The Wild Blue Yonder
Disclaimer: This short story is a work of fiction and was written purely for fun. I don’t own the characters and my intention is not to infringe upon anyone else’s copyright. I also do not intend to profit from this endeavor. That said, thank you to Universal and Donald Bain, respectively, for the wonderful characters Jessica Fletcher and George Sutherland. I would also like to extend a very special thank you to Anne, not only for her assistance with the editing and veterinary-related information, but also for allowing Tipper to join Jessica and Seth on this adventure. I hope that I have remained true to the wonderful character that Anne has created.
Editor’s Disclaimer: I’ve been reading bits and pieces of this story since its conception, and can swear, cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye, that Stephanie came up with her plot twist involving the airplane long before Donald Bain independently came up with his. -Anne
Jessica poured herself a tall, refreshing glass of iced tea and sat down at her kitchen table to rest for a few minutes after spending the afternoon working in the yard – pulling weeds and tending to her rose bushes, which were particularly beautiful this year. She had closed her eyes and was enjoying the cool, gentle breeze that blew through the house when she heard a light knock on the door. The knock was followed by a squeak as the door opened and Tipper Henderson poked her head into Jessica’s kitchen.
Jessica opened her eyes and beckoned Tipper inside for a glass of iced tea.
“You mean Doc Hazlitt hasn’t fixed that yet?” Tipper asked as she stepped into the kitchen, half hoping that Seth was lurking somewhere close by.
“No, it’s next on my list of things to do today. Seth has been exceptionally busy this week, covering for Doctor Rush while he’s on vacation,” Jessica explained before setting Tipper’s glass down on the table and offering her a small plate of cookies.
Tipper declined the cookies and instead added a small amount of sugar and lemon to her iced tea. “Before I forget,” she started to say as she reached into her pocket and removed a single key, “your house key.” Tipper slid the key to the center of the table and sipped at her tea.
Just as Jessica sat down to join her guest, the telephone began to ring.
“Hello,” she answered brightly once she had lifted the receiver to her ear. Upon hearing Jed Richardson’s voice on the other end, she asked the owner and operator of Jed’s Flying Service, “Are we still on for tomorrow?”
“Oh, Jed, I’m sorry to hear that,” Jessica offered sympathetically. “Is there anything that I can do for her?”
While Jessica and Jed spoke Tipper sat quietly, enjoying her tea and trying very hard not to eavesdrop.
“Maybe Doctor Henderson would like to join us tomorrow at the Blueberry Festival?” Jessica suggested loudly enough that Tipper couldn’t ignore her.
veterinarian nodded her head in agreement.
With a three day weekend ahead of her she was game for something new, and
despite the fact that she had been born and raised in
Early the following morning Seth pulled his car away from Jessica’s curb and announced that they were running five minutes ahead of schedule.
“Good,” Jessica replied, “we have plenty of time to pick up Tipper and we’ll still be right on time.”
“You never said anything about Doctor Henderson joining us,” Seth grumbled.
“Jed called yesterday afternoon and Alicia is laid up with her back, so Tipper is taking her place.”
“Alicia didn’t call me,” Seth complained, “and I’m her doctor.”
“Yes, Seth, I’m aware of that and so is Alicia, but she knows how busy you’ve been this week with Doc Rush on vacation. Jed said that she was planning to rest in bed for a day or two and she’s taking the muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories that you prescribed for her the last time that her back went out. If it doesn’t improve, she’s planning to schedule an appointment with her physical therapist on Monday.”
“That all sounds well and good but I should see her before we leave,” Seth decided.
“Is there anything that she should be doing that she isn’t already?”
“Well, no,” he sputtered as he parked the car in front of Tipper’s house.
Jessica laid her hand gently on Seth’s arm. “Why don’t you check on her when we get to the airport and then try to enjoy your day off?”
“I can do that,” he agreed. “Now, we’re going to be late if…” but before he could finish his complaint that Tipper wasn’t ready yet, she jogged down the walkway to the car and climbed into the back seat.
“Morning, Jessica…Doctor Hazlitt,” she offered cheerily as she settled into the back seat, “ready to go?”
“Ayuh,” Seth answered.
Jessica and Tipper chatted
enthusiastically while Seth drove them to the
“I’ll just check on Alicia then,” Seth said before getting out of the car and retrieving his black medical bag from the back seat.
For the first year after the Richardsons had moved to Cabot Cove they had lived in an old farm house that was located on the airport grounds and which was provided to the airport manager free of charge. During that first year they purchased a parcel of land adjacent to the airport property and built their own home there. The farm house was now used by the city as a rental property but currently stood vacant.
While Seth tended to Alicia, Jessica and Tipper went into the terminal, a small concrete block building that had been painted white with green trim. Since Jed had taken over operations at the airport, it had been rejuvenated. In the past several years the city had built a new fifteen thousand square foot maintenance hanger as well as twenty new T-hangers for storing private airplanes. Another large hangar stored several commercial aircraft.
Construction on a new terminal had begun in early June and was scheduled to be finished by mid-October if all went well. While Alicia and Jed had cleaned up the old terminal, given it a fresh coat of paint and replaced most of the furnishings with newer used pieces, the building was definitely in need of being replaced.
Jed was behind the counter, talking
on the telephone with a customer who wished to schedule a charter flight to
Tipper listened to the terminal’s
radio, which broadcasted the chatter of pilots preparing to take off and land,
while she watched their activities through a large picture window. While she enjoyed watching the buzz of activity
outside and she didn’t mind flying commercially, she had no intention of ever setting
foot inside a small airplane. She checked
the time and quickly calculated that the three plus hour drive would put them
Jed completed his call, making notes on his calendar regarding the specifics of the flight before replacing the receiver. “Is Seth checking on Alicia?” he asked as he wrote.
“Yes,” the women answered together.
“Well, I’ve already done the pre-flight on the Skylane and filed our flight plan so why don’t you ladies load up while I get my flight bag ready to go?” Jed suggested.
“What do you mean ‘load up’?” Tipper asked hesitantly.
Jed looked at Jessica who now
realized that she had forgotten to mention to Tipper that they were flying to
“Does flying make you nervous, Doctor Henderson?” Jed asked with complete sincerity.
“No, flying doesn’t make me nervous. But being hurtled toward the ground at over two hundred miles per hour in little more than a tin can certainly does,” she said, correcting him.
As a seasoned pilot, Jed had no intention of forcing anyone who wasn’t willing into an airplane. Over his career as a commercial airline pilot he had accumulated numerous stories about passengers who had become hysterical while in the air because they were afraid of flying. At least in a commercial airplane there was a barrier between the cockpit and the passengers, but that was not the case in a private airplane.
He had intended to offer Tipper the use of the courtesy car to drive herself back into town, but before he could suggest it Jessica intervened with a few words of empathetic encouragement.
“I was a bit apprehensive myself, when I started taking lessons,” Jessica admitted as she sat down on the large sectional couch that filled nearly a quarter of the small building.
“You took flying lessons?” Tipper asked, amazed.
“Yes. I was doing research for a book and Jed offered to give me a few lessons. I had so much fun that I kept at it and eventually earned my private pilot’s certificate.”
“Wait a minute,” Tipper said, waving off Jessica’s story. “You don’t even drive a car.”
“No, I don’t. But I do have a license to fly an airplane,” Jessica announced before removing her pilot’s certificate from her purse and handing it to Tipper.
