A Taste for Murder
By: Lizzie Bapst
Disclaimer: I don't own the Murder, She Wrote OR Facts of Life characters or rights, all likeness to real people living or dead is strictly coincedence...blah blah blah...I make fun of Donald Bain in this one, but don't take it too seriously. I'm just jesting.
~ Lecture Hall at Langley College ~
"…And so, the heroine of my latest novel, Melody of Murder, finds herself in a rather…curious situation," Jessica Fletcher was saying, ending her lecture. "Are there any questions you'd like to ask?"
A hand went up, rather cooly, "Yes?"
"How exactly did you get the idea for this book of yours, Mrs. Fletcher?" The question was asked by none other than Jo Polniaczek, leaning back against her chair in very casual attire, making Jessica wish she's chosen a more comfortable outfit, as well.
"The idea fairy?" she responded with a chuckle that earned her several others. " Actually it's based on an actual crime that occurred back in Cabot Cove."
"And Melody is based on you," Jo stated.
"What?" Jessica asked, rather surprised by her bluntness.
"Well, it's obvious, isn't it? I mean, you're an intelligent woman, perceptive, all that junk. So, you solve the mystery and that's how you promote your new book. Follow the money trail, everything leads to it."
[i] Follow the money trail[/i]. Jessica quickly stashed that in her unusually canny memory. Then quickly replied to Jo's statement.
"Well, not exactly. When I solve a mystery, or even get involved in one, I solve it because I hate loose ends."
"Like cops," Jo said as cooly as ever, folding her arms across her chest.
"Jo, stop bugging her," Blair intruded. She then turned to Jessica, "Don't mind Jo, she's from the Bronx. That really is a gorgeous pants-suit!"
Jessica looked down at her pink pants-suit and white blouse with a confused expression. She knew she wasn't here to talk about her wardrobe.
  "Thank you," she said, not hiding her confusion.
"Would you at least try to stay on topic, Princess Die?" Jo said to Blair, more sarcastically than an actual question.
"Sorry," Blair said, her voice full of sarcasm. "But some of us would rather not hear all the gory details of murder."
"Then why'd you sign up for the course?" Jo asked.
"Need the credit."
Jessica had stepped back a little to observe the arguing parties. The young woman she now knew as Jo, was athletic-looking and had a tough front. Jessica guessed there was more to her than meets the eye and was looking forward to talking with her at some point, away from the lecture setting. Jessica just loves soaking up people's personalities. Maybe later when she visited her dear friend, Edna Garrett, she would get some time to talk with Jo. She instantly recognized Jo and Blair from Edna's descriptions. She knew they argued often, but really were the best of friends. Even if Edna hadn't told her this in their letters, she could've guessed from their arguments. They were both very careful about how and what they said to each other.
Blair, as Edna had described, was stylish, snobbish and [i]seemingly[/i] clueless. But, Jessica could tell that, deep down, she had a heart of gold. How? She wasn't sure. It was just a hunch. Intuition. Jessica knew her hunches were never wrong, though.
"Ladies, please," Jessica began. "I'm out of time, anyway. No sense arguing over it." Students began to get out of their chairs as Jessica continued, "Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!" Then she turned to Jo and Blair. "Oh, by the way, would you two mind taking me to your house?"
Jo and Blair looked at her, a little confused.
"Oh! I'm sorry," Jessica said. "I just would like to see Edna!"
"Mrs. Garrett?" Blair questioned.
"Yes," Jessica began, " She does run a store now, if I understand correctly."
"Ayuh," Jessica thought she heard Jo say, reminding Jessica of her good friend, Doctor Seth Hazlitt from Cabot Cove. Oh! How she missed Cabot Cove!
"I didn't tell her I was lecturing here. I wanted to surprise her."
"I'm sure she'll be delighted," Jo said, then looked at Blair, who had found a mirror in a corner and was now admiring herself in it. "Pardon Princess 'All About Me' over there."
Jessica chuckled as she glanced over at Blair, "Oh! That's quite alright. I'm sure it's normal for her."
"Yea, but, she really can be nice, occasionally."
"So I've heard."
"So, you ready to go surprise Mrs. G?"
"Of course!"
-Edna's Edibles-There are several customers, some of whom I will introduce later-Natalie and Tootie are in the front, Mrs. G is in the kitchen-
Blair was the first of the three to step into Edna's Edibles and went to get her apron and get to work. "Nice meeting you, Mrs. Fletcher," she said, grabbing her apron.
"Fletcher? You wouldn't happen to be J. B. Fletcher, would you?" Natalie said with wide-eyes.
"Guilty," Jessica said with her patented smile.
"I love your books! Actually, I just finished one yesterday, and I absolutely loved it!"
"Well, thank you," Jessica replied, coloring slightly. She was always a very modest author.
"Natalie, keep working," Mrs. Garrett said, walking into the shop. "Why, Jessica! Oh my goodness!" Mrs. Garrett exclaimed as she looked in Jessica's direction.
"Edna!" Jessica replied warmly, as the two friends embraced. "It's so good to see you!"
"Likewise. But, why didn't you tell me you were coming? I could've planned dinner," Edna said, somewhat disappointed.
" Oh, I'm sorry. I really don't think I can stay long. I'm simply exhausted, and I can not wait to get back to Cabot Cove. Not that I'm not in good company!"
"I know what you mean, Jessie."
Just then, they heard giggling coming from one of the tables. When they looked over, they saw Deana Becker and Blair, giving each other their usual greeting. They watched as Deana introduced her stepmother, Angela Strauss, somewhat condescendingly, which Jessica made a point of noticing. Deana then introduced her stepmother's best friend, Milly Norton. Jessica noticed that Milly was a shy, quiet type. She was very courteous and kind. Jessica made note of her casual and inexpensive clothes. Unusual to Jessica, because Milly was amongst people dressed more elegantly.
