same man who we saw with Willie - the same one I saw at the foot of your steps the other night. I don’t want you to go, because I don’t want to lose you as a colleague and a friend and I don’t know how long - until, well, maybe the day that you get married and then you become some one else’s responsibility… “ Mort saw her shaking her head. 


“Oh no no no… No marriage for me.“ She let out a long breath then saw him grinning.


“What?” she asked poking him in the ribs with her fingertips.


“Owww,“ he grumbled, still grinning as he turned her to the house. He was about to say something to her when his eyes fell upon something under the slatted table on the deck. Leaving Tipper’s side he strode forward and moved the table to pick up the flower pot. He pulled Tipper in with his free hand and strode over to Taylor, placing the potted miniature rose in her lap. Three tiny bright blossoms were just opening from a plant that a short while before had been trampled beyond recognition.


Jessica walked over to where Tipper stood. For a moment she regarded the young woman in silence then said softly, “There isn’t a clinic where you said you were going … I checked. Though you did hand in your resignation, much to the dismay of your coworkers. They would rather you had just a leave of absence…”


“I don’t know. Starting over somewhere has its advantages,” Tipper said with a sigh. She felt a bump behind her. Turning she saw Frank and Ian, who had serious expressions on their faces. Ian had tears building in his eyes.


“Mom says we have to face this like an adult, and wish you well… but we’re still only kids and we don’t want you to go,” said Frank softly.


Ian took her hand in his. “We need you to stay,” he said, his voice broken with emotion.


Tipper became aware that there was silence in the room. She sat on one of the chairs by the doorway and awkwardly opened her arms to the two boys, who burst into tears. Sniffing herself Tipper looked up at her friends. Most of them had tears as well.


“Okay okay, I’ll stay…” she said, giving the two boys hugs.  “At least for now…”