The Prayer of St. Brendan
“Legends and Songs” part 3
--Written by Anne
Okay, here we go with the third and final installment of the “Legends and Songs” trilogy. Like the first two parts of the story arc, “The Banks of Loch Lomond” and “On a Midsummer Eve,” this tale continues the story line initially begun in Donald Bain’s book The Highland Fling Murders. In addition to George Sutherland, I have borrowed a few more of Mr. Bain’s characters for this particular story, and would like to thank him in advance for not getting upset at my doing so.
In addition to Mr. Bain, I would also like to thank my friend Stephanie, whose steady encouragement lent me the extra boost of motivation I needed to finish this (admittedly long) project.
As I stated before part 2, this story probably shouldn’t be used as bedtime reading for wee tots under the age of 13. No malicious copyright infringement is intended, all characters are fictional and no correlation between them and any real people is intended, etc, etc, etc. Enjoy!
The Prayer of St. Brendan
Shall I abandon, O King of
mysteries, the soft comforts of home?
Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?
Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy,
without silver, without a horse,
without fame, without honor?
Shall I throw myself wholly upon You,
without sword and shield, without food and drink,
without a bed to lie on?
Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?
Shall I pour out my heart to You,
confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness,
tears streaming down my cheeks?
Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach,
a record of my final prayer in my native land?
Shall I then suffer every
kind of wound that the sea can inflict?
Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean?
O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?
O Christ, will You help me on the wild waves?
-- author unknown
the slogan on the poster that greeted George Sutherland as he arrived at the
gate in the terminal of Portland International Jetport. The image the picture
depicted was one of peace – a lighthouse on a rocky bluff standing guard over a
calm indigo sea. George knew that while this was one aspect of
Heathrow and Gatwick, the airports he was used to around
George descended the escalator from the gates to the baggage claim area and looked around, somewhat at a loss. Jessica had not been specific about how he was to get from the airport to Cabot Cove, only that “all would become clear” when he landed.
He retrieved his bag from the “A” carousel (there were only two in this little airport, “A” and “B”), but as he turned to head for the exit he nearly bumped into a young woman with auburn brown hair.
“Are you Inspector Sutherland?” she asked.
“Er, yes I am,” he said.
The young woman grinned and stuck out her hand. “Good! I’m glad I found you. I’ve been walking all over the airport looking for you. I’m your ride.”
George took the proffered hand and shook it. “I’m pleased to meet you, Miss …”
The young woman slapped herself in the forehead. “Sorry! I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Tipper Henderson. I’m a friend of Jessica’s, and I owe her a favor, so when she was looking for someone to meet you at the airport, I volunteered. I hope you don’t mind that she couldn’t come herself.”
“No, of course not. And I’d rather ride with a friend of hers than in the anonymous confines of a taxi any day,” George assured her. “But how did you know who I was?”
“Easy. I had this.” Tipper pulled a
small picture surrounded by a pewter frame out of the pocket of her
windbreaker, a photograph of George and Jessica together in the
Slinging his bag over his shoulder, George followed Tipper out of the airport and over to the parking garage across the street, where she had left her Honda Civic in the short-term lot.
“Sorry about the mess,” she said as she rearranged the items in her trunk – a medical bag, a pile of leashes, an empty cat carrier, and a bag of dog food – to make room for his luggage. “I had to drop off a cat at the Animal Neurological Clinic on my way down, and I didn’t get a chance to tidy up before your plane landed.”
“Think nothing of it, Miss Henderson. If I may be so bold, what exactly do you do for a living?”
Tipper jumped into her car and leaned across to unlock the passenger side door for George. “I’m a veterinarian,” she said as George got in.
“Ah! So it’s really Doctor Henderson, instead of Miss.”
“Technically true,” she admitted, fumbling with her seat belt. “But my friends call me Tipper, and I’d be pleased if you would do the same.”
“Very well, Tipper.”
Tipper started the car and threw the little Civic into reverse. “Now that we’ve got that out of the way,” she said as she backed out of her parking space, “our next stop is Cabot Cove.”
“We outlawed ‘em,” Tipper said by way of explanation when he mentioned their absence aloud. “We didn’t want anything to detract from the scenery.”
“I can see why,” he said, and fell silent.
The scenery was striking. They drove past thick stands of pine trees, birch, oak, and maple, occasionally breaking out into open areas of salt marsh with distant views of the water.
“The same,” Tipper said. “Open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, including Christmas Day.”
“Does anyone actually shop there on Christmas Day?”
Tipper gave him a sidelong glance and a smile. “I shop there on Christmas Day.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.”
“I’m not offended in the least,” Tipper said. “Truth is, Christmas is the only day you can find a good parking place and avoid the crowds. My family started doing it as a lark some years ago, and it grew into a tradition.”
“That’s how many family holiday traditions get their start, I’m sure.”
They left the interstate in
“Is Wiscasset really the prettiest
“That’s what the sign says,” Tipper said, “but the only people who believe it are the ones who live here.”
“Then what is the prettiest village in
“Depends on who you ask. If you were to ask Jessica, or me, we’d say Cabot Cove, naturally.”
George smiled. “Naturally.”
Like many of
“We’re here,” Tipper announced.
George was left breathless by the
sight. He had seen plenty of pictures of small coastal
Tipper made a turn here and a turn there, and pulled up in front of one white Victorian on the corner of two quiet side streets.
“This is it,” she said, as if he needed any help recognizing Jessica’s home. “I’ve discharged my debt; you can take it from here.”
“Thank you, Tipper,” George said, unfastening his seatbelt and opening the door with badly concealed eagerness. “I’m sure I’ll see you around town.”
“’Course you will. I hope you enjoy your stay,” Tipper said, smiling. She got out of the car herself and helped George retrieve his bag from the trunk. “Here,” she said, handing him the picture of him and Jessica. “You can return this to Jessica for me.”
“I’ll do that,” he said.
“Great. Be seein’ ya!” And she drove off the way they had come.
George picked up his bag, headed up the walk, and took the steps to the front door two at a time. There he paused – what sort of reception would he receive? Would Jessica be as happy to see him as he hoped? Had her heart changed with the time – and distance – that had passed since they were together in Kilcleer? Well, only one way to find out. He rang the doorbell, and waited.
There was no answer.
Puzzled, George tried the doorbell again, and again was left standing on the front steps, unacknowledged. The situation struck him as being very odd – Jessica was expecting him; she knew when he was arriving, and surely Tipper would not have dropped him off if she knew Jessica was not at home. Where, then, could she be?
A thought occurred to him then, and taking up his bag again he headed around the house to the back yard.
There, as he had hoped, he found Jessica.
The woman that was the golden sunlight in his life was raking leaves, dressed for yard work in a patched flannel shirt over a white tee-shirt and faded blue jeans. A pair of leather work gloves protected her hands as she wielded the rake against the sea of yellow leaves that had showered down from the sugar maples above.
For a moment George watched her quietly, inhaling the pleasant autumn aroma of fallen leaves and wood smoke mingled with the salty tang of the Sea nearby. After a few minutes Jessica looked up and spotted him.
“George!” Her pleasure at seeing him was almost as palpable as it was unfeigned. She tossed the rake aside on to the pile of leaves she had created and headed toward him, her face alight with a welcoming smile.
“Jessie.” George accepted her into his outstretched arms and held her close in his embrace for a long moment. “Ye’r a sicht fir sair een: a sight for sore eyes. God, I’ve missed you.”
“Same here.” She tilted her face up toward his and planted a quick kiss on his lips. “How was your flight?”
“Very smooth,” he replied. “The weather was good, and as always, the British Airways service was impeccable.”
“And Tipper found you at the airport with no problems?”
George smiled. “No problems at all. A most interesting choice of chauffeur, Dr. Henderson was. She is a delightful young lady.” He reached up and picked a leaf out of Jessica’s hair. “Working at something, as always. Yard work this time?”
Jessica shrugged within the circle of his arms. “Well, it had to be done sometime. Have you been inside yet?”
He frowned slightly. “Inside? No. I rang twice, but there was no answer. That’s why I came ‘round back.”
“You could have just walked right in,” Jessica said with a laugh as she disengaged herself from the embrace and took him by the hand to lead him indoors. “No one locks their doors in Cabot Cove.”
George retrieved his luggage and followed her in the back door, into a kitchen as warm and homey as any he had ever been in.
“I really appreciate your making all these arrangements for me, Jess,” he said as she put the kettle on the ancient cookstove for some late afternoon tea. “I am puzzled by one detail, however.”
“You never mentioned where I would be staying,” he said, feeling a little awkward bringing the topic up. “I assume you must have made a reservation for me someplace. Perhaps I should go check in before it gets much later.”
Jessica dried her hands with a towel and opened the door to the cupboard where she kept her tea collection. “You do have a reservation,” she said, taking out a little wooden box holding an assortment of tea bags. “Right here.”
George couldn’t tell if he was feeling more surprised or elated by hearing that, but proper manners dictated that he squelch his delight for the moment and at least offer the lady a graceful ‘out.’ “Are you sure that’s all right, Jess? I’m guessing that Cabot Cove has many fine accommodations for visitors.”
“It does,” Jessica said, guiding him down into a seat at the kitchen table. “And you aren’t going to see the inside of any of them. Besides, this is the off-season: most of them are closed and shuttered up for the winter.”
“Very well, if you insist,” he said with a grin – now it was all right for him to be delighted. “I take it, then, you’re not too terribly concerned about what the neighbors may say?”
The kettle began to whistle shrilly, and Jessica went to remove it from the heat, pouring the hot water into a pair of mismatched mugs. “What can they say?” she asked. “I don’t mind.”
“You say that now,” George pointed out as he accepted his mug and selected a tea bag from the box. “But what about after the nasty rumors start flying?”
“Well,” she said, sitting down at
the table with him and picking out a tea bag of her own, “I guess I’ll deal
with that if the need arises. In the
meantime, however, my mind is made up: I didn’t invite you to come over all the
George smiled at her over the top of his steaming mug of tea. “Sounds perfect,” he said.
After dinner Jessica made hot
chocolate, and they went outside into the back yard to enjoy the evening. The weather was mild for October, so they
were perfectly comfortable sitting outside with sweaters. Jessica pulled together a couple of
“Lovely evening,” George commented.
Jessica took a deep breath and let it out. “It’s perfect, now that you’re here at last,” she said.
George reached down and gathered up a handful of leaves that had escaped Jessica’s rake. One by one, he reached across from his chair to hers and set them in her hair.
“George, what are you doing?” Jessica asked in amusement.
“Creating an autumn crown for my elf princess,” he said. “Here, bend your head forward just a bit so I can get a few around the back of your pretty head.”
“Just this afternoon you were picking leaves out of my hair – now you want to put them back in!” she said, laughing, but she did lean forward just enough to allow George to finish his task.
“There,” he said, sitting back and looking at her. “It’s hard to appreciate out here in the dark, but when you go in I think you’ll find that the yellow complements your golden hair perfectly.”
Jessica tried to level a stern look at George, but there was no hiding the twinkle in her eyes, and that ruined any pretense she had of being displeased. “I am not a princess,” she said firmly, trying hard not to smile.
“Very well, then,” George said amicably as he continued to admire his handiwork and took another sip of cocoa. “I shall simply call you my Elf instead.”
Jessica leaned back in her chair with a sigh of resignation, gazed up at the stars, and muttered something under her breath.
“What’s that again, Elf?” George asked teasingly. “I didn’t quite hear you.”
“I just said that you’re a hopeless romantic, with your head in the clouds and stars in your eyes,” she repeated. “Still – I think that’s one reason I love you.”
“If there are stars in my eyes, it’s merely because you put them there,” George said reasonably, taking another sip of his hot chocolate. “This cocoa is starting to cool down a bit. Shall we go back inside for a warm-up, and enjoy the rest in front of your cozy fireplace?”
“All right,” she said. He took her hand, and they headed back indoors.
Once inside, Jessica sought out a mirror so she could remove the leaves from her hair, rather than have them fall out on their own all over her house. Pausing for a moment to look at her reflection, she had to admit that George was right; the vibrant yellow did look good against the more subdued but richer color of her hair. She picked out the leaves one by one and was about to toss them in the wastebasket, but then on second thought she carried them to the kitchen and put them in a plastic bag to keep.
George was already in the living room when she came in, occupied with stoking the fire and adding more wood to the grate.
“There,” he said as the flames rose once more from the glowing embers. “Perfect.” He settled himself on the couch and accepted back his mug of hot chocolate from Jessica, who had warmed it up in the microwave. Jessica sat next to him with her own cup and allowed him to put his arm around her shoulders.
“By the way,” he said, “how is that shoulder of yours doing, anyway?”
Jessica sat up and made a few experimental arcs with her left arm. “It’s fine, now,” she said. “After eight weeks of physical therapy, I should hope it would be!”
“You won’t overdo it, though, will you?” he said anxiously. “I’d hate to see you hurt yourself again so soon.”
“I’ll try not to overdo it,” she promised, settling back into the comfort of his arm again. “I think I know what my limitations are.”
“The trouble with your limitations, Jess, is that more often than not they merely mark the next challenge to overcome,” George pointed out.
“Well … I promise that I’ll at least try to try not to overdo it.”
For several long moments they sat together in contented silence, watching the flames dance in the fireplace and listening to the pop and crackle of the burning wood.
“It’s a bit bright in here, don’t you think?” George asked, setting down his now empty mug and dimming the lamp on the table next to the couch. “There – that’s much better, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Much better indeed.”
George looked down at her, once again appreciating how ageless she looked in the firelight. Her eyes were like two bottomless pools of the deepest blue, and the warm glow of the fire set off the highlights in her golden hair. He ran his hand through her hair and trailed a finger down her cheek, setting off a shudder of anticipation from her.
“You missed a leaf, Elf.”
“I did? Where?”
“Right here.” He leaned in closer to pluck the errant leaf from behind her ear.
“I … don’t know how I missed that one,” she whispered as their lips drew closer together.
“Well, then, it’s a good thing you have me around.” He leaned in closer still, drew her into an embrace, and kissed her.
As if on cue, the back door banged open and Seth Hazlitt walked into the kitchen. “Jess?” he called. “You still up and about?”
Jessica jumped at the sound of his voice, breaking the embrace and rising to her feet. “I’m in the living room, Seth, come on in,” she called back.
George sighed and also got to his feet to greet the doctor, whose timing was either impeccable or leaving much to be desired, depending on your viewpoint.
Seth, thus far oblivious to George’s presence, came through the dining room and into the living room, a book in his hand. “What’re you doing sitting in the dark, woman?” he asked, then stopped in his tracks as he noticed George for the first time. “Hope I’m not interrupting,” he said uneasily.
“Oh, not at all, Seth - we were,
um, just chatting over hot chocolate,” Jessica said with some haste. She reached to turn up the lamp again, but
then thought better of it – she was sure that she was blushing an incriminating
shade of red, and that was the last thing she wanted Seth to see. “You remember
I told you that George was coming over from
“Ay-yuh, ‘course I do,” Seth said, looking from one of them to the other. “I thought he wasn’t due to arrive ‘til next week, though.”
“No-o, it’s this week,” Jessica
said. “Because this is the week I have off from the university, remember? I
have to be back in
“Right, of course,” Seth said.
George extended his hand. “Good to see you again, Dr. Hazlitt.”
“Same here,” Seth replied, taking his hand after a moment to shake it. “How long you planning on staying in Cabot Cove?”
“Just for the week,” said George.
“Like Jessica said, she has to go back to
“I see. Well, I just wanted to return this book you loaned me, Jess,” he said, handing her the volume he had carried in with him. “Ordinarily I wouldn’t have stopped by so late, but I was on my way home from the hospital – Mrs. Pickard had a run-in with her wood stove, dropped a log on her foot and burned her hand – and I saw the light on in the kitchen, so I figured I’d take a chance on your still being up.” He fixed Jessica with a piercing gaze. “I thought maybe you were writing or something, but it seems I was mistaken.”
“Well, no harm done, Seth.”
Seth looked at his watch and frowned. “It’s getting late,” he said. “Inspector, can I offer you a ride to wherever you’re staying in town?”
George and Jessica exchanged a worried look, which Seth did not miss, though he didn’t know what it meant.
“That’s very kind of you, Dr. Hazlitt, but Jessica has invited me to stay here,” George said, then added, “and generously offered me the use of her spare bedroom.”
“I see,” said Seth. “Well, I’d better be going. Jess, will I be seeing you in the morning?”
“Yes,” she said. “We’ll both be down at the coffee shop for breakfast.”
“Good. Til tomorrow, then.” He gave Jessica a strange look, nodded politely to George, and left the house the way he had come.
“Oh, Lord,” Jessica groaned as she sank back down on the couch. “I think I may have a problem.”
George sat down next to her and gathered her back into his arms. “Worry about it tomorrow, love,” he said. “With any luck, Seth will forget all about tonight by the time he sits down to breakfast in the morning.”
Seth hadn’t forgotten about the night before when he sat down to breakfast the next morning; that much was clear to Jessica at least from the set of his face as she and George joined him at a corner table in Cabot Cove’s little coffee shop. She could read an odd mix of emotions in his eyes that as yet she didn’t recognize.
“Morning, Seth,” she said as she and George drew up chairs to Seth’s table.
“Mornin’, Jessica, Inspector,” Seth replied as a waitress came over to fill the newcomers’ coffee cups and top off Seth’s.
“Please, Doctor Hazlitt,” George said graciously, “I would be pleased if you would call me George.”
“Ay-yuh, George, then,” said Seth. “Well, any friend of Jessica’s is a friend of mine.”
Jessica felt a twinge of anxiety at the ever-so-slight emphasis Seth had put on the word ‘friend’ and briefly closed her eyes in a silent prayer for guidance.
“So,” Seth said after they had placed their breakfast orders, “what plans do you have for the coming week?”
Jessica and George exchanged a glance. “Nothing specific,” Jessica answered. “I thought I would show George around town, take him out for a lobster dinner at some point …”
“Mostly I’m just here to soak up the local atmosphere and get some much-needed rest,” George continued, coming to her rescue. “I deliberately asked Jessica to keep the schedule open so we could just, you know, see how we make out.” He smothered a wince as Jessica delivered a kick to his shin under the table.
“I see,” said Seth. “Jess, we still on to cook Friday night?”
“’Course we are!” she assured her friend. “It wouldn’t be Friday night if we didn’t.”
“You’re welcome to be there too, George,” Seth added as their meals arrived at the table.
“I appreciate that. Well!” he said, looking with favor at his plate of sausage, eggs, and corned beef hash. “I’m anxious to give this a go and see how it compares to our ‘bangers and mash’ back home.”
Seth also addressed himself to his breakfast, and Jessica, who was satisfied with a simple toasted croissant with butter, finally allowed herself to relax.
The phone was ringing as Jessica and George returned to her house after breakfast and came in the back door. Jessica jumped across the kitchen to answer it before the answering machine could pick it up. “Hello?”
“Jessica? Jed Richardson here.”
“Jed!” Jessica exclaimed. “How nice to hear from you. How is Alicia?”
“She’s fine, fine,” the pilot said. “Listen, we heard that your friend George Sutherland is here in town for a week. Alicia and I thought it would be fun to get together some of the people that went on that Scotland trip with you and go out to Whiterock Island for a shore dinner – with George as our guest. It would be our way of thanking him for being such a wonderful host to all of us.”
that’s a wonderful idea, Jed,” Jessica said, always ready to jump at a chance
to get out on the water and go explore the islands that dotted the waters off
“Well, I know the notice is kind of short, but we were thinking about heading out this afternoon, and coming back after sunset,” said Jed. “Alicia looked at the tide charts, and today would be the easiest day to get on and off the island without too much trouble. I hope you didn’t already make plans.”
“No,” said Jessica. “As it happens, we don’t have any specific plans for the rest of the day. What time should we meet you, and where?”
“Two o’clock, at the town landing,” Jed said promptly. “We’ll plan on an early supper, and be back by dark.”
“All right,” said Jessica. “It sounds wonderful, I’m sure George will love it. I know I will! See you then.”
George was very keen on the idea when Jessica presented it to him. “That does sound wonderful!” he agreed, an eager gleam in his eye.
At two that afternoon they walked the short distance to Cabot Cove’s town landing, where Jed and Alicia were waiting for them. Jed had a cabin cruiser that he had bought used, refurbished, and named Cruising Altitude, a tribute to his former career as a commercial airline pilot. The boat, which was painted a gleaming white and trimmed with highly polished teak wood, was tied to the cleats of the float to await her passengers. Tied to her stern was a little dory with a pair of wooden oars.
They were soon joined by the other members of the afternoon’s excursion: Ken and Charlene Sassi, Jim and Roberta Shevlin, and, Jessica was pleased to see, Seth. Absent were Mort and Adelle Metzger: Mort had begged off owing to work obligations, while Adelle, he had explained, was in Augusta being tested for her black belt in karate.
“How is it you were able to leave your bakery, Charlene?” George asked as they boarded the Cruising Altitude.
“Easy,” Charlene said with a smile. “During the off season, I close the place down on Monday and Thursday afternoons.”
As Jed started the cruiser’s twin inboard engines, Alicia untied the boat from the float, tossed the lines aboard to Seth, and leaped over the rail to join the rest on deck. They maintained a modest speed within the harbor, passing lobsterboats tied to red and white mooring balls and the occasional sailboat still in the water, late in the season though it was. Once they passed the “No Wake” buoys that marked the entrance to the harbor, Jed opened up the throttle and they were soon skimming over the water towards the open sea.
The ocean was relatively calm, so George was able to find his sea-legs fairly quickly. He was fascinated by the feel of the wind and the spray on his face, the sight of the water sparkling under the bright light of the October sun, and the sight of colorful lobster buoys spread out across the water as far as the eye could see. Jessica tugged at his sleeve and pointed; off the port side of the boat, a group of dolphins was pacing them, racing along just beneath the surface of the waves and occasionally leaping out of the water in graceful arcs.
There were several islands off the coast of Cabot Cove; some of the ones closer to the mainland had houses and cottages on them, but the further out they went, the more sparsely populated they were. Jessica indicated which island was Whiterock; it stood apart from the others, rising out of the water like the back of a gigantic whale, its crown thick with pine trees. There were no dwellings anywhere in evidence on it. George could see how it had gotten its name; the island was rock-bound with granite that appeared brilliant white in the sunlight from this distance. He scanned the island from one end to the other, but was at a loss as to how they were going to land on it.
“There is a cove and a sandy beach on the western side,” Jessica explained to him when he questioned her about it, raising her voice so she could be heard over the throb of the boat’s engines, “but you’d never know it until you’re right on top of it.”
At length they drew near the shore of the island, and Jed slowed the boat to idling speed, closely watching the depth indicator in the cockpit. Once he liked what he saw, he nodded to Alicia, who went forward to the bow and threw overboard the Danforth anchor. Jed advanced the boat slowly until he could feel the tug on the anchor line that indicated that the anchor’s flukes were securely settled in the rocky bottom below, and cut the engines.
“The dory holds six at a time,” Alicia said as she came back aft to the deck. “Who wants to go ashore first?”
George and Jessica found themselves in the first group, along with Jim, Roberta, and Charlene. Jed manned the oars, rowing toward the island and rounding a spit of rock that hid a shallow cove with a lovely sand beach ringed by the stone bluffs that dominated the island. Owing to the dory’s shallow draft, Jed was able to easily run the craft right up on to the beach, allowing the passengers to step ashore dry-shod. Once they had disembarked (together with half of the picnic things Alicia had packed), he pushed off and headed back to the Cruising Altitude to bring back his wife, Ken, and Seth. While he made this second trip, the first group occupied themselves with collecting driftwood that had washed up on the cove’s beach, piling it together to make a fire.
Once the entire company was ashore and the dory had been dragged up the beach out of the reach of the tide, they got the fire going and arranged some rocks and a couple of logs worn smooth by the waves around it for seating.
“Have we got a treat for you,” Alicia said, opening the cooler chest they had brought along and beginning to unpack it. “I ran into Brian Fowler down at the seafood market, just as he was bringing in a batch of clams for sale that he had dug up that morning. He let me have a few pounds at wholesale price!”
“They don’t come any fresher than that,” Seth commented with enthusiasm. “What else you got in there, Alicia?”
“We brought along some late-season corn,” Jed said, helping Alicia with the unpacking. “And I threw in some potatoes that I thought we could wrap in tin foil and bake over the coals of the fire.”
“And just for you, Seth, I brought along a blueberry crumb cake,” Charlene said, shooting the doctor a wink.
George watched the meal preparations with great interest. “How do you manage to cook without any pots or utensils?” he asked.
“You use what nature provides,” Jim Shevlin told him. “Once we get a good bed of coals from the fire, we’ll collect some seaweed, throw it on top, add the clams and the corn on the cob, and cover it with more seaweed.”
“Seaweed?” George asked in astonishment.
“Yes,” said Roberta. “The water in the seaweed provides the steam that cooks the food.”
nodded with understanding. “Very practical,” he said. “Like everything I’ve
The dinner was excellent, and George found that there was a certain charm to cooking with sticks, rocks, and seaweed and eating with plastic forks and paper plates that he would not have expected based on description alone.
Seth seemed more at ease out here than he had that morning at breakfast, but George also noted that he stuck close by Jessica the whole time that the shore dinner was cooking and being shared, not leaving her side once. After the blueberry crumb cake had been finished, however, he did wander off to join a conversation with Jim, Roberta, and Jed, while Alicia, Charlene and Ken talked among themselves in another knot. He wondered where Jessica had gotten to when she touched his shoulder from behind.
“Jess!” he said, turning around on his rock to face her. “There you are. I thought you had wandered off.”
“No,” she said, “I was just replacing some of the leftovers back into Jed and Alicia’s cooler. “Care to take a walk with me?”
George smiled. “Certainly,” he said, and rose to follow her.
Jessica led him up from the beach to the rock bluffs that surrounded the greater part of the island. George found the going tougher than he had anticipated; the rocks were broken into irregular blocks and boulders, some leaning at sharp angles to each other, and they required care and careful planning to traverse. Jessica, however, seemed right at home as she stepped lightly from rock to rock with an almost elvish grace, living up to the nickname that George had given her.
“There’s a headland at the north end of the island,” Jessica explained to George as he caught up with her. “It has the most wonderful view from the top. Your visit here wouldn’t be complete without seeing it.” And she continued on, picking her route through the rocky landscape.
“No doubt,” George sighed as he moved to follow her.
They rounded the end of the island,
and stopped at the sight before them: above them rose a dome of pale pink
granite, sparkling in the bright sunlight. It probably wasn’t that high, but
compared to the rest of the island and the flat expanse of the
“Come on,” Jessica said, and began to climb the granite slope, stepping nimbly with practiced ease. George followed somewhat more slowly, as he found that the distance between each solid foothold somewhat longer than his legs were used to. He was not looking forward to making the trip back down.