"Those two have known each other forever," Edna said as the store quieted down a bit.
"Doesn't it make you sick?" Jo said.
"Oh, I'm willing to bet we have a few years on them, Edna," Jessica said chuckling. "What was it, 30 years ago, we met? I remember Frank was flying you and what seems like the rest of the world back and forth in that plane! He wrote me constantly, 'oh there's this interesting woman I think you should meet!'"
"Shh! Don't you go throwing around [i]years[/i], Jessie!" Edna said in more of a joking stage whisper. "But really, Frank was a wonderful man, and I'm so happy he introduced us," she finished, giving Jessica another quick hug.
Then they heard the scream.
Mrs. Garrett and Jessica both went running over to the table where they heard the scream.
"Is everything alright?" Mrs. Garrett asked.
"What's wrong?" Jessica asked simultaneously.
Deana was sitting at the table, staring wide-eyed at her stepmother. Milly, who was the one who screamed, was beginning to get hysterical. Angela was slumped over the table, her face in her strudel.
"Good Heavens!" Jessica said, checking for a pulse. "She's dead."
"Dead?" Blair asked.
"How?" Tootie directed her question at Jessica.
"She was fine a minute ago," Deana said, "Then she just…"
A customer started to leave when Jessica saw him.
"Um, Sir, I really think you should stay, the police may want a statement from you."
"I'll go call them," Mrs. Garrett said, and picked up the phone.
"What for? I didn't do anything," the customer said, rather rudely.
"Maybe, at least leave your name and address?"
"I know him!" Deana said, getting up and walking over to Jessica. "That's Donald Bain. Angela's edited books for him before. She told me that she just demanded a huge re-write from him."
"Well, then I think you do need to stay, Mr. Bain. I'm sure the police will be interested in that piece of information," Jessica repeated her suggestion to stay.
Jessica was trying to make a quick evaluation of him. She judged him to be the easily angered type, based on the clenched fists now at his side. She figured him to be around 40, and the type to want revenge. A possible suspect.
"And where are [i]you[/i] going, Mr. Barnes?" Deana said, forcing Jessica to turn her attention to the newest escaping customer. Deana turned to Jessica saying, "Angie's Lawyer."
"I think everyone needs to stay put until the police get here and tell us what to do next," Jessica suggested calmly. Both Mr. Bain and Mr. Barnes clenched their fists and went to sit down.
"The police will be here momentarily," Mrs. Garrett said, hanging up the phone.
"Was it murder, Mrs. Fletcher?" Natalie asked.
"I'm not sure," Jessica said, startled by the question. "It's always a possibility," she said, her mind already thinking of the suspects she'd found.
[i]Get a grip, Jessica. You haven't even seen an autopsy report, it could be anything,[/i] she thought.
She went over to look at the crime scene for anything suspicious. She looked at what she could see of the strudel-white icing. She turned to the display cabinet containing the strudel-none with icing.
It was then that the police arrived, and everything fell apart.
Jessica went to comfort Milly, who was hysterical, and even worse, crying so hard no one could understand her.
"Okay, we need statements from everyone who was here when it happened, and no one leaves until we say," an officer said after examining the scene a while.
"Excuse me," Jessica said, stepping toward the officer, "Does that mean you've determined this to be a murder?"
"No, ma'am. I personally believe it was natural causes, but we have to cover our bases."
"I see."
"We'll need to analyze your strudel if anything unusual turns up, Mrs. Garrett," the officer continued, turning toward Mrs. Garrett.
"Of course," Mrs. Garrett said, unfazed.
Jessica noticed her friend's less-than-there expression and intended on talking to her about it, when the police came to question her.
"Mrs. Fletcher, what do you know?"
"Excuse me?"
"Did you know the victim?"
"What'd you see?"
"Nothing, really."
"I was talking with someone on the other side of the store. However, I [i]did[/i] get the chance to look over some things before you arrived. I'm sure you noticed that the specific piece of strudel that the deceased was eating had icing on it."
"Yea, so?"
"Well, the strudel in the display has no icing."
"Are you implying an employee may be responsible?"
"Not at all!" Jessica's eyes widened. "Only that you should consider further questioning anyone who may have had contact with the strudel."
"Like the employees."
"or the people she was here with."
"More likely the employees."
"No. I'm sorry, but it's just as likely to be someone here who knew her. There's an author she just demanded a huge re-write from, her lawyer, best friend, step daughter. It could've been any of them!"
"Maybe. We've got the strudel bagged, and everyone's been questioned. Lab boys will analyze the strudel and we'll go from there."
"Yes, but-"
"Mrs. Fletcher, Cabot Cove may be a wonderful place to solve murders to promote your books, but here, we'd really rather do it ourselves. Be seein' you. You may want to plan to stay here a few days. After all, you were present."
"You can count on it. But you can be sure, if I find a way to help a friend of mine, I will," Jessica told him with new determination and a flash in her eye.
After the police had finished their investigation and everyone had left, it was considerably late.
"Well, it looks like I'll be staying in town for a few days," Jessica said, sitting next to Mrs. Garrett on the couch, specifically leaving out the fact that she was staying only to make sure the girls weren't unfairly accused.
"Huh? Oh, that's lovely Jessie," Mrs. Garrett replied, somewhat dazed.
"Edna…are you alright?" Jessica asked, noticeably worried.
"Oh! Oh, of course, Jessica. Why do you ask?"
"You seem a little…out of it."
"I guess I am a little frazzled."
"And with good reason!"
"Jessica, do you think, if they find something in my strudel I'll-I'll be accused of murder?"
"I'm not sure. But, I am sure that you didn't do it. That alone should be enough."