Tipper regarded the small green card that she now held in her hand and tried to envision Jessica at the controls of a small plane.
“Ready to go?” Seth asked impatiently after entering through the rear door of the building. “I don’t want to miss the pancake breakfast,” he added before noticing that the room was silent and that all eyes were on Tipper.
Tipper handed the card back to Jessica and mumbled something about calling a taxi.
“What’s the matter, Doctor Henderson? You afraid of flying?” Seth blurted out.
“No,” Tipper said defiantly as she stood from the couch. “Let’s go,” she insisted before turning toward the door and marching out to the parking ramp where Jed’s red, gold and white Cessna 182-RG waited.
“Let’s go,” Seth repeated happily as he followed her. Jed grabbed his black flight bag and after being assured by Jessica that Tipper would be fine, they joined the others on the parking ramp.
“Tipper, would you like the co-pilot seat?” Jessica offered as they stood on the ground next to the four seat plane.
“No, no, that’s quite alright, Jessica,” she said as she stepped up onto the foot grip mounted on the landing gear. “I’ll be fine right back here,” she added as she climbed into the back seat, where Seth was already waiting, and secured her seatbelt.
“Jessica, do you mind if I take the right seat?” Jed asked as he walked around the plane after stowing his flight bag on the floor between the rear seats.
“What?” Tipper exclaimed. “Jessica’s going to fly the plane!”
“No,” Jessica assured her very calmly. “Jed can fly the plane from the right seat.”
“I teach from the right hand seat,” Jed explained after he climbed in.
Tipper let out a very noticeable sigh of relief. “Sorry, Jessica, nothing personal,” she added when she realized how melodramatic she must have sounded. It wasn’t that Tipper didn’t trust Jessica, but if she was actually going to go through with this, she would much prefer to have a professional pilot at the controls.
Jed gave Jessica one of his David
Clark headsets and offered Tipper her choice of a headset, ear plugs or ear
protectors. She chose the ear plugs,
figuring that she was better off being oblivious to any and all conversations
that Jed might have while piloting them north to
Jed taxied the plane to the holding point and because the airport was too small for an air traffic control tower, radioed his intentions to the other airplanes in the area over the general radio frequency.
Tipper said a silent prayer and closed her eyes as Jed taxied the plane onto the runway and increased speed. Angela Elizabeth Henderson, you’ve gone completely insane, she thought to herself as the plane lifted off the runway. She clutched her seat and kept her eyes tightly closed and somehow managed to survive take off without screaming. Eventually, she opened her eyes just wide enough to see that they were flying along the coastline. What a view!
Very quickly she became too
distracted by the beauty below to worry about where she was. Coastal
In less than an hour’s time they
were on the ground again, having landed at the
“Look at all of these airplanes,” Tipper commented to Jessica while Jed and Seth tied down the Skylane.
“Look there,” Jessica said, pointing almost directly above them, “a sky writer.” Tipper looked skyward and watched as the red, white and black plane created its message of welcome to everyone below.
“What is all of this?” Tipper asked as she surveyed the airfield. “I’ve never seen so many small planes.”
“It’s called a fly-in,” Jessica explained. “It’s a social event for pilots.”
Tipper began to walk along a row of airplanes that was parked on the grass, bordering the parking ramp. Even without knowing anything about airplanes she was aware of the pride that each owner took in his or her aircraft. It was something akin to a classic car show. Of particular interest to all of those in attendance was a fully restored DeHaviland Beaver, a red and black bi-plane with the insignia of the ‘Red Baron,’ a mustard colored P-51 mustang, and a bright blue and yellow tri-plane. There was also a group of smaller experimental and home built aircraft including one with its propeller mounted on the rear of the plane.
At one point Tipper stopped to watch as a sleek, bright purple number taxied onto the parking ramp and was deftly maneuvered until it fit in line with the others. After shutting down the engine and waiting for the propeller to stop turning, a woman with long, bright red hair leaped down from the cockpit and was greeted by another female pilot.
Seth caught up with them just as they reached the gate that allowed people to enter and exit the tarmac. There was nothing more than a chain link fence and padlock to keep people out when the gate was closed. Perhaps there is other security that isn’t so obvious, Tipper thought as she looked around in search of something that she may have missed.
As they approached a sign that advertised free shuttle service to the festival, they were greeted by a small group of men from the airport board, as well as the airport manager, who informed them that they were welcome to wait under the shade tree and a shuttle would be there to transport them shortly. As they waited Jessica spotted Jed carrying his flight bag in one hand and his briefcase in the other, making his way across the parking ramp. She also noticed that he was greeted warmly by most of the pilots who were milling about, socializing. It had been Jessica’s experience that Jed was not only a charismatic individual but also an honest businessman, so it didn’t surprise her in the least that he was popular among his fellow pilots.
Just as she was planning to call out to him, the airport manager, who was now holding court with two of the local pilots, cursed loudly and angrily regarding Jed’s presence. Jessica was taken aback as the man had seemed to be very friendly when he had greeted them just five minutes earlier.
Noticing the three men in heated conversation as he approached his own group, Jed limited his interaction with them to an acknowledging nod.
“Here’s the shuttle,” Jed announced as a gray van pulled into the airport parking lot. “I have a little business to attend to and then I’ll catch up with you at the park.”
“We can wait until you’re finished,” Jessica offered, much to Seth’s dismay.
“Don’t worry, Doc, I’m sure they’ll save you some,” Tipper half-whispered, earning her a stern look from Seth.
“That’s okay, Jess, I’ll be an hour or two and I don’t want Seth to miss out,” Jed replied with a note of humor. “We submitted a bid to the airport board for the management contract here and they are announcing their decision at the end of their meeting, which starts in about a fifteen minutes,” he explained as he adjusted his flight bag, moving it from his hand to his shoulder.
“You and Alicia aren’t planning on leaving Cabot Cove?” Jessica asked, both disheartened and surprised by the idea.
“No, Jessica, we’re not,” he assured her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder, “but we are ready to expand,” he explained, “and this place has a great deal of potential…if it’s managed correctly,” he added quietly.
The trio filled up on blueberry pancakes, eggs and sausage links. The park, which was the site of the festival, was a two block square, grassy area that was surrounded on all sides by cobblestone streets and historic buildings that still served as the center of business and government for the small town. The streets were lined with vendors and crafters and the group soon agreed that there was no limit to the number of products that could be made from or inspired by blueberries.
Jessica purchased a birthday present for Donna and Tipper couldn’t resist adding to her vast collection of t-shirts by purchasing a humorous one promoting the festival. They took their time and after meeting up with Jed continued to enjoy all of the day’s events.
“You up for a challenge, Doc?” Tipper asked when she noticed a sign promoting the upcoming pie eating contest.
“Not if that’s what you have in mind,” Seth begged off after eying the poster that informed anyone who was interested that they could sign up in the events tent.
“Does he even know how to have a good time?” Tipper asked Jessica and Jed, trying unsuccessfully to bait Seth into joining her.
“Runner-up, Doctor Henderson, I’m impressed,” Jed said after the contest was over and Tipper had wiped off the majority of pie crust and filling that had covered her face. “What did you win?”
“Everything I’ve always wanted,” she answered with a grin: “two homemade pies - blueberry, of course - two free flight lessons, and another t-shirt,” she answered.