It took all his concentration to reach the top without any missteps, so he didn’t have the opportunity to lift his head and take in his surroundings until he reached the top, where Jessica was waiting for him on the broad, flat expanse of granite that made up the headland’s summit. But when he had caught his breath, he looked out from their lofty vantage point.
used to looking out over the cliffs of
George shaded his eyes as one feature on land caught his attention.
“What is that white mountain I see in the distance?” he asked.
Mount Washington, in the middle of
George was amazed. “You can see all that distance?” he marveled. “Remarkable!”
“Yes,” she said. “See, it’s already covered with snow. A sign of things to come.”
“Do you come here often?” George asked.
“Sadly, no,” said Jessica. “Maybe once or twice a summer.”
“It’s too bad,” he said, turning around in a slow circle so he could fully appreciate the entire length and breadth of the scenery. “Looking out at a view such as this puts everything in perspective, somehow.”
“Looking at this view always makes me feel slightly lightheaded,” Jessica replied, laughing. “But yes, I know what you mean. When you’re out here, all the troubles on the mainland are … on the mainland. Far away from here.”
“A chance to put some distance between yourself and the demands of the world,” George commented thoughtfully. “Would that we could all find such a place as this within our own hearts.”
Jessica came to stand close beside him, wrapping her arms around him.
“I’m glad you’re here to share this with me,” she said softly.
“As am I,” he said. He looked down at her, and on sudden impulse kissed her deeply. Jessica was taken by surprise at first, but then she returned the kiss, holding him as tightly as he held her.
“Oh, my,” she gasped when they finally broke apart. “Now I really feel lightheaded.”
“Really?” said George. “Good.”
Jessica glanced at the sun, which was lowering in the West toward the coast. “We should be getting back,” she said. “Follow me.”
George groaned. “Here we go again,” he sighed as she started down, picking out a course the zigzagged down the face of the headland. “Slow down, Jess – I’m not a bloody mountain goat!”
He found the going easier once they
reached the more level bluffs that surrounded the island; here long ribs of
granite provided clearer pathways for their feet. However, every now and again it was necessary
to cross a crevasse between two such ribs; some could be stepped across easily,
while others required a short jump, or climbing down into the crack and back up
the other side. Jessica made her way with easy grace, stepping on preposterously
narrow edges and points of broken rock that he considered just wide enough to
twist an ankle. For his part, he did not have the same faith in his sense of
balance, and he tarried behind her as he looked for wider surfaces to trust his
weight to. Jessica never let him fall too far behind, but would wait for him to
catch up before moving on again. Still, the whole exercise was making George
think ruefully that he should take up more hiking the next time he was home in
On one occasion Jessica paused to wait for him across a wide rift between two great slabs of granite. George was pleased to see a flat rock bridging the two, and put his foot on it to cross when Jessica cried out, “Don’t!”
Startled, George jerked back his foot just as the rock, which had seemed solidly planted on either side of the crack, wobbled and crashed down into the crevasse.
“That was close,” he said.
“It seemed stable enough until you put some of your weight on it,” Jessica said. “That’s when I saw it shift.”
“I’m glad you did,” said George. He went along the side of the crack until it narrowed enough for him to jump over easily, and joined her on the other side. “It’s a long way down,” he said, peering over the edge into the space below.
Jessica also looked down into the depths of the crevasse, and saw something interesting – stones that looked too square to be natural, stacked up one against the other.
“I wonder what those are?” she asked aloud. “George – wait for me here.”
Before George could say anything she was following the crevasse towards the Sea, where its walls lowered and the sides were less steep. She came to a place where she could climb down safely, and followed the floor of the crack back up the way she had come.
The granite crack ran nearly east-west, such that the light of the setting sun ran up its length, providing plenty of illumination. Jessica approached the stones she had seen from above, and brushed away some sand and seaweed that had been deposited over their faces. What she saw made her gasp in amazement.
“George!” she called up to him. “These rocks have writing on them!”
George leaned over the edge for a better look. “What kind of writing?” he asked.
“They look like runes of some kind,” she said, lightly running her hand over the face of the stone. “Lines, vertical lines about as long as my finger, carved into the stone itself. Three rows of them.”
“Like Ogham script?” George asked.
thought back – she knew what Ogham script was and had
seen it before, in
“Very much like that, yes,” she concluded. “What do you think it’s doing here?”
“I don’t know, Elf,” George said, “but if it’s what I think it is, it could be that you’ve stumbled on to an important discovery.”
Jessica climbed out of the crevasse, and they headed back to the cove to tell the others.
“They’re definitely old,” Ken Sassi said, straightening up after taking a closer look at the tablets down in the floor of the crevasse. “How old, I couldn’t begin to guess. You say they were just sitting here, Jess?”
“That’s right,” said Jessica, leaning over the edge above. “What do you think we should do with them?”
“Well, I’m no expert; it would be good to get them to someone who can interpret the writing, and maybe put an age to them,” said Ken.
“Maybe we shouldn’t disturb them,” Roberta said.
“Let’s take one,” suggested Alicia. “That will give us one to take to an archeologist, but leave two in the setting where they were found.”
“That’s a good idea, Alicia,” said Ken. “Jed, come down here and help me with this, would you?”
“It looks like a prehistoric game of tic-tac-toe,” Seth said when they had brought the stone tablet back to the beach to load on the dory. “Where are you going to take it?”
Jacobs would be my suggestion,” Ken said as he and Jed settled the tablet
carefully on one of the benches of the dory. “She has a degree in archeology
Charlene looked anxiously at the sky. “It’s going to get dark soon,” she said. “Maybe we should be heading back.”
The sun preceded them as they cruised back toward Cabot Cove, setting over the western horizon as the town itself came into view. As soon as he knew he had a reliable signal, Ken Sassi pulled out his cell phone and called Mandy Jacobs, an antiques dealer well-known in the town, to inform her of the discovery and provide her with a sketchy description of what they had found on the island.
“It appears to be three stone slabs, all about the same size and weighing about sixty to eighty pounds apiece,” he told her, shouting into the cell phone so as to be heard above the roar of the boat’s engines. “There’s engraving on each of them, a series of hash marks and dashes that we think could be …” He looked over at Jessica and George, who were standing next to him listening to the conversation. “What did you call it? Oh, right – Celtic Ogham,” he finished as Jessica provided him with the correct term he was looking for. “No, we didn’t take all three, we just carried back one. … You will? That would be great. Thanks, Mandy, we’ll see you at the town float.” Ken snapped the cell phone shut.
“What did she say?” George asked.
“She’s right excited,” said Ken. “She says she’ll meet us at the dock.”
True to her word, Mandy was waiting for them at the town landing when they returned to the dock. The antiques dealer was a woman of medium build and height with dark eyes that were fairly snapping with excitement at the prospect of examining the tablet for herself. Her rich brown hair streaked with grey was drawn back into a somewhat severe bun and held in place with a pair of ornamental enameled chopsticks. Around the neck of her rust-colored sweater she wore a necklace made up of different polished stones strung along a leather thong.
hardly wait,” she said, clasping her hands eagerly as Ken and Jed carefully
hoisted the stone, wrapped in canvas for protection, over the side of the Cruising Altitude and on to the
dock. “Finally – proof that St. Brendan
the Navigator came to
“Where do you want it, Mandy?” Ken asked. “This thing is kind of heavy.”
“Right in the barrow, please,” Mandy said, directing them to a wheelbarrow lined with a thick down quilt.
Seth looked at the set-up Mandy had devised and laughed. “Now there is the essence of practicality!” he said as Ken and Jed gently lowered their canvas-swathed bundle into its improvised nest.
“How better to get a piece of heavy stone up the ramp to my car?” she responded, waving off offers of help as she lifted the handles of the wheelbarrow and started for the parking lot. There she opened the hatchback of her Jeep and, with a little help from Jim and George, transferred the tablet, canvas wrap, quilt lining and all, to a plastic storage bin, and the storage bin to the back of the vehicle.
“There,” Mandy said, closing the back of the Jeep and dusting off her hands. “My assistant Mark Burell and Karen Hill are waiting for me over at the Historical Society; they can help me with the unloading there. Who’s responsible for this remarkable find, anyway?”
“Jessica’s the one who found the stones,” Alicia said. “She and her friend George here were just taking a stroll and she practically stumbled over them.”
Mandy looked at Jessica, and her eager smile faded into more of a forced, tight-lipped grin. “Ah, Jessica,” she said, a frosty chill dusting her words. “It was lucky that you were there. Thanks.”
Jessica did not seem surprised by Mandy’s unenthusiastic gratitude, but merely nodded to acknowledge her lukewarm thanks. “You’re welcome, Mandy,” she said, betraying no sign that anything was wrong. Still, when she turned away George could see that her face was pained.
“What was that all about?” he asked Jed Richardson, who stood next to him, in a low voice.
Jed waved good-bye to Mandy with the others as she drove off with the tablet in her Jeep. “It’s kind of a sad story,” he said as he turned toward his own car, George falling in step beside him. “About three years ago Mandy’s husband Richard Jacobs was convicted for murdering an antique appraiser that was visiting Cabot Cove.” He nodded toward Jessica, who was deep in conversation with Alicia and Charlene. “Jess helped Sheriff Metzger solve the case, as she often does, and Richard got thirty years to life in the state penitentiary.”
“I’m guessing that Mandy hasn’t forgiven Jessica for her husband’s capture and conviction,” said George.
“No,” said Jed as he dug in his coat pocket for his keys. “Mandy always has been one to carry a grudge ‘til it dies of old age. And although there was no question that Richard did kill that man, she still takes Jessica’s involvement in the whole sorry matter very personally.”
“I see,” George said quietly.
Jed finally found his keys and unlocked the car. “Alicia!” he called over to his wife. “Ready to head out?”
The little conversation group broke up as Alicia and Charlene headed toward their respective husbands. Jessica came over to George’s side and said, “Thank you, Jed. That was a wonderful afternoon.”
Jed tipped his baseball cap to her as he slid into the driver’s seat and Alicia joined him on the passenger side. “It was no trouble at all,” he said. “We’ll do it again some time, hey?”
Jessica smiled. “Just say when,” she said. “Good night.”
Charlene and Ken departed next, followed soon after by Jim and Roberta. Seth was the last to go; by this time the street lights that illuminated the town landing’s parking lot had started to come on.
“I see Mandy is still as mad at you as she ever was,” Seth said to Jessica as they headed towards his car, the only one left in the lot.
“Yes,” Jessica sighed. “I suspect she always will be.”
“I know I’ve told you this before,” said Seth, “but don’t blame yourself. She’s directing her anger at the wrong person.”
“I know. Richard made his own choices. But Seth, I can’t blame her for her anger. I was there. And, to a certain degree, I was responsible.”
Seth gave Jessica a comforting pat on the shoulder. “Can I give you and George a lift home?” he asked.
Jessica was about to decline, as it was a pleasant evening for a walk, but then she caught a glimpse of George out of the corner of her eye, rubbing his aching thighs.
“Thanks, Seth, we’d both appreciate that,” she said. “As long as it isn’t too far out of your way.”
“Not at all,” said Seth. “Hop in.”
“Ohhhh …” George groaned as he came into the bedroom. “I am going to be quite sore tomorrow for sure! The bluffs on that island would put the Academy’s obstacle course to shame! I do believe that I am completely worn out.”
Jessica, who was sitting up in bed reading a book, looked up at him and smiled. “They do make for good exercise,” she said.
“You truly earned your nickname out there, you know,” said George as he came around to sit on the opposite side of the bed. “You looked like an elf, dancing across those bloody rocks. Where’d you learn how to walk across boulders like that anyway?”
“I developed a knack for it as a child,” she said, blushing a little at his compliment. “I used to clamber all over the bluffs up and down the seashore in these parts, back when I was too young to be afraid of falling. I nearly gave my parents heart attacks on more than one occasion.”
“No doubt,” George said wryly.
“By the time I was old enough to have developed a healthy respect for heights, my balance was honed to the point that I didn’t really give it much thought,” she continued, setting aside her book and her reading glasses on the bedside table. “Now it’s like riding a bicycle – once you learn, you never forget.”
“I don’t think I’m likely to forget,” George grumbled. “I’ll be lucky if I can move - let alone walk - by morning.”
Jessica laughed and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Poor, poor George,” she said sympathetically, but her eyes were sparkling with poorly-concealed amusement.
A new thought suddenly dawned in George’s mind – she was laughing at him! “You were showing off out there, weren’t you,” he said, eyeing her suspiciously.
Jessica glanced down, trying to hide her smile. “Well … maybe just a little.”
“Showing off is bad form,” George said, trying to sound like he was scolding. “Not sporting at all. Do you know what happens to show-offs?”
Now Jessica raised her eyes to meet his steadily, and the challenge in them was unmistakable. “No,” she said boldly. “What happens?”
George grinned; as he had hoped, Jessica was calling his bluff. “This,” he said, and before she had time to react he had thrown aside the blankets and was on top of her, his face just inches from hers.
“I thought you were too sore to move,” Jessica said teasingly.
“I said I would be too sore to move by morning,” he amended. “My, but we are in rare form tonight! First you’re showing off on the island, and now this!”
Jessica was in fact feeling quite mischievous at the moment. “You said yourself that you’re all worn out from our little walk,” she reminded him as she traced the outline of his jaw with a light fingertip, deliberately provoking him.
George looked down at her with mock astonishment. “Worn out, am I?”
She smiled sweetly up at him and continued to trace his features, sending irrepressible shivers down his spine. “Completely worn out.”
The situation was becoming too distracting for George to counter with a snappy comeback. “No, I’m not,” was the best he could come up with.
“All right,” he said, then added as a warning, “Remember, you asked for this!” He reached over to turn off the light, then lowered his mouth to hers and joined her in a protracted kiss.
Some time later he held an exhausted Jessica in his arms, watching the wind stir the remaining autumn leaves on the trees outside the window in the moonlight and feeling the rhythmic beat of her heart.
“I certainly hope you’ve learned your lesson, Elf,” he said, gently twirling a lock of her golden hair around his finger.
Jessica shifted slightly in his arms and yawned. “Oh yes,” she said, her voice warm and husky with contentment. “I most certainly have.”
“You’ll bear it in mind the next time you decide to play mischief-maker.”
“Definitely,” she replied dreamily. “I certainly got what was coming to me.”
He chuckled softly and continued to stroke her hair. “Jess, why do I get the feeling that you are completely unrepentant?”
“Perhaps,” she said, giving his hand a squeeze and leaning into his caresses, “because I am completely unrepentant.”
“Sly vixen,” George teased. “Everyone thinks you’re so sweet and innocent – they have no idea what you’re really like!”
The early morning sunlight slanting through the windows woke Jessica the next day. Ordinarily she would have risen with the sun, but this morning she had incentive to stay in bed: though still asleep, George’s arms were still wrapped around her, holding her close, and she was reluctant to leave his warm and comfortable embrace. For awhile she lay perfectly still, feeling completely relaxed, and watched the light move slowly across the room.
At length the distant sound of a flock of geese honking as they flew away south in their phalanx reminded her that time was passing and that she had best get about the business of the day. Very carefully she slipped out of George’s arms, pulling on a light robe and gathering fresh clothes for the day. She made sure that George hadn’t awoken, and tiptoed out of the bedroom to take a shower and get dressed, shutting the door quietly behind her.
George awoke sometime later to the mild surprise of finding his arms empty, but he knew Jessica was a habitual early riser, and judging by the height of the sun, the morning was already advanced. Time to get up.
After showering and dressing he went downstairs and found Jessica in the kitchen making breakfast with one hand and examining the morning newspaper with the other. It was a warm fall morning, and instead of a sweater she had put a light flannel shirt on over her blouse and jeans. George came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her, resting his chin on her shoulder.
“Good morning, love,” he said.
“Good morning!” she replied, smiling at him. “Careful – you don’t want me to ruin the eggs.”
George reached around and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “You look like you’ve just stepped off the cover of the LL Bean catalogue.”
“Why, thank you … I think.”
“Oh, it’s a compliment,” George assured her. “I love seeing you looking so much a part of your natural environment.”
Jessica laughed. “My natural environment? Well, I guess that’s one way of putting it. Coffee, or tea?”
“Coffee, please,” he said. “It was a late night.”
“And whose fault would that be?” she asked as she poured him a cup.
They heard the sound of voices approaching the back door, and George prudently released Jessica from his embrace just as Seth and Sheriff Mort Metzger walked into the house unannounced. They were in the middle of an argument – not an unusual happenstance – which they continued as they entered the kitchen, much to the amusement of the onlookers.
“I left the engine running, didn’t I?” Seth was saying indignantly.
“Doc, it’s only considered ‘standing’ when someone is physically inside the vehicle,” Mort reminded him. “You weren’t anywhere near your car, you were inside the bakery, chatting it up with Charlene Sassi over a jelly doughnut!”
“For pity’s sake, Metzger, I was only steps away!”
Mort shook his head as he removed his hat. “Doesn’t matter, Doc. A no parking zone is a no parking zone, and that’s all there is to it.”
Jessica held up a hand for silence, which, amazingly, she got immediately.
“Would the two of you like to sit down and tell me what you’re bickering about this time?” she asked.
The doctor and the sheriff obediently dropped into chairs at the kitchen table, and Jessica provided them each with a cup of coffee, setting out milk and sugar substitute with the smoothness of an oft-repeated ritual – or at least that’s how it looked to George, who stood leaning casually against the kitchen counter with his own cup of morning java, watching the scene unfold before him with the keen interest of an outsider. Jessica seemed neither surprised nor upset by what most people would have considered a rude and unwelcome intrusion, leading him to suspect that as Jessica’s closest friends, these two men enjoyed the privilege to drop in unannounced whenever they pleased. If so, he would have to be careful and act with a certain amount of gentlemanly discretion – unless he could convince Jessica to start locking her doors.
came all the way over here from
Mort seemed to notice George for the first time, and quickly rose from the table to clasp his hand in a firm handshake. “Inspector Sutherland!” he said. “Great to see you again. Welcome to Cabot Cove.”
“The feeling is mutual, Sheriff,” said George.
“You’ve got to come down and take a look around our new station,” said Mort. “It’s a beauty.”
“I’d like that very much,” George replied.
“Anyway,” Mort said, returning to his chair and Jessica’s question, “I caught the Doc here parked in the red zone in front of Sassi’s Bakery first thing this morning.”
“I wasn’t parked in the red zone,” Seth retorted, “I was standing. Yet this overgrown Boy Scout here felt it necessary to write me a parking ticket!”
Jessica carried the finished pan of scrambled eggs to the table, and heaped a serving on to each plate – how had she known, George wondered, to make enough for four people?
“We’ve been over this, Doc,” Mort said with irritation, reaching for the salt and pepper shakers. “If you’re away from your vehicle, you aren’t ‘standing,’ you’re ‘parking.’”
Jessica added a plate of toasted English muffins, butter, and jam to the table and decided it was time to intervene and change the topic.
“How did Adelle do in her karate trials, Mort?” she asked.
“Not so good, Mrs. F,”
Mort replied as he helped himself to one of the English muffins. “She was doing
great until she went up against her last opponent, some three-hundred-pound guy
“What happened?” asked George. “Did he beat her?”
“No,” said Mort with a sigh. “No, she was doing great against him, but then she used a move to trip him with her foot, broke his ankle by mistake, and got disqualified.”
“Oh,” said Jessica, searching for something appropriate to say. “Um, that’s too bad, I guess.”
“Yeah,” said Mort gloomily. “It’ll be six months before the trials come back to our area.”
“It’ll be eight weeks before her opponent gets off his crutches, too,” added Seth as he buttered up a pair of muffin halves for himself.
“Anyway, the reason
why I was stopping by was to tell you that those rocks you found out on
As if on cue, the telephone rang, and Jessica picked it up.
“Jess? It’s Karen Hill over at the Historical Society. I hope I’m not calling too early.”
“No, of course not, Karen,” Jessica replied, holding the phone with one hand while reaching for the coffee carafe to refill her cup with the other. “I’ve been up for hours. Your ears must have been ringing – we were just talking about you.”
“Yes – Sheriff
Metzger’s here, and he tells me you already have your hands full with
out-of-town visitors interested in seeing the slab we brought in from
“That’s why I’m calling,” Karen said. “There’s two professors in particular that have arrived to have a look at the stone, but they have a lot of questions about where they were found that I simply don’t have the answers to. Mandy Jacobs tells me that it was you and your houseguest that discovered them – I don’t suppose you’d be willing to come by at some point to talk to them?”
“I’m pretty sure we could do that,” Jessica said, answering Seth’s questioning look with a gesture inviting him to help himself to seconds of whatever was left on the kitchen table. “Would mid-morning be all right?”
There was an audible sigh of relief from Karen on the other end of the line. “That would be terrific, Jess,” she said. “I’m sure the professors can keep themselves busy until then. Thanks.”
When she had hung up, Jessica turned to George. “And so it begins,” she said to him. “As you probably guessed, that was Karen, the Historical Society director. She says her visiting experts have all sorts of questions about where we found the Ogham stone, and she’d like us to come by to answer some of them. I told her mid morning – afterwards we can go have lunch. Is that all right with you?”
“Fine by me,” said George, helping himself to another English muffin and some of Jessica’s homemade strawberry jam. “I wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to hear what the experts think about the thing.”
Karen Hill, the director of Cabot Cove’s modest Historical Society, was a small woman with a face framed by dark shoulder-length hair going grey and eyes that seemed unnaturally large behind the round lenses of her metal-framed glasses. But she was clearly intelligent, and her handshake was much stronger than her slight frame would lead one to expect.
“Good morning, Jessica,” she said warmly as they stepped over the threshold of the refurbished Victorian house that was the Historical Society’s home. “I’m so glad you were able to spare some time from your busy schedule. Who is your friend?”
“This is Chief Inspector George Sutherland of Scotland Yard,” Jessica said, making the introductions. “George, Karen Hill is the director of the Cabot Cove Historical Society, a job at which she excels.”
“You’re too kind, Jess,” Karen said modestly as she shook George’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Inspector.”
Karen led them down
the hall and into a room – in former days, it probably had been the house’s
dining room – where the stone slab from
“Professors,” Karen said, interrupting their study, “Jessica Fletcher and her friend, Inspector George Sutherland are here.”
The two men turned to
face the newcomers. “Ah, Mrs. Fletcher!” the first one said, extending a hand
which Jessica took. He was stocky, with a salt-and-pepper mop of hair and
beard. “So good to meet you. I’m a fan of your books. Allow me to introduce
myself: my name is Doctor Harold Hinckley of the
As Professor Hinckley
shook George’s hand in turn, the other academic stepped forward to introduce
himself as Professor Albert Browning of the
“So!” Browning said
once he had also introduced himself to George with a handshake. “This is your
remarkable find from
“It is,” Jessica said. “And I must say, it’s interesting to see it in the full light of day. When we found the tablet, it was close to sunset, and the light was rather poor.”
“Yes, we’d be very interested in hearing about how you came to find this stone,” Professor Hinckley said.
So Jessica briefly spoke of how she had looked down into the crevasse on the island and seen the three stones with the strange markings, how she had gone down into the fissure itself to get a better look, and had determined that the markings were Ogham.
“And how did you know that what you were looking at was Ogham script?” Browning asked her.
“My ancestors hail
“Any chance that the inscription could be a natural feature of the rock – from weathering, perhaps, or cracking due to ice – instead of something chiseled into it by a human?” George asked.
“It’s possible, but highly unlikely,” Professor Browning said. “If as you say the marks are actually naturally occurring cracks, then over the intervening centuries the cracks should have become much longer and more random than they currently appear, as the forces which originally made them continued to act upon them. Weathering, in turn, should have gradually erased them from the face of the rock altogether. Neither of these things has happened, so one must conclude that they were put there by artificial means.”
Professor Hinckley nodded his head in agreement. “On this matter, at least, Dr. Browning and I are of one accord,” he said. “There is no question in my mind that the etchings on these stones are Ogham.”
that’s the case, and the stones are genuine, that would mean that Celtic
explorers came to
George glanced at Jessica, indicating that she should answer.
are a little sketchy, but I think I know the general story,” Jessica replied.
“Brendan was an Irish monk that sailed west across the
was impressed. “An excellent summary,” he said. “It is not a well known legend
by any means. Nevertheless, you have the
basic facts of the story correct. In the sixth century Brendan was visited by a
monk who told him of a magical land far across the Sea in the West, a paradise
set aside for God’s saints. Inspired by the monk’s story, Brendan set sail with
seventeen companions in a small boat made of oxhide
and wood to seek out this land himself. They made landfall on several islands –
the Isle of Sheep, the Isle of Birds, and the back of Jaconius
the Great Whale are some of the better known stopovers – before finally
arriving at their destination, an island or land mass that he took to be the
promised Blessed Realm he was seeking. They began to explore it, but were
blocked by a great river; faced with this obstacle they returned to
“It is not the content of the legend that has proved controversial over the centuries since then, but whether the legend is factual, and if so, whether the islands mentioned in the story correspond to real islands in the present day,” Professor Hinkley added. “Conventional wisdom has always stated that while Brendan did exist as a historical figure, his voyages were fictional, and none of the mentioned islands exist.”
“The discovery of the stones in a fissure of rock is most unusual,” Browning mused. “I have never heard of another instance where a similar thing was done with an artifact. It makes me wonder.”
The debate, and the questions, continued on until it was nearly noon. The more Jessica listened to the two professors’ points and counterpoints, the more determined she was to do a little research on St. Brendan and his legendary voyage for herself. But it was getting on towards lunchtime, and she had promised George a meal out …
Jessica hit upon a possible solution, and pulled her cell phone out of her purse, stepping out of the room and into the hallway. There she made a quick call to Tipper Henderson’s veterinary clinic, keeping her fingers crossed that Tipper would be available to talk to her.
“Hello, Debbie,” Jessica said. “This is Jessica Fletcher. Is Doctor Henderson free by any chance?”
“Let me go check for you, Mrs. Fletcher – be right back.”
After a minute or two of hold music, Tipper came on the line. “Dr. Henderson speaking.”
“Tipper! It’s Jessica. Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“No, I’m between appointments. What’s up?”
at the Historical Society – George and I are answering questions about those
stone tablets we found out on
“’I’m buying’ - those are my two favorite words,” Tipper said, laughing. “Sure, no problem, Jessica. I have just one more appointment to see and then I’m free for lunch. Anything else you want me to do?”
Jessica glanced back into the room and checked on George to make sure he wasn’t listening, then lowered her voice and said, “Just one other thing, Tipper. Don’t let George order just anything for lunch …”
When she had finished her call she snapped the cell phone shut and rejoined George, who had wandered away from the professors and the stone and was now examining a well-preserved nineteenth century map of the town that was framed and hanging on the wall.
“Are we finished here?” she asked Karen, who was standing nearby.
“I suppose so,” Karen said. “If they have any other questions, I’m sure they can follow up with you later.”