"Well, let's hope you're right. I don't what I'd do in jail…My girls-"
"Let's not focus on that right now."
"Jessica, will you promise me something?"
"I'll think about it…"
"If I do, ya know, go to jail, take care of the girls."
"Edna, you're talking like you've got a reason to go to jail!"
"Well, that's what everyone will assume, isn't it? If something is found on my strudel? What other possible conclusion would they think of? It's not like I can prove anything."
"But you didn't do it!"
"Of course not, but it'll be my word against all of that alleged evidence. Just, please promise me you'll at least make sure the girls are ok?" Edna said again, with a pleading look in her eyes.
"Okay, but I hope I won't have to follow through with that promise."
"Me too, Jessie, me too!"
"Well, it's rather late," Jessica said, glancing at her watch. "I better find a hotel somewhere."
"Oh! Don't be ridiculous, you'll stay here."
"Oh, I couldn't impose."
"What imposition? Natalie will be under the same roof as a writer, and we, Jessie, will finally get to catch up!"
"Well, when you make it sound so tempting, how can I refuse?"
"Good. You take my room, and I'll bunk with the girls, or take the floor, or couch."
"I couldn't let you do that-"
"No, no! I insist! Not another word!"
"If you must-"
"I must," Edna said, leading Jessica upstairs. "And thank you, for everything."
Jessica woke up the next morning to the sound of the telephone.
"Who would be calling at this time in the morning?" she asked herself, getting out of bed.
"Mrs. Fletcher, are you in there?" Natalie asked, knocking on the door.
Jessica opened the door, "Yes, I'm right here."
"Good. The phone's for you," Nat said, yawning. "Mrs. Garrett told me to tell you. You can take it in here if you'd like."
"Thank you, I will," Jessica said, walking over to the phone. "Hello, this is Jessica Fletcher," she said, holding the receiver to her ear, as Natalie moved out of sight.
"Mrs. Fletcher, how did you know?"
"Pardon me?"
"Sorry, this is Sheriff Hodges, Peekskill Police. I investigated the murder, yesterday."
"So it [i]was[/i] murder?"
"Yes. Coroner figures an over-dose of Phenobarbital."
"Yes, it's a drug used in-"
"Sleeping pills, comotol…"
"Primarily, yes. So, how'd you know?"
"Just a hunch."
"Got anymore of those hunches?"
"Not at the moment. Sheriff, was the strudel analyzed?"
"Yes, it was, wanna take a guess at what we found?"
"Exactly. Mrs. Fletcher, I'm afraid if you don't have any ideas, we're going to have to hold Mrs. Garrett."
"Can you give me two days?"
"I don't know, I-"
"Sheriff, it could mean the difference of jailing an innocent person!"
Jessica listened intently, half expecting the sheriff to insist upon arresting Mrs. Garrett. After several seconds of silence, which seemed to Jessica like forever, the sheriff replied.
"Two days. I better see some solid evidence by then."
"Thank you, sheriff," Jessica said, setting the receiver back down.
"Are they," Natalie said, stepping into the room, "Accusing Mrs. Garrett?"
Jessica jumped when she heard Nat's voice, but turned to realize who it was and chuckled to herself. "You scared me to death!"
"Sorry. Are they?"
"They want to."
"But they can't! She didn't! I [i]know[/i] she didn't!"
"It's alright, Natalie. I convinced them to wait a few days to see what I can find."
"Can I help?"
"You can tell me everything you know."
"Well, first of all," Nat said, then paused.
"Yes?!" Jessica's eyebrows went up.
"I can't."
"Natalie," Jessica said, walking over and putting an arm around her. "If I'm going to prove Edna's innocence, I need proof. I need you to tell me anything you know that might help."
"Mrs. Garrett didn't make the strudel and icing…Tootie and I did. Mrs. Garrett had to go to the store, so Tootie and I made the strudel and icing for the next day. I heard you talking about the icing and strudel, and I can't let them think Mrs. Garrett did anything."
Jessica led Natalie to the bed, and they say down, "Are you sure?"
"Of course," Nat said, not looking up at Jessica.
"Natalie," Jessica said, sternly, yet warmly, "I don't believe you would lie to me, but I'm detecting a hint of something other than absolute truth in your voice."
Nat sighed. "No fooling you."
"But why lie about it?"
"Because…I don't want them to arrest Mrs. Garrett for it."
"Well, they won't do that, because she didn't do it."
"But with all that evidence-"
"We'll just have to find out who really did it before they get the chance to do anything about it."
"In two days? How?"
"We'll manage, if you can help."
"I'll try."
"All truth from now on?"
Natalie nodded.
"Now, what do you know about Deana Becker?"
That afternoon, Jessica found Jo, Blair and Mrs. G in the kitchen.
"Jessie!" Mrs. Garrett said, spotting her walking to the kitchen. "Sorry your trip was ruined with this. Don't you need to get back?"
"Not until this is resolved," Jessica responded.
"Well, can we help?" Jo asked.
"I'm not sure, yet."
"Come on, Jo, what could we do?" Blair said.
"Well," Jessica began, "For starters, you can tell me what you know about Deana Becker, Angela Strauss and Milly Norton."
"How's that going to help?" Blair asked.
"Well, I'm not sure, yet. It may not, but it's worth a shot."
"Well, Deana Becker is a very self-centered person, but she'd never murder someone, if that's what you're thinking."
"I didn't say that."
"Wait a minute," Jo said, "I would kill. We're talking murder one for that hair!" She finished, in a voice mimicking Deana's.
Jessica couldn't hide a smile. Jo's voice sounded almost exactly like Deana, and Jessica found that quite amusing.
"Turn Blue. Don't accuse Deana. She may be conceited, but that doesn't mean you can accuse her!" Blair's voice was rising in volume as she went on.