When they arrived back at the airport Jed introduced Jessica, Seth and Tipper to a few members of the airport board who were still hanging around outside the terminal building, seeing the last few pilots off. Jed had been awarded the management contract at the airport and would start providing services in six weeks.
After noticing a group of storm clouds far off in the distance Jed excused himself to check the weather and to file his flight plan while Jessica, Seth and Tipper chatted with two board members who seemed very happy to have Jed on board.
“We had a good turn out today but typically I would say that the number of flight operations here has declined by more than seventy five percent over the past three years,” Bud Moore, the senior member of the board, explained.
“We are very happy to have your friend taking over, especially after what he has accomplished at the airport in Cabot Cove,” Nancy Turcott commented. “This used to be such a nice, small town airport and now it’s just dead. This is the only weekend all year that it’s busy and that’s only because of the Blueberry Festival.”
“I would think that in a town the
“In years past, there were,” Bud answered, just before Jed exited the building and informed them that they had better get in the air if they wanted to avoid the thunderheads that were approaching from the west.
Tipper was the first one to reach the plane, but she didn’t climb in right away.
“Are you alright?” Jessica asked, concerned that Tipper might be nervous about the approaching storm, which Jed had assured them was far enough away that it wouldn’t affect their flight if they left now.
“Yes, I’m fine,” she answered, tentatively. “I was just wondering if you might be willing to change seats with me.”
“Of course,” Jessica agreed happily before climbing in and joining Seth in the back seat.
“Well, Doctor Henderson,” Jed said once he had completed his pre-flight inspection and climbed into the seat next to her, “I see you’ve been bitten by the bug.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” she replied cautiously, “but since I have to do this again, I thought that I might as well see what it’s all about from up close,” she said rather convincingly as she twisted a strand of her long auburn hair around her index finger.
Jed gave Tipper a headset and helped her to adjust the mouthpiece. After they were airborne he asked her to hold his map, which he had folded to make more manageable. He explained the different symbols on the map and provided a brief explanation of the numerous dials, knobs and switches that were staring at her.
“I think I’ll stick with my Civic,” Tipper decided, earning her a laugh from Jed. She quickly realized why Jed was considered to be such a great flight instructor. She appreciated his effort to put her at ease but was simply happy to watch him manipulate the controls, something that he did effortlessly. When she turned to give Jessica a ‘thumbs up,’ she noticed that both Seth and Jessica had dozed off. You guys are really missing out. This is great! Tipper thought to herself before returning her attention to the scenery below.
For the next few minutes she
watched as the rugged
Panicked, she looked into the back seat again at Jessica and Seth, neither of whom had woken in the intervening time.
“Jed,” she said, tentatively poking him in the shoulder. “Jed,” she repeated in much more of a panic when he didn’t respond.
Not knowing what else to do, Tipper yelled for Jessica – a completely pointless thing to do as the roar of the engine and Jessica’s ear plugs prevented her from hearing much of anything. Tipper reached into the back seat and grabbed Jessica’s knee, causing her to wake up from her nap. Seeing the panic on Tipper’s face, Jessica retrieved an extra headset from the luggage compartment behind her seat and plugged it in so that they could hear each other.
“There’s something very wrong with Jed. He won’t wake up,” Tipper explained, her words tumbling out very quickly. “He’s still breathing but he’s definitely unconscious.”
After trying unsuccessfully to wake Jed herself, Jessica woke Seth. He tried his best to assess Jed from the back seat but it was too difficult. “I can’t tell much from here,” he told them both.
Like everyone else, Tipper was certainly worried about Jed, but that was not her number one concern at the moment. “Who’s going to land this thing?” she finally blurted out when neither Jessica nor Seth seemed the least bit concerned about how they were going to get back on the ground in one piece.
“Don’t look at me,” Seth answered, and immediately both he and Tipper looked to Jessica, who was momentarily speechless.
After taking a deep breath, Jessica began to implement a very quickly formulated plan. Tipper reached across Jed’s lap and released the lever that allowed the seat to recline. After removing his headset Jessica and Seth pulled him into the back seat between them, causing the weight inside to be unevenly distributed. The plane nosed upward, startling Tipper and causing her to become even more distressed. Jessica slid into Jed’s seat and leveled the plane out long before there was any risk of it stalling.
Jessica scanned instrument panel. Next, she took the map from Tipper and asked her to find the plane’s manual, which was probably in Jed’s flight bag.
Jessica had taken all of her lessons in a smaller plane, a Cessna Skyhawk 172. Jed’s Skylane was a high performance plane and Jessica did not have a rating for it, which meant that legally she couldn’t be the pilot in command.
After getting a better look at Jed,
Seth recommended returning to
In preparation for landing she
paged through the Skylane’s manual to find the proper landing speed and flaps setting. When
Fortunately, air traffic was very light and Jessica didn’t have to wait. As she maneuvered the plane to enter the landing pattern an alarm sounded in the cockpit and an orange light began to flash. Landing gear! Jessica thought when she saw the flashing light. The Skyhawk that Jessica had always piloted had fixed gear and she wasn’t accustomed to having to raise and lower the landing gear. She moved the lever but did not hear the gear come down.
When she looked out her window, she did not see a wheel. “Tipper, do you have a wheel on your side,” she asked as calmly as she could.
“No, should I?” Tipper responded after peering out the window.
Jessica adjusted her course and left the pattern in order to evaluate the situation further. Wisely, she radioed the terminal for assistance. Tipper immediately lost all color when Jessica was informed that the recommended course of action was for one of the able bodied passengers to open the door, lean out, and manually pull the landing gear into the down position.
“They’re not serious?” Tipper exclaimed in disbelief, knowing that if Jessica was flying the plane and Seth was taking care of Jed that it was up to her to get the gear down.
“Tipper, I know that you can do this,” Jessica assured her very calmly. “We can secure you with your shoulder harness just in case,” she added in an effort to make both of them feel better about the situation.
After resigning herself to the idea, Tipper lowered her head and said a silent prayer before releasing the clasp on her seatbelt. She pushed the seat back as far as it would go and wrapped the strap around her arm several times, gripping the end tightly in her clenched fist. It was a tight squeeze but eventually she was able to get to a kneeling position on the floor and after giving herself a last second pep talk, she opened the door. Perched in the open doorway, the wind lashed at her while she struggled to reach the landing gear. With her hair whipping in her face, she pulled with all of the strength that she could muster - once, twice and finally a third time before the gear lowered completely.
She pulled the door closed and struggled back into her seat before looking heavenward and thanking the Lord for giving her the strength that she had needed. “Now what?” she asked Jessica, hoping that the worst was behind them.
“We hope that the landing gear doesn’t collapse when we set down,” Jessica said matter-of-factly before maneuvering the plane back into the landing pattern.
What! Tipper exclaimed silently to herself as she jammed her fist into her mouth to keep from screaming.
Jessica went through a mental check list in preparation for landing and radioed each leg of the pattern to the other traffic in the area and to the terminal below. “N-2-3-5-8-Charlie, on final approach for runway 34,” was her last radio message before powering down the engine and gliding the plane down onto the runway, touching down directly on the numbers but bouncing hard enough to jar everyone inside before setting it back down again more smoothly. After applying the brakes and slowing the plane, she taxied to the parking ramp nearest the terminal and saw that the ambulance had already arrived.