“I hate to abandon you, George but I need to run an errand at the library before I can join you for lunch,” Jessica said. “I just called Tipper, and asked her if she would mind accompanying you in the meantime. She’s coming to meet you here as soon as she finishes her last office appointment. Okay?”
“I shall be delighted to let the esteemed young doctor take me in hand,” said George with a smile. “You go on to the library, and we’ll meet up as soon as you’re finished.”
“Great,” said Jessica, reaching out to give his hand a light squeeze. “I’ll see you later, then.”
The Cabot Cove Public Library was remarkably well-stocked for a town so small; Jessica had had a hand in that herself, although she had taken care to make sure that only a scant handful of people knew about it. As the library’s collection of books had grown, so too had its need for a suitable space to house it, and its new addition, built off the side of the original building, had been open now for a little less than a year. The excellent offering of books and resource materials had proved to be a boon to everyone in the town, and not the least to Jessica herself, who found herself frequently drawn to the stacks for research, pleasure reading, or simply to find a place where she could quietly disappear from view for awhile.
At this noontime it was research that led her to seek out the library’s serene atmosphere. As she entered and passed the front circulation desk, Jean O’Neil, the wheelchair-bound chief librarian, greeted her.
“Hi, Jessica!” she said. “What brings you in today?”
“Hello, Jean,” Jessica returned. “Nothing much – I just need to look up a few things.”
“Researching a book?”
“No,” said Jessica with a smile. “At least, not yet.” She drew a chair up to one of the library’s computer terminals – a computerized card catalogue was one of the library’s many new innovations – and was soon lost among the stacks, tracking down the information she wanted.
As so often happened, “looking up a few things” actually turned into a stack of books to be borrowed, a fact that Jean noted with humor when Jessica returned to the circulation desk to check out.
“You never just ‘look a few things up,’ Jessica,” she stated as she scanned the barcodes of half a dozen volumes with her laser wand.
“I guess not,” Jessica conceded. “One thing always leads to another.”
“There,” Jean said, flipping closed the cover of the last book and handing Jessica back her library card. “They’re all due back in three weeks. But I don’t have to tell you that – you’ve never returned a book late, not even once.”
“I should have these back well before then,” Jessica assured her as she hefted the stack on to her arm. “Thanks, Jean. See you later.”
“Jessica’s instructions to me were
quite clear,” Tipper told George as they walked down the hill from the
Historical Society towards the waterfront. “I am to take you to the
Charterhouse restaurant and see to it that you get a genuine, top-notch
“This will be a new experience for me,” George confessed. “I’m afraid you’ll have to show me what to do.”
Tipper couldn’t help but goggle a little at his words. “I’m sorry,” she said, certain that she must have misunderstood. “Are you saying that you’ve never had lobster before?”
“I didn’t say that,” George hastily corrected her. “I’ve eaten lobster on several occasions. In fact, there is an excellent Scottish recipe that I know of for lobster pie in a flaky crust. But I have never undertaken to eat it, er … fresh from the shell.”
you’re in for a treat,” Tipper declared. “’Fresh from the shell,’ as you so
eloquently put it, is the only true way to really enjoy lobster, if I do say so
myself. And, seeing as how Jessica will be a little late in joining us, it
shall be my particular pleasure to teach you everything you need to know about
how to eat a fresh
“Right, then,” George said as they arrived at the restaurant. He held open the door for her and ushered her inside. “Lead on, Doctor!”
George looked up from the lobster on his plate to Tipper; he seemed a tad pale.
“It’s looking at me,” he told the veterinarian.
Tipper, a lobster of her own in front of her, paused with a french fry dipped in ketchup halfway to her mouth. “It’s not looking at you,” she said, “it’s dead.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better, somehow.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. Here, I’ll show you how to do this,” Tipper told him. “First, you’ll need to put on your lobster bib.”
George groaned and rolled his eyes. “Must I?” he asked. “I’ll look like a three-year-old! At least, that’s the last time I can recall needing to use a bib.”
Tipper unrolled one of the bibs and passed it across the table to George. “You’ll be grateful for it later,” she said, the look in her eye telling him that she would brook no argument on this point.
“And why, may I ask, are you not wearing a bib as well, Tipper?” he asked as he reluctantly accepted it from her.
“I don’t need one,” she replied haughtily. “I am a native Mainer. I have eaten lobster since I was old enough to walk. I am an expert.”
Grudgingly, George tied the plastic bib’s strings around his neck. “All right,” he said, still feeling foolish, “now what?”
“Twist one of the claws off at the body, like this,” Tipper told him, demonstrating with her own lunch.
George watched her carefully then mimicked her example, and was pleased when the lobster claw detached from the carapace with relative ease.
“Okay, good. Now, you pick out the meat from each section, and then you can move on to the main claw.” Tipper supervised as George tentatively picked up the little two pronged plastic pick and followed her instructions. After a few preliminary attempts he succeeded in retrieving a bit of the meat, dunked it in the melted butter provided, and popped it in his mouth with a surprisingly small amount of mess.
“It’s good,” he said, chewing on it thoughtfully.
“It gets better. Now, take the claw in your hands and break it in two ….”
She picked up the larger of the claws, and deftly broke it in half with a quick snap, as George looked on in open fascination.
“You … break it apart with your bare hands?” he asked her as she proceeded to bend back the little pincher part of the claw from the main section.
“How else would one do it?” she asked as she retrieved the tender bit of meat contained within the pincher.
“It just seems so … uncivilized.”
“If it’s so uncivilized, why do so many people pay top dollar in fancy restaurants to do just this very thing?” Tipper asked reasonably. “Come, now, George – let’s see you bust open that claw …”
George picked up one of the claws on his plate to copy her action, then winced, dropping the claw and pressing the paper napkin to his finger.
“… carefully,” Tipper finished. “Are you all right? What happened?”
“The bloody bugger bit me,” George said through clenched teeth, trying to maintain a dignified look … or at least as much dignity as was possible with a plastic bib tied around his neck.
“It can’t bite you,” Tipper said patiently, “it’s dead.”
“Ah, really? Tell that to my bloody digit!” George unwrapped the napkin and displayed the damage to Tipper, who sighed when she saw the cut the serrated edge of the claw had inflicted on his finger.
“No offense intended, but I can tell you’re From Away,” she said. “Only an out-of-stater would manage to get themselves bitten by a dead lobster. Here,” she said, offering a band-aid from her purse, “dry off your finger and put this on.”
George managed to get through the rest of that claw and the other one without further incident. That done, Tipper moved on to the more technical challenge of the tail.
“Grasp the shell like this,” she said, demonstrating, “and bend it backwards like so until in breaks in half in the middle.”
He copied her example, and was rewarded with a shower of salty lobster juice that splattered all over his plastic bib.
“Ah,” he said. “Now I see why the bib is so important.” He placed the body and legs upright on the plate and saw more juices running out. Then he followed Tipper’s example of how to break the tail in two.
“Natch,” said Tipper, who by then had moved on to sucking the juices out of the legs one by one. “Now push the meat out one end with your fork.”
“There,” George said when the meat was out of the shell. “Now I can proceed to eat it, yes?”
“Um, no. One more important step,” Tipper said. “Peel back this strip of meat along the top like so, and take out that little tube of dark stuff underneath.”
George asked, “What is it?”
Tipper hesitated. “It’s … perhaps better if I tell you after lunch.”
“Oh. I see,” George said, wisely deciding not to press the issue. “So, do native Mainers laugh at us ‘out-of-staters’ when we DO eat that tube out of ignorance?”
Tipper gave a grin and dunked a chunk of her tail meat in clarified butter.
“All the time.”
At that moment Jessica breezed into the restaurant, spotted them, and joined them at their table, plunking down her stack of borrowed library books on the seat of the empty fourth chair. “George! Tipper! How are you getting on?” she asked. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Don’t worry,” George said with a smile as he rose and offered her a seat. “I have been in Dr. Henderson’s capable hands, and now can claim the distinct honor of having eaten a whole lobster.”
Jessica noticed the band-aid on his finger right away. “What happened to your hand?” she asked.
“Er, nothing, just a minor scrape with the wrong edge of a claw,” he said.
Tipper pushed her chair back from the table. “Well, I hate to teach and run,” she said, “but I’ve got an appointment at Loretta’s for a trim. She’s working me in so I can be back at the clinic by two.”
“I’ll take care of this, Tipper,” Jessica said, forestalling Tipper’s hand as she reached for her wallet.
Tipper smiled. “Thanks, Jessica,” she said. “The pleasure was mine – really.”
George watched as she left the restaurant. “Charming young lady,” he said to Jessica.
“Yes,” Jessica agreed. “It looks like she guided you through your lesson with a minimum of bloodshed.”
“A minimum of bloodshed,” George said, holding up his wounded finger to remind her of his injury. “You know, you could kiss this and make it better …”
Jessica smiled at him indulgently. “Maybe later,” she said.
“So, Tipper,” Loretta said as the veterinarian settled herself in the beautician’s chair, “tell me about the man that’s staying at Jessica Fletcher’s house.”
Tipper gulped; she should have guessed that this would happen, it was really only a matter of time. Now she was trapped, and would have to pick her way with the greatest of care and discretion – Loretta and her regulars were better at ferreting out information than the interrogators of the Spanish Inquisition.
don’t know that much about him, really,” she said, trying to sound bored. “He’s
him a ride all the way from the
Tipper shrugged under the plastic cape. “We chit-chatted about this and that,” she said. “It’s not like he told me his life story.”
Phyllis tsked and rolled her eyes, clearly disappointed in her. Tipper could see her reaction in the mirror, and chose to ignore it. Loretta caught her eye and gave her a sympathetic smile and small shake of her head.
“I think I remember hearing that he’s a Scotland Yard detective,” Ideal Malloy said from the manicure corner, where she was getting her nails done up in Passion Peach polish, courtesy of Corinne. “And that he and Jessica met in the middle of a murder investigation, if you can believe it!”
“Oh, I can believe it, all right,” Loretta said, her tone heavy with irony. “That’s the surest way to get to know Jessica, if you live outside of Cabot Cove.”
“And sometimes inside of Cabot Cove as well,” Tipper added dryly.
Loretta threw her head back and laughed. “Ohhh, don’t we have the rapier wit!” she said teasingly. “Point for you, Tipper!”
“Down at the coffee shop I heard a rumor that they were … romantically involved,” Ideal continued.
Phyllis raised her eyebrows until they nearly disappeared into her curlers. “Who told you that?”
“Beth Simonson, the nurse over at St. Christopher’s,” Ideal replied, referring to Cabot Cove’s small hospital and general health care facility.
Loretta sniffed. “Now there’s where I stop believing that rumor,” she said dismissively, cutting the air with her scissors for emphasis. “Ideal, you know full well that everything Beth says is second- or third-hand at best. You can’t take a word she says at face value.”
Loretta, this time she heard it herself, first-hand!” Ideal insisted, her brown
eyes open wide and brimming with sincerity. “She was restocking the exam room
next door, and Jessica came in to see Maura the physiotherapist for an
appointment. And they were talking about
how she came to hurt her shoulder so bad, and Jessica said she dislocated it
while she was over in
“So?” Phyllis asked. “People injure themselves all the time.”
“Yes, but not like this,” Ideal continued. “And when Maura asked her who put it back in place for her over there … she said that he did it for her.”
“So?” Phyllis asked again. “He must know first aid. Good for him.”
“But putting a dislocated shoulder back isn’t like applying a band-aid,” Ideal shot back. “It’s different … isn’t it?”
“It’s trickier, yes,” Phyllis said with a hint of impatience for Ideal’s dramatic pauses and inability to get to the point. “Ideal, what are you getting at?”
“Well …” Ideal fluttered her long eyelashes bashfully. “Don’t you have to … disrobe … to do that?”
Here Loretta turned around to fully face Ideal, one hand on her hip and the other gesturing with the scissors for emphasis. “What, to have a shoulder put back in? Or are you referring to the person doing the replacing? Honestly, Ideal, you’ve been reading too many trashy medical romances. First of all, I doubt any disrobing took place. And second of all, even if there was, I find it extremely hard to believe that both of them had to do it.”
Phyllis didn’t say anything; her face was hidden by the three months’ old magazine she had suddenly become absorbed in. Tipper thought she saw the pages fluttering as Phyllis desperately tried to stifle what would otherwise have been gales of laughter.
Ideal pouted. “Well, I was just saying …”
“What you were just saying will get you deep into hot water with Jessica if it ever gets around to her,” Loretta said sternly. “But what do you expect, listening to Beth Simonson? Really.”
That caused Ideal to subside for the time being, and she returned her attention to what Corinne was doing to her nails. Corinne, for her part, had the good grace to wipe the smug grin from her face before Ideal could see it.
Her rebuke delivered, Loretta turned back to Tipper and resumed the trimming of her hair. “Sorry, Hon,” she said as she hunted for the place she had left off cutting. “Sometimes Mrs. Malloy has an overactive imagination, no doubt fueled by her choice of, er, literature.”
Tipper was merely grateful that the spotlight of attention had swung away from her, at least for the time being. She let out a slight sigh and settled back in the chair to watch as Loretta continued to tend to her auburn hair.
Her relief was short lived when a few moments later the bells above the door jangled and Eve Simpson, Cabot Cove’s leading real estate maven, breezed in.
“Afternoon, everybody,” she said with a wave of her hand meant to include everyone in the beauty salon in her salutation.
“Hi there, Eve,” Loretta said with a little wave of her own in return. “What’ll it be today?”
“Just the nails, I think, Loretta,” she said, tossing her purse aside and plopping herself down at the manicure seat that had just been vacated by Ideal Malloy. “That’s all I have time for today – I have a closing at 2:30 for the old McFarland place.”
“That old dump?” Phyllis said in amazement. “You managed to pawn that off on an actual buyer?”
“Please!” Eve said, looking affronted. “It’s not an ‘old dump,’ it’s a three bedroom handyman’s delight with historical roots and seasonal views of the harbor.”
Phyllis shook her head. “Whatever you say, Eve.”
“What colour today, Ms. Simpson?” Corinne asked.
“Something in purple, Corinne,” Eve replied, holding out her long tapered fingers for Corinne’s ministrations. “I’m in a Halloween mood today.”
“Halloween?” Ideal said. “Why not black? Or orange?”
“Really, Ideal,” said Eve, “have you ever tried to match anything with orange? Black, on the other hand …”
Tipper tensed in her chair, certain that any second now Eve’s attention would turn to her, in quest of whatever information she held about George Sutherland. But Eve had other things on her mind to talk about first.
amazing,” she said to no one in particular, “those ancient Celtic stones being
found out on
“Yes,” said Phyllis. “Already two experts have come to town to examine them. Academic types – college professors, I guess.”
“Who do you suppose left them there?” Ideal asked.
it that an Irish monk named Brendan left them there, back in the fifth or sixth
century or so,” said Loretta. “If it’s true, then he discovered
“I don’t know,” said Phyllis doubtfully. “The stones could be fakes.”
“Well, that’s for the experts to decide,” said Loretta. “They’re looking one of them over at the Historical Society right now.”
Tipper held her peace.
“You know what this calls for?” Eve said, sitting up straighter at the manicure corner. “A cocktail reception! And I just happen to know Karen Hill over at the historical society – I bet she’d be thrilled if I offered to put together a little soiree for the visiting professors tomorrow night.”
“How do you suppose she knows the two professors are male?” Tipper asked Loretta in a low voice. “I mean, that’s the reason she’s offering to put this shindig on, right?”
Loretta chuckled at her comment and leaned in closer to answer. “I don’t know, Hon, but somehow she always knows.”
Their exchange drew Eve’s attention to Tipper’s presence at last. “Oh, Tipper!” she cooed. “I didn’t notice you over there – you’ve been awfully quiet!”
Tipper favored Eve with a slight smile. “Hi, Ms. Simpson,” she said half-heartedly. “How are you today?”
well, I’ll be much better than fine as soon as I get this McFarland closing
buttoned up,” Eve replied. “Say – I hear you gave Jessica’s houseguest,
Inspector Sutherland, a lift up from the
Oh, boy, Tipper thought, here we go. “Um, yes I did,” she said. “Nice guy.”
“I saw him
walking with Jessica,” Eve said as Corinne finished buffing her nails and
started to apply the first layer of luscious purple polish. “He looks like a
very distinguished gentleman. He’s from
“Er, yeah,” said Tipper. “But I guess he’s Scottish by birth.”
“Oh ho, now we’re getting somewhere!” Eve said, flashing a big grin. “Tell me more!”
“That’s really about all I know,” Tipper said, shrugging innocently. “Sorry.”
Eve looked disappointed, almost as disappointed as Phyllis had looked after her round of interrogation. But then her face quickly brightened again.
just what we should do,” she said. “We should be sure to invite the handsome
Inspector from Scotland Yard to the party tomorrow night. After all, it was he – and Jessica – who
found the Celtic stones out on
“That’s what I hear,” said Loretta.
“Tipper, if you see either of them, be a dear and be sure to extend them the invitation, would you?” Eve said.
Tipper held up her hands from under her barber’s cape. “Whoa,” she said. “I have enough to do at work as it is, Ms. Simpson. I’m not getting involved.”
“Oh, well, I suppose I could give Jessica a call myself …” Eve mused. “I just thought that since you gave the Inspector a ride …”
“That’s where my involvement begins and ends,” Tipper said firmly, fervently hoping that her words would prove true.
“I wonder what sort of hors d’oeurves I should serve?” Eve said to no one in particular.
This led to a spirited discussion of the various food allergies, some of them real and some imagined, suffered by certain members of the Cabot Cove community who were not present to provide the correct information for themselves. In this middle of this debate, Loretta finally finished Tipper’s trim and swept off her cape with a flourish.
“There you go, Hon,” she said. “You’re free to go.”
Tipper handed the beautician her money. “Thanks, Loretta,” she said, and fled out of the beauty parlor as fast as she could without it looking unseemly.
George took the scenic route back to her house so that she could show him some
of Cabot Cove’s more expansive views of the open
As the afternoon drew on, Jessica set down her teacup and stifled a yawn. “Goodness!” she said. “I can’t imagine why I’m so tired.”
“You’ve been doing more than your fair share of running around these past few days,” George said. “Why don’t you go upstairs and lie down for a bit before dinner? Let me cook for you for once.”
“That sounds like just what I need,” she admitted. “You’re sure you don’t mind?”
“Mind? I’ve been looking forward to just such an opportunity,” George said. He set down his own cup, rose from his seat, and offered her a hand to help her up. “Go ahead – take a breather, and come downstairs when you’ve recharged your batteries.”
“All right,” she said, and headed upstairs to her bedroom.
When George looked in on her a little while later Jessica was fast asleep on her bed, curled up on top of the covers. He stepped quietly into the room, being careful not to wake her, and slipped a folded note on to the pillow next to her head before leaving again to continue his dinner preparations.
When Jessica woke about an hour or so later, the sun had set and the twilight outside was softening into dusk. She saw the note when she opened her eyes, and sat up to read it, running a hand through her hair.
“Dinner will be served at seven,” the note, written in George’s handwriting, said. “Formal attire is requested.”
“Formal attire?” Jessica said aloud to herself, her interest piqued. Her eyes strayed toward her closet, and she smiled.
Fifteen minutes later she called down from the top of the stairs, “Is it safe to come down?”
“Safe enough,” George answered. He went to the foot of the stairs in time to see Jessica come down the steps, dressed in a beautiful evening gown of wine-red velvet. The sleeves and bodice were form-fitting, but at the waist the skirt flared out to brush the floor in long sweeps. Jessica had chosen to accent the dress with a necklace made up of several strands of gold filament, a gold bracelet, and a pair of gold and garnet earrings that twinkled in the light spilling out from the kitchen.
George was dumbfounded. “Jessie,” he said when his heart slowed its hammering enough for him to speak, “you look stunning! I’ve never seen that dress before.”
haven’t,” she said. “It’s a little bulky to pack, so it’s not the sort of
outfit that’s practical to pack to bring to
“Then I’m glad that I’m here, so that I can see it,” George said. “Did you have a good rest?”
“It was just what I needed,” she said. “By the way, you look very handsome as well tonight.”
George glanced down at his coat and tie. “Well, it isn’t much,” he said apologetically. “Ordinarily a dress such as yours would demand a tuxedo on my part, but I didn’t think to bring one.”
“I would have thought it a little strange if you had,” Jessica said with a laugh. “So – what’s for dinner?”
George took her hand and led her to the dining room. “We start off with a salad of fresh mixed greens served with a Vidalia onion dressing and homemade croutons,” he said in his best maitre d’ accent. “Following that we have parmesan chicken in a lemon and white wine sauce with a side of bow-tie pasta.”
“Amazing!” Jessica exclaimed as George pulled out a chair at the candlelit table for her. “You must have had to run out to the market for most of this feast!”
“Actually, no,” he said, taking his own seat opposite of her. “Believe it or not, you had all the ingredients in your refrigerator and freezer.” He picked up his glass of white wine and held it up. “What shall we drink to, Elf?”
“To your visit,” Jessica said promptly, picking up her own wine glass. “And to many more visits hereafter.”
George smiled, and lightly touched the rim of his wine glass to hers.
Jessica had just speared a forkful of salad when they heard someone knocking at the back door.
“I’ll get it,” Jessica said, rising from the table and motioning for George to remain where he was. She gathered up her skirt with one hand to keep from tripping, and headed to the kitchen while George took another sip of wine, feeling a tad chagrined.
Jessica opened the back door and found Tipper Henderson standing in the pool of light on the threshold.
“Tipper!” she said. “What brings you around this time of night?”
Tipper was clearly taken aback by the dress; her face mirrored her dismay. “Oh, Jessica – I, um, I’m so sorry to bother you – and clearly I am interrupting, um, something important …”
“Don’t be silly, Tipper. If you were interrupting I would not have come to the door. Now, what’s on your mind?”
Tipper gave her a small smile in relief. “I thought I’d stop by on my way home and warn you – the ladies at Loretta’s know about George being here – and that he’s staying here. You wouldn’t believe some of the things that they’re saying!”
“Oh, no, I think I would,” Jessica said.
“Well, anyway, word on the street has it that Eve Simpson’s going to be hosting some sort of reception for these professors that have come to town to look at those rocks you guys found on the island,” Tipper said. “You and George are both going to be on the invite list, but it wouldn’t half surprise me if this party turns out to be more about George than about the professors. I just thought you’d want to know.”
Jessica nodded. “I appreciate your letting me know ahead of time, Tipper,” she said. “But I’m not worried about Eve. George can handle himself, believe me.”
“All right, then, at least I’ve done my duty,” said Tipper, turning to go. “Time to get home to my cats and some supper of my own. Have a nice evening, Jessica!”
“I will. Thanks, Tipper, and the same to you and your cats.”
She shut the door behind her, turned around, and nearly jumped a foot in the air when she saw George standing right behind her.
“Oh, George, you startled me!” she exclaimed, putting a hand on his arm.
“Sorry, Elf, that was never my intention,” George said. “I just wanted to make sure you didn’t forget to do something once the young doctor left.” He reached past her then, and locked the door.
Jessica smiled as he did so. “Good idea,” she said. “And you’re right – I probably would have forgotten.”
“I also took the liberty of turning off the ringer on your phone,” he said as he took her arm and headed back to the dining room with her. “Now – where were we?”
The rest of their dinner proceeded without interruption, thanks to George’s forethought. After a dessert of instant rice pudding mixed with chocolate chips and served with a dollop of whipped cream, George rose from the table and offered her his hand.
“What about the dishes?” Jessica asked.
“Forget them til morning,” George said.
“We should at least set them to soak overnight,” Jessica said firmly, gathering up the plates and heading for the kitchen.
“Stubborn,” George said just loud enough to hear.
“I’m not stubborn, just practical,” Jessica said, flashing him a smile as she filled the sink with a fresh batch of warm soapy water. “You wouldn’t want to tackle these dishes tomorrow after they’ve had all night for the leftovers to dry on.”
“Don’t you have a dishwasher that can handle that?” George asked, handing her a saucepan.
“Sure do. You’re looking at her.”
George was slightly taken aback – looking around the kitchen, he realized for the first time that, in fact, there was no automatic dishwasher anywhere to be found.
“Sorry, Jess,” he said sheepishly. “I didn’t realize …”
Jessica turned and silenced him with a light kiss on the lips. “You had no way of knowing what a rustic life I lead here,” she said with a laugh. “Think nothing of it. Besides, as soon as we drop everything in the sink, we’re done.”
“Fair enough.” Between the two of them they had the table cleared and everything in the sink soaking in a matter of minutes.
Once the task was completed, George asked Jessica to wait in the kitchen for a minute while he disappeared into the living room. Jessica stifled her natural curiosity and waited as patiently as she could until he returned.
“What have you been up to?” she asked him.
“Come with me and see for yourself,” he said, taking her hand in his.
He led her down the hallway toward the living room, and when she stepped into it she gave a gasp of surprise and delight. Nearly every flat surface was covered with candles, their flickering glow making the room seem much larger. A soft waltz was playing on the CD player in the corner, and George had moved the coffee table to the periphery of the room and rolled up the area rug, exposing the hardwood floor underneath.
“This is beautiful, George,” Jessica said, turning to him with eyes glittering in the candlelight.
“May I have this dance?” George asked her. She nodded, and he led her to the middle of the living room floor.
Jessica felt a little awkward at first as George took her hand in his and placed his other hand on her waist. But as he led her in their first waltz she gradually forgot that they were only in her living room and started lose herself in the clever mix of illusion and reality. Then she had a sudden thought:
“I don’t have a CD of waltz music,” she said.
“No, you don’t,” George said without missing a beat. “That’s why I took the liberty of packing one of my own … just in case.”
“Always prepared,” Jessica laughed.
“No,” said George, “just practical.”
George drew Jessica closer as they danced in the candlelight and gazed deep into her eyes, mesmerized by the complex mix of emotions is them. She had such expressive eyes, and looking in them he could well understand why some said that the eyes were the window to the soul. Jessica had the uncanny ability to appear serious or playful, innocent or wise, just by the way she looked at him with those blue eyes. Just now he thought he could see a certain shyness in them, but also an underlying desire that made his heart beat a little faster. That look brought him back to that magical night in Kilcleer, the night he would never forget for as long as he lived.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Jessica said, breaking the spell. “You look like you’re a million miles away!”
“Not quite that far,” he said with a smile as he leaned down and gave her a quick kiss. “I was just looking in your eyes, and I got carried away.”
“Carried away where?”
Her curiosity was irresistible; there was no hiding his thoughts from her even if he had wanted to. “Kilcleer,” he answered simply.
“Oh,” said Jessica with a smile, and she leaned closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder.
There was silence then, except for the soft music and the whisper of her dark velvet skirt as it swept the floor about their feet. Jessica let go of his hand and wrapped both of her arms around his neck, freeing him to put both hands on her waist.
“You look absolutely stunning in that gown, Jess,” he murmured.
“Would you mind terribly … if I helped you out of it?”
Jessica drew back and looked at him in surprise. “Now that’s a bold question, George Sutherland!” she told him in mock reproach.