"Blair, calm down," Mrs. Garrett said, putting a hand on her shoulder.
Blair shrugged off her hand, took a deep breath and said, " Mrs. Garrett, may I take a break?"
"Sure," Mrs. Garrett said, turning to Jessica with an expression that seemed to be asking if she was doing the right thing. Jessica nodded as Blair went upstairs. "I hope she's alright. Maybe I should go talk to her," Mrs. Garrett said, looking a little worried.
"Oh, come on, Mrs. G, she's just mad cause Deana did it." Jo said.
"Jo!" Mrs. Garrett said sternly. "You can't mean that."
"Well, I can't prove it, of course, but it makes sense, doesn't it?" Jo explained.
"What do you mean?" Jessica asked, walking over to Jo.
"Well, a conceited daughter of a millionaire. The millionaire gets married. Suddenly, the vain daughter isn't an heiress. Motive. She was with the stepmother when the stepmother was murdered. Opportunity. Course, no one told me [i]what[/i] she was killed with, but I'll bet it's something Deana Becker had access to. Means. So, we've got motive, means and opportunity. All we've gotta do is wait for her to incriminate herself."
"I'll go talk to Blair," Mrs. G said, heading upstairs.
"She'll be fine," Jo called after her, rolling her eyes and taking some crossaints into the shop, leaving Jessica alone in the kitchen.
"Heiress," she said aloud to herself. "I suppose anything's possible."
Mrs. Garrett knocked on the door of the girls' bedroom.
"Blair? I think we should talk."
"Go away!" Blair said, opening the door and preparing to slam it.
"Mrs. Garrett put a palm to the door, stopping it before it slammed. Walking in and gently closing the door behind her, she started talking.
"Blair, I know you're upset. This has put us all on edge."
"It's not just the fact that it happened, Mrs. Garrett. It's that somehow Deana is the most likely suspect. At least, that's what your [i]friend[/i] thinks."
"Blair, she didn't say-"
"She didn't have to say it! It's written all over everyone's face!"
"Jessica's looking into other possibilities."
"Is that what she told you? I wouldn't be surprised if she lied."
"Blair! You don't' even know Jessica! You can't just jump to a conclusion like that! Jessica's looking for the truth. Whatever it is."
"You're right. I didn't mean to say she was lying. I know she's your friend, Mrs. Garrett, but what about [i]my[/i] friend? Deana's been…labeled a killer, and the worst part is, she actually [i]could[/i] have done it. I just…can't handle it if it's her. If she did it-"
"I know, Blair. I know" Mrs. Garrett said, putting an arm around Blair. "Jessica's working on it. We'll all get through this. I promise," she finished, hugging a musty-eyed Blair.
Around midnight, Jessica went downstairs in her robe to find Mrs. Garrett on the couch. Perhaps on the verge of tears? She couldn't tell from the stairs. She walked down the last couple stairs.
"Edna," she began. "You need to sleep."
Mrs. Garrett turned to face her.
"I know, but I can't, yet."
"I'm doing everything I can," Jessica said, sitting next to her on the couch.
"Oh, I know that. I just feel so horrible that you trip was ruined by this! You know, you could go back to Cabot Cove. I bet it's lovely there, this time of year."
Jessica smiled, remembering the familiarness of Cabot Cove. Seth Hazlitt. Sheriff Metzger. All her friends back in Cabot Cove. She [i]was[/i] homesick…maybe just a little.
"Yes, it is lovely," she said, bringing herself reluctantly back to Peekskill. "But frankly, my writer's curiousity has gotten the better of me. I don't think I could leave if I wanted to without figuring out what really happened."
"I'm so worried about Blair. She's terrified that you're after Deana."
"Well, she is a rather intriguing suspect."
They sat in silence a few moments, each with her own private thoughts, until Mrs. Garrett broke the silence.
"Something wrong?"
"No, no, no. Well, not yet."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if you can't find evidence tomorrow, they'll arrest me for this."
"How did you-"
"I didn't hang up when you picked up the extension. It's amazing what you learn from Tootie. Anyway, when they do, I want you to drop your investigations. Leave me in jail. Go back to Cabot Cove."
"You want me…to leave you in hail on a…on a murder charge? One that I know you did not commit? I'm sorry, but I can't do that."
"Please? Just do it. Promise me you will. Blair will be so disappointed if it really was Deana, and even if it wasn't it's going to be hard to clear me and prove it was someone else."
"Hard, maybe. Not impossible. No, I'm sorry, but I can't do that. I won't do that. I will figure it out, and it's not going to be you being punished for this crime. Trying to tell me that you murdered someone would be like…like telling me Frank had killed someone. I know you. Besides you have no motive."
"Frank was a great guy, wasn't he?"
"The best," Jessica said, her eyes filling with tears.
"I'm so sorry. Was it horrible of me to bring up Frank?"
"No, it's alright," Jessica said, blinking the tears away. "I still miss him, of course, but it's nice to talk about the good times. Remember the time when we…"
Then talked for hours, like giggling school-girls before they both felt enough at ease to be able to sleep. Even still…something bothered Jessica. She just…couldn't quite put her finger on it.
Natalie caught up with Jessica early that morning.
"It has to be today," she said, her eyes getting larger.
"Yes," Jessica said, picking up her purse and jacket. She looked at Natalie. She could tell from Natalie's facial expressions that Natalie wanted to help. Jessica was used to working alone. Nevertheless, it [i]would[/i] boost Natalie's spirit. "Say, Natalie, would you like to come with me?"
Nat's eyes lit up. "Really?"
"I'd love it!"
"Well, great. We better get going, then."
"Where to, Sherlock?"