After killing the engine Jessica caught Tipper in a huge hug, which was interrupted when the paramedics opened the doors and helped the women out of the plane. Next they removed Jed, who was still unconscious, and placed him on a gurney. When Seth climbed out he was met by a local doctor who happened to be in the airport’s terminal when Jessica’s initial call had come over the radio. Seth provided the paramedics and Doctor Howard with Jed’s medical history and explained what had happened while they were in the air.
Benjamin Howard was a very handsome and composed young man and if Tipper hadn’t been on her knees kissing the ground, she might have actually given him a second look. As it was, when she tried to stand up she became instantly lightheaded. She began to sway and then collapsed. If she hadn’t fallen into the arms of the young doctor, who had been watching her closely, she would have fallen and struck her head on the asphalt.
“Whoa, I was afraid that that might happen,” Howard said as he caught her. “Why don’t we just lay you down right here for a minute,” he suggested as he slowly lowered her to the ground. As the paramedics, accompanied by Seth, had already departed for the hospital and he wasn’t the doctor on call, he decided that it was best to keep an eye on Tipper until she recovered from the shock that followed her heroic actions.
After Tipper insisted (for the third time) that she was fine and the doctor finally agreed, Ben drove both women to the hospital to check on their friend.
Once they arrived at the emergency room they were led into the only occupied treatment room, where they found Jed and Seth. A pale teal curtain separated Jed, who was now awake but not looking well, from Seth and the doctor-on-call, Dr. Adam Flathers. The treatment room was in pristine condition and by Tipper’s estimate couldn’t have been more than a year or two old.
Dr. Howard suggested that they say hello to their friend and then excused himself to visit two of his own patients.
“Jed, it’s good to see you awake,” Jessica said as she approached one side of the treatment table. Tipper took a place on the other side and inquired as to how he was feeling, although there was little doubt that he felt horrible.
Cringing and rubbing his forehead, he answered, “To be honest, I’ve never been so physically exhausted in my entire life and my head feels like it’s been crushed in a vise.”
“Have they told you what happened?” Jessica asked.
“No, they haven’t told me anything and whatever they’ve done to me, they did it before I woke up,” he answered, looking at the I.V. that was dripping fluid into his arm. The clear plastic bag, now half empty, contained a clear fluid labeled as a saline and glucose drip. A good sign, Tipper thought.
When Seth began to yell in a whisper, a talent that he was noted for, everyone’s attention was immediately drawn to the curtain that divided the room.
“I don’t care what your lab tests show, that man is neither hypoglycemic nor diabetic. I should know. I’ve been his doctor for the past dozen years,” Seth insisted adamantly.
“Then how do you explain the fact that he had a blood sugar of 24 when he arrived?” Flathers shot back.
Before Seth could answer, they were interrupted by a middle-aged woman who stood in the doorway. She was wearing a white smock and holding several sheets of green paper in her hand. “Excuse me, Dr. Flathers, we were told that you wanted the rest of Mr. Richardson’s lab results as soon as they were available.”
“Yes, I do,” Flathers answered as he crossed the room and took the papers. “Thank you,” he said almost absently as he began to review the reports. He held one of the papers out in Seth’s direction and stabbed it with his index finger before lowering his voice. “See, Doctor, he has metaformin in his system.”
“Let me see that,” Seth said incredulously, maintaining a loud whisper. After snatching it from Flathers’ fingers Seth adjusted his glasses and began to read. “This can’t be right. There must have been a mix-up in your lab because the only medications that Mr. Richardson takes are over-the-counter Prilosec and the occasional ibuprofen.”
“It’s not only accurate, but this man has no business flying an airplane, a fact that I should know because I happen to be an FAA certified physician. Besides that, he had enough medication in his system to make me think that he may have overdosed intentionally.”
It wasn’t merely Flathers’ words and attitude that nearly sent Seth through the roof, but also the fact that he, too, was a certified flight examiner for the FAA. In addition, he had performed Jed’s annual flight physical every year since Jed and his wife had moved to Cabot Cove. And he certainly knew Jed well enough to know that the man was in no way suicidal.
Listening closely and sensing that Seth was about to make a major scene, Jessica intervened. Leaving Tipper with Jed, she moved to the other side of the curtain, where she placed a calming hand on Seth’s arm and in an equally calming voice asked, “Seth, what’s the matter?”
Fortunately, that was enough for Seth to regain his composure. “Jessica, this is Dr. Flathers, the doctor on call today,” he said gruffly, but respectfully. “Dr. Flathers, this is Mrs. Fletcher, a friend of Mr. Richardson.”
After Jessica and the doctor had exchanged greetings Seth started to explain the situation. As for Tipper, she remained at Jed’s side, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t eager to hear what was being said. And after adjusting her chair slightly, she managed to eavesdrop without too much difficulty.
Seth decided that the sensible thing would be to begin with the facts. “Jed passed out because his blood sugar dropped too low. His glucose level was only 24 when he got to the hospital.”
Jessica was stunned. As an aviator herself, she knew the dangers of piloting an airplane with low blood sugar and she knew for a fact that Jed kept glucose tablets in the first aid kit of each of his airplanes, just in case of an emergency. “How can that be? I know for sure that he ate at least two hotdogs, a hamburger and a piece of blueberry pie between noon and the time that we left.”
“Well, Jess, they found metaformin in his system. It’s a medication for diabetes,” Seth continued.
“But Jed isn’t diabetic, Seth. You know that.”
“Of course I know that, woman, but Dr. Flathers here doesn’t seem to believe me and to make matters worse, he thinks that Jed may have purposely overdosed in an attempt to…to commit suicide.”
“Jed would never do that,” Jessica insisted, keeping her voice low.
“He might if he thought that he was never going to be able to fly again,” Flathers proposed.
“No, I just don’t believe it,” Jessica decided, shaking her head. “There has to be another explanation.”
“Regardless, in all good conscience, I have to report this to the FAA,” Flathers pointed out.
“Yes, of course you do,” Jessica conceded, “but I also suggest that you consider the possibility that someone may have intentionally drugged Jed, and that should be reported to the local authorities.”
Before Flathers could respond he was interrupted by a voice on the overhead speaker system, “Code Blue, room A-14. Code Blue, room A-14.” He dropped Jed’s chart and lab reports onto the counter and dashed out of the room.
Much like driving past an automobile accident, Jessica, Seth and Tipper were all drawn to watch the frantic scene being played out just across the hall. One by one the other members of the code team hurried into the room and finally someone yanked a curtain closed, obstructing their view.
Voices from behind the curtain could still be heard, including one very calm, controlled voice that Tipper thought she recognized as belonging to Dr. Ben. After nearly twenty minutes a few members of the team, looking hot and tired but relieved, began to emerge from the room. “What’s going on?” Jed asked after waking again to find his trio of visitors standing just inside his room, but looking out into the hall.
The sound of Jed’s voice startled them all, causing them to turn in his direction, but not before Tipper locked eyes with Ben as he, too, came out from behind the curtain. She smiled, not a flirtatious smile, but rather one that conveyed respect and understanding. Ben responded with a simple nod, nothing more, as he passed.
Tipper watched him for another minute as he stepped behind the nurses’ station and began to write orders in the patient’s chart while at the same time verbalizing those same orders to one of the nurses, a beautiful young blonde with big brown eyes. His brow glistened with sweat under the bright fluorescent lights and perspiration had begun to soak through his gray t-shirt, all evidence of a well-fought battle.