“My pardon, Elf,” he said with a grin, recognizing the bright sparkle in her eyes. “I thought you appreciated directness.”
“I do,” she replied softly as she reached up to gently loosen his tie. “And as it so happens … no, I don’t mind.”
“I didn’t think you would,” said George. “Let’s leave the dance floor for a little while, shall we?”
Cabot Cove’s small grocery store was a good place to see people and be seen during the day, and it was for this reason that Tipper tended to shop at night. Daytime grocery shopping, she had found, tended to take her three times as long to finish, owing to the fact that seemingly every person she ran into had some question or comment to make regarding the health of their pet. She had found herself drawn into protracted conversations and providing off-the-cuff medical advice to such a degree that for a time she had seriously considered setting up a booth for herself next to the produce aisle. It wasn’t that she minded dispensing advice or receiving progress reports outside of the office – to the contrary, it meant that she had become recognizable to the community on sight – it was just the growing amount of time she had found herself spending on these informal discussions when her true aim was merely to stock the larder and get home to her cats.
On this particular evening Tipper found herself walking through the mostly deserted aisles of the Shop n’ Save in something of a distracted daze, absently picking items off the shelf by rote without much thought as to whether or not she truly needed them. After leaving Jessica’s house she had gone home to meet the insistent demands of her cats to be fed, following that up with a microwave dinner entrée for herself. The decision to go shopping for groceries had been made only when she realized that she was out of ice cream.
examined a head of lettuce in her hand without really seeing it and put it in
her cart along with the bag of carrots and red bell peppers she had already
selected. Her thoughts were elsewhere,
namely back on the doorstep of
Up until this evening she had been content to subscribe to Jessica’s official line that she and the mysterious George Sutherland of Scotland Yard were merely “good friends” and leave it at that. She had no desire to know any more than that, and frankly it was none of her business anyway what Jessica’s particular definition of “friends” might entail. But while she might have been able to explain away Jessica dressing to the nines for a simple dinner at home, she could not ignore the fact that when George had quietly entered the kitchen in the wake of his hostess, he had briefly made eye contact with Tipper and shot her an unmistakable knowing wink.
Tipper regarded herself as more-or-less guileless; she had a terrible poker face, and she knew it. She had already been the subject of scrutiny by the town’s more nosy residents since it was generally known that, except for Jessica herself, she was the only other person in Cabot Cove who had spent any extended period of time in George Sutherland’s company. How much worse would it get, now that she had to keep under wraps her growing suspicion that the inspector and the novelist had become not just friends, but lovers?
A cantankerous voice interrupted her train of thought: “Where’d you learn to drive that thing, a demolition derby?”
Brought back to the present, Tipper shook herself and looked down to see that she had bumped into the cart of a fellow shopper, who just happened to be the last person she wanted to see right now, Seth Hazlitt.
“I usually shop at this hour to avoid having to share the aisles with slowpokes like you, Doctor Hazlitt,” she replied with a grin, hoping to make a quick recovery and so salvage the situation before Seth caught on to her secret thoughts. “What brings you out at this time of night anyway, a postprandial snack attack?”
Seth drew himself up to his full height and looked down his nose at the veterinarian, though not without a good-natured twinkle in his eye – Tipper suspected that he enjoyed these sparring matches as much as she did. “It just so happens, Doctor Henderson, that I am out of oatmeal for tomorrow morning.”
“Ah – worried about our cholesterol, are we?”
“Not in the least,” replied Seth. “I just happen to like oatmeal, that’s all. Wouldn’t hurt you to try it for yourself, either. Don’t think I didn’t see those boxes of Pop Tarts in your shopping cart.”
Tipper moved to discreetly hide her Pop Tarts behind her head of lettuce and bag of carrots, knowing that the effort was futile anyway. “I usually have to eat my breakfast on the run, Doctor,” she said with a slight upward tilt of her own nose. “I have to see to all my morning treatments before my first appointment of the day at eight o’clock – unlike certain physicians I know who seem to have the luxury of lollygagging around the coffee shop collecting gossip until all hours of the morning.”
“May I remind you, Doctor, that breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” Seth said loftily. “I am merely setting a good example for my patients.”
“I see,” said Tipper as she watched him select a box of blueberry-flavored instant oatmeal and add it to his cart. “So you suggest that I swill down three cups of coffee with liberal amounts of creamer if I want to live to be 100?”
Seth fixed her with a friendly glare. “Who told you I use creamer? I strictly go for half-and-half,” he said sternly, and tossed a bottle of maple syrup in the cart after the oatmeal.
“Point,” Tipper acknowledged with a tip of her hand. “Clearly my information sources are not nearly as sophisticated as yours.”
Seth smiled at his minor victory. “The sooner you recognize that, the better off you’ll be,” he said smugly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more shopping to do. I thought I’d drop some of these ingredients off at Jess’s tonight in anticipation of our latest culinary creation on Friday.”
Tipper nearly dropped the box of cold cereal she was considering buying. “Tonight?” she squeaked. “Why tonight?”
Seth was instantly suspicious, and Tipper mentally kicked herself. “Why not tonight?” he asked.
“It’s just that … well … I was over there myself on my way home from the clinic, - just to say hi, you know – and she was really involved with a chapter she was writing,” Tipper stammered. “A chapter on how to win friends and influence people,” she added silently to herself, thinking again of the wine-red evening gown. “I’m pretty sure she won’t want to be disturbed for the rest of the evening. Besides, it’s getting late,” she finished lamely.
Seth wasn’t buying it – or at least, she was pretty sure he wasn’t. But to Tipper’s immense relief he didn’t make any attempt to poke holes in her concocted story. “All right, then,” he said, “I suppose tomorrow morning will do. If that’s all right with you, Doctor.”
Tipper shrugged, a gesture she intended to convey indifference, but which also carried a measure of relief. “It’s not my decision to make,” she said casually. “I’m not getting involved.”
“Involved in what?” Seth asked, his eyes narrowing.
“Nothing,” Tipper said brightly as she disengaged her shopping cart from Seth’s and moved briskly down the aisle toward the check-out counters. “Enjoy the rest of your shopping, Doctor. Don’t eat anything I wouldn’t eat.”
came downstairs the next morning he found Jessica already up and at work in the
kitchen, listening to a Maine Public Radio news program as she washed up the
dishes from the night before. The commentator was discussing the Farmer’s
Almanac’s predictions for the coming
“Good morning, Elf,” he said, coming up behind her and wrapping his arms around her.
“Good morning,” she returned with a warm smile. “How did you sleep last night?”
He started to answer, but as the home heating oil story ended and the next one began, Jessica, suddenly alert, held up her hand and motioned him to silence.
“Speculation continues to swirl
around a trio of stone tablets found on
Jessica reached over and shut the radio off. “Interesting,” she said.
“Indeed,” George agreed. “The news has traveled quickly.”
“Mandy seems awfully sure about the origins of those stone tablets,” said Jessica, picking up a plate and scrubbing it absently, her thoughts clearly elsewhere. “I wonder how she can be so certain? Even the two professors are unwilling to commit to any conclusions about them.”
George picked up a dish towel and started to help out, wiping dry the dishes that she had already washed, rinsed, and placed in the drying rack. “The radio said she’s an expert in antiquities,” he said.
Jessica shook her head and passed George another plate rinsed clean for him to dry and put away. “Mandy’s not a ‘local antiquities expert,’” she said, scooping up a handful of silverware. “She’s a local antique dealer. As far as I’m aware, she doesn’t have a degree in antiquities or anything else to do with ancient history.”
“Is that so?” said George, carefully drying and setting aside a pair of wine glasses. “In that case, I would certainly agree with your assessment – it is interesting.”
Jessica finished rinsing the silverware and dumped it into the drying rack. “Well, that’s the last of it,” she announced. “Ready for breakfast?”
George grinned at her and replied, “Whenever you are, Elf.”
After breakfast they took a walk, their steps leading them along the waterfront and in the direction of the town landing. There was a crowd of people there, loading equipment on to a cruiser tied to the float.
Jessica shaded her eyes with her hand. “That’s Jed Richardson’s boat,” she exclaimed. “He has it tied at the town float again. I wonder why?”
“One way to find out,” George said, hooking his arm through hers. “Let’s go see.”
At the town landing they found not only Jed, but also Mandy Jacobs and Mark Burell, and the two visiting professors.
“Good morning, Jessica, George,” Jed said brightly. “How are you?”
“Fine, Jed,” Jessica replied. “Where are you going?”
“Back out to
George groaned. “Oh, no, not that impenetrable fortress,” he said. “I’m not sure my body can handle another jaunt across the cliffs.”
Jessica smiled and put a sympathetic hand on his arm. “Don’t worry, George. I’ll go,” she said. “I shouldn’t be gone for too long.”
Gratefully, George leaned over and gave her a kiss on her forehead. “Thank you for excusing me from another expedition,” he said. “I have some things I can do while you’re gone that I’ve been looking forward to – like rubbing liniment into my abused muscles.”
“Oh, George,” Jessica said, laughing. “You underestimate yourself! But I understand. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
Before long they had reached the island, landing in the same cove as on the day of the picnic. Once the dory had been beached and drawn up the beach, Jed turned to Jessica and said,
“All right, Jess, now it’s your turn – lead the way.”
Jessica climbed the rough path that led from the beach to the top of the granite bluffs and set off at a brisk pace. Jed and Mandy were able to keep up with her, but Mark and the two professors lagged somewhat behind.
At length Jessica reached the edge of the fissure where she had found the trio of stone tablets.
she said, pointing down into the shadowy recesses below as
Browning peered down where she indicated. “Can we get down there somehow?” he asked.
“Yes, but not right here,” said Jessica. “The walls are too steep, and there’s an overhang. Follow me.”
She led them along the edge of the crevasse to the place where she had previously gained access to the interior. Looking down, she could see a little rivulet of seawater making its way up the gravelly floor.
“Tide’s coming in,” Jed noted when he saw the rivulet for himself. “We’re going to have to be quick about this.”
“By all means, then, let’s get to
Without the benefit of the level rays of a setting sun, the interior of the crevasse was largely dark, and they needed the flashlights provided by Jed and Mark to make their way along the uneven ground.
“There,” said Jessica, stopping in front of a niche carved out of the rock by the Sea. “That’s where the other two stones are.”
She stepped back to stand beside Jed as the two professors, Mandy, and Mark rushed forward to look.
“Remarkable!” Professor Hinckley exclaimed, running his hand across the face of one of the stones. “The etchings are still relatively clear.”
“Let me have a look,” Browning
said. Hinckley backed off to allow him room to examine the tablets, but the
“Strange,” he said, shining his
flashlight around the niche and running his hand through the damp gravel at the
tablets’ bases. “In all my years of experience I have never seen Ogham stones hidden as carefully as this. In
“Perhaps the practice was different
“That would make sense,” Browning said thoughtfully, “but still … it is strange.”
Jed looked at his watch. “If we’re going to get these stones out of here today, we’d better do it soon,” he said. “Tide’s rising. As it is, we may not get out of here with dry feet.”
That settled the matter, at least for the time being. First one tablet, and then the other, was carried carefully out of the crevasse and up to full daylight, and despite Jed’s warning, these accomplishments were achieved with a minimum of dampness. They were ferried back to the mainland by way of the Cruising Altitude, and were soon reunited with the first stone under the watchful eye of Karen Hill at the Cabot Cove Historical Society.
Jessica had embarked on her way back to
The kitchen was clearly the heart of Jessica’s daily life; past, present and future all mingled together in a way that made the space seem lived in and alive. On the counter a bowl of freshly made bread dough that Jessica had mixed that morning sat rising under a blue and white dishcloth. He lifted the cloth and peeked underneath; it appeared to be honey wheat. The coffee maker still held a cup or two of coffee in its carafe, now cold; George turned the machine back on to warm it up so he could finish it off himself.
Mail, opened and unopened, was separated into two neat piles on the kitchen table, together with half a roll of postage stamps and a ball point pen. In the corner near the door a metal umbrella stand held a couple of its namesake objects and a plain wooden walking stick with a looped leather thong for a handle.
The refrigerator was probably the most poignant object in the room; it was old but still running smoothly, and its doors were covered with photographs, post cards and newspaper clippings held up with an eclectic mix of magnets. George looked closely at one; it was a wallet-sized photo of a little fair-haired boy clutching a teddy bear and wearing a wide smile. He appeared to be about three or four years old in the picture, and by counting back George came to the conclusion that this was Jessica’s grand-nephew, Grady and Donna Fletcher’s son “Young” Frank.
George found two separate collections of books in the kitchen. One set was to be expected, a group of a dozen or so cookbooks of different types, arranged neatly on top of the refrigerator between a pair of pewter bookends. The other set, perched on the shelf of the pass-through between kitchen and dining room, was more unusual: a hardcover copy of each of Jessica’s books, from The Corpse Danced at Midnight all the way up to her most recently released volume, Four and Twenty Black Birds. They stood at stiff attention, and George idly wondered if the books, her “children” of a sort, were placed there to keep Jessica company when she was alone, or if they were merely there for reference as she worked on her latest opus.
For it was clear to him as he went from kitchen to dining room that the majority of Jessica’s writing life happened here, at the dining room table. A laser printer and modem shared one end of the polished table with her laptop computer, which was currently closed to patiently await the return of its mistress. Reference books of various sorts were scattered around the room, some on the table itself, some sharing space on the nearby china cabinet with Jessica’s best flatware.
Nowhere was there evidence of the
book she was currently working on, but the locked bottom drawer of the china
cabinet told him where its handwritten notes were most likely hidden. Jessica was very protective of her
works-in-progress; no one was allowed to read what she was writing until it was
finished. George had learned that for himself the hard way: once, when she had
been visiting him in
George wandered into the living room next – by now he had been in it several times, but had yet to really take in any of its details. The first thing that drew his attention was the birdcage that sat in the sunny bow window in the front of the room. The fact that Jessica kept a canary had come as something of a surprise to him, probably because her extensive travel schedule seemed incompatible with her having a pet. On reflection, though, he realized that with as large a social support network as she seemed to enjoy here in Cabot Cove, it stood to reason that she did not lack for friends to look after the bird in her absence. He leaned forward to take a closer look at the canary; the bird, hopping over to a nearby perch, cocked its head and examined him in return with a shiny jet black eye. George offered his finger through the cage wire, and it flutter closer to alight on it with a little musical trill. After that it seemed to lose interest in its visitor and retired to its usual perch to resume preening its feathers.
Amused, George straightened and continued his self-guided tour of the room. Jessica was handy with a needle and threat, it seemed – she had apparently made her own draperies, an inference he made based on the fact that the canary had the benefit of a cage cover for night time made out of the same material. So too did the slip cover on the sofa have a certain homemade look that made him suspect that it was also the product of Jessica’s work.
It seemed as though every available
space on the walls was covered with pictures of one kind or another. The art
was not limited to any one style or period, but ran the gamut from
Everywhere he looked there were
photographs, presumably of family and friends. The greatest concentration of these
was on the mantle over the fireplace; here they crowded together in such
perfusion that there was hardly room for even an additional wallet-sized
snapshot. In all of these photographs
Jessica herself appeared only once, standing with a tall, handsome man on a
rocky bluff overlooking the open
At that moment he heard the back door open and shut, and the sound of Jessica’s quick footsteps in the kitchen.
“I’m back,” she announced as she came into the living room to greet him with a quick kiss on his cheek. “Did you manage to keep yourself busy while I was gone?”
“Oh yes, quite busy,” George assured her. “I was just having a look around – at your collection of photographs, and so on. How was the trip out to the island?”
“A bit rougher than it was the other day,” she said. “But it was successful – this time they brought back the other two stones.”
“And what were the impressions of the academics?”
“Well,” she said, shedding her coat and hanging it on its peg, “Professor Browning thought it was rather odd to hide artifacts in a rock fissure – that’s not where they’re found in Ireland – but Professor Hinckley didn’t seem to have much of a problem with that concept.”
“And what do you think, Jess?” George asked.
“What do I think?” She sighed and said, “I don’t know what to think.”
The doorbell rang at the front door, and Jessica went to answer it. Eve Simpson was there, standing on the front step with a huge smile on her face.
“Jessica!” Eve exclaimed. “I’m so glad I caught you at home.”
“Actually, Eve, I just walked in,” Jessica said apologetically.
“Perfect! I’ve been just dying to meet your Inspector Sutherland,” said Eve, sweeping past Jessica and down into the living room, where George was trying to keep a safe distance. She took his hand in her well-manicured one. “Inspector, it is so good to meet you at last,” she purred. “Jessica has told me so much about you!”
George glanced past Eve at Jessica, who merely smiled and shrugged.
“Karen Hill and I have organized a wonderful little reception tonight at the Historical Society, in honor of the two visiting university professors,” said Eve. “I’d like to extend invitations to both of you, since it was you who found the stones on the island in the first place. Especially you, Inspector Sutherland, since you’re a guest here in our charming little village by the Sea.”
“Well, thank you, Eve, we’d be delighted,” Jessica said, knowing from her years of friendship with Eve that telling the real estate agent ‘no’ was simply not an option.
“Wonderful! Eight o’clock, then, at the Society,” Eve announced, sweeping out the door again. “We’ll have hors d’oeurves and those little finger sandwiches. See you there!”
Jessica shut the front door quietly behind her and leaned against it with relief.
“Did you really tell her all about me?” George asked when he had recovered from his shocked silence.
“Well … maybe a little,” Jessica admitted.
That evening George and Jessica showed up at the Historical Society reception as promised. The moment Eve set eyes on them she made a beeline for George. “Jessica! Inspector Sutherland – may I call you George?”
George, taken somewhat aback by Eve’s forwardness, managed to answer, “Of course, Ms. Simpson.”
“It’s just plain Eve, George darling,” Eve said, flashing one of her blinding smiles at him and taking him by the arm to lead him off. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“Er, a Scotch on the rocks would be appreciated,” he stammered. Not just appreciated, he thought to himself, needed!
Jessica watched Eve take George by the arm and lead him off toward the bar area, shaking her head with a slight smile playing on her lips. Poor George. Perhaps I should have warned him.
“Soooo, George,” Eve cooed once they were out of Jessica’s earshot, “I understand that you are an inspector at the famous Scotland Yard. That must be extremely exciting!”
“It does have its moments, yes,” George said, looking uneasily over his shoulder for Jessica.
“Well, tell me about some of them!” said Eve.
George sighed. Jessica had moved on to listen to Professor Browning, and escape seemed distant. “Ms. Simpson, really – I wouldn’t want to bore you with the details of my work,” he said. “Honestly, it’s mostly about filling out paperwork!” He would have tried to remove his arm from Eve, but her long, polished fingernails were practically digging into the fabric of his coat.
“Oh, nonsense, George darling,” she said. “Let me tell you about what I do, and I’m sure you’ll agree that your job is much more exciting.”
George settled in to listen to a rather long and mostly uninteresting
recitation of Eve Simpson’s recent conquests in the world of coastal
“That’s very fascinating, Ms. Simpson,” he said, draining the last of his Scotch and making a move to back away. “But I really shouldn’t monopolize you; I’m sure you want to mingle with your other guests …”
“Oh, nonsense, George darling,” she said again, tightening her grip on his arm and making his heart sink still further. “And enough with this ‘Ms. Simpson’ stuff – I told you, it’s just plain Eve for you.”
“Right,” George murmured.
otherwise occupied, Jessica took the opportunity to mingle with the other
guests, eventually joining a knot of people listening to the conversation
between the Historical Society’s two distinguished visitors and
guests-of-honor, Professors Browning and Hinckley. From what she could gather, having come upon the
exchange already in progress, the pair was engaged in a debate about the
historical accuracy of the Brendan legend, and more specifically about the
possible “real world” locations of Brendan’s goal, Terra Repromissionis.
Professor Hinckley was vigorously defending his stance that the Blessed Realm
was identifiable with a real location in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of the
“As early as the
fourteenth century the theorized location had already shifted south, with the
Canary Islands being identified as St. Brendan’s Isle,” Browning was saying,
apparently in rebuttal to a statement
“Yes, yes, yes,”
Browning conceded, “but even if it was
the more tropical areas of the continent proved fruitless to proving the
legend, the cartographers of the sixteenth century, Apianus
and Ortelius in particular, moved it back to those
vague areas west of
sighed inwardly – the professors had slipped into a conversation that could
only be described as “shop talk” between two leading experts in their field,
and she quickly became lost among the names, dates, and details that they so
casually tossed back and forth. But her attention and interest in the exchange
was quickly recaptured when the voices of the two men began to take on an
angrier tone. Frustrated with
are real, then how do you explain that there have been only two – or, as it would seem, three - examples found?” Browning
countered. “If as you claim the ancient Celts did discover
relative lack of archeological evidence does not disprove that the Celts set
foot on this continent,”
merely shrugged off the statement as if it were trivial. “The lack of
archeological evidence certainly does not support the theory either,” he said,
“if theory you can call it. At best, the
idea of a Celtic presence in
words seemed to trigger
“You arrogant imbecile!” he shouted. “Pompous troglodyte! How dare you dismiss my decades of work in the field of antiquities!”
“Your work,” Browning fired back, “has about as much legitimacy as the ill-conceived project of an undergraduate student!”
By this time the shouting match had
riveted the attention of everyone in the room. Even Eve found her attention
drawn toward the scene that was unfolding between
“Please!” Karen, who had been standing nearby watching the heated exchange with growing dismay, pleaded. “Professors! This is hardly the way to settle this matter!”
Her words had no effect whatsoever on the two enraged academics, who continued to hurl insults at each other at a furious rate, their faces growing redder by the second.
“Gentlemen, please,” George said, smoothly appearing as if from nowhere to stand between the two men and gracefully push them apart. “This is hardly the time or the place for such an altercation. I suggest that you each retire to your respective rooms for the remainder of the evening to reconsider your harsh words, and not take up the topic again until the morning. Hopefully by then you will be able to address each other in a more respectful and civilized manner.”
Jessica breathed a sigh of relief –
she had been certain that at any moment Browning and
“I agree,” said Browning, his face
beginning to return to its normal color. “I believe I will do as you suggest,
and call it a night.” He grabbed his coat from the rack and stalked out the
door without so much as a backwards glance.
Once they had gone, conversation in the room resumed, although at a much more subdued level.
“That was excellent timing, George,” Jessica said, coming up to him and giving his hand a squeeze. “Thanks for stepping in.”
“Well, Miss Hill seemed to be a bit over her head, and I couldn’t very well stand by and let those two blokes give each other a black eye,” George replied, returning the gesture. “Besides, I was delighted to have an excuse to extricate myself from the clutches of your friend, Ms. Simpson.”
“Oh, George,” Jessica said with a smile. “Eve is harmless, really.”
“Harmless?” George said indignantly. “Jessica, the woman was practically draping herself all over me! Are you telling me that this doesn’t bother you?”
“Eve has a very liberal understanding of ‘personal space,’” Jessica told him with a slight shrug. “It’s just the way she is around people. Though I must admit, she did seem to be throwing herself at you with something more than her usual vigor.”
George sniffed. “That’s putting it mildly.”
“It’s probably because you are, quite honestly, an extremely handsome man … and, so far as she knows, unattached.”
“Ah,” he said. “All now becomes clear. In her eyes, I am … how would an American put it … ‘fresh meat.’”
“Extremely handsome, charming fresh meat,” Jessica amended.
“I see. You know, Jess, all it would take to deflect Ms. Simpson’s attentions from me would be a simple word from you on the matter.”
“Not so simple,” Jessica said. “Eve is one of the most prolific gossips in Cabot Cove. If I say something to her about you and me … being a couple … it will be all over town by tomorrow morning!”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing – except that there will be at least fifteen different versions of the story in circulation, none of which have even a nodding acquaintance with the truth,” Jessica said, her eyes darkening. “Is that how you want everyone to find out about us?”
“My opinion in the matter hardly counts,” George reminded her. “This is your hometown, not mine. I just think that the truth has to come out sometime – why not sooner than later?”
Jessica sighed. “I know,” she said. “Part of me knows that you’re right, it has to be made known sometime. But the other part of me wants to be far, far away when it happens!”
George laughed at this. “My poor lassie,” he said. “So brave in the face of danger, yet so timid in the face of the gossip of your friends!”
Later that night there was a knock at the door of Professor Browning’s room at the Hill House Inn. The professor answered it, looking completely unsurprised to see a visitor at such a late hour of the evening.
“I thought you’d come to your senses sooner or later,” he said, the warm lamplight from behind him spilling out of the doorway and into the night. “After all, what is a mere ten thousand dollars compared with fifteen to twenty years in prison for theft? Well, come on in; we might as well get down to business.”
The professor turned to go back into the room, fully expecting his guest to follow him inside. Thus his back was turned when the visitor pulled a crowbar out from within the folds of their overcoat, and he never saw it as it was raised over his head and brought down with terrific force across the back of his skull.
Jessica and George approached the late Professor Albert Browning’s room at the Hill House Inn early the next morning just as the paramedics were leaving, the dead man’s body borne upon a gurney and shrouded with a white sheet. They paused and watched as the uniformed medics passed by on their way back to their ambulance with their charge, then continued toward the room, which was easily picked out from the others by the abundance of yellow police tape and the constant stream of people coming in and out the door. Deputy Andy was standing guard at the entrance; when he saw Jessica he immediately lifted a section of the tape to let them pass.
“Sheriff’s inside,” he said. “He’s talking to the forensics photographer right now.”
They stepped into the room, careful to avoid the taped outline of where the body had recently lain. When Mort spotted them, he quickly finished his conversation with the photographer and approached them.
“Mrs. F, Inspector, thanks for coming down so quickly,” he said. “I know it’s early; hell of a way to start the day.”
“You only said that Professor Browning was dead on the phone,” said Jessica, eyeing the outline on the floor. “I take it that’s not the entire story.”
“No,” said Mort. “One of the members of that Elderhostel leaf-peeping tour that’s staying here found him – she’s an early riser, went out for a walk, and came upon him lying half in and half out of the open door to his room, with his head bashed in. We talked to her first thing then let her get back to her group – she was pretty shook up.”
“Do you have any ideas regarding the time of death?” Jessica asked as the forensics photographer unobtrusively moved around the scene, popping off pictures with his camera.
“Actually, we do,” said Mort. “We had some luck on that front: Browning’s watch was the old-fashioned wind-up kind, and it ran down and stopped at 11:45 PM. Now, the night desk clerk says he came in and asked for his messages around 10:30, so we know he died somewhere between those two times.”
“Assuming the professor was diligent about keeping his watch wound,” said Jessica. Then a new thought occurred to her: “Ten-thirty?” she asked. “How can that be? He stormed out of the reception at quarter to nine.”
Mort shrugged. “He must have gone somewhere between leaving the Historical Society and coming back to the Hill House.”
“Or he went to meet someone,” Jessica mused. “In any event, that leaves nearly an hour and a half of time unaccounted for. If we knew his movements during that time, it could help explain who killed him.”