Jessica, slightly shocked but nevertheless amused, chuckled saying, "To dig up suspects, Watson!"
They were walking down the main drag of Peekskill, such as it could be called. Natalie, walking silently behind Jessica. They were looking for something-or someone.
"Mrs. Fletcher!" Natalie said almost too loudly, seizing Jessica's arm.
"What is it, Natalie?"
"Look-over there!" Natalie pointed across the street to the window of a diner.
"Good work, Watson," Jessica said, rather mindlessly, staring into the window.
"What now? Go under-cover and spy? Confrontation?"
"No, Natalie. For now, we wait. Right here and as naturally as possible. Pretend to be…browsing shop windows or taking a leisurely stroll downtown. The last thing in the world we need is to let Donald Bain and Richard Barnes let them know we witnessed their little meeting."
"Don't you see? They did it. Both of them. They conspired to do this together. We can't let them get away with it!"
"Whoa! Slow down. First of all, we have no proof that they did it, or that they are conspiring to do anything. Donald Bain is an author, Richard Barnes is a lawyer…there's nothing unusual about an author and a lawyer meeting together for a-" she suddenly stopped, looking even more intently in the window.
"That doesn't look like a very friendly meeting, Mrs. Fletcher," Natalie commented, after observing the same thing.
Jessica had to admit she was baffled, and there was a real possibility that Natalie was absolutely correct in her theory. On the other hand, if Mr. Bain had a motive, why would they choose now to commit this crime? No. There had to be some other explanation, some other way. It was just--too obvious. Criminals don't always have the most common sense, she told herself. [i]Stop jumping to conclusions, Jess.[/i] She thought. [i]You've been around Amos Tupper too long.[/i] Once again wonderful thought of Cabot Cove filled her head. Dinner with Seth in her kitchen, tea afterwards in the living room with a fire burning brightly in the fireplace. It took several tried for Natalie to pull her back to Peekskill.
"Mrs. Fletcher? Yoo-hoo. Are you still there?"
"What? Oh! Sorry, Natalie."
"That's alright. Are we going to follow them?"
"Huh?" She looked in the direction Natalie was pointing. The two gentlemen were indeed headed down the street, possibly for a park of some sort. "Of course."
"Ready when you are, Sherlock!" Natalie said excitedly.
"Follow my lead, dear Watson!" Jessica said in hushed tones as they started down the street at a reasonable distance, pausing occasionally to look in shop windows to keep up the appearance of a shopping trip.
Upon arriving at the city-park, and weaving around a merry-go-round, teeter-totters, and a set of baby swings, Jessica stopped abruptly, leaving Natalie a narrow escape from a collision.
"Wanna let me know next time you put on the break?" Nat said just after re-balancing herself.
"Sorry," Jessica said hurriedly, and rather softly.
"What is it?" Natalie whispered back.
She didn't really need an answer. She followed Jessica's gaze over to the big bench-type swing, big enough for three or four petite people. There sat Richard Barnes and Donald Bain. Natalie and Jessica ducked behind a tree and each poked a head out from their side. The men looked up, and they both quickly ducked back behind the tree.
"Do you think they saw us?" Natalie asked.
"Of course they did. They may be men, but I'm sure they're not blind."
  Natalie let out what could be considered a chuckle and then turned to Jessica to ask, "So, we should just confront them, now, shouldn't we? They're bound to know who we are, and why we're following them."
Jessica peered around the tree trunk again. The swing was empty. She threw up her hands, looked heavenward, then turned to Natalie and said, "If you can find them, feel free to third degree them! Come on, let's head back to the shops. Maybe we'll find something else that's useful."
"We're just going to walk around town?"
"Look where it got us the first time."
"That true, but, lightning never strikes twice."
"Can't argue with that," Jessica said thoughtfully. "I just don't know where else to look."
"Can't we find out where they're staying and get a phone number, or something?"
"How would we do that. The only people that know that is the police. I very much doubt that they'd give away information like that. However, I do need to check in with them. What say we go back to the shop, have breakfast, I'll call Sheriff Hodges, and we'll see what we can find out. I'm famished."
Natalie shrugged, a look of defeat coming over her face. "Alright. I suppose there's no alternative." Then she looked up with a sudden light in her eyes. "Can we do some more spying after breakfast?"
Jessica couldn't help but laugh.
"I see…Yes, I understand…No, Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't ask you to do anything against regulations, but you must admit these are hardly normal circumstances."
Jessica was on the phone with Sheriff Hodges, and Natalie was sitting nervously by the desk waiting for any information Jessica would share with her. Honestly, her presence set Jessica on edge, but she did her best to avoid showing it. It wasn't so much that Natalie made her nervous, just that she wasn't used to having a partner in these investigations. Frankly, she wasn't sure if she wanted one. Sometimes her "curiosity often leads to trouble," as the saying in "Alice in Wonderland" goes. Besides, it's much easier to be whimsical without having someone on your tail the whole way.
"Yes, thank you, Sheriff," Jessica said before hanging up.
"He wouldn't tell you, huh?" Natalie asked, as Tootie walked in the room.
"Wouldn't tell her what?" Tooite asked.
"Oh, nothing," Natalie said, avoiding Tootie's eyes.
"You're not the only one that wants to help Mrs. Garrett, you know," Tootie said, plopping on the couch.
Jessica sensed an oncoming argument and interjected. "Girls, please. I know you all want to help Edna, but right now, there's nothing any of us can do, except put our brains to work. Someone [i]has[/i] to remember [i]something[/i]!"
"What do you wanna know?" Tootie said, turning toward her.
"What happened in the shop that day. Exactly. Any other day I'd have been paying attention, but that day…seeing Edna again…" her voice trailed off.
"It's not your fault, Jessie," came another voice from someone coming out of the kitchen.