He went about his business in a professional yet casual manner, chatting amiably with the staff as he did so. He was polite and respectful and somehow he even managed to dismiss the flirtatious blonde who looked at him with doe-like eyes and hung on his every word, without being rude.
Ugh, Tipper thought as she rolled her eyes. He’s not that good looking…well, maybe he is, but have a little self respect.
When Tipper returned her gaze to Ben, he was staring right at her. She felt her face begin to flush and immediately ducked back into Jed’s room.
Jed had suggested that Jessica, Seth and Tipper charter a plane back to Cabot Cove at his expense, while he stayed behind. His plan was to call one of his own A&P’s to drive up to inspect the Skylane before flying it back to Cabot Cove sometime the following day. Despite his protests his friends decided to spend the night and return to Cabot Cove with him the following day. If he couldn’t fly, Jessica would try to schedule her biennial flight review with one of the local flight instructors sometime the following day and then she would fly everyone back home – legally.
While they waited for Dr. Flathers to complete Jed’s discharge paperwork, Jessica, Tipper and Seth went in search of the hospital cafeteria. The dining room could best be described as cozy and offered seating for no more than twenty people. As they perused the menu posted next to the door leading to the kitchen, a voice from behind them suggested that they avoid anything other than dessert and coffee.
“Dr. Howard, I didn’t see you there,” Jessica said.
Ben looked freshly showered and had changed into Levi’s and a white t-shirt with the U Penn Med School insignia on the pocket. He was carrying an orange tray with an empty coffee cup and a plate that contained a small portion of unfinished blueberry cobbler.
Seth eyed the remaining cobbler with a degree of skepticism. “It was really quite good, Doctor Hazlitt,” he offered, “but to be honest, I’ll be happy when blueberry season is over. There is a limit to how many blueberries a man can be expected to eat.”
Jessica laughed softly and nodded her head in agreement. “We were just planning on having a cup of coffee. I think we got our share of blueberries at the festival today.”
“Speak for yourself, woman,” Seth replied as he eyed the desserts that were on display.
Ben laughed warmly and shook his head in amusement before suggesting that Seth try the Boston cream pie.
“I think I’ll do that,” Seth decided before stepping into line.
“Glad to be of help,” Ben responded politely. He then excused himself to check on his patient one last time before leaving.
“Before you go,” Jessica said, “could you recommend a hotel in town?”
“A hotel?” he repeated, a bit surprised. He had assumed that Jessica would fly the quartet back to Cabot Cove as soon as Jed was released.
“Yes, we’ve decided to stay the night and fly back tomorrow after Jed’s mechanic has a chance to come up and give the airplane a thorough going over,” Jessica explained.
sounds like a wise decision,” he replied thoughtfully. “Why don’t you try the Black Swan B&B? It’s on Hillcrest, a block off
“Oh, no, we couldn’t ask you to do that,” Tipper interjected, shaking her head. Wow, wouldn’t that be incredibly uncomfortable, she thought as she bit down on her lower lip while she tried to think of a good excuse. “We still need to run back out to the airport for a few minutes and then we should probably try to find a grocery store and a department store of some kind as none of us was planning on spending the night. And then we’ll have to find some place to eat dinner and Jessica needs to find a flight instructor to do her…what did you call it, Jess?” Tipper rattled on nervously.
“You’re rambling, Dr. Henderson,” Ben pointed out, his words causing Tipper to clam up instantly. He rocked back onto his heels and his eyes smiled brightly as he continued to look at her. He wasn’t quite sure if he found Tipper to be completely adorable or extremely annoying, but he certainly intended to find out.
Rambling! she thought to herself, stuffing her hands in her pockets and fixing him with a steely stare.
“Tipper’s right,” Jessica said. “We couldn’t possibly take up so much of your time.”
But Ben had no intention of allowing them to decline his offer. “I insist. I happen to be free the rest of the day and it would be my pleasure to chauffer you around. Besides, there is no taxi service in town,” he added, leaving them little choice but to accept his offer.
Jessica and Tipper joined Seth for pie and coffee while they waited for Jed and Ben. “Dr. Howard seems to be a very nice young man,” Jessica observed, nudging Seth with her elbow and watching Tipper closely for any reaction.
“Ayuh, a nice young fella, and a mighty fine doctor,” Seth agreed, not sure why he had been elbowed, but playing along just the same.
Tipper took a bite of pie, figuring that if her mouth was full she would be spared having to tell them what she really thought of Dr. Benjamin Howard, who incidentally had been a royal pain in the neck at the airport after she had collapsed. Extremely opinionated and darn stubborn - that’s what he was. On the other hand, based on her own observations, she had already concluded that he was a good doctor. And he did look awfully good in a pair of Levi’s. Then what was it about him that was so irritating and why did he make her so nervous? And why would he blow off a completely gorgeous nurse and then flirt with her right here in front of Jessica and Seth? “What’s up with that?” Tipper mumbled, shaking her head as she examined her fork.
“What’s up with what?” Jessica asked curiously. It was quite out of character for the young woman to be so quiet.
“Oh, nothing,” she answered, waving off Jessica’s question and taking another bite of pie. Maybe he wasn’t flirting. Yeah, that’s it. He wasn’t flirting. I imagined the whole thing.
“It looks like Tipper is smitten with Dr. Howard,” Seth teased.
Tipper looked up sharply at Seth. “Am not!” she retorted. “He’s sooooooo not my type,” she added. But maybe I am. Nah, couldn’t be. He’s a U Penn alum. Ugh! What could be worse?
A half hour later Ben parked his Pathfinder in the airport parking lot. He hopped out and unlocked the gate that separated the lot from the parking ramp, allowing Jed and his passengers access to the plane.
“I see you have pretty tight security here,” Tipper commented with a hint of sarcasm.
“Most of the local pilots have keys to the gate and a few have keys to the terminal,” Ben explained as they approached the Skylane, “otherwise there would have to be someone on duty here twenty-four seven and I don’t think that would fit into the county’s budget for the airport.”
Jessica and Seth retrieved their jackets and books from the back seat while Jed re-packed his flight bag. Tipper grabbed her sweatshirt from the left front seat, pulled it over her head, pulled her ponytail through, and then grabbed her backpack and threw it over her shoulder.
“Cornell, huh?” Ben observed, eyeing Tipper’s sweatshirt.
“As a matter of fact,” she answered defensively.
“Impressive,” he said, nodding his approval. “I like intelligent women,” he added just as Jed, Seth and Jessica walked around the tail of the plane and joined them.
Tipper looked at him, slack jawed. Now that was definitely flirting.
“Ready?” Ben asked with a broad smile.
“Yes,” they answered in a chorus with Tipper echoing their sentiments. As they approached the parking lot Jessica inquired as to whether or not Ben was one of the pilots who had a key to the terminal.
“As a matter of fact, I do. Did you leave something inside?”
Jessica shook her head. “No, I just thought that I might use the ladies’ room while I have the chance.”
Ben unlocked the terminal, flipped on the lights and pointed out the location of the bathroom before heading back to the SUV. “I think I’ll go, too,” Tipper said, staying behind with Jessica.
Once he was gone Tipper closed the door and looked at Jessica. “Okay, Jessica, what are we looking for?”