“Any idea what the murder weapon might have been?” George asked.
“Just the typical heavy, blunt object,” the Sheriff answered. “Who ever did him in took it away with them. And he was hit in the back of the head, not the front. That’s a sure sign of premeditation, if you ask me.”
“If he was found lying in the doorway but was hit in the back of the head, that would indicate that the professor knew his assailant, and trusted them enough to turn his back on them,” said Jessica thoughtfully. “If he’d opened the door but been taken by surprise by a stranger or an enemy, he would have been hit on the front or the side of the skull, not the back – or at least show some signs of having put up a struggle.”
“It was the first time he’d ever been to Cabot Cove – he said so himself,” Mort said. “If he had any enemies, chances are that he brought them here with him.”
George and Jessica looked at each other as they each remembered the scene from the reception the night before.
“Sheriff Metzger,” said George, electing to speak for both of them, “last night at the reception we were privy to a rather heated argument between the deceased and the other visiting scholar, Professor Hinckley.”
Mort, who had bent down to examine a blood stain on the floor, straightened up with interest. “Yeah?” he said. “What’d they fight about?”
“I believe the subject of the
altercation was their differing opinions about the likelihood that the ancient
Irish succeeded in reaching the
“And the argument was hardly private,” Jessica added. “By the end, they were shouting at each other. Everyone in the room certainly heard them … and maybe some people the next street over as well.”
“That bad, huh?” Mort said, pulling
out his notepad and writing a memo to himself. “I’ll have to have a talk with
“I think that would be an excellent place to start, Sheriff,” said George.
“All right, Dr. Hinckley,” Mort began when Harold Hinckley made his requested appearance at the Sheriff’s office later that morning. “Did you or did you not bash in your colleague’s head between the hours of ten-thirty and eleven forty-five last night?”
“C’mon, Professor, how dumb do you think I am?” Mort said. “It was no secret that you and Browning weren’t exactly best buddies, and then you guys nearly come to blows at that Historical Society reception in front of about twenty witnesses!”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see about that,” said Mort. “Where did you go after you left the reception?”
“I went back to the hotel.”
“A couple of extra sets of eyes and ears, Dr. Hinckley, that’s all,” Mort assured him.
“Am I being charged with a crime?
Because if I am, I assure you this conversation is over until my attorney is
Mort sighed and pushed back his
chair. “No, you’re not being charged with any crime, Professor – yet. You’re free to go – just don’t get any sudden
notions about heading back to
Mort tossed a pencil eraser in the
air and caught it one-handed. “Now that guy is a piece of work,” he said to
“I’m assuming that he’s your chief suspect at the moment?” Jessica said.
“Why shouldn’t he be?” the Sheriff said. “He had means, motive, and opportunity. And zip for an alibi for the time of death.”
Jessica was frowning; George saw the look on her face and said, “Too simple, Jess?”
When she answered him with a nod of affirmation, Mort rolled his eyes in frustration. “What’s wrong with simple?” he asked the ceiling. “Just once, I’d love for something simple to happen in this town!”
Jessica looked at her friend with sympathy; the ceiling had no answer for Cabot Cove’s sheriff, and neither did she.
George and Jessica parted ways as soon as they had finished up at the Sheriff’s Office, George saying that he had a project of his own that he wanted to pursue. Though curious, Jessica decided not to pursue the matter with him, and headed for home by herself.
On her way she passed by the Historical Society, where she saw Mandy Jacob’s Jeep Cherokee backed up to the front door. She approached the Jeep just as Mandy and her assistant Mark emerged from the front hallway of the Historical Society building, lugging a heavy burden wrapped in canvas between them.
“Just a little bit higher,” Mandy was saying as they eased the bundle over the lip of the SUV’s tailgate. “Easy … easy … there, that should do it.”
“Hello, Mandy,” Jessica said as Mark moved around to the back seat to adjust the bundle next to its mate, which had been set in the Jeep previously. “What’s going on?”
“We’re moving the Ogham tablets to my store,” said Mandy. “In light of Professor Browning’s murder, it seemed like the right thing to do. My store has an alarm system, and the Historical Society doesn’t.”
“So you’re thinking that the Professor’s murder has something to do with the stones?” Jessica asked.
“Well, it would have to be one heck of a coincidence if it wasn’t,” Mandy retorted. “Besides, this is the biggest news to hit the archeology world in the past fifteen years!”
“Yet you don’t seem terribly surprised by the discovery,” Jessica remarked.
Mandy shrugged. “I
guess I’m not, really,” she said. “I always knew it was just a matter of time
before some real Celtic artifacts turned up in
“I suppose it would require a lot of history textbooks to be rewritten,” said Jessica.
“I suppose it would,” Mandy replied. “What’s the matter with that?”
“Nothing,” said Jessica, “so long as what they write has been determined, to the best of everyone’s ability, to be the truth, and not merely speculation.”
Mark came around the side of the Jeep and slammed the tailgate shut. “All set to go, Mandy,” he said.
“Good. Thanks, Mark.” Mandy turned back to Jessica and said, “Go ahead and entertain your doubts, Jessica. I find it hard to understand your skepticism when you of all people are the one who stumbled on the stones, but I at least am confident that when all is said and done, the tablets will be determined to be genuine relics of St. Brendan, and I’ll be proved right.”
Tipper had finished up her last office appointment of the morning and was sitting in her office making notations in a medical record when Carolyn Fahey, one of the clinic’s technicians, knocked on the doorframe.
“Tipper,” she said, “sorry to bother you, but there’s someone here to see you.”
Tipper sighed and rubbed her temples. “Who is it? Is it an emergency?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t know,” Carolyn replied. “I guess it’s important, if the way he’s pacing back and forth is any indication.”
“All right,” Tipper said, tossing down her pen. “I’ll be out in a sec.”
She was expecting another client, or possibly a distributor sales representative, but certainly not the person she saw pacing the length of the waiting room.
“George?” she said, stopping short in surprise.
“Oh, there you are, Tipper,” George said in relief. “I, ah, need your help, if you have some time to spare.”
“Well, I was just finishing up a few things before heading out to grab some lunch …” Tipper began.
“Perfect!” said George, clapping his hands together. “Spare me a little of your valuable time, and I’ll treat you to lunch in return for your aid.”
His offer made the veterinarian smile and relent. “Well,” she said, “I never have been able to turn down a free lunch. Let’s go.”
George explained his dilemma as they walked from the clinic toward the center of town. “I arrived on Jessica’s doorstep without bringing a gift,” he said a little sheepishly. “I feel something of a cad overlooking a detail like that, and have been trying to figure out what to get for her since my arrival. The trouble is I have no knowledge of your town, and no idea where to begin to look for what I want.”
“And what is it you’re looking for?” Tipper asked.
“Well, I was thinking of a bit of jewelry, actually,” he said. “Know where I could find something fitting?”
Tipper paused to pat the head of a German shepherd and greet his owner as they passed them on the sidewalk. “As a matter of fact, I do,” she said. “Let’s get something to eat first, and then I’ll take you there. Fair enough?”
“It’s a deal,” George said with relief. “I can’t thank you enough, Tipper.”
Tipper held up a warning hand. “Wait to thank me until after you’ve found something you like,” she said. “I am no expert in jewelry – just shopping.”
They stopped at a little dockside restaurant featuring take-out fare that could be eaten at picnic tables over the water. Tipper got a hot dog for herself, while George opted for grilled cheese with tomato, a choice that elicited a look of bemusement – or was it pity? – from Tipper.
“It’s something that approximates the British fare I’m used to,” he explained in defense of his choice.
“Okay, whatever,” she said, but he suspected that the veterinarian still considered him to be something of a square.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” Tipper asked when they were seated at one of the waterside picnic tables.
George made an open gesture with his hand. “Please – go right ahead,” he said.
“Why ask me to help you shop for Jessica?”
George took a bite of grilled cheese and chewed it thoughtfully, considering his reply. “Two reasons, really,” he said. “One, you’re one of the very few people that I’m on a first name basis with in Cabot Cove. And two, you’re discreet.”
Tipper nearly choked on her diet Coke.
“Is something wrong?” George asked her.
“No, no, nothing,” Tipper said, regaining her composure. “I’m just … overwhelmed by your trust in me. Uh, thanks.”
“You’re most welcome.” He took another bite of his sandwich. “This is quite good, really,” he commented offhandedly. “You should try it.”
Tipper took George down to what she considered to be the nicest place to find
jewelry and gifts in Cabot Cove, a little hole-in-the-wall shop on
“Hi, Shelly,” she said. “How’s Geronimo?”
“Fine, fine, Dr. Tipper,” the clerk replied with a smile. “That cut is healing up nicely. Do I give him the entire bottle of antibiotics?”
Tipper nodded. “Yes, finish those up,” she replied. “We’ll take the stitches out next Tuesday.”
George leaned in to ask, “Who is ‘Geronimo?’”
“The fourth of her five cats,” Tipper replied. “The accident-prone one. So – what did you have in mind?”
George looked into one of the glass display cases that lined the walls. “I was thinking about a pendant, maybe. Definitely something in blue.”
“Blue,” Tipper repeated to herself thoughtfully. She circled the shop’s compact interior, peering at this display and that, trying to imagine what someone like Jessica, whose jewelry tended to be understated, would like. “What about this?” she asked, pausing in front of a case near the back.
George came to her side and looked. “Sea-glass?” he said. “Would that be considered appropriate?”
“Yes. It’s very
“It’s perfect,” he said warmly, studying the piece closely. “The braided gold chain that it’s on is quite beautiful as well.” He looked up at Tipper, a gleam in his green eyes. “She looks very good in gold, you know.”
“I’m sure she does,” Tipper murmured. “In that case, why don’t you go for the grand slam – get that set of matching earrings too.”
“I believe I shall,” George said with a smile. “See, I knew you were the right person to look to for aid.” He signaled to Shelly, who came over to box the pieces up and complete the purchase.
“Er … George?” Tipper began, her curiosity momentarily getting the better of her. Drat it all, if he was going to enlist her for help in buying sweet nothings for Jessica, she deserved to know what was going on, didn’t she?
Good sense intervened in the nick of time: Don’t get involved. You don’t want to be involved! “Nothing,” said Tipper, biting back the question that had been on the tip of her tongue. “I’m just glad I could be of service.”
“And he bought the most beautiful set of gold and sea-glass jewelry there,” Eve Simpson said when she related the tale third-hand to the rest of the patrons at Loretta’s beauty parlor later that afternoon. “A pendant and a set of earrings! Annie Latham says that Shelly told her that Tipper Henderson helped him pick them out! Do you know what that means?”
Ideal Malloy, who had been listening with rapt attention, her Redbook magazine forgotten in her lap, ventured a guess: “That Inspector Sutherland is having a relationship with Dr. Henderson?”
Eve favored Ideal with a withering glare made all the more severe by the fact that her entire head was covered with plastic hair rollers. “No, Ideal,” she said. “It means that it’s a fair guess that the handsome Inspector is courting our Jessica. Tipper must be the go-between, the secret accomplice.”
Ideal sighed gustily and fluttered her mascara-enhanced eyelashes. “A secret accomplice!” she said. “How romantic!”
“I must get to the bottom of this,” Eve said, her brows knitting in concentration. “I mean, it’s peculiar – Jessica didn’t say a word about it the other night at the historical society.”
“I read that two ways,” said Loretta, who had also been listening while she applied hair dye to another patron’s head. “Either there is a relationship, but Jessica is choosing to keep very quiet about it, or there isn’t a relationship, in which case, Eve, the field is clear.”
“But why on earth would she want to keep quiet about it?” Eve asked in frustration. “If it were me, I’d have taken out an ad in the Cabot Cove Gazette ages ago.”
“Well, that’s you, Eve,” Loretta pointed out reasonably. “Jessica is a bit more restrained than you would be. And as for why she would want to be discreet … don’t tell me none of you have noticed Seth Hazlitt walking around with a long face lately!”
“He is? Really?” Ideal said. “I hadn’t noticed that.”
“Well, it’s true. Now, something is bothering the good doctor,
mark my words,” Loretta said. “Something to do with Jessica, I’m thinking. He usually perks right up when she’s home
Loretta let the question hang in the air, and watched for the reactions it garnered. Ideal frowned, clearly trying to wrap her mind around the concept. But Eve Simpson grinned almost wickedly.
“Oh, my!” she exclaimed, her eyes alight. “How delicious!”
returned from his errand he found Jessica outside in her back yard, reclining
in one of her
“Did you have a good walk?” Jessica asked, looking up at him over the top of her reading glasses.
good,” he replied, letting his head fall back so that he was gazing up at the
blue sky through the partial canopy of yellow leaves. A jet was passing far overhead, out of range
of hearing, leaving a white contrail that slowly dissipated in the autumn sky
behind it. It was an unwelcome reminder that before many more days went by, he
would be on a similar airplane, heading back to
He directed his thoughts away from such topics, and looked down at the stack of books next to Jessica’s chair. “Researching, Jess?” he asked.
“Yes,” she admitted. “Once Mandy and the professors brought up the possibility that the Ogham stones could be relics of St. Brendan the Navigator, I had to find out more about the legend for myself.”
“I would expect nothing less from you,” said George with a knowing smile. “I didn’t think you’d be satisfied to leave the unraveling of the mystery of the stones to others. What have you found out so far?”
haven’t gotten too far into these books as yet, but already I’m starting to
form some opinions on the matter,” Jessica said, putting down her book and
sitting up straighter in her chair. “I think that the claim that Brendan’s
journey was real has at least some merit.
There are too many descriptions in the narrative that coincidentally
match actual landmarks in the
“Such as?” George asked.
the place called the Gates of Hell,” said Jessica, flipping through the pages
of the book until she found the passage she was looking for. She passed the
book to George, and pointed at the page. “Read this passage here – it describes
rivers of fire running down from furnaces of burning slag. That sounds enough
like a volcano to make
may be true,” George said as he handed her back her book. “But can you prove
that he reached
said. “So far, no one has proved that. The closest anyone has come is your
countryman, Timothy Severin. He built a carrach of oxhide and wood just as Brendan did, and in 1976, using the
ocean currents, prevailing winds, and navigational instruments of the time, he
successfully made his way from
voyage was possible, at least in theory,” said George. “But just because Severin’s experiment brought him from
Jessica shook her head. “No,” she
admitted. “Even Tim Severin’s voyage, remarkable
though it was, demonstrates only that Brendan could have reached
“So where does that leave the stones?” asked George.
Jessica sighed and closed the book. “Still in limbo, I guess,” she said. “Would you like some tea?”
“If you’re offering.”
“Then come on into the kitchen, and I’ll put on the kettle,” she said, rising from her chair. George also rose, and joined her. As they passed the leaf pile Jessica had raked up the day he’d arrived, an overwhelming urge for mischief came upon him, and he casually reached over and pushed her over into the pile.
Jessica gave a little shriek of surprise as she landed amidst the yellow leaves.
“What did you do that for?” she demanded.
George smiled and shrugged. “Just because,” he said, putting on his most innocent and charming look.
“I see. Well, the least you can do is help me up, then.”
“Gladly.” He reached down and offered her his hand, which she accepted – but instead of allowing him to pull her to her feet, she gave him a hard yank that caught him off balance and sent him sprawling in the leaf pile beside her.
“There,” she said with evident satisfaction. “Now we’re even.”
George struggled to sit upright, brushing leaves off of his wool sweater as he did so. “Aye, even,” he said in resignation. “I deserved that, of course.”
“Of course.” She started to rise, but George put a hand on her arm and stopped her from getting up.
“Half a moment, Elf,” he said as she settled back into the pile. “I have a little something I picked up in town that I want to give to you, and I suppose that now is as good a time as any.” He reached into the pocket of his slacks and drew out a small jewelry box, which he handed to her. “I am abashed to say that I came to stay under your roof without a proper gift, but hopefully this will make up for that oversight.”
Despite her murmured protest that he need not have gone through any trouble, Jessica accepted the box, and gave a gasp of delight when she opened it. “George – these are beautiful!” she exclaimed. She picked up the necklace and ran the pieces of polished sea glass through her fingers as they sparkled in the sunlight.
“Here – let me see how they look on you,” George offered, relieving her of the necklace so he could fasten it around her throat. When this had been done, Jessica removed the everyday earrings she had been wearing, and replaced them with the sea glass ones, completing the set.
“What do you think?” she asked, turning to face him.
George caught his breath. Tipper had been right, more right, perhaps, than even she had realized. Although under the fluorescent lamps of the shop the necklace had appeared to be uniform in colour, in natural light the pieces of sea glass revealed themselves to span a wide range of blues, and in doing so they captured every shade of blue he had ever seen reflected in Jessica’s eyes, from the sparkling blue-grey of the Sea when she was happy to the deeper azure of her quieter moods.
“Stunning,” he managed to say. “Absolutely stunning.” When Jessica leaned over to give him a kiss on the cheek in gratitude, he made sure to turn his face so she found his lips instead.
“Stay here, Elf,” he told her when they drew apart. “I owe you a favor as well as an apology for pushing you into your carefully arranged pile of leaves, so I will go get the tea and bring it to you here.”
“If you insist,” she said. Once George had gone into the house, she lay back in the deep drift of leaves and closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the cool touch of the light breeze coming out of the west.
“That was quick,” she said without opening her eyes as she heard footsteps approaching her. “Is it tea time already?”
“I wouldn’t know,” said a gruff voice that was not the one she expected, though she recognized it nonetheless. Her eyes flew open in surprise to see Seth standing in front of her, his arms crossed in front of him and a look of disapproval on his face.
“Seth!” she exclaimed, sitting up and running her hands through her hair in an effort to dislodge any leaves that were caught in it. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see you, woman, as if that weren’t obvious enough,” Seth replied. “You did want me to let you know when I got a copy of the initial results of the autopsy on Professor Browning, didn’t you?” He held up the manila folder he’d carried tucked under his arm.
“Oh, yes,” Jessica said, her thoughts racing. “Yes, of course.” How much had Seth seen? How much had he heard? She took her friend’s hand and allowed him to help pull her to her feet.
“Nice set of jewelry you got there,” Seth commented as he handed her the folder and they started walking towards the house.
Jessica, who had opened the folder and was already scanning its contents, looked up sharply at his comment.
“Um, George gave them to me,” she said as she reached for the necklace and fingered it self-consciously.
“I saw him give you a shove into that leaf pile as I was coming up to your fence,” Seth remarked. “Kind of a rough way to treat a lady who dislocated her shoulder just a few months ago, don’t you think?”
“Oh, Seth,” Jessica sighed. “George was only playing. And my shoulder is fine!”
Seth’s only reply was a noncommittal “Ay-yuh.”
They reached the back door, which Seth held open for her, and entered the kitchen. George was just finishing assembling the ingredients for their tea on a tray, and appeared no less surprised to see Seth than Jessica had been.
“Dr. Hazlitt!” he exclaimed. “How good to see you. Jessica and I were just about to sit down to some tea. Won’t you join us?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” said Seth, sitting down at the kitchen table as Jessica produced a third cup and saucer.
“What did you find out?” she asked as Seth selected a tea bag from her collection and dunked it into his hot water to seep.
“Not much that we didn’t already know,” he replied. “They were able to put a slightly finer point on the time of death, which they think is around eleven PM.”
“That’s right in line with what Sheriff Metzger was thinking,” George noted.
“Yes, the man may be an overzealous parking ticket fanatic, but he does get something right once in awhile.”
Jessica leveled Seth with an admonishing look. “Seth,” she chided.
“All right, all right,” Seth grumbled. “Anyway, nothing else noteworthy turned up on the autopsy, except for the blow to the back of the head.”
“Was that what killed him?” Jessica asked, sitting down at the table opposite her friend with her own cup of tea.
“It certainly was,” Seth said as he carefully removed his teabag from his cup and twisted it around his spoon to squeeze out the last few drops of tea. “He took a single hard blow to the left occipital lobe with a narrow, metal object – there were some metal filings in the wound – probably a crow bar or something along those lines. He was probably dead even before he hit the floor.”
“The left occipital lobe?” Jessica said. “That would seem in indicate a left-handed killer.”
“Ay-yuh,” said Seth.
Jessica got up, picked up the phone, and dialed the Sheriff’s office.
“Mort? It’s Jessica. Do you have a moment?”
“I’ve got a couple,” Mort said. “What’s up?”
“You took statements from everyone who was at the Historical Society Wednesday night, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, ‘course I did,” he replied, sitting up straighter at his desk. “I also talked to anyone who had close contact with those stone tablets they were here to study. What about it?”
“I was wondering if you could tell from the signatures which of those people were left handed,” Jessica said. “I know it’s something of a long shot, but the initial autopsy report suggests that the murderer may have been left handed.”
“I’m way ahead of you, Mrs. F. From what I can tell, we’ve got three so far: Jim Shevlin, Karen Hill, and Professor Hinckley himself,” said Mort. “But that’s just from looking at the signatures I could figure out. Lots of people have signatures so sloppy I can barely tell what their names are, let alone whether they’re right or left handed!”
“All right,” Jessica said. “Thanks, Mort.”
She hung up the phone and repeated what the Sheriff had told her to the others.
“I think we can rule out Jim easily enough,” Seth said. “But Karen Hill? Now there’s an interesting name to be on that list. But what possible motive could she have?”
George tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the table. “Was there any indication of how much force was necessary to produce that sort of injury?” he asked.
“You mean, could they tell if it was a man or a woman swinging the murder weapon?” Seth said. He chuckled at the surprised expression on George’s face. “Oh, don’t look so shocked, Sutherland. I’ve been hanging around Jessica here longer than you have, after all – long enough to know the way you people think. Anyway,” he continued, sipping his tea, “it’s hard to say for sure. The blow was so well placed that it didn’t take a tremendous amount of force to produce the result. Either a man or a woman could have delivered it.”
“So Karen can’t be ruled out by that, at least,” Jessica said. “Anyway, Mort’s attention is still focused on Harold Hinckley as the most likely suspect.”
“Is he? Comes as no surprise to me,” Seth said. “It figures, the way he and Dr. Browning went at it at the Historical Society Wednesday night.”
“You heard about that?” George asked.
“Pretty much everyone in Cabot Cove has heard about that by now,” Seth pointed out. “Remember, Eve Simpson was at that party. Thanks to her, news of the tiff between the professors was all over town faster than you can say ‘earnest money.’ Speaking of Eve,” he went on, turning his attention to George, “what did you think of our Eve, Sutherland?”
George sighed and ran his hand across his forehead at the memory of Eve monopolizing him at the reception Wednesday night. “She’s very nice,” he said, “but she haes a tung that wad clip clouts.”
“She is an interminable talker,” George translated.
“Ah!” Seth said, laughing. “On that at least we certainly agree.” He looked at his watch and announced, “Well, I’d better get going. I have a couple of late afternoon office appointments still to see. Shall I leave the copy of the autopsy report here with you, Jess?”
“Yes, thanks, Seth,” Jessica replied.
The phone rang as Seth was leaving, and Jessica rose from the kitchen table to answer it. “Hello? … Oh, hi, Eve! How are you? … Yes, actually, he’s right here. Just a minute.” She put her hand over the receiver and said to George, “It’s for you.”
“For me?” George asked, surprised. Nevertheless, he accepted the phone from Jessica, who returned to her tea. “Hello? … Yes, Ms. Simpson, I do remember you.”
Jessica watched as George’s face mirrored his dismay, and wished she could hear both ends of the conversation.
“Tonight? No, I’m afraid that’s quite impossible,” George was saying. “No, you see, I already have plans. … Well, I am here visiting Jessica, after all. … Yes, if my plans change I will let you know. Good day, Ms. Simpson.” He put the phone down with a sigh.
Jessica was practically bursting with curiosity. “Well? What did Eve want?”
George waited until he had comfortably reseated himself at the kitchen table and taken a sip of tea to settle his nerves. “She wanted to invite me out to dinner.”
“What, tonight?” she asked, trying hard not to laugh. She had to admit that she was impressed; Eve’s invitation set new records for brazen behavior.
“Yes, tonight. I told her I was already committed. And I meant that in more ways than one! You know, Jess, you may have to tell her the truth if only to save me from her clutches!”
Now Jessica did laugh. “Oh, George,” she sighed. “I told you – Eve is harmless! Though I have to admit – that was bold, even for her.”
“I suppose I should be flattered that I inspire her to new levels of flirtatious behavior,” George growled.
That evening Jessica prepared a simple dinner for the two of them, consisting mainly of leftovers and a fresh green salad. Afterwards George helped her with the washing-up, and their conversation turned to the events of the afternoon.
“Except for implicating a left-handed killer, the autopsy report doesn’t really shed any new light on the case, unfortunately,” Jessica said as she dipped a pot into the sink filled with hot, soapy water and began to scrub it. “It was evident enough at the crime scene that Browning was killed with a blunt, heavy object, and the early results don’t seem to indicate anything different.”
“Presumably, the killer took the murder weapon with him,” said George, who was collecting the last of the dirty dishes from the kitchen table to add to the stack waiting to be washed.
“Or her,” Jessica amended. “The injury from the blow was deep, but not so deep that it would be impossible for a woman to have inflicted it.”
“I agree, that presents a problem,” George said. “But I get the feeling that’s not the only thing that’s bothering you tonight, Jess.”
Jessica finished with the pot, rinsed it under the faucet, and handed it to George to dry. “Is it that obvious?” she asked.
“You were quieter than usual over dinner,” he pointed out. “Where does this pot go, anyway?”
“Third cabinet to the left of the fridge, bottom shelf,” Jessica told him. “I’m finding it increasingly difficult to duck the issue of our blossoming relationship with Seth. He saw us earlier – outside in the leaf pile, when you gave me your gift.”
“He did? What did he say?”
Jessica sighed, tossed her sponge aside, and turned away from the sink to face him. “He didn’t approve of you pushing me into the leaves, on account of my shoulder,” she told him. “I said he was being overly concerned. But somehow I got the impression that it wasn’t the risk to my shoulder that was bothering him. I know I have to tell him somehow, but for all my skill at writing, I can’t seem to find the right words.”
In response, George decided to risk a suggestion. “Perhaps,” he said as he finished putting the clean pot away and closed the cabinet door, “it would be easier for you to break the news if it came in the form of an engagement announcement?”
Jessica stiffened and turned back to the sink.
she said quietly as she slid the dinner plates into the soapy water and started
wiping them clean, “I meant what I said when we said good-bye in
“I’m sorry, Jess,” he said, looking at her with concern. “I just thought that perhaps …”
“I didn’t have time to explain the reasons for my decision then,” she continued, rinsing the plates and setting them down. “I know that I owe you an explanation now.”
for a walk,” Jessica suggested. She set aside sponge and dish towel and reached
for her coat, then had a change of heart and took the grey cloak George had
bought for her in
They walked along the headland beside the Sea where the land fell steeply away in rocky cliffs to the restless water below. Dusk was deepening into night, and as the lighter glow in the western sky faded, more and more stars flickered in the sky above them, accompanied by a new moon as thin as a fingernail.