"I should've remembered…I should've been paying attention…"
"We all should have," Edna said, coming closer, and putting an arm around her. "None of us did. We were too caught up in the moment."
"But that's no excuse."
"I know, Jessie."
"And now they're going to arrest a perfectly innocent person."
"It'll be alright."
"No. I won't let it happen. I'm going to know who did this, and I'm going to know now!" The anger in her voice was clearly audible as she got up, grabbed her purse and walked out the door. Natalie and Tootie started to follow her, but Mrs. Garrett insisted they stay where it was safe.
"There's no telling where she's going, or what she's doing, and I'm sure she doesn't need you two on her tail," she told them, walking back into the kitchen.
They ducked out the back door, Natalie speaking in hushed tones filling Tootie in on the adventure before breakfast during their search for Jessica.
After a while, Jessica found herself walking into the only hotel in Peekskill. She straightened her shoulders, lifter her chin, and opened the doors labeled, "Peekskill House."
"Excuse me," she said in a southern accent to the woman at the desk, "I was suppose to meet someone here, can you tell me if he checked in?" She spoke carefully, concentrating on keeping her southern drawl.
"I can tell you if he's checked in, and buzz his room for you, if you'd like. I just need to know his name."
"Well, see…one of them is Richard Barnes, and the other is Donald Bain. Although it's not necessary to buzz them, because if they're here I'll meet up with them later. Unless of course, you would be so kind as to give me their room numbers, sugar."
"Well," the receptionist said, typing in the names. "I'm not really suppose to, but since you're a friend…"
"A very good friend," Jessica corrected, almost losing her southern drawl. She chided herself silently and remained in character.
"Richard Barnes is in room 19 and Donald Bain is in room 20. But you didn't hear it from me."
"Riiiight! Thanks, sugar!" Jessica said, turning from the desk and immediately dropping the fake southern drawl that she'd displayed.
As she walked outside and around the corner of the building looking for numbers, she felt a faint tap on her shoulder. Her eyes grew gradually wider as she stood stock still, her mind and body frozen. Slowly, she turned around and came face to face with Donald Bain and Richard Barnes.
"Looking for us, Mrs. Fletcher?" Mr. Barnes said, stepping closer.
"We'd like to have a little chat with you," Mr. Bain continued.
Jessica was trembling, but did her best to hide it.
"I don't understand. Do we have something to discuss?" She asked, fear barely evident in her voice.
"Oh, I believe we do," Mr. Barnes said, taking her arm and leading her hesitantly into the room. Mr. Bain followed and closed the door behind them.
"Alright, Mrs. Fletcher, what gives" Mr. Bain said, staring down at her after forcing her into a chair.
"I don't think I-" Jessica started, obviously confused.
"Calm down Don, she's gonna think we're guilty of something, even though we're going to try to prove otherwise!" Mr. Barnes said calmly, then turned to Jessica. "Mrs. Fletcher, please, can we get you some coffee, water, tea, or anything at all?"
"No. No thank you, I'm fine."
"We saw you following us," Mr. Barnes continued.
"Yes, I suspected as much."
"And we are both aware of your reputation for solving these type of crimes."
"Yes, well I hardly think that has anything to do with-"
"We thought we owed you our side of the story."
"Well, I'd be very interested in hearing it."
"I bet you would, Mrs. Fletcher," Donald Bain said, obviously angry.
"Cool it, Don," Mr. Barnes said, glaring at him. Turning back to Jessica, he began, "I shouldn't wonder you've deduced by now that we both had splendid motive for killing Angela Strauss."
"Well, actually I hadn't known about your motive, Mr. Barnes. Want to…enlighten me?"
"I see. Well, as most people will tell you, Angie and I had an affair. Not the catered kind, either."
"I see."
"My old buddy Don here, has just had a huge re-write demanded from him in a rather embarrassing scene, most likely staged by Angie. She always was a bright one."
Donald Bain sat back and nearly growled. "Yes. Brilliant," he said sarcastically.
"In fact Mr. Bain and I were working on his suit against her the day she was…murdered. That's how we all happened to be in the same place at, unfortunately the wrong time. That's why there just happened to be so many suspects in the room."
"So, if it wasn't you…Then who?" Jessica said aloud.
"Can't say I blame them," Mr. Bain spoke up. "She was a horrid woman. I'm surprised she had friends."
"Yes…well, gentleman…thank you for sharing that with me, I'm sure  we'll be in touch," Jessica said, standing and walking toward the door.
"Absolutely, Mrs. Fletcher. Anytime!" Mr. Barnes said, opening the door for  her. "Would you like to be escorted back?"
Jessica looked in front of her, and peered between some trees to see two familiar faces. Finally, she turned to Mr. Barnes and said, "No. No thank you. It won't be necessary. I have friends waiting for me."
At that, Natalie and Tootie came from behind the trees and acted completely surprised to be seeing her there. Some of it more convincing than others. They left, Mr. Barnes closing the door shortly after. When they were quite a way down the block, Jessica stopped and put a hand on each girl's arm.
"Why did you follow me?"
"We thought you might be in trouble!" Tootie quickly said.
"And what were you planning to do if I was? Handle it yourself?"
"Well, I guess we never really thought-" Natalie started, but was interrupted.
"That's right, you didn't. Listen, girls, I don't want to be rude, but it seems I have no choice. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself. This isn't the first time I've had to go investigating, and even though I'm hoping, I'm pretty certain it won't be the last. I'm glad you girls are so willing to help, but truthfully three's a crowd. When investigating, more than one in the same place is a crowd. If you two truly want to help, go back to the shop, and look after Edna while I clear this up. I know she's not doing well with this, but I can't be in two places at the same time! If anything happens, try to find me right away."