“I’m not sure – a prescription bottle or maybe some kind of powdery residue. Jed said that he had a cup of coffee while he was filing our flight plan, so maybe a coffee cup,” she answered as she stepped behind the counter and started to open drawers.
Tipper looked over at a small metal garbage can located next to the coffee maker. It was overflowing with white coffee cups, several of which had either toppled off the pile or had never made it into the can to begin with and now lay on the floor. “I guess I’ll take the garbage can,” she said with a sigh.
“Found it!” they exclaimed simultaneously as they turned to look at each other. Jessica was holding a small brown prescription pill bottle and Tipper a white coffee cup with the Star Point Aviation logo on it. Upon close inspection, Tipper had noticed what looked like a powdery residue mixed with a few coffee grounds on the bottom of the cup. After finding a box of large Ziploc bags in the storage closet, they sealed the items separately and stored them in Tipper’s backpack.
Tipper stopped for a moment to read the label on the prescription pill bottle before dropping it in. The prescription had been filled less than two weeks ago at a local pharmacy for someone by the name of Gerald Harper. Glucophage – also known as metaformin. Bingo!
“Jessica, don’t you think that Mr. Harper is going to notice that his entire bottle of pills is missing?”
“I plan to return it as soon as possible – hopefully first thing in the morning after speaking with the Sheriff. Besides, I can only think of two reasons that someone would have left it here overnight.”
Tipper looked at her expectantly.
“If Mr. Harper works here he probably left it here out of habit and has another bottle at home or in his car. If he’s one of the local pilots, he probably either assumes that he lost it, in which case it could be anywhere, or he doesn’t have a key to the terminal so he’s waiting until first thing in the morning to come looking for it.”
Tipper zipped up her backpack and threw it over her shoulder. “Works for me,” she decided. They replaced everything in its proper place, turned out the lights and locked the door before walking back to Ben’s Pathfinder.
“It’s about time,” Seth said impatiently when Jessica and Tipper joined him in the back seat. “What took you so two so long?”
“Uh, I’m not feeling so well,” Tipper said, giving Seth her best ‘I can’t go to school today’ look. “Maybe I’m finally crashing after the big adrenaline rush.”
“Could be,” Seth agreed much to Tipper’s relief.
By nine o’clock they had purchased a change of clothes and other overnight necessities, checked into the Black Swan and eaten dinner at the local steak house. Ben had turned out to be a perfect gentleman. He had opened Tipper’s door for her and then anticipating her reaction to that had very casually raced her to the restaurant door and opened that one too. Drat! He had even pulled her chair out for her when they were shown to the table by the hostess, an act which was rewarded with a few sarcastic words from Tipper. “I suppose you’re going to order for me now, too,” she whispered.
His smile was smug. “I wouldn’t even consider it,” he responded in a low voice right next to her ear as he seated himself in a chair adjacent to hers. He was confident and relaxed; was polite and courteous; drank his milk and ate his vegetables. No Poptarts in his pantry, she thought. Worst of all, he still made Tipper nervous, especially when his knee brushed against hers under the table. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had only happened once, but no, it had happened several times, causing her pulse to quicken and giving her a warm feeling inside each time. And he knew exactly what he was doing.
Ben dropped them off at the B&B again after dinner and agreed to drive Jessica and Jed to the airport early the next morning before heading into the hospital to do rounds. Jed excused himself and headed straight up to his room in hopes of getting a good night’s sleep. Jessica invited Ben to join them for coffee, but he declined.
“Thanks for the invite, Mrs. Fletcher, but Katie’s waiting for me and if I don’t get home soon I’m sure to be in the dog house.”
This immediately caught Tipper’s attention. Katie? Schmuck! she thought followed by a mental head slap. I should have known. Tipper slammed the SUV’s door quite a bit harder than she had intended, turned on her heel and marched up the sidewalk. Without turning around, she gave a wave and muttered, “I’m going to bed.”
“Wow, is she always this cranky?” Ben wondered a bit too loudly.
Jessica leveled Seth with a look that said ‘don’t you dare,’ catching him before he could utter a single syllable.
“I heard that,” Tipper yelled from the front porch before opening the door and disappearing inside.
“I think Tipper’s had a very long day but I’m sure she’ll be herself again by morning,” Jessica explained. “She was a little nervous about flying in a small plane to begin with and after what happened today I wouldn’t blame her if she never gets on board one again.” It was a good excuse, Jessica thought, but probably not the true root of the problem.
After saying their goodbyes to Ben and thanking him for his help, Jessica and Seth decided to prolong the evening with a game of chess. “I’ll get the coffee if you set up the board,” Jessica had offered. The B&B provided three full meals per day for its guests, all of which were prepared in the main kitchen. Just off the sitting room, there was also a small kitchenette area with coffee maker, toaster, microwave, and a small refrigerator/freezer, stocked with individual cartons of milk, juice and snacks. This is where Jessica found Tipper – dipping a large spoon into a one pint container of Ben & Jerry’s Pfish Food.
“Would you like to join Seth and me for coffee and a board game?” Jessica asked as she searched for coffee cups.
“Sure, but I think I’ll just watch,” Tipper replied tiredly.
Tipper’s lack of enthusiasm didn’t go unnoticed but Jessica decided that it was best not to pry, at least not yet.
Seth, who always looked forward to his little verbal sparring matches with Tipper, also noticed her subdued demeanor and focused his attention on the chess match instead of baiting her, as he was prone to doing.
Midway through the match Tipper unzipped her backpack, reached inside and rummaged around for a small package of travel Kleenex. As she pulled her hand out the zipper opened wider and several items spilled out, including the plastic bags containing the used coffee cup and prescription bottle.
Oops, she thought to herself. She hurriedly threw everything back inside and zipped up the bag but when she looked up she saw Seth, who didn’t look the least bit happy.
“What did you just stuff back in there,” he wanted to know.
“Ah…my prescription,” Tipper answered, “and a cup…for water. I can’t swallow pills without water,” she added, looking incredibly guilty.
“Not likely,” Seth responded before turning his attention to Jessica. “Would you like to tell me what she’s hiding in her backpack?”
Tipper was up and out of her chair in a heartbeat. “I think I’ll go get some fresh air.”
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Seth said, grabbing her pack from behind as she tried to step past his chair.
Tipper and Jessica looked at each other. “You might as well show him,” Jessica told her.
Reluctantly, Tipper set her pack down on the edge of the coffee table and opened it. She removed the two bags, handed them to Seth and then looked at Jessica again.
“Go ahead and get some fresh air,” Jessica told her. “I’ll explain.”
Tipper grabbed her backpack and her Ben & Jerry’s and headed out the front door. The wrap around porch had several comfortable chairs. She picked one and deciding that there was just enough light to read by, removed a hardcover book from her pack. She curled up in the chair with her book in one hand and a spoonful of ice cream in the other. The temperature had cooled but not so much that she needed more than her sweatshirt to keep warm. There was a light breeze that carried on it the sounds of the occasional passing car, the cheers from what she suspected was probably a baseball game, and someone searching for his dog – a whistle and a ‘here girl.’
She turned a page and was nearing the bottom when she heard the familiar sound of a dog trotting up the sidewalk. Without hesitation the animal climbed the stairs and sat down next to Tipper’s chair. She was a beautiful chocolate Labrador retriever. Two metal tags dangled from the dog’s orange nylon collar and they jangled a bit when the dog cocked its head to one side and eyed Tipper’s ice cream.