At length Jessica turned aside from the road, following a narrow footpath barely visible by the starlight that wound along a point of the headland jutting out into the ocean. At the tip of this was a collection of boulders deposited there by some ancient glacier; she sat down on one, and George helped himself to another next to her.
For a long time they watched the waves roll in, shattering against the rocks below into sprays of white foam lit from within by the faint glow of marine phosphorescence. A thin wind whispered across the headland, stirring the hem of Jessica’s cloak and adding a slightly deeper chill to the cool October night air.
“You promised to tell me why you wouldn’t marry me,” George said, breaking the silence.
“I did,” Jessica replied slowly, continuing to watch the waves. She lifted her eyes and gazed at the distant horizon, where a distant lighthouse’s beacon flashed in a rhythmic pattern like a heartbeat. “It’s rather hard to explain, actually. But I suppose that first and foremost, I can’t marry you because I don’t want to give up the life I have here. I know that you aren’t exactly seeing Cabot Cove at its best, what with Albert Browning being murdered and all, but to me at least, it’s still idyllic, as close as I can get to heaven on earth.”
understand that, Jess,” George said. “It is surpassingly beautiful here, and,
of course, this is where you have spent most of your life. But honestly, you
don’t spend as much time here as you used to.
You have a new life, in
true,” she admitted. “But I only accepted the position at
“Do I detect a hint of homesickness there?” George asked.
“Probably.” Jessica picked up a loose stone at her feet and cast it out over the dark waters, listening for its soft plop as it fell into a wave crest that rose up to meet it. “It’s not something I like to admit, even to myself, but I was very homesick when I first moved down there. Oh, I was excited at the same time, but especially after those awful things surrounding Mike Freelander’s murder started happening, more than anything I wished I was home in Cabot Cove.” She laughed quietly to herself and added, “It was about that time that Seth showed up to keep an eye on me.”
“Seth cares a great deal for you,” George said.
“Yes, he does. He’s a good friend,” Jessica said. “Of course, more often than not that care manifests itself as over-protectiveness.” She shifted uncomfortably on her rock as though chafing against invisible bonds. “It can be a challenge, sometimes, to get him to back down and let me do what I need to do without hurting his feelings.”
“To be fair, Elf, you do tend to get into more trouble than the average person,” George pointed out. “Dangerous trouble, more often than not. You can hardly blame him for worrying about you.”
“I know,” she sighed. “It’s not like I go looking for trouble, it just sort of happens. But regardless, it’s my life to lead.”
“Is that the other thing you fear losing to marriage?” George asked. “Your freedom?”
Jessica hung her head. “Yes,” she answered. “I know it sounds selfish, but I love my freedom, the fact that I can pack up and go anywhere at anytime, do what I want when I want … all within the bounds of the obligations I already have, of course.”
“It doesn’t sound selfish to me,” said George. “Self-actualized, maybe, but not necessarily selfish. Is your concern, then, that being married to me would ‘cramp your style’?”
“I guess that’s one way of putting it,” she said, laughing a little at his choice of words. “But seriously – some would say that between writing and teaching and trying to maintain a foothold on my life here I’m overcommitted as it is. How much would I have to give up to get married again?”
“Well, if it were to me, nothing, I should hope,” George said earnestly. “I would never stand in the way of you living your life, Jess.”
“Not intentionally, no,” she replied quickly, looking up at him for the first time. “I guess my fear is that like trouble following me … it would just sort of happen.”
“I see,” said George quietly.
Jessica picked up another rock and cast it into the Sea after the first. “Your turn,” she said to him. “You know now what I want and don’t want, at least in broad strokes. What do you want, George?”
George sat back, knitted his fingers together, and thought about this question for a moment. “Within the context of not having you as my wife, you mean,” he said at length. “Well, I guess that for me, the most important thing that I want is your time. We see each other too infrequently as it is.”
“Yes,” said Jessica. “I miss you when we’re not together.”
“As do I, Jess. My thoughts turn to you often, no matter what I’m in the middle of doing. I wonder what you’re doing at a given moment, or where you are. Anyhow, I suppose that time would be the main thing I could wish for. Removing this veil of secrecy from our relationship would be another wish.”
Jessica groaned and put her head in her hands. “I know – it’s only fair. You shouldn’t have to censor how you act around me when we’re together in public.”
that this is only a problem here in
This last comment elicited another groan of dismay. “Seth should be the first person I tell,” she admitted, “yet he’s the one I dread telling the most.”
“Why?” George asked her. “If he cares so much about you, he would be delighted to see you happy, would he not?”
“I don’t think it’s as simple as that,” Jessica said, once again touching upon then turning away from a little knot of anxiety in her heart that she couldn’t quite bring herself to face head-on. Instead she deflected the conversation back toward her companion. “What else?”
George was quiet in thought for another long moment before answering. “An assurance of your commitment to me - and me alone - would be my third wish.”
“That’s one wish I can grant,” Jessica said promptly, putting her hand on his for emphasis. “It’s one I would hope you could trust me to keep, even without rings or vows. It is you that I love, George – you and no other man alive.”
“No other man alive?” said George.
Jessica continued to hold his hand and met his gaze, the starlight glittering in her eyes. “I don’t think that anyone, including someone as wonderful as you, George, could ever take Frank’s place in my heart.”
“It would be foolish to try,” he assured her as a tear slipped down her cheek. “What you had with Frank was special, even unique. I would never presume to challenge that.”
As he said these words a sudden understanding dawned on George. He took her left hand and held it up so that the pale starlight glinted off the plain gold wedding band that she still wore on her finger.
“You can’t marry me … because you still consider yourself married to Frank.”
Jessica nodded wordlessly, the tears falling more freely now.
“I have always wondered why you continue to wear your wedding ring even though so many years have passed since your husband’s death,” George said, surprised at himself for not having put this all together much sooner. “Of all the arguments you have given me tonight, Jess, that is one to which I truly have no counterpoint.”
“I’m sorry,” Jessica said in a choked voice.
George reached up and gently brushed away her tears with his fingertips, then offered her his handkerchief. “For what, Elf? For being honest with yourself, and with me? Just don’t think I’ll ever completely give up hope for making you my wife – theoretically, you could still change your mind one day.”
“It’s not likely,” she said as she handed back the handkerchief and drew her cloak tighter about her, “but I will let you hold on to your hope.”
For several more long moments they looked out at the stars and the Sea, and the lighthouse continuing to flash on the horizon.
“Well, I don’t know about you, Elf, but to me at least it is definitely getting cooler out here. Shall we haud hame - head back?”
“Yes, let’s,” Jessica said. She took George’s offered hand to help her rise, and they walked back through the darkness to her house, arm in arm.
George’s dreams were filled images of monks in small open boats faring on the
Afterwards, at her insistence, they set out for Mandy Jacob’s antiques shop. Early morning autumn fog blanketed the inner harbor but was beginning to burn off before the strength of the sun, evaporating into wisps of clouds that gradually revealed the view to sight. Only then did Jessica reveal to George what she had been thinking.
“I have an idea,” Jessica was saying as they walked along the leaf-strewn sidewalk, “but I’m going to need your help to pull it off.”
“Anything,” said George. “What do you want me to do?”
“Just engage Mandy in conversation for a few minutes,” Jessica said. “Keep her busy, preferably on the other side of the room, and don’t let her see what I’m doing over by the Ogham stones.”
“All right,” George said, though not without some trepidation. Ever since learning about the grudge Mandy bore against his beloved, he had felt a certain degree of antipathy towards the antiques dealer, and didn’t relish the idea of making conversation with her for longer than a few moments. Drawing on his skill as a gentle yet probing interrogator, he approached Mandy with a smile on his face soon after they entered her shop.
“Ms. Jacobs,” he said pleasantly, “I noticed something of interest over in this corner display case, and I would be delighted if you could enlighten me regarding its origins.”
Mandy was not immune to George’s charm, and returned the smile readily. “Certainly, Inspector,” she said sweetly. “What caught your eye?”
“This silver Celtic cross you have here,” George replied, taking Mandy by the elbow and steering her towards the corner he had indicated. He glanced over his shoulder at Jessica, shooting her a wink to signal that he had the situation well in hand.
Jessica wasted no time; seeing that Mandy was safely occupied elsewhere, and fully trusting in George’s ability to keep her that way, she headed straight for the Ogham stones, taking a pad and pencil out of her purse as she went. She swiftly copied the runes carved into the rocks as accurately as she could into the notebook, then slipped it back into her purse, schooled her features into an expression of perfect innocence, and joined George, who still had Mandy preoccupied with her explanations of the origins and significance of Celtic jewelry designs. She touched him lightly on the arm to indicate that he could stand down, which he did with no small amount of relief.
“Yes, that’s extremely interesting, Ms. Jacobs,” he said when Mandy paused for breath. “You are definitely the most well-informed authority on the subject that I have ever encountered.” He glanced at his watch. “I would love to stay to hear more, but we have another engagement. Will you excuse us?”
“Of course, Inspector,” Mandy said with faint disappointment. “Please, stop by again if you have any other questions.”
“I certainly will,” said George. He took Jessica’s arm, and they left the shop together.
“Where are we headed next?” he asked as they walked up the street.
“The Sheriff’s Office,” Jessica replied, taking out the notepad and examining her work. “Did you have any trouble keeping Mandy busy?”
“Not at all,” said George. “The woman truly is something of an authority on her subject, at least in her own mind. Did you accomplish what you set out to do?”
“Yes, I think so,” she said. “I just need to copy these notes over so they will show up on a fax, and then we’ll be all set.”
“Who are you intending to fax those to?” George asked, looking at the sketches on her notepad with curiosity.
“Someone who is a real authority in this subject,” Jessica replied with a smile. “I’m sending this to Shannon Kilcannon for a translation.”
thinking, Jess,” George said with approval. “Besides,
next to nothing about translating Ogham script,”
Jessica explained to Mort as she slid her improved copy of the stones’ writing
into the fax machine. “And then there’s the matter of translating whatever it
says into English from ancient Gaelic. With her background in the mythology of
the old Celtic races,
“And how is that going to help?” Mort asked as he passed George a cup of coffee, and took a cup for himself.
said Jessica as she dialed Shannon’s number in
“And if the translation indicates something else entirely?” George asked.
“We cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Jessica. “But if that were to be the case, it would cast suspicion on the authenticity of the stones, and might give us some insight into why Professor Browning was killed.”
“So now we
wait to see what your friend
glanced up at the clock on the wall of the office. “
After leaving the Sheriff’s office, Jessica and George walked down to the waterfront, where they stopped into the coffee shop to have an early lunch. Jessica was preoccupied for most of the meal; she picked at her salad and stared out the window towards the harbor, her mind clearly elsewhere.
“Jess?” George said, hoping to bring her back to the present. “Jessica.”
He touched her hand, making her jump slightly.
“Are you all right?”
Brought back from her reverie, she smiled at him and said, “I’m fine. I was just thinking.”
“About the murder?” he asked.
“Yes,” she sighed. “I know that Mort considers Harold Hinckley to be his primary suspect, but I really don’t think he did it.”
There weren’t many people in the little waterfront restaurant at the moment, but George kept his voice low nonetheless to keep from being overheard.
“Well, for what it’s worth, Elf, I don’t think he did it either,” he said. “I can’t say for sure why. I guess I just have to chalk it up to policeman’s instinct.”
“Do you suppose,” Jessica said
slowly, “that we’re skeptical of
George smiled to himself – it was a valid question. “It is true that in many cases, the most obvious suspect is the guilty party,” he conceded. “However, in this case I think it is probably appropriate for us to trust our instincts.”
This brightened Jessica’s mood somewhat. “Good,” she said. “Sometimes I question whether I get too far ahead of myself.”
“You haven’t in all the time I’ve
known you, at least,” George reassured her. “Anyway, with any luck
“Speaking of which,” Jessica said, glancing at her watch, “I scribbled a note on the fax asking her to call me at home when she had the stones translated. I should be getting back so I’ll be there when she does.”
George signaled for the check. “I, too, have an errand I would like to get out of the way before the day gets much older,” he said. “If you go your way I’ll go mine, and we’ll meet back at your place, all right?”
“You’ve had a couple of these mysterious errands to run since you’ve been here,” Jessica said teasingly as they went up to the front counter to pay. “What is it this time?”
“You’ll find out … later.” George handed the waitress a traveler’s check with instructions to keep the change as a tip, and shot Jessica a wink. Bemused, she merely rolled her eyes and followed him out the door.
When Jessica arrived home, the first thing she after shedding her coat was head for the living room to check her answering machine for a message from Shannon, but was disappointed to see that there were no messages from anyone.
The sound of someone quietly clearing their throat behind her suddenly startled her, and she whirled around to see Seth calmly seated in a chair, patiently waiting for her.
“Seth!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
Instead of exchanging pleasantries, Seth cut right to the point. “So,” he said offhandedly, “when exactly were you planning on telling me?”
“What are you talking about?” Jessica asked. She stifled a growing feeling of anxiety by crossing the room to straighten a picture that didn’t need straightening.
“You know full well what I’m talking about,” Seth said. “When were you going to tell me about your new relationship with George?
“Who said I had a new relationship?” Jessica demanded, turning to face him.
chuckled. “You did, Jess,” he said.
“You just haven’t said so with words. I know you very well, Jessica,” he
continued as she seated herself opposite him.
“I suspected that something had happened when you came back from the
“Oh, really?” Jessica asked him with a smile. “How can you be so sure?”
Seth held up his hand and started to count off his evidence on his fingers. “First of all, he’s staying here at your house, and not at the Hill House Inn. That in itself is suspicious, given how hot the gossip wires run in this town.”
“So?” Jessica countered. “I’ve had houseguests before. I’ve even had male houseguests before. So your observation, while correct, hardly stands as proof.”
“Maybe not,” said Seth. “But there’s more. The second thing is how the two of you act around each other. You’re not openly affectionate by any means, but it’s clear to my eyes at least that you have a different definition of ‘personal space’ around each other than you do with the rest of the world.”
Jessica crossed her arms, a challenging look in her eye. “Name one example.”
“Fine, I will,” said Seth. “There’s the easy way he rests his hand on your shoulder, the way you always let your finger tips graze his, the …”
“All right, all right, I get the point,” Jessica said, quickly backing down from her defiant stance and blushing a little. “Anything else?”
“Third,” Seth said, holding up another finger, “he buys you jewelry. Nice jewelry. He even enlists the only other female he knows and trusts in town to help him pick it out.”
Tipper, Jessica thought to herself. That’s the first I’ve heard of that. Well played, George.
“And finally,” Seth concluded, holding up all four fingers for emphasis, “he has a pet name for you already.”
“What?” Jessica yelped in protest. “He does not!”
“He does so! For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve never allowed anyone to call you anything other than ‘Jess,’ ‘Jessie,’ or ‘Jessica,’ except for Frank,” Seth reminded her. “Yet the other day I overheard Sutherland call you ‘Elf.’”
The faint blush abruptly drained away, leaving Jessica wide-eyed and pale. “You … you heard him call me that?”
“Ay-yuh,” said Seth. “And since you didn’t whack him up ‘longside the head when he said it, I can only assume he had your permission to call you that. Interesting nickname, kind of fits you, I guess – I wonder how he came up with it?”
Jessica lowered her eyes. “It’s short for ‘elf princess,’” she muttered sullenly.
“Oh. I wouldn’t have guessed that.”
Jessica glared at him.
Seth smiled at her indulgently, taking secret delight in being able to beat her at her own game of questions-and-evidence. “Guess I shouldn’t pursue this line of questioning much further, huh.”
“No,” she said with a trace of warning in her voice, “you shouldn’t.”
Let’s try this instead: What happened in
Jessica twisted her hands in her lap – she desperately wanted to say “Nothing,” but to say that would be no less than an out-and-out lie, and she couldn’t lie to Seth. But how could she tell him the truth without hurting him?
Seth saw the indecision in her eyes and reached across from his chair to put a reassuring hand on her arm. “Jess,” he said quietly, “nothing you could tell me would ever make me think less of you, or care less about you. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes,” she replied in a low voice.
to me – what happened in
Jessica was silent for a few heartbeats more. Finally she spoke, and said with great reluctance, “While George and I were in Kilcleer … we became a little more than friends.”
Seth quirked an eyebrow at her. “A little more than friends?”
Jessica shifted uncomfortably in her chair, a rosy blush once again rising in her cheeks. “Well …” She couldn’t bring herself to look him in the eye.
“Jess,” Seth said gently but insistently, reaching out to lift her face so she had to look at him. “How much more than friends?”
Jessica didn’t answer him, but her silence – and the look in her eyes – told Seth everything he needed to know.
“I was afraid of that,” he said, releasing her and turning away.
Something was tingling at the edge of Jessica’s conscious thought, something she suspected she had known for some time but had refused to recognize. “Seth, are you … are you jealous of George?” she asked quietly, sounding like she was afraid to hear the answer.
With the question put to him so baldly, Seth could do nothing but answer her with equal openness and honesty.
“Maybe I am,” he said, standing up and walking slowly around the room without looking at her. “All these years I’ve been at your side, then all of a sudden Sutherland happens into the picture and wins your heart – just like that.”
“You’re still my best friend,” Jessica told him. “That isn’t going to change.”
he said with a touch of bitterness in his voice. “How long before you run off
Jessica said with a shake of her head, “I’m not about to run off to
said, turning and facing her again. “You’ve already run off to
“That is a completely different situation!” Jessica protested.
“I wonder how different it really is, Jess,” Seth said, looking at her sadly. “You’ve changed, Jessica. Maybe grown is the better word. You aren’t the same woman you were ten years ago. And from where I’m standing, it seems to me that you’ve outgrown Cabot Cove. And now you’ve outgrown me.”
Jessica looked like her heart would break at his words. “I have not outgrown Cabot Cove,” she said steadily. “And I certainly have not outgrown you. You are as important a part of my life now as you ever were.”
“Maybe, to you,” he said. “But I know I’ll never mean as much to you as George Sutherland does now.”
“But you’re both important to me in different ways!” said Jessica with growing desperation. “All right, it’s true - George and I are in love. But that doesn’t diminish the very different sort of love I feel for you as my friend!”
Seth recognized that he was coming dangerously close to telling Jessica something he was certain she didn’t want to hear … and which he didn’t think he wanted her to know anyway. It was time to rein in his emotions before something was said that could never be taken back.
“I understand, Jess,” he said, taking her hand in his. “Just remember that I’m always here for you. My feelings for you haven’t changed. They never will.”
Jessica’s eyes were glittering bright with tears, which she quickly wiped away with her sleeve. “Thanks, Seth,” she said in a choked voice.
Seth gave her a quick hug before standing up and retrieving his hat and coat. “I’d better get going,” he said, shrugging his coat on. “Are we still on to cook dinner Friday? I don’t mind Sutherland joining us, so long as he doesn’t mind being put to work in the kitchen.”
“We’re still on,” Jessica said, smiling through her tears.
“Good.” He leaned down and gave his friend a light kiss on her cheek. “Be seein’ ya, Jess.”
Jessica watched him leave, feeling a little relieved, but mostly forlorn. She should have told Seth what was going on sooner, she realized – if she had, then maybe she could have avoided a scene. Instead, a scene was exactly what she had gotten, and even though it had turned out all right in the end (she hoped), she was left with the uneasy feeling that there were better ways to have handled that particular conversation.
Her melancholy thoughts were interrupted by the ringing phone, which she automatically picked up and answered.
brightened immediately. “
“Well, first of all, your transcription was pretty near to the mark – only one or two questionable characters, nothing that couldn’t be figured out in context.”
“That’s a relief,” said Jessica. “I had to copy the runes quickly, while George kept the shopkeeper occupied.”
elicited a delighted squeal from
could clearly hear the pixie in
based on the style of Ogham used, I would say that
the stones are old, but not ancient,”
Jessica’s breath caught when she heard this. “What do they say?” she asked.
stone is a quotation, attributed to ‘Ita,’” said
“The third stone’s message is somewhat darker: ‘I fear that I shall journey alone, that the way will be dark; I fear the unknown land, the presence of my King and the sentence of my Judge.’
Jessica dutifully copied down this as well, then sat back to consider the three phrases together. “There is no indication of who the third phrase is attributed to?” she asked.
“No, none at all,”
“Yes, I can see that,” Jessica said, frowning at her notebook. “According to my research, ‘Ita’ probably refers to Saint Ita, who trained Brendan as a boy. But the third phrase is unfamiliar to me.”
“To me as well,”
“I’d love to stay on
“I’m counting on that,” Jessica laughed. “Thanks for your help, Shannon. I’ll be in touch.”
After she had hung up
the phone, Jessica once again turned her attention to her notes. The inscriptions on the first and second
stones, if authentic, could be consistent with something left behind in the
“I fear that I shall journey alone …”
That didn’t make much sense in the context of the legend. Brendan had traveled with at least seventeen monks as companions, though some of her sources had placed that number as high as one hundred and fifty.
“… that the way will be dark …”
Another odd phrase. The paradise of the saints that Brendan was searching for was universally described as a place of light and peace
“I fear the unknown land, the presence of my King, and the sentence of my Judge.”
Again, she thought,
not the sort of description that she could imagine being associated with the
mariner saint. If these had been his feelings about the outcome of his journey,
he would never have left
“Death,” Jessica murmured aloud to herself.
On an impulse she grabbed the Irish history
book she had borrowed from the library, looked up St. Brendan in the index, and
flipped through the pages to his story. But instead of focusing on his seven
year voyage into the West, this time she was interested in what had happened
after his return to
As the word of his remarkable journey spread
throughout the Celtic world, Brendan enjoyed increasing fame and was much
sought after by pilgrims of the time. Jessica read with interest how Brendan
capitalized on his popularity, establishing the monastery of Clonfert for no less than three thousand monks and a
neighboring convent for his sister, a nun named Briga.
He visited St. Columba on the
Jessica sat up straight as she read the last part of the entry, the saint’s dying words to his sister Briga, recorded for posterity and handed down through the centuries: “I fear that I shall journey alone, that the way will be dark; I fear the unknown land, the presence of my King and the sentence of my Judge. In manus tuas, Domine (Into your hands, O Lord).”
“Well,” Jessica thought to herself as she closed the book and set it down on the table. So the third Ogham stone was inscribed with Brendan’s last words.
“But if these are his last words,
inscribed after his return to
Ireland, why are they on a stone left on an island he allegedly visited during his voyage?” she said aloud to
herself as she stood up and began to pace the length and breadth of her living
room. She stopped when the answer hit her: “Because the stone didn’t originate
On impulse she picked up the phone
again and dialed Shannon’s number, praying that her friend hadn’t stepped out
on an errand in the time it had taken her to put together the puzzle of the
third stone’s inscription. To her relief,
Jessica resumed her pacing, feeling
even more agitated than before, the passing minutes seeming like hours as she
It was an interesting phone call,
to say the least. By the time Jessica had thanked Shannon and hung up (with yet
another promise to answer
Mandy Jacobs’s house was on the outskirts of the village, down a long driveway that led to a secluded cove. Before his conviction for murder her husband Richard had been a boating enthusiast, and had built a fairly good-sized boathouse at the water’s edge, big enough for two boat slips. Since his imprisonment Mandy had sold one of the boats and floored over one of the slips with wide wooden planks to use as additional storage for items too bulky to be kept on site at her antiques store.
As Jessica walked down the driveway, her mind was whirling with plausible excuses for her to be paying a visit, only to find, when she reached the end, that no excuse was needed: there was no sign of Mandy’s Jeep, and the garage stood open and empty.
She bypassed the garage and made for the boathouse first. A rough pair of tire tracks worn into the shallow topsoil led to a sliding barn door on old, corroded metal tracks. Next to this was a more modern-looking regular sized door, obviously added sometime later in the shed’s life for easier access.
Jessica tried the handle of this smaller door, and found it unlocked. She stepped inside and listened, but there was no sound except for the quiet slap of little wavelets from the cove washing up against the stone and concrete sides of the remaining open boat slip.
Most of the available space was taken up with large furniture pieces covered with canvases and sheets, but these were not what she had come looking for. What she sought would be smaller, she suspected, and probably not out in plain view. She paced among the shrouded antiques, occasionally lifting a sheet here and there to look underneath, her footsteps echoing hollowly on the planks over the open space they covered.
At last she came to the corner of the space, where a dingy drop cloth stained with years’ worth of varnish covered an irregularly shaped group of items underneath, blocked from the view of most of the boathouse by an old piano and a moth-eaten divan. The drop cloth was so dirty that in the dim light it nearly blended into the walls and floor around it. Yet it was oddly free of dust or cobwebs, two things that most of the other stored items had in abundance, and Jessica felt oddly drawn to it. She lifted a corner of the cloth gingerly and drew it back …
… and caught her breath in amazement as she beheld the largest collection of Celtic artifacts that she had ever seen gathered in one place.
It was an eclectic mix of items:
stone markers, cups and cauldrons, Celtic crosses carved in stone and wood, or
hammered out of metal. It was a truly remarkable collection, one which the
three stone Ogham tablets had been but a small part
of, and there was little question they had all been spirited out of
The barn door of the boathouse slid back, flooding the space inside with daylight. Jessica shaded her eyes with her hand in an attempt to see who was there.
“Welcome, Jessica,” she heard a voice say. “I wondered when you were going to show up.”
Jessica lowered her hand; Mandy Jacobs was standing framed in the doorway of the boathouse, a shotgun in her hands.
George arrived home a short time later, carrying a light paper bag holding some groceries he’d purchased down in Cabot Cove’s village market. As he came in the back door Jessica’s note was waiting for him, but the sound of dripping water caught his attention first.
The sound came from the faucet of the kitchen sink, where a metal pan left to soak after breakfast amplified each falling drop of water’s volume as it hit the pan with a hollow plop. He set his bag of groceries down on the kitchen table – right on top of the note, which in his distraction he had failed to see – and went over to the sink to examine it more closely. The faucet appeared to have a slight leak, and George watched the slow drip for a few moments, frowning. He tapped the faucet; no change. He tried the hot and cold taps, checking them to see if they were turned all the way off; they were.
Next George bent down and opened the cabinet doors under the sink to check the water pipes. He removed a waste bin and pushed aside some household cleaners that Jessica kept stored there, and reached for the shut-off valve on the cold water supply. He turned it – later he would be unable to recall whether it had been to the left or the right – and was rewarded with a jet of cold water directed right at his face.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered.
As Mandy advanced into the boathouse, Jessica retreated, one step at a time, keeping a careful eye on the barrel of the shotgun, until she was backed up against the wall of the building.
Professor Browning, didn’t you,” she said to the antiques dealer. “You murdered
him because he knew you’d stolen the three St. Brendan tablets from
“Did I?” Mandy asked, a dangerous smile playing on her lips.