Their spirits sank and their eyes dropped to the ground.
"Girls, really. I love that you want to help. I'd love to have your help. But like I said, if you want to help, please go back and look after Mrs. Garrett. That's more help than you could be out here, while I'm accomplishing nothing."
"Alright, we'll go," Tootie said, starting to walk again.
"Yea. See you later, Mrs. Fletcher," Natalie said, still looking at the ground, and walking to catch up with Tootie.
Jessica caught her arm. "Natalie, please tell me you understand."
"I get it, Mrs. Fletcher. We're in your way. I'm really sorry. I just wanted to help."
"And I know that. That's why I'm saying thank you for the help you've giving me already. You [i]did[/i] help this morning, and I can't thank you enough. I just need to do this on my own. I'm not sure what I'll find, but I don't want you and Tootie in danger if I find it."
Natalie looked up at Jessica. "So it's not really that we're in your way, just that you think we'd be in danger?"
"Maybe a little of both. Mostly though, that it's all unknown. If this person killed once, they're not going to hesitate to do it again, and I couldn't live with myself if you and Tootie were with me and got yourselves killed! Not to mention Edna!"
Natalie smiled. "I suppose you're right. I have to catch up with Tootie. Will you at least fill us in on what you find out?"
"Of course," Jessica said, hugging her and smiling. "You better get going, she's pretty far ahead."
"Yea. Catch you later!"
"Later, then!" Jessica yelled after her. Jessica was on her way up the street when she spotted Deana Becker.
"Oh Miss Becker!" Jessica called to her.
"Hello again, Mrs. Fletcher!" Deana said, walking up to her.
"Have you heard anything new about your stepmother's murder?"
"Not really. Milly got a call from the police, though."
"Really? Why?"
"Not sure. I wasn't there when she got it, she just told me about it. Told me that Angie was killed by her own sleeping pills, or some such nonsense."
"Oh, yes. The phenobarbital."
"That was it! I knew it was some funny scientific type name. Like I care to remember those. Look!" She pointed in a shop window. "Oh isn't that just the most gorgeous thing you've ever seen? Excuse me," She said, as she walked away from Jessica and into the shop.
"No problem. Catch ya later," Jessica said after Deana had left her and entered the shop. "Well, I suppose that's all I can learn for now."
Jessica strolled around town a little while longer, hoping that the saying wouldn't be true and that "lightning would strike twice." After about a half an hour, she gave up and went back to Edna's Edibles. What she saw when she got there-well, you could've knocked her over with a feather.
"They can't do that can they, Mrs. Fletcher?" Jo asked, when they were all back inside.
"I'm afraid that if they found evidence that Edna's guilty, they [i]can[/i] do it, Jo," Jessica replied, angry and slightly confused.
"But is the evidence hard enough to stick?" Blair asked.
"I'm not sure. Anyone could've planted that empty bottle out back, but I'm afraid that a good prosecution might not see it that way."
"What are we gonna do?" Tootie asked.
"Well, I haven't decided, yet, but when I do, I'm sure I'll need your help…all of you."
"I'm not sure if I can promise that, Mrs. Fletcher," Blair said, walking toward the stairs.
"Why not, Blair?" Natalie asked.
"Because if you, Mrs. Fletcher, find that it's Deana…I can't play a part in this."
Jessica followed her up the stairs, pausing at the landing.
"It'll be alright, girls," she said to Natalie, Jo and Tootie. "Trust me," she finished, turning to follow Blair.
"Blair," Jessica called through the door, tapping it softly. "Blair, please open the door, I think we should talk."
Blair opened the door slowly and quietly, as if she would change her mind at any second and instead slam the door in Jessica's face.
"Thank you," Jessica said when she was standing face-to-face with Blair. "Mind if I come in?"
Blair stepped aside, and after Jessica entered, closed the door.
"Before you say anything, Mrs. Fletcher, I just want to say…as hard as it is for me…I'm…well, I'm…sor…ry."
"For what?" Jessica asked, her eyes filled with compassion. "You're upset. You're caught in this thing, whether you like it or not. You more than the others. You've got a friend on both sides."
"That's what makes this so difficult."
"I know."
"I mean…what if it [i]was[/i] one of them? I don't think I can..."
"You can," Jessica replied, walking over and putting an arm around her. "It's hard, but you can pull through."
"I guess you have to."
The stood together in silence for several moments, Jessica's arm still around Blair in some small effort of comfort.
"Mrs. Fletcher?"
"Yes, Blair?"
"What can I do to help?" Blair asked, a faint smile forming on her face.
"Did you talk to the police?" Jessica said into the phone.
"I haven't heard a thing since we were there the other day, excuse me please!" Milly Norton said, hanging up.
"But Ms. Norton if I could just…" Jessica practically slammed the phone down.
"What happened?" Natalie asked.
"She hung up on me!"
"How frustrating."
"Want me to go break her knees?" Jo said, standing up.
"No, that's fine, Jo," Jessica said, leaning her head on her hand.
"You feelin' alright, Mrs. F?" Jo asked.
"You look dreadful. Did you sleep at all last night?" Blair said.
"A little…but I'm fine, really."
"We'll have to knock her out tonight, if she's gonna sleep!" Tootie said, a little over-dramatically.
"Knock me ou-" Jessica stopped suddenly, cocked her head and her eyes lit up.
"I think Mrs. F figured it out," Jo said, looking at Jessica.
"Of [i]course[/i]!" Jessica exclaimed, getting up.
"What, what?" Natalie asked, walking over to her.
"Natalie…I just might know who killed Angela Strauss. But I'm afraid proving it, may be a different matter."
The girls shrugged, and exchanged glances as Jessica picked up the phone.
"Hello, Peekskill Police," a pleasant voice said.