Tipper set her book and snack aside and untucked her legs from beneath her. “Well, aren’t you a sweetheart?” she asked, slowly reaching out to pet the dog. “I think someone is looking for you,” she added softly as she continued to caress the dog while also trying to read its tags. Unfortunately, the only thing that Tipper could make out was that one tag was for a rabies vaccination. That’s good. “Why don’t we go for a little walk?”
Tipper got up from her chair, descended the steps and strode toward the sidewalk that paralleled the street. She walked to the corner, where there was a street light, and the dog followed and sat down next to her when she stopped. Tipper knelt down to read the tags.
“There you are,” she heard a calm, but firm voice say from half a block away. The dog turned her head, stood and trotted slowly down the sidewalk to her owner. “Sorry about Katie,” the man apologized as he approached.
He stopped short. “Oh, it’s you,” he added, obviously surprised to see Tipper.
The dog walked back over to Tipper, nudged her with her nose and then sat down, all the while wagging her tail. Tipper looked at Katie, smiled and began to massage both of her ears. “And this is Katie?” Tipper asked, arching one eyebrow and looking back up at Ben.
“Yeah, this is Katie.” His answer was followed by an awkward moment of silence while Tipper played with the dog. “I thought you were going to go to bed?” he asked at length.
“I opted for ice cream instead,” she answered as she scratched the dog along the length of her back.
“It wasn’t chocolate ice cream, was it?”
Tipper looked up, regarding him curiously for a moment before answering. “Ben & Jerry’s Pfish Food.”
“Well, that explains it,” he said as he knelt down and looked Katie in the eye. The dog, tail wagging, stood up, turned in a circle and then sat down again, obviously pleased with herself. “No more chocolate ice cream,” Ben scolded. Katie lay down, but her tail was still wagging.
“I swear she can track down a bowl of chocolate ice cream a mile away, can’t you girl?” he added before giving her a pat on the head. Katie rolled onto her back and laid there with her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth. “No, I’m not rubbing your belly,” he told her sternly. Katie stayed on her back just long enough to decide that she wasn’t going to get her way and then rolled back onto her side and rested her head on one paw.
When Ben looked back at Tipper, she was smiling. He stood and shoved his hands in his pockets. Good one, Ben, she probably thinks you’re a complete idiot – you shouldn’t have mentioned the ice cream thing. “Well, we’d better go if we’re going to catch the last few innings of the Legion game,” he said, glancing down the street toward the ballpark.
Baseball! “Are they playing under the lights?” Tipper asked.
Ben looked up into the night sky. “I certainly hope so,” he answered. “It’s the second game of a double header. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch two or three innings. It just depends how the first game went.” He paused, looked at her again and asked, “Would you like to come with us?”
“Yes!” Tipper exclaimed, “I love baseball.” She ran back to the porch, grabbed her ice cream carton and spoon and took them inside. When she stepped back out onto the porch she found Ben holding her book in his hand. “Good book,” he said as he handed it to her.
Tipper slid the book into her backpack and zipped it closed. She dug out her wallet from the small front compartment, grabbed some cash, shoved it into her pocket and set her backpack just inside the front door. The Cabot Covers were the only ones staying at the B&B tonight and with Seth and Jessica still playing chess, she felt comfortable leaving it in the foyer.
Jed Richardson groaned as he tried to get comfortable in bed. He had a headache of monster proportions and knew that if he was going to fly everyone home the next day he would need to get some sleep. As he descended the stairs in search of something to lessen the pounding in his head, he heard Jessica explaining to Seth about the prescription bottle and cup.
Jed stopped midway down the flight of stairs and leaned against the railing. “But, Jessica, I hadn’t even met Gerry Harper until this morning at the board meeting and he wasn’t anywhere near the coffee pot when I poured myself a cup.”
Jessica and Seth’s heads turned in unison. “Jed,” Jessica exclaimed in surprise. “How are you feeling?”
“I’ve been better,” he admitted as he descended the remaining steps. “Honestly,” he continued after meeting Seth’s eyes, “I was hoping I could scrounge up a something for a little headache.”
“It looks to me like you’ve got more than a little headache,” Seth observed as he rose to retrieve his medical bag. When he returned, he handed Jed two pills and a glass of water, which the pilot accepted gratefully.
After downing the pills, Jed closed his eyes reclined slightly against the back of the love seat that he shared with Jessica. “I suppose he could have drugged my coffee when I was using the weather computer or the rest room,” he said contemplatively.
“Was there anyone else around that you do know,” Jessica asked.
Jed shook his head. “Bob Albert was there and so was Val Grant. A couple of the other faces were familiar, but I don’t know their names.”
“Bob Albert?” Jessica repeated. “You’ve mentioned him to me before.”
Jed opened his eyes and sat upright once again. “Bob owns the ‘Red Baron’ replica. He and I retired from United about the same time,” he reminded her.
“Oh, yes, that’s quite a plane,” Jessica remembered. She took a sip of her decaf coffee and tried to remember anything else that Jed might have mentioned about Bob Albert in the past. “You were business partners at one point, weren’t you?”
Jed nodded his head. “For about six months, but Bob decided that he would rather start up his own regional commuter airline out of Bangor than to own a couple of small town FBO’s. So,” he added with a shrug, “we went our separate ways – no hard feelings. That’s been ten years ago now.”
“Was he successful?” Jessica asked.
his head. “No. The business filed for bankruptcy a few years
back and never recovered. Bob, on the
other hand, seems to be doing okay.
Alicia and I ran into him and his wife last year at the fly-in in
Osh-Kosh. I was a little worried about
how he would handle it, but
He could still harbor some resentment toward Jed, who had made a success of his own business venture, Jessica thought.
When Jessica asked about Valerie Grant, Seth frowned and tapped his watch, indicating that it was time for Jed to call it a night.
“Ah, Valerie,” Jed said sentimentally. “Val and I knew each other a very long time ago…back when I was flight instructing full time, trying to build up time and get a job with an airline.”
“Did you work together?” Jessica asked naively.
“Not exactly,” he answered before yawning and stretching. “Val was one of my first students. She was bright eyed and as fiery as her hair was red. After she finished her own CFI certificate, she stayed on at the fight school as an employee and…”
“We dated for about six months,” he admitted. “It was casual, nothing serious. Then I got my big break with United. She got hers with Continental a couple of years later.”
“Did you ever see each other after that?”
“Not really. Our paths crossed once in a while, in this airport or that, but we never…” he paused and his face became flushed. “We never revisited our previous relationship - not that she didn’t express interest - but I was married by then.”
The walk to the baseball complex was only a short distance - six blocks according to Ben. Tipper was suddenly in a very good mood and had a noticeable spring in her step. “Can I ask you something?”
He nodded. “Sure.”
“Have you really read ‘The Cat Who Brought Down the House?’”
Katie was a well trained dog, walking beside her master, not getting too far ahead nor too far behind and only occasionally weaving her way in between them.
“I’ve read them all,” he admitted.
Tipper stopped. “All of them?” she asked, not really believing him.
Ben stopped, too. “Yes, all of them, but it’s a long story,” he added and began walking again.
“Well, you’ve got three more blocks, so let’s hear it,” Tipper said when she caught up with him.
“It’s not likely that you’re going to drop this particular subject, is it?” he asked, dreading her response.
“Nope,” Tipper answered, bouncing along next to him.