“Yes, you did,” Jessica said, hoping to see some route of escape with her peripheral vision but finding none. “After he left the Historical Society at a quarter to nine, he didn’t return to the Hill House until ten-thirty. Where would he have gone during that time? The only place he had reason to go was your shop, Mandy, to discuss the origins of the stones with you. Afterwards, you followed him back to his room, and killed him when he invited you inside to continue the discussion.”
“He came to
my shop at ten o’clock to discuss terms of blackmail, to be precise,” Mandy
said placidly, holding the shotgun with casual ease. “I turned him down,
naturally – what he wanted from me would have far exceeded the price the stones
would have fetched on the open market. But I’m curious, Jessica - how did you know I planted to stones on
“You were certain that the stones were artifacts of the voyage of St. Brendan,” Jessica said. “So certain, that in light of the skepticism of acknowledged experts in the field, your faith in your theory of the stones’ origins began to look suspicious. How could you be so sure? It didn’t make any sense.”
“Is that all?” Mandy asked, coming forward another couple of steps.
Jessica shrank further against the wooden wall of the shed. “No, that’s not all,” she said. “When you met us on the dock coming back from the island, how did you know that the inscription on the first stone we brought back with us was attributable to St. Brendan?”
Mandy’s hands twitched nervously as she cast about for a plausible explanation. “Ken Sassi must have mentioned the legend when he called me from the boat.”
“Not true,” said Jessica. “George and I were both standing right next to Ken while he was talking to you on his cell phone, and he never said anything to you about St. Brendan – only that the stone tablets had Ogham carved into them.”
“Well, I had a good enough look at the tablet when it was carried off the boat to read the top inscription,” Mandy countered defensively.
“You couldn’t see the inscription,” Jessica reminded her. “The tablet was wrapped in a piece of canvas. I think that the only way you could have known about the subject of the stones’ inscriptions is if you had seen them yourself, before they were ever found on the island – and for that reason, you are the only person who could have placed them there.
to a friend of mine in
have to be the same three tablets,” Mandy countered. “The three on
“No, they couldn’t have been,” said Jessica, “because the third stone’s inscription is St. Brendan’s dying words – and he died in Ireland, Mandy, not the New World.”
Jessica – I admit it, you got it all right,” said Mandy lightly. “Celtic and
religious artifacts are a dime a dozen in
“But the artifacts you planted and intended to plant were stolen,” Jessica protested. “Why take the risk that someone would recognize them as such?”
“You assume that someone is paying close enough attention to make the connection,” said Mandy. “I assure you, no one is.”
Browning was,” Jessica said. “He may not have recognized the stones immediately
as being the same ones that disappeared from Annaghdown,
but he mistrusted their placement on
“Yes, dear Professor Browning was the conscientious sort, I’m afraid. He was the only one who was able to look beyond the glamour of the stones themselves to the situation in which they were found. Unfortunate for him, in the end: had he been less curious and asked fewer questions, or at least demanded less money in exchange for his silence, I would not have had to bash his head in.”
Jessica’s gaze strayed once more to the shotgun, which Mandy held easily in her right hand. “There’s just one problem,” she said. “You’re not left handed.”
“Actually,” Mandy said with a knowing smile, switching the gun from her right hand to her left with no perceptible loss of dexterity, “I’m ambidextrous.”
“I see,” said Jessica slowly. “So what are you going to do now?”
An hour later, the situation had not improved; in fact, it had deteriorated rapidly. George had always fancied himself as good with tools, but now, as he stood in the middle of a growing puddle of cold water, he reviewed his history with tools and realized that as far as plumbing tools went, his experience was somewhat lacking. He had found an odd collection of wrenches in the basement, but none of them seemed to fit the pipe that was even now filling the kitchen with more and more water.
George sighed, dropped the latest wrong-sized wrench to the floor and dried his face with a dish towel. He was in over his head with this project, and if he didn’t find a way to fix it soon, Jessica would come home to find that her kitchen had been converted into an indoor pool – a change that was unlikely to make her happy.
He remembered from Jessica’s letters that whenever things went wrong at the house, if she couldn’t fix it herself, the person she always called over to help out was Seth – especially when the problem was of a plumbing nature. Calling Seth for help did not seem like a particularly attractive option – besides his own reluctance to admit defeat, there was the added problem that he knew he was not exactly Seth’s favorite person right about now. Still, there was nothing else for it – he could call Seth for assistance, or face the wrath of his beloved when she came home and was confronted with her new indoor pool.
With extreme reluctance he picked up a phone book, looked up the doctor’s number, and dialed it.
Mark Burell was a big man and very strong; his primary job at Mandy’s antique shop was the lifting and moving of heavy objects. As such, when he laid hold of Jessica’s arm at Mandy’s request, she had no hope of being able to get herself free of his grip. He pulled her over to the wall near the door where she had entered, where there was a short length of nylon rope looped over a large steel cleat bolted to a wall stud about waist-high. The cleat was heavy enough and bolted to the wall firmly enough that it could easily hold a large boat tied to it, even if the water in the slip grew turbulent. Looking at it, Jessica knew it would also easily hold her once she was tied to it. With Mandy covering any possible escape with her shotgun, Mark used the rope to first tie Jessica’s hands together behind her, and then to tie her bound wrists to the cleat.
“This won’t work,” Jessica told Mandy as Mark stepped away. “I left a note for George telling him where I am, and he’ll come looking for me.”
A chilling smile crept across Mandy’s face. “Is that so?” she said softly. “Even better, then.”
As Jessica watched, Mandy set down her shotgun and rummaged around in the back of the shed, eventually uncovering an old, deflated tire mounted on a corroded steel rim, an iron weathervane sporting a rooster finial, rusty with age, and a ball of twine. She put the tire on the floor to serve as a weighted stand and set the old weathervane upright in one of the holes of the rim, then set the shotgun on the spokes of the vane, aiming upward at an acute angle, tying it securely with the twine so it would not fall off. Finally, she tied a length of twine from the handle of the shed’s door, around one of the metal poles that supported the roof, and finally tied the other end to the trigger, leaving some slack along the string. When she was finished, she stood back and examined her creation with an appraising eye.
“That should do,” she said with satisfaction. “The shotgun is aimed at the door, about chest high.” She fingered the twine, lifting it a fraction of an inch. “When the door is opened, it will tighten this string and pull the trigger – instantly killing whoever it is that’s trying to come inside.”
Jessica felt her heart skip a beat. “George,” she whispered.
“That’s right,” Mandy said with a sly grin. “I know full well how important he is to you – you’d have to be blind not to see it in the way you two act around each other – so what better revenge could there be? You took the most important person in my life away from me … so now I’ll take away the most important person in your life from you.”
“You wouldn’t – how could anyone do something so cruel?”
“Oh, cruelty comes easily to me now, Jessica,” Mandy told her. “Three years of anger will do that to a person.”
While Mandy had been setting her trap, Mark had been busy carrying the remainder of the stolen artifacts out to Mandy’s Jeep. As he collected the last of the items – some pieces of silver jewelry and a stone with a Celtic cross etched into it – he told her, “That’s the last of it.”
“Good,” Mandy said. She tossed him a handkerchief. “Check her ropes and put a gag on her, would you?”
Jessica didn’t think it was possible to make the ropes that bound her wrists to the cleat any tighter than they already were, yet Mark was able to do so anyway, adding another half-twist through sheer brute strength. His actions made her wince and struggle a little in protest.
“Do you have to make the knots so tight?” she said indignantly to Mark.
“Hey, I don’t tell you how to do your job, do I?” Mark answered, and he tied the handkerchief over her mouth, effectively putting an end to the debate.
When this had been done, Mandy checked over her work once more and followed Mark out the sliding barn door of the boat house, closing it behind her and throwing the bolt to lock it with a metallic clang.
Jessica surveyed her situation with growing hopelessness. There was now only one unlocked door into the boat house, and the next person to enter that way would be blown away with a single blast of the jury-rigged shotgun the moment they stepped inside. She knew with chilling certainty who that next person would be. At the same time she was virtually helpless to prevent the impending disaster, bound and gagged as she was – she could not even call out if she heard George’s approaching footsteps to warn him of the danger at hand. The mere thought of having to watch him die in front of her was unbearable.
But as she studied the mechanism of Mandy’s trap, it occurred to her that there was still one thing she could do. If she could just turn the gun aside …
Old as it was, the weathervane still spun; Jessica had seen Mandy rotate it when she was setting up her trap. All it would take was a nudge to adjust where the gun was aimed, but it would be a tricky undertaking; push the gunstock too far, and the string would tighten, pull the trigger and fire it, likely right at her. Push it too little, and it wouldn’t move far enough to save the person coming through the door – but the stock would then be out of reach of her toe. There would be no second chance.
Ignoring the protests of her body she stretched out her leg as far as she could - the gunstock was barely within reach of her foot. As she had suspected, she couldn’t hook it to pull the stock and turn the gun away to the left, but she could give it enough of a push to redirect it from the door to the right. Carefully, very carefully, she tapped the stock with the toe of her shoe.
The shotgun slowly swung on its pivot and Jessica flinched, afraid for a moment that she had overdone it and that the gun would go off. But when the rusty weather vane that supported it ground to a creaky halt, there was still a tiny amount of slack left in the string, and the barrel of the gun was no longer pointed at the boathouse door.
Jessica sighed with a small measure of relief, feeling that she had accomplished this one thing at least. The only trouble was that the string remained tied to the trigger, and now the muzzle was aimed at her heart. When George opened the door to the shed, the gun would still go off, but at least it would not take his life … it would take hers in exchange.
All that was left now was the waiting.
Seth arrived twenty minutes later, toolbox in hand. When he came in the back door, he was greeted by a most pathetic sight: George was kneeling in a puddle of water that had spread across most of the kitchen floor, water had slicked his hair down over his forehead and his clothes were mostly soaked through. Around him were piled as many towels as he had been able to find in a vain effort to stem the tide. He looked disgruntled, frustrated, and also, Seth thought to himself perversely, extremely silly. It was all he could do to keep from smirking, let alone laughing out loud at George’s discomfiture.
“Gory,” he said, and left it at that.
“Hello, Doctor Hazlitt,” George said, getting to his feet with as much dignity as he could summon given the circumstances. “Thank you so much for coming over on such short notice. I seem to have found myself in something of a dilemma.”
“Misadventure is more like it,” Seth said, unable to keep from chuckling now. “Did Jess ask you to do this for her?”
George looked down at his soggy shoes. “No.”
“I gather that you didn’t have her permission to undertake this project either, then.”
George sighed. “That is also correct.”
“What did this disaster start out as?” Seth asked as he continued to survey the damage.
“It started as a leaky faucet,” George explained. “I thought it would be a simple matter to tighten things up here and there and fix it. As you can see, I was mistaken.”
Seth sighed and set the toolbox down on the kitchen table. “Well, for starters, you’re never going to get anywhere with that thing,” he said, gesturing at the wrench that hung limply from George’s hand. “None of the plumbing tools in her basement work on her pipes. That’s why they’re down in the basement.”
“Oh,” said George. He wasn’t following Seth’s logic, but he wasn’t about to ask for clarification either.
Seth dug around in his toolbox and came up a much older looking wrench, corroded at the edges, which he held up for George to see. “The plumbing in this place is ancient,” he explained. “I’ve talked to Jess countless times about getting it all upgraded to PVC or something, but she always turns down the suggestion. So long as it can be fixed, she sees no reason to change it.”
The other item Seth had brought along with him was a boat’s seat cushion upholstered in vinyl, which he dropped on to the floor in front of the sink cabinet with a splash. “Good thing I wore my galoshes and brought this thing along,” he said, kneeling down on the seat cushion with some effort.
“Quite,” said George, not knowing what else to say. “Er, what would you like me to do?”
“Put down that wrench, for starters,” Seth said. “Then you can hold the flashlight while I see how badly you’ve mucked things up under here.”
Biting his tongue, George did as he was told, aiming the beam of the flashlight at the fine spray of water coming from the pipe joint while Seth maneuvered himself up under the sink and tapped the pipe and joint here and there with the handle of his wrench. Satisfied with what he heard in the metallic clanging of the pipe, he wrapped a soft cloth around the joint, adjusted the wrench to fit around it, and gave it a quarter turn to the right.
“The secret,” said Seth, “is to have a good grip on the metal so the wrench won’t slip – but a loose enough grip so that you don’t strip the threads.” He removed both wrench and cloth, and to George’s chagrin, the flow of water had stopped completely. “Now that we’ve got that little problem taken care of, now let’s see if we can find the source of that leaky faucet. It’s probably a worn-out washer or something.” He stood up with a grunt, kicked aside the cushion, and started to take apart the faucet with an enviable ease that George realized only came with familiarity.
“I, um, perhaps overestimated my abilities with a wrench,” he said when the silence, broken only by the sounds accompanying the faucet’s dissection, began to become uncomfortable.
Seth spared him a glance, and to George’s relief his look of appraisal was mixed with amusement, not anger.
“Well, we all get a little ahead of ourselves sometimes,” he said grudgingly. “You’ll know better next time, before you go slogging ahead and make a right mess of things.”
“A ‘right mess’?” George asked with a smile in spite of himself. “Is that a Maine-ism?”
“Ay-yuh,” Seth said. “A ‘right mess’ is worse than just a plain mess. Hand me that screwdriver, would you? The one with the slotted head.”
George presented Seth with the proper tool, continuing to watch his work closely.
“Ah ha, just as I thought,” he announced a moment later. “This washer has gone the way of all good things. I think I have another one somewhere in here,” he added mostly to himself as he returned to the toolbox and rummaged around in it again.
George ventured to ask a question that had been on his mind since Seth had arrived. “You do a fair amount of maintenance work for Jess, I gather?”
“Ay-yuh, I’ve got a knack for it, I guess,” Seth answered without looking up. “Always have. Here we are; this should do the job.” He returned to the sink and placed the new washer in the tap’s assembly; it was a perfect fit. “Anyway,” Seth continued as he ran his finger around the washer to check the seal, “it’s nice to know I can still be of some use to Jess after all.”
The trace of hurt and bitterness that colored Seth’s words was not lost on George.
“Doctor Hazlitt,” he said, resting both of his hands on the front of the sink and looking at Seth, “that is the greatest understatement of all time. You mean the world to Jess; she told me so herself.”
Seth did not look up, but continued to reassemble the faucet.
George pushed his wet hair back from his forehead and continued. “She and I may be in a relationship, but you’re her best friend. You have the long history with her, not I; that’s something I’ll never be able to duplicate.”
“You gonna marry her?” Seth asked, continuing his work and still not looking up.
“No,” George said quietly.
Now Seth looked at him, rounding on him with surprise. “No?” he asked in amazement. “But …”
George held up his hand. “It is her choice,” he said, forestalling any further argument from the doctor. “I can hope that she will change her mind someday, but until and unless that happens, I must respect that choice.”
Seth had still not gotten over his surprise. “Why?” he asked bluntly. “Did she tell you why?”
George shrugged with resignation. “She will not leave Cabot Cove,” he said. “She will not leave the life she has made for herself here. She will not leave her best friend.”
Seth did not know what to say – but it did occur to him in retrospect that he might not have been quite fair to Jessica when he had confronted her about the nature of her relationship with George. Had he known then what he knew now, he certainly wouldn’t have accused her of outgrowing their friendship.
These thoughts must have passed visibly over his features, because George suddenly smiled and gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder. “Don’t fret, Doctor,” he said. “You’ll always have an important place in Jessica’s life. If you doubted it before, believe it now.”
Seth finished putting the faucet back together and tested it; the water came on smoothly and shut off completely, with no signs of drips or leaks. “There,” he said. “Good as new. I guess you didn’t muck things up that badly after all.”
George sagged against the kitchen counter in relief. “Thank goodness,” he said. “Jess would never have forgiven me otherwise.”
“Oh, I think she would have … eventually,” Seth said.
“Well, now that the problem of the faucet has been dealt with, I guess I’d better grab a mop and start cleaning this place up. Thank you for your assistance, Doctor.”
Seth looked at his watch as he returned his tools to the toolbox. “Well, I don’t have any appointments for the rest of the afternoon,” he said. “I’ll stay and help you out – but on one condition.”
George looked up from the broom closet where he was fetching a mop and plastic bucket. “What’s that?” he asked.
“That you call me Seth from now on.”
Clean-up of the kitchen didn’t take as long as George had feared, thanks to Seth’s help and knowledge of where Jessica kept her cleaning supplies. As Seth was finishing mopping up the last of the floodwaters, George turned his attention back to his bag of groceries at last, picking it up from the table and moving it over to the counter. As he did, the note, finally freed, fluttered off the table and landed in a puddle of water at Seth’s feet. The doctor paused in his mopping and bent down to pick it up. Straightening, he unfolded the note, which was marked with the time of its writing as 1 PM, and read it.
“Hmm,” Seth said, frowning. He handed George the damp piece of paper; Jessica had written the note in pencil, fortunately, so it was still readable despite the water. “You’d better read this for yourself.”
note read. “
“A hae nae brou o this,” George said as he re-read the note: “I have no liking for this. She said she would be home in an hour, but that was over two hours ago. What could be keeping her?”
“I don’t know, but I agree, something doesn’t feel right about this,” said Seth. He set the mop aside, quickly gathered up his tools, and grabbed his coat from the back of the chair he had draped it over. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go.”
George was already reaching for his own coat as he followed Seth out the back door.
Time passed at a crawl – it was hard to tell how much had gone by but for the movement of a patch of sunlight slanting through one of the dusty windows of the boathouse. The small square of sunlight slid across the worn planks of the shed’s floor until it came to the edge of the open boat slip and glided over the side. Then the boathouse’s dim interior became at least a little brighter as diamonds of flashing light were reflected upwards from where the sunlight struck the rippling water below.
Jessica stared down at the water and let the moving sparkles of sunlight lull her into a meditative calm. If she concentrated on watching the light dancing on the water, maybe she could hold at bay the depressing thoughts that overshadowed her: thoughts of all the things she would leave unfinished, the books she would never write, the places and things she would never see, the people that she loved whom she would miss …
A tear tracked a course down Jessica’s face in spite of herself. She shook her head angrily, and regained a grip on herself through sheer effort of will. Thinking that way accomplished nothing, except to make her more depressed than she already was.
Suddenly, she heard the sound that she had been waiting for: footsteps, running along the wooden planks of the wharf. They paused at the boathouse, and she heard George’s voice just outside the door:
“Jessica! Jessica, are you in there?”
Jessica bowed her head, closed her eyes, and wished George a silent farewell.
The door handle turned …
The string tightened on the trigger …
There was a click that sounded deafeningly loud in the empty boathouse …
The door flew open and George and Seth rushed into the shed. Jessica opened her eyes, curious as to why she wasn’t dead yet.
George spotted the shotgun first, and her second. He was at her side in two steps, removing the gag so she could speak.
“Careful, George,” she gasped as soon as she could open her mouth. “The shotgun’s trigger has been pulled … it might still go off …”
George carefully removed the gun from the weathervane and took it to the light of the open door to examine. When he looked up at her, the colour had drained out of his face.
“You’re a lucky woman, Jess,” he told her. “It jammed.”
Jessica felt similarly drained; if the ropes hadn’t been holding her upright, her knees would have buckled. As it was, it was a good thing that Seth was there to support her as George untied the ropes and released her.
“I … I think I should sit down,” she told him, and slid as gracefully to the floor as she could.
When Jessica opened her eyes again, she was outside, propped up against the wall of the boathouse. George was kneeling to one side of her and Seth on the other, the latter holding her wrist as he took her pulse. George noticed her coming around first.
“Seth,” he said, glancing up at the doctor, “she’s waking up.”
The fact that George and Seth were now apparently on a first name basis was shocking enough to bring Jessica quickly back to full consciousness. She shook her head to clear it and sat up straighter, spotting Mort, whom Seth had summoned by cell phone in the meantime.
“Mort,” she said urgently as George tried to wipe away the cold sweat on her brow. “Mandy Jacobs killed Professor Browning. She was here – she and Mark. Mandy had a cache of Celtic artifacts hidden in the boathouse, but they took them all away with them when they left me.”
“Where were they headed?” Mort asked her.
“Back to Mandy’s shop, I think,” Jessica said. “My going missing and the aftermath of her shotgun trap going off was supposed to provide enough time for her to collect what she needed and be on her way.”
“We haven’t got a lot of time to play around, then,” Mort said grimly. He looked down at Jessica apologetically. “Mrs. F, I’d like to drop you off at home after what you went through here, but I think we’d better make a stop first.”
“I agree,” Jessica said emphatically as Seth and George helped her to her feet. “Let’s go.”
Mort used his radio to summon
back-up on their way to Mandy’s antiques shop on Cabot Cove’s
Mandy and Mark, who’d had a sizable head start, were able to slip Andy’s roadblock, but they hadn’t made it more than a block from the shop when they met Mort’s cruiser coming from the opposite direction. The Sheriff came to a screeching halt, angling the cruiser across both lanes of the street, effectively blocking their escape. Seeing the futility of getting past, Mandy brought the Jeep to an abrupt stop about twenty feet away.
Mark was not interested in playing the hero; apparently Mandy was not promising him a big enough cut of her illicit proceeds to keep his loyalty when the going got tough. As soon as their getaway was hindered, he jumped out of the passenger side of the Jeep and promptly gave himself up. Andy ran up and arrested him.
As for Mandy, she too seemed to have given up. She climbed slowly out of the driver’s side of the Jeep and stood beside the open door, looking defeated and dejected. Passers-by began to stop to watch the unfolding scene as Mort got out of the cruiser and approached the antiques dealer, Jessica and George following a few paces behind.
When Mandy saw them, her demeanor changed completely, and her face twisted into a mask of rage.
“How … how did you get out? How come he isn’t dead?” she spluttered.
“It’s not important, Mandy,” Jessica, in no mood for explanations, answered her. “It’s over.”
“We’ll see about that!” Mandy spat back, reaching back inside the Jeep and pulling out a handgun from under the seat. Everyone froze as she loaded a bullet in the chamber with a sharp click and leveled its sights on Jessica. For a long moment the two women stared at each other, neither one backing down, and everything and everyone around them was perfectly still.
Suddenly Mandy grinned. “It’s over,” she said, “as soon as I finish what I started back at the boathouse.” She turned the gun away from Jessica and aimed it at George instead, her finger tightening on the trigger.
“No!” Jessica shrieked, and without thinking she threw herself at George and tackled him to the ground as a deafening gunshot split the air. The crack of the bullet skipping off the pavement behind them was clearly audible even above the horrified gasps and cries of the onlookers.
They both hit the ground, Jessica’s momentum throwing her clear of George’s body. She hit the pavement hard enough to see stars and lay where she landed, waiting for a second shot that never came.
George struggled to sit up, seeking Jessica, and saw her lying on her side a short distance away. She wasn’t moving, but it was impossible to tell how badly she was injured. Then he anxiously looked for Mandy Jacobs, and found that she, too, was lying on the ground, the feathered shaft of a tranquilizer dart sticking out of her neck. She was completely unconscious, the gun still held loosely in her hand. Across the street he spotted Tipper Henderson leaning heavily against a lamp post, wiping the sweat from her pale forehead with one hand while she shakily held her dart gun in the other. He managed a slight wave to her, which she returned with a weak grin, and then his view was blocked as several bystanders rushed out into the street to see if he and Jessica were all right.
Seth was at Jessica’s side within moments. “Jess! Jessica! Are you all right?”
The stars were slowly dissipating from Jessica’s field of vision, leaving aching pain in their wake. She turned over on to her back and winced, bringing a hand to her head.
“I don’t know,” she answered dully. “You tell me.”
Seth had already checked her legs and was now running his hands down her arms, looking for broken bones.
“So far, you look pretty scraped up, and you’ll probably have half a dozen bruises by tomorrow,” Seth said, taking a penlight out of his pocket and shining it in her eyes to check her pupils’ response to light. “You hit the pavement with your shoulder – not the one you dislocated, fortunately for you.”
“Where is George? Is he all right?” she asked.
“He’s fine,” said Seth, glancing over his shoulder. “He’s already sitting up – which I would recommend you not do for the time being,” he added, pushing her gently back down when she tried to struggle upright. “He fared somewhat better than you did.”
Relieved, Jessica did not resist the order to lie still. “Mandy …?”
“Is in Mort’s custody now,” Seth told her, “brought down by one of young Dr. Henderson’s tranquilizer darts before she had the chance to fire at either of you again. Can you breathe without pain?”
Jessica took several deep breaths before answering. “Yes,” she said, “but that’s about all I can do without pain.”
“No broken ribs then. Multiple abrasions and contusions, but no fractures or severe head trauma. All right, Jess, now you can sit up.” Seth eased his arm behind her shoulders and helped her get into a sitting position.
She painfully drew up her knees and bit her lip as Seth cleaned out the gravel and applied iodine and bandages to her scrapes. Her jeans were ruined; the force of her impact had ripped a wide hole in one knee, and the right sleeve of her coat and shirt had been torn to ribbons by the pavement, leaving her arm bruised and bleeding. But then she turned her head and saw George getting to his feet a few yards away and her pain was forgotten. He brushed aside offers of assistance from the people that had gathered around to help him, and stumbled over to her, sinking to his knees at her side.
Jessica was overwhelmed with emotion and unable to speak a single word around the lump that had formed in her throat. As Seth finished the last of the bandaging, George opened his arms to her and she flung herself into his embrace, kissing him deeply without any regard for who might be watching them. And the eyes that witnessed them were many, for it was late afternoon and the waterfront was busy. Not a single person who saw their kiss was untouched by what they saw, and from that moment on the secret of the depth of feeling that George and Jessica held for each other was a secret no more.
Mort came over to Tipper, who was sitting on the curb trying to convince her heart to slow down.
“That was neat work, Tipper,” he said as Andy and Floyd lifted an unconscious Mandy into the back seat of the sheriff’s patrol car. “You nailed her good. How’d you know we’d need your particular kind of back-up?”
“I didn’t!” Tipper said, looking up at him. “I was down here on a sick raccoon call. Couldn’t find the raccoon, but I saw the commotion down here and thought I’d check it out.”
Mort reached down and gave the veterinarian a friendly smack on the shoulder. “Well, it was a good thing you did.”
“Yeah,” said Tipper, digging her hands down into the pockets of her windbreaker. “I had no idea what was going on, but I saw Mandy take a shot at Jessica and George, and figured she couldn’t be up to anything good.” She looked over at the aforementioned pair and shook her head. “Yeesh! Are those two ever going to come up for air?”
“Aw, leave ‘em alone, Tipper,” Mort said, following her gaze and laughing quietly. “They’ve had a rough day.”
After Mandy and Mark had been taken away to be booked by Mort and everyone else had recovered themselves, Jessica, George and Seth headed back to her house to follow through with Seth’s plans for a gourmet dinner and try to salvage the evening. After a little coaxing Tipper went along with them. The veterinarian was still looking somewhat peaked from her experience, but after a glass or two of good merlot the colour started to come back into her cheeks.