"Yes, can you connect me with Sheriff Hodges, please?"
"May I tell him who's calling?"
"This is Jessica Fletcher. I may have just found his murderess."
An hour later, as the girls, Deana Becker, Milly Norton, Donald Bain, and Richard Barnes gathered in the shop, Jessica was preparing.
"What are you doing, Mrs. F?" Jo asked her.
"Well, if I'm we're going to prove this, we've got to do it right," she said before turning to Blair. "Are you ready, Blair?"
Blair took a deep breath. "I think so."
Jessica gave her arm a comforting squeeze and went to the door to let Sheriff Hodges in.
"Please, come in."
"This better be good, Mrs. Fletcher."
"Oh believe me, Sheriff…it is."
Jessica turned to Blair and nodded.
"Deana…how did Angie die?"
Deana's eyes darted back and forth a while before looking at Milly. "Milly said she had too many sleeping pills."
It was Milly's turn to look quickly around the room.
"Thank you, Blair," Jessica interjected. "Miss Norton, how exactly did you come by that little piece of information?"
"One of the deputies told me," she replied coldly.
"Wait a minute," the Sheriff interjected. "Only four people knew about that: The coroner, Mrs. Fletcher, the murderer, and me."
"Well, apparently there's a leak, Sheriff."
"No…I don't think so," Jessica said, walking closer to her. "Why don't you tell everyone your name."
"Mrs. Fletcher…we're way past introductions, here," Natalie said.
"Oh, Natalie, I think you'll all find this…very interesting."
Milly looked at Jessica as if she wanted to kill her, making Jessica rather uncomfortable. She wanted to back up a little, but knew she couldn't. She couldn't look scared. Her knees shook terribly, though. She was shocked they hadn't already given out.
"You think you're smart don't you?" she said. "You think you can just come visit this little town, give your lectures, solve murders and get tons of publicity for your books. Actually, I may want a copy of one of your books. It'll be worth more when you're dead."
"Wait a minute!" Jo exclaimed, but Jessica held a hand up to silence her.
"We're still waiting for an answer, Ms. Norton, or shall I say…Mrs. Barnes?"
It was Richard Barnes' turn to interrupt. "That is completely off-base, Mrs. Fletcher."
"Is it?"
He avoided her eyes.
"You know, when you told me you and Ms. Strauss had an affair, it didn't really click until later, when I heard Deana say Milly knew the cause of death. Even then, I couldn't quite fit it together. It wasn't until later that the pieces even STARTED coming together."
"All I did was distract you while she planted the bottle," he said, caught up in the moment.
"Shut up!" Milly screamed, hurling herself at him.
Jessica backed up, allowing Sheriff Hodges and his deputy, who had been waiting outside to take them each into custody.
"You don't have a thing!" Milly shouted at Jessica. "Not one tiny little piece of evidence!"
"Oh, but you weren't wearing gloves the other day, I'm sure you're fingerprints are all over the bottle."
"This could've been the perfect crime. No one suspects the quiet best friend who weeps endlessly at the loss."
"No one would have, if I hadn't speculated a little about who Mr. Barnes was married to while he was having an affair with Angela Strauss. I made a call to a friend. You were married. Just recently divorced, actually. On the grounds of martial unfaithfulness."
"You're too brilliant for your own good, you know. Someday that'll get you in trouble," Milly said calmly as they took her and Mr. Barnes out of the store.
Jessica nodded slightly, shaking her head, as the girls came to stand behind her. She turned to them.
"Well, girls, who's ready to have Edna back?"
"Let's go!" Jo said, locking the door to the shop and moving the sign to closed.
"Jessie, I can't tell you how grateful I am," Mrs. Garrett said, sitting on the couch.
"Anytime…although I hope I never have to do that again!" Jessica replied.
"So, how'd you put it together, Mrs. F?" Jo asked.
"Well, truthfully, I didn't. I just had a hunch."
"You and your hunches, Jessica," Mrs. Garrett said. "Never wrong."
"Well, I wouldn't say never!"
"How'd you put even your speculation together?" Tootie asked.
"It was the way they looked at each other that day. I sensed there was…more than just a casual relationship, there."
"Well, girls, time to work on the crossaints. We have to catch up!" Mrs. Garrett said.
"Blair's upstairs…want me to get her?" Natalie asked.
"Nah, let her stay. This whole thing has been super hard on her," Mrs. Garrett told her.
"Well, Mrs. F," Jo said walking up to Jessica. "It was nice to meet you."
"Likewise, Jo."
They shook hands, and Jo disappeared into the kitchen.
"It was great to meet you," Tootie said, shaking her hand, and going into the kitchen. On her way, she paused to say, "Hey, Natalie, don't take all day, saying goodbye to Sherlock, we need you in here."
"Oh hush," Nat said, turning to Jessica. "Thanks for letting me work alongside you, 'Sherlock'!"
"Anytime, Watson. We make an alright team," Jessica said, giving her a hug.
"See ya," Nat waved, walking into the kitchen.
"Jessie," Mrs. Garrett said, walking closer to Jessica.
"Edna, it's so good to see you back here."
"Thanks for taking care of the girls while I was gone."
"A promise is a promise."
They two embraced as Blair came down the stairs.
"Mrs. Fletcher, are you leaving?" Blair asked, seeing the suitcase by the door.
"Yes, Blair, I am. Time to head back to Cabot Cove."
"Got a minute?"
"For proving Mrs. Garrett was innocent. For letting me know Deana was innocent. For being there. Being a friend."
"Well, it was my pleasure, Blair."
"You've got to come visit us again, sometime, Jessie," Mrs. Garrett said.
"Yes, but, when you pack your suitcase, promise me you'll leave something at home," Blair said.
"What's that?"
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*THE END*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~