“Where’d you find this recipe, Seth?” she asked. “One of those months-old copies of the Ladies’ Home Journal that you stock your waiting room with?”
Seth paused in the middle of dipping a tilapia fish fillet dripping with egg batter into the flour-and-spices mix he had prepared for it on the way to the frying pan. “For your information, Dr. Henderson, this recipe comes straight from the collection of Wolfgang Puck.”
Tipper swirled the merlot in her wine glass, holding it up to the light and admiring its colour. “I didn’t know Chef Puck contributed to the Ladies’ Home Journal.”
“He doesn’t,” Seth growled, placing the coated fillet in the frying pan with a hiss. “I don’t read the Ladies’ Home Journal.”
“No? Then what’s with the pink apron?”
“It came free with my subscription to Better Homes and Gardens,” Seth retorted.
Tipper raised her eyebrows.
Seth caught her look and knew he had slipped – badly. “I get it for the office!” he said in his own defense.
“Sure you do,” Tipper said, her voice dripping with insincere understanding.
George’s back was turned as he peeled potatoes over the sink, but his shoulders were shaking with silent laughter. Jessica smiled, recognizing that Tipper must be feeling better if she was able to resume her usual habit of baiting and teasing Seth.
Jessica let Seth take the lead with the dinner preparations and George handle the sous-chef duties while she prepared the salad and set the table. Tipper sat back at the kitchen table and continued to sip her merlot thoughtfully.
Dinner was delicious; the combined
efforts of Seth and George succeeded in producing a fish dinner that would have
been the envy of any restaurant along the Cabot Cove waterfront. Conversation was light, steering away from
the previous events of the day, and Tipper, by now feeling much more relaxed and
more like herself, offered to perform the service of driving George back to the
Towards the end of the meal George started to rise from the table to clear away the dishes, but Jessica put a hand on his and stopped him.
“Sit down, George,” she said. “You helped cook, the least I can do is help clean up.”
“I’ll give you a hand, Jess,” Seth said, hastily getting to his feet and grabbing Tipper’s dinner plate from in front of her just as she was finishing off her last bite of fish. Jessica was about to admonish him to also sit down since he’d done the bulk of the cooking, but he caught her eye before she could say anything and motioned for her to accompany him into the kitchen.
“Um, all right,” she said instead, and let him follow her out of the dining room.
Tipper, her fork with the final bit of fish halfway to her mouth, met George’s quizzical look with one of consternation.
“Nothing like getting the bum’s rush,” she muttered with faint irritation before popping it into her mouth. She savoured it and followed it up with her last swallow of wine. “Mmm, but that was good, even if he did get it out of a back issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal.”
George wasn’t listening; his attention was focused on the kitchen. “Maybe I should …” he began.
A warning look from the
veterinarian kept him in his chair. “I’d stay put, if I were you,” Tipper
warned him. “I think they have something to discuss … and anyway, we need to
work out our plans for getting you to
In the kitchen, Jessica set down the plates she was carrying and turned to face Seth.
“All right, Seth,” she said, “what did you want to talk to me about?”
Seth cleared his throat, clasped his hands in front of himself self-consciously, and looked at the floor. “Jess,” he began, “I’m, ah, I’m sorry … for earlier, I mean.”
Uncertain what he was talking about, Jessica said, “For what?”
Jessica sighed. “For scraping me up off the pavement this afternoon?”
“No,” said Seth.
When he still didn’t elaborate, she took another guess. “For helping to get me out of Mandy’s boat house?”
“No!” said Seth. “No, I mean for what I said to you earlier today, about outgrowing our friendship.”
“Oh,” said Jessica.
“I wasn’t fair to you,” he said, “and I said some things I didn’t really mean, because I was upset at the prospect of losing you. As it is, I should have been minding my own business anyway. And I’m sorry.”
Jessica wrapped her arms around her friend and gave him a hug. “You’re not going to lose me,” she said, “and there’s nothing to be sorry about.”
After a moment Seth returned her embrace. “Thanks, Jess,” he said.
Just then Tipper strode into the kitchen, followed by George.
“I hate to eat and run,” she said, taking her windbreaker off the peg she had borrowed, “but I need to be running along. Thanks for dinner – it was delicious.”
“Aw, Tipper,” George said. “Wull ye no byde a wee?”
Tipper looked confused. “Huh?”
Jessica laughed. “He means, ‘won’t you stay a little longer?’” she translated his Scottish brogue for her. “You’re most welcome to, you know.”
Tipper held up her hands and shook her head with a smile. “I appreciate the invitation, but I can’t, really,” she said. “There are a few things I left unfinished at the clinic. George, I’ll swing by here around nine tomorrow to pick you up, if that’s all right?”
“I’ll be ready,” George said with a reluctant sigh.
“All right then. See you on the flip side.” With a genial wave, she strode out the back door and into the gathering twilight.
“Well!” said Seth when Tipper had gone and the table was cleared. “Who’s up for a little chess match?”
Jessica begged off, pleading mental fatigue. “Besides,” she said, “I’ve been looking forward to seeing you and George go head-to-head – I hear that it’s billed as a ‘clash of titans.’”
Seth made a wry face at her, but George laughed. “Very well, Jessica,” he said, “I’ll accept your accustomed place at the board.”
So he and the doctor squared off, while Jessica looked on in amusement. In the end Seth won the match; Jessica suspected that George, ever the gentleman, might have deliberately thrown the game, but his skill at chess was such that even she couldn’t tell for sure.
After Seth had gone home, Jessica stretched and winced in pain.
“Ouch,” she said. “I am going to hurt tomorrow. In fact, I’m beginning to hurt right now.”
“You need a long soak in some hot water,” George said, coming over to her and gently massaging her sagging shoulders. “Why don’t you draw a bath, while I clean up down here?”
“That sounds like a good idea,” she said. “I think I’ll do just that.”
George watched with some concern as she slowly dragged herself upstairs. As the evening had drawn on, he had sensed Jessica’s mood becoming more and more subdued. At first he chalked it up to fatigue from the events of the day – she certainly had every right to be tired – but then he had noticed a dull look to her eyes, a marked departure from their usual bright, sparkling appearance. He looked at the clock on the wall, and made a mental note to go check on her if she had not come back downstairs within a reasonable amount of time.
Once that reasonable amount of time had passed he went upstairs and found Jessica in her bedroom, a blanket wrapped around her robe, curled up in the window seat and gazing out at the distant Sea.
“Jess?” he said softly. “Are you feeling all right?”
“I guess so,” she said tonelessly.
George crossed the room and joined her on the bench. “You don’t sound all right. In fact, you seem doun i the mou – depressed – if you don’t mind my saying so. What’s wrong?”
“I was thinking about this afternoon, at the boathouse,” she said.
George patted her arm sympathetically. “It’s aw by nou – it’s all right now, Elf,” he told her. “You’re safe, and mostly undamaged.”
“But it could have been much worse,” she told him gravely. “I haven’t had a chance to tell you this until now, but the shotgun wasn’t aimed at me, not at first. It was aimed at the door, to kill whoever came inside next – you. Mandy knew you would eventually come to my rescue.”
“Then how did it come to be pointed at you?” George asked in confusion.
“I nudged the only part I could reach with my foot, to turn it away from the door. Unfortunately, I couldn’t turn it very far, so it ended up aimed at me. It was a rash thing to do, but necessary. The rest you know: the gun jammed, and that is why I am still alive tonight.”
George was stunned speechless for a moment when he heard this. “Jess – that wasn’t just rash, that was suicidal!”
Jessica hung her head. “I know.”
George’s jaw dropped - he had expected her to be outraged at his comment, to protest what even he recognized as an over-the-top statement the moment he uttered it. Her quiet acceptance of his comment took him aback; it was unexpected, and it worried him deeply.
“Because I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you. I have seen so much death, George,” she sighed. “Sometimes, when it’s three o’clock in the morning and I can’t sleep and I’m alone in the darkness, it begins to feel like every time I turn around, there is the shadow of death. Today was one of my darkest moments; the shadow was weighing heavily on me, and it very nearly touched you.”
She took a deep, shuddering breath and let it out slowly before continuing. “Mandy’s trap was clever, and intended to leave me completely helpless to alter the outcome – but she carelessly left me just enough rope to hang myself, so to speak. And I was not going to let you die – not if I could do anything to prevent it! So you’re absolutely right,” she concluded. “What I did was, essentially, suicidal. I made a conscious decision to save your life by sacrificing my own.”
“And perhaps not coincidentally, escape the shadow the follows you,” George added.
Jessica looked at him mutely, but did not answer one way or the other.
George looked in her eyes with concern. It had never really dawned on him how much emotional stress Jessica struggled with as a result of her avocation, though it only made sense that it should be considerable. He knew what that stress was like – in the course of his own career at Scotland Yard he had certainly seen more than his share of death up close – but he was a professional, with the training and discipline to deal with the emotional scars that living close to violence tended to leave. Jessica had no such shields; only the strength of her spirit kept her sane in the wake of the terrible things she had seen, things that would drive anyone else into deep depression. Still, this rare acknowledgment of the demons that haunted her came as something of a shock.
“Has this always been so?” he asked her.
“No,” she said, to his great relief. “No, I don’t usually have such a death wish, believe me. Sometimes Seth worries that I throw myself into danger too recklessly. I don’t, really. I’m not stupid; I take precautions, I set plans. Of course, they don’t always work out …” Here she shrugged and smiled ruefully. “But in general I try not to risk my life without need, and do my best to survive when it’s threatened. This time … was different.”
Jessica’s eyes drifted back towards the ocean as she answered him sadly, “Because I lost hope.”
“Look at me, Jess,” George said fiercely, taking both of her hands in his. Unwillingly she turned away from the window to meet his gaze again. “You didn’t lose hope. You may have been in a hopeless situation, but you never gave up all hope! You took control, and thwarted that woman’s revenge by choosing to do the noblest thing anyone can do – give up your life for the sake of another. And no sooner were you free then you deliberately did it again, pushing me out of the way of that bullet. I hardly deserve such a sacrifice once, let alone twice.”
“Of course you do,” she said, looking surprised that he should even question her motivation. “You are one of the pillars I lean on for strength, and I love you.”
“You are also my pillar of strength, and I love you too,” he said, pulling her closer and gathering her into his arms. “You are so brave, and so selfless … and so very, very beautiful.” He tipped her face up to his, and kissed her, a long, lingering kiss that left her quite breathless when they finally parted.
“That’s strange,” she said as he reapplied his lips to her neck. “When I came up here I was chilled, but now I feel much too warm.”
“Perhaps we should get this blanket off of you,” George murmured, and slid his hands up under the folds of the blanket to push it back off of her shoulders. “Hmmm. This window seat is rather narrow, especially when we’re sharing it with a discarded blanket. Would you mind terribly if we moved to a more spacious venue?”
“Where did you have in mind?” she asked as she began to undo the buttons of his shirt with delicate fingers.
George nodded toward her bed, then to her complete surprise scooped her up in his arms and carried her across the room.
“But I wasn’t finished with your shirt yet!” she protested, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“You can finish with it over here, Elf,” he told her with a smile as he gently set her down on the bed.
“But I needed the head start! You’re fully clothed, and I’m only wearing this robe!”
“Only this robe? Now, that is interesting,” George said as he languidly stretched out on the bed next to her, propping his head up with one hand and running the other up and down the satin sleeve of her robe. “This is going to be much easier than I thought.”
He made a grab for the sash that held it closed, but Jessica was too quick for him; with lightning speed she rolled out of his reach, grabbing a pillow as she did so and throwing it at his face. George reflexively caught it with both hands, his face a perfect reflection of his astonishment as he looked up at Jessica, kneeling at the foot of the bed with a second pillow poised and ready.
“Gods, you are fast!” he said.
“I may be fast,” Jessica said, cocking her pillow, “but I am not easy.”
Still holding the pillow she had previously flung at him, George considered his next move. When he had measured up the situation, he wisely decided to surrender while he still had a chance.
“Truce,” he said, tossing aside his pillow. “You’re not easy. And I am way too sore from hitting the pavement to engage in full-scale combat.”
“Actually, I am too,” she admitted, dropping her own missile and lying back down next to him. “And very scraped up. I shouldn’t be picking fights when I feel this miserable.”
“And I shouldn’t tease you when I know full well the price you paid for your senseless act of heroism on my behalf,” George agreed contritely. “See here, Jess – why don’t I change into something more comfortable and fetch us a little something to act as a balm for our wounds?”
“All right,” she said, curious as to what he had in mind.
She had anticipated something therapeutic – another round of the dreaded iodine, perhaps, or at best Neosporin and Epsom salts. So it came as a pleasant surprise when George, now more appropriately attired in his somewhat worn dressing gown, reappeared at the bedroom door with a tray in his hands that contained none of those wholesome and character-building items. Instead he brought a scented pillar candle, a bottle of high-caliber champaign, and, to her delight, a little bowl of bright red strawberries.
“Oh … my,” she said, her eyes widening as he set the tray down between them on the bed. “Now I know I didn’t just happen to have these things on hand in the kitchen!”
“No,” George admitted, setting the candle on the bedside table and lighting it with a match. It gave off a calming scent like apples mixed with spices. “These I did have to go out to the market and buy.”
must have cost you a fortune!” she said. “Strawberries are way out of season in
probably came from
He took up the bottle of champaign and carefully undid the wire basket holding the cork in place.
“So this is your idea of a medicinal balm?” Jessica asked as the cork came loose with a pleasant pop.
“Good for the body and the soul,” George said as he deftly poured them each a glass of the sparkling white wine. “It’s not enough to heal the body if the soul still suffers – and from what you told me tonight, there’s a soul in this room that could use a little soothing.” He offered Jessica one of the glasses, which she accepted. “To the soothing of your soul, Elf,” he said, raising the other glass and touching its rim to hers.
Jessica took a sip of her champaign, and then held up the glass appreciatively. “This is extremely good!” she exclaimed. “You found this down at the village market?”
“Aye. It took a bit of searching, but it was there.”
“I’ll have to keep that in mind,” she said, and took another sip.
“If you think that’s good, try one of these,” said George, offering her the bowl of strawberries.
Jessica took one and tasted it. “Excellent,” she said. “If I didn’t know any better, they could have been locally grown.”
smiled as he set aside the tray and bottle so he could slide closer to her on
the bed. “You Mainers certainly take a great deal of pride in things that are ‘
“With good reason,” said Jessica. “We love our home, and the things that come from it.”
“I love your home because you come from it,” said George. “More champaign?”
Jessica held out her half-empty glass and allowed him to refill it. “I’m not sure that your intentions are entirely honorable, plying me with all this champagne,” she said. “Well, I could tell you that I’m trying to get enough alcohol into your system to make your muscles loosen up and dull the pain from your bruises,” he said, “but you’ve always been good at picking out a lie.”
“I see.” She took another sip from her glass and held it up once again to examine it, a bemused look on her face as she watched the bubbles float to the surface in the flickering candlelight. George noted with heart-felt relief that the spark had returned to her eyes; they no longer looked flat and dull. “I suppose I could have figured that out for myself. Though I must say, my muscles do feel looser, and my bruises do hurt less.”
“Good. Another strawberry?”
“Please.” She took a bite of the ripe fruit, and immediately reached for a napkin. “Mmm. That was a juicy one!”
George set aside his glass and the bowl of strawberries. “You got some of the juice on your lip,” he said, relieving her of her glass as well. “Let me take care of that for you.” He drew her toward him unresisting and kissed her. “Your lips taste like strawberries,” he informed her.
“And yours taste like champagne,” she told him in return. She grabbed his face with both of her hands and pulled him into another deep kiss.
The champagne hadn’t dulled her wits or her reflexes; that much became very clear to George in those first few heady moments. Mindful that he was nearly as sore as she was, she kept her touches light to keep from hurting him. Whether she was conscious of how much her gentle caresses were inflaming him was uncertain – but, he decided, if she was truly unaware of the fact, she would not remain that way for long.
The dressing gown was cast aside, and the satin robe reduced to a silken puddle on the floor. All bruises and scrapes were forgotten as they ascended a rising spiral of passion that overcame all pain.
George wasn’t sure if the champaign was responsible or if Jessica’s depressive episode had weakened her mental barriers, but this time when he joined with her he fancied that he was feeling emotions that were not entirely his own. There was the earlier anguish he had seen; penetrating through that he tasted the modest pride that came with the successful resolution of another mystery; deeper still was a glowing heart of love, and joy, and, he noted wryly, willfulness. It was when he reached out to touch this that he was overwhelmed by a surge of blazing fire racing through both of them, and thrown back into himself.
The candle continued to flicker next to the empty champaign bottle on the bedside table, burned down to perhaps half its original height. George breathed deeply of the spice-scented air of the bedroom as Jessica snuggled up next to him, one arm draped over his chest and her face resting in the angle of his shoulder and neck.
Glancing over at the bedside table,
George spotted the pewter-framed picture Jessica had loaned Tipper prior to her
“Still awake, Jess?” he asked.
“Hmm?” Jessica stirred sleepily within the circle of his other arm.
“Do you always keep this picture by your bedside?”
opened her eyes and looked at the photograph. “Oh yes,” she said. “Always. It’s
one of two that go back and forth to
“I’m in good company, then,” said George warmly. “Do you remember where this picture was taken?”
garden across the gravel drive next to the brook at
“Very good!” he said, giving her a gentle squeeze.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said.
“At the time, you were not especially receptive to my revelation,” George observed.
Jessica shifted a little in his embrace as he set the photograph back in its accustomed place. “I was taken somewhat by surprise,” she said in her own defense.
“Ah, Jess,” sighed George. “You were taken by surprise because you refused to see. Do you believe in love at first sight?”
Jessica thought about this for a minute. “I suppose I do,” she said at last. “It defies logic … but I’m too much of a romantic to deny its possibility.”
“I believe in love at first sight,” said George, tousling her hair with his hand. “I fell in love with you the moment I saw you.”
She looked up at him and smiled. “Really?”
He bent and kissed her tenderly on the forehead. “Really. Even though I was dealing with you in an official capacity at the time, the glance of your eyes pierced my heart, and from that instant on I was yours.”
“What poetry!” Jessica exclaimed, bringing a hand up to touch his cheek. “You’ll be giving Robert Burns a run for his money next.”
George chuckled and turned his face to kiss her hand. “Hardly,” he said. “But thank you for your kind words nonetheless. What about you? Do you remember what you thought the first time you saw me?”
“Well, I was a little uncertain at the time of exactly what I was getting into,” Jessica told him. “And I was distraught over the events surrounding Marjorie Ainsworth’s death. But I do remember that despite my anxiety, you struck me as an extremely attractive man, one I wouldn’t mind getting to know better, had circumstances been otherwise.”
“But not love at first sight?”
“I – I’m not sure,” she confessed. “I was going through a very rough time – not unlike tonight – but if I had not, perhaps it would have been love at first sight.”
“If you had not gone through that rough patch, we would never have met in the first place,” George pointed out. “So I suppose it is just as well. There will always be rough patches, Jess,” he went on. “You know that all too well. Don’t be afraid to share them with me – as you have seen for yourself, much good can come when you do.”
“I’ll remember that,” she sighed, and drifted off to sleep.
“That was unbelievable, what happened yesterday,” Eve Simpson said the next morning as soon as she was settled under a hair dryer. “Absolutely unbelievable. To think – Mandy Jacobs, a murderer!”
“That wasn’t all that was unbelievable,” Loretta said. “Could you believe Jessica risking her life to save George from being shot? That took guts.”
“Well, is it any wonder?” Phyllis Grant said from where she sat in Loretta’s barber chair getting her hair coloring touched up. “It’s obvious they’re crazy about each other.”
“Yeah, that cat’s out of the bag,” said Loretta with a laugh. “Way out of the bag.”
“Ooo, and that kiss!” Ideal Malloy added from under her hair
dryer, fanning herself with an issue of Women’s
Day and fluttering her long
eyelashes. “Right in the middle of
“Careful, Ideal, you’ll give yourself heart palpitations,” Eve grumbled. The real estate agent wasn’t sure if she should feel elated to have witnessed such an important piece of gossip, or disgruntled that the rumors about George’s being already spoken for by Jessica had turned out to be true after all.
“Enough with the long face, Eve,” Loretta chided from where she was adding highlights to Phyllis’ hair. “You didn’t really think you had a chance with George Sutherland, did you?”
Eve sighed and quirked a slight smile. “Oh, I don’t know, Loretta,” she said. “I can dream, can’t I? Except that now I can’t.”
hear that he’s headed back to
“And that’s another thing!” said Eve testily. “Why does she get all the good jobs? I’m Jessica’s friend too, and I’m perfectly capable of driving a man to the airport.”
“Might have something to do with the fact that Jessica trusts Tipper to get him there without excessive flirting,” Phyllis said.
Loretta and Ideal laughed at Phyllis’ comment, and even Eve had to smirk at the remark.
were so engrossed in their discussion that they didn’t see Tipper standing
outside, looking in the window and watching their animated conversation with a
bemused smile on her face. After a few
moments she turned away from the shop and back towards her car in time to meet
George, who had just emerged from Sassi’s Bakery
across the street with a couple of cups of steaming coffee in his hands. They were on their way to the
“What’d you get me?” she asked as she accepted one of the cups from him and got in the car.
“Mocha latte with soy milk and a shot of vanilla espresso, just what you asked for.”
“And what did you get for yourself?”
George took a sip of his own drink before answering. “Regular, black – just like always,” he said.
Tipper rolled her eyes as she turned the key in the ignition. “Black coffee? Oh, come on, George – you need to live a little!”
George took another sip and shot her a crooked grin and a wink. “What do you think I’ve been doing for the last seven days?” he asked her.
“Okay, I retract the statement,” Tipper sighed as she put the little Honda in first gear and pulled away from the curb. “Forget I said anything about your boring black coffee.”
“What were you looking at just now, while I was across the street getting our refreshments?” George asked.
“Oh, nothing – I was just watching the girls inside of Loretta’s chattering away.”
“I think I can guess what the number one topic of conversation was today,” said George.
“No doubt,” said Tipper as she turned on to the main road that led out of the village and off the peninsula. “I daresay that you and Jessica will be the number one topic of conversation there for many weeks to come.”
“And you, Tipper – will you also be a topic of conversation?” George asked.
Tipper shrugged. “Don’t worry about me,” she said. “My role was a very small one, really, and now that your relationship with Jessica is out in the open – you two were kissing in full view of all of Cabot Cove, for crying out loud! – anyway, now that it’s out in the open, I suspect all the attention will shift away from me before too long.”
“And that would be fine with you.”
She nodded energetically. “That would suit me right down to the ground.”
They drove south along Route 1, talking about this and that and admiring the scenery that they passed. It was a bright, sunny morning with only some wispy mares’ tails clouds to mar the bright blue sky, and the autumn leaves, though beginning to drift down from the trees in greater numbers, were still an impressively colorful sight.
“I’m perhaps most glad that Seth came to be reconciled with the idea of me before I left,” George said thoughtfully as they once again navigated Brunswick’s busy Pleasant Street traffic, en route to the interstate. “I would have felt a little awkward leaving if he had still borne a grudge against me.”
“Yes, that was a good thing,” Tipper agreed. “I doubt that he’s completely comfortable with the idea, but he’s come a long way in a short time. Especially considering that he’s in love with Jessica too.”
George, who was taking a sip of his black coffee while she spoke, nearly choked on it in surprise, making such an odd noise that Tipper glanced at him in concern.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Yes, I’m fine,” he said, coughing. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize …”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything,” Tipper said uneasily. “I thought you knew.”
“No,” said George, “I didn’t know.”
“That’s all right. Jessica doesn’t know, either.”
This statement, pronounced so matter-of-factly, came as no less of a surprise to George. “She doesn’t? Then how …”
“How do I know?” Tipper finished for him. “Oh, well, it’s pretty obvious, really, to anyone looking in from the outside. I know them both pretty well. Seth would sooner die than admit the fact, of course. And Jessica … well, let’s just say that for all her vaunted powers of observation, sometimes she can be remarkably blind.”
“Yes, I suppose I can see that,” said George. “But I thought Seth was just over-protective of her.”
chuckled. “We’re all a little over-protective
of Jessica,” she said. “But when she gets tangled up in a mess, it’s always
Seth who jumps on a plane to go help her out of it. Like that time in
“Interesting,” said George. “And you say Seth has never told her how he feels?”
“Heavens, no!” Tipper exclaimed as she slowed down for a red light. “He knows she doesn’t share his feeling, and he’d never risk their friendship by openly confessing it. ‘Course, it never was a problem until you came on the scene, George. See, you weren’t as reticent to tell Jessica how you felt about her, and in doing so, you ‘beat him to the punch,’ so to speak.”
“Jessica knew Seth was jealous of me,” George mused. “She said so herself.”
have to be completely oblivious not to see that,” said Tipper, starting up
again as the traffic light turned green. “What she doesn’t recognize is why he’s jealous. Oh, she probably knows,
or at least suspects the reason why, deep down … but she can’t bring herself to
face it head-on. As for Seth, he can at
least take comfort in the fact that he’s in
“Yes, well, there is that,” George admitted. “Er, should I be worried by that?”
Tipper looked at him in surprise and laughed. “You?” she exclaimed. “Hardly! No – just be thankful that when you aren’t around, Jessica is in good hands.”
The rest of
the trip progressed quietly in companionable silence interspersed with small
talk. Traffic was light and the trip progressed quickly; before George knew it
they were once again passing through the outskirts of the City of
Although George tried to convince the veterinarian to simply drop him off at the curb in front of the terminal, Tipper would hear nothing of it and insisted on accompanying him all the way inside, through check-in and security. Finally they approached the gate, where George paused.
“Thanks for all your help, Tipper,” he said. “I’m sorry you ended up dragged into this more than you wanted to be, but I just wanted to let you know that both Jessica and I are very grateful.”
Tipper blushed and looked awkwardly at the floor. “Oh, well, it was nothing, really,” she said. “It’s enough to see you guys happy. Just promise you won’t drag me in even farther the next time you visit!”
“I promise!” George laughed.
The first boarding call for his
“I guess it’s time for me to go,” said George reluctantly. He picked up his carry-on bag, and gave Tipper a quick peck on the cheek. “I count you as a friend, Tipper Henderson,” he told her as she blushed even redder than before. “Keep in touch. And stay out of trouble, if you can.”
“I’ll try my best,” she said. She paused, then added, “What is it Jessica said I should say to you … oh, yes: ‘Safe home,’ George.”
“Safe home, Tipper. Keep an eye on Jess for me in my absence, would you?”
“I will,” she promised. She waved, and smiled, and turned to head back up the long terminal corridor toward the exit.
George, he joined the queue with his fellow passengers feeling no small amount
of regret that he was leaving. As he handed his boarding pass to the airline
attendant at the head of the jet way, he turned back one last time and saw once
more the same poster that had greeted him upon his arrival here one week ago: “
Truer words, George decided, were never spoken.