“If I tell you, we never speak of it again.”
“Sure,” Tipper agreed. “Let’s hear it.” This must be good.
“Okay,” he started before pausing, looking upward toward the sky and shaking his head. “This is so embarrassing. I can’t believe I’m going to tell you this.”
Tipper simply smiled at him and said nothing.
“Just remember that I was pretty desperate, okay?”
“Okay, I was in my first year of medical school and I was completely broke when Christmas rolled around – practically penniless as a matter of fact. Anyway, my grandmother is a nut for those books but her vision was starting to get pretty bad and she couldn’t read very well any more, so I borrowed a couple of them from the library and read them into a tape recorder for her.”
Tipper stopped in her tracks and stared at him. “You mean you’ve made books on tape of all of the ‘Cat Who’ books for your grandmother?”
“I’m still working on it,” he mumbled. “After I finished my residency and had a little more money to spend, I tried to buy one on tape for her and she wasn’t very happy about it. She wanted me to make them myself. She’s 97 now and that’s still what she wants every year for her birthday and for Christmas.”
“Oh, that’s so sweet,” Tipper exclaimed before catching herself. Oops, did I really say that? Boy, I bet that sounded girlie.
“I knew I shouldn’t have told you,” he grumbled, shaking his head and continuing toward the ballpark.
It took Tipper a good ten feet to catch up with his long stride. “No, really, it was very thoughtful. Most people would never think to do something like that.” And it’s quickly becoming apparent that you’re not most people.
“Not another word, right?” Ben said as they reached the ball park.
“Right,” Tipper agreed. Easily embarrassed by personal acts of kindness. Check.
Katie picked up her pace a little, trotting ahead past the ball field and then up a small hill located behind the outfield chain link fence. She turned in a circle three times and then sat down to wait for Ben and Tipper. The grassy hillside offered a great view of the field. Tipper sat with knees bent up to her chest while Ben lounged, long legs stretched out in front of him. He was still wearing his Levi’s and had thrown a navy sweatshirt over his white t-shirt. His running shoes were well worn - not ratty - but they had definitely put on a lot of miles, which Tipper decided might explain why he looked so good in his Levi’s.
Katie laid down next to her master, rolled onto her back and was treated to a chest rub from Ben.
The game was nearly over when they arrived, with only two innings remaining, but there was plenty of action. The final play was a line shot into right center field just beyond the reach of the second baseman, scoring the winning run from third and capping off a three run comeback. Tipper, not being the least bit reserved, jumped to her feet and whooped and hollered when the runner scored. Ben watched her reaction and was captivated by her spontaneity and enthusiasm. Oh, Ben, my boy, you’re a goner!
“What?” she asked when she looked down at him and noticed that he was smiling at her, a genuine smile that reached the corners of his blue-gray eyes. “Don’t you ever get excited when you watch a game? It’s a lot more fun when you do.”
He laughed softly and shook his head. “Yeah, I do, but you’re cheering for the wrong team.”
Tipper looked back at the field. “Oh, I guess I missed that.” She plopped back down on the grass and watched as the players began to shake hands and the fans packed up their belongings and filed out of the bleachers. “I probably would have figured that out if we could see the scoreboard from here,” she decided.
“I’m sure you would have,” Ben agreed. Katie was now up on her feet and anxious to move on. She nudged Ben with her nose and when he didn’t budge, she tried Tipper.
“Does she really sniff out chocolate ice cream?”
Ben reached over and gave Katie an affectionate head rub. “Unfortunately, yes, but I may have exaggerated her abilities. Her radius is probably closer to a hundred yards.”
Once all of the lights had been turned off and only a few cars remained in the parking lot Ben stood up, brushed himself off and reached his hand out to help Tipper. “Much better,” he said once she was on her feet.
They started down the hill. “What’s much better?”
Ben looked back over his shoulder. “You are. The last time I helped you up from the ground I thought you might hit me.”
“That’s because you were being stubborn, opinionated, bossy and…macho.”
“Ouch, that hurt,” he replied, pretending to have been wounded in the heart by an imaginary dagger. “And what should I have done, let you get up, pass out and fall flat on your face or better yet, smack your head on the tarmac?”
There was no response from Tipper because he was absolutely right.
“You know, Dr. Angela Henderson, we don’t know each other very well, but something tells me that you can be pretty stubborn and opinionated when it comes to your own patients.”
Tipper nodded her head. “Yes, I can,” she admitted honestly, “when necessary.”
“Then, what’s the problem?”
“I didn’t particularly care for the whole damsel in distress and knight in shining armor routine.”
“This might be a newsflash for you, Tipper, but you’re not exactly what I would call a damsel in distress.”
“And you’re no knight in shining armor.”
“Of course I’m not. And you know what else?”
It was a rhetorical question and no response was expected, so Tipper didn’t give one.
“This conversation is completely pointless,” he said, throwing his hands up in the air.
They walked on in silence for a few minutes before Ben grumbled something incomprehensible.
“What did you say?”
“I asked what kind of medicine you practice. I sure hope it’s neurology because I’m getting a migraine.”
Tipper set her jaw stubbornly and fixed him with narrowed eyes. “Very funny - I’m a vet.”
Ben smiled. “Really?” he asked, both surprised and pleased.
Nice powers of observation, Dr.
Ben. It pretty much says that on my
sweatshirt, Tipper thought sarcastically before looking down and noticing
that she was wearing the wrong one. This
one simply said
Ben whistled for Katie who backtracked and heeled with nothing more than a simple hand signal.
Tipper sighed. “Here we go again.”
“There’s something wrong with Katie and you’re going to pick my veterinary brain, aren’t you?”
Ben looked sheepish. “Uh, well, yeah…I suppose you get a lot of that, don’t you?”
Tipper quirked an eyebrow at him. “Don’t you?”
“All of the time. The grocery store is the worst. ‘Hey, Doc, I’m glad I ran into you – I’ve got this awful pain in my neck…’” He delivered his lines in his best crochety old man imitation, making them both laugh.
“Just forget I said anything. I’ll call the animal hospital sometime this week and ask Doc Koerner.”
“No, you might as well ask me now. You’ve got me curious.”
“All right. Katie’s been kind of lame for the past week or so. She’s a really active dog. Normally she’s not nearly this well behaved. At first I chalked it up to her playing too hard the last time we took the Frisbee to the beach, but usually she works out of that kind of lameness after a day or two on her own. This time it’s not getting any better and what’s really weird is that it doesn’t seem to be the same leg every time – sometimes she favors the right foreleg, sometimes the left back leg – anyway, you get the picture.”
Tipper frowned in thought. “Hmm. How’s her appetite?”
“A little off. She passed on a steak bone tonight, which she never does.”
“Does she pick up ticks?”
“Constantly, especially when we walk in the woods. I try to pick them off her every night, but I probably miss a few…”
Tipper nodded in satisfaction. “Get her tested for Lyme disease. When she comes back positive, put her on doxycycline for twenty-eight days at ten milligrams per kilogram twice daily with food, and she should be fine. And for heaven’s sake start using a good flea-and-tick preventive instead of whatever over-the-counter junk you’re putting on her now. Your animal hospital should be able to tell you which one is best for her.”
Ben looked confused. “Lyme disease? But I looked everywhere and she doesn’t have a bull’s eye rash and there is no sign of generalized arthritis, no neurological signs…”
Tipper waved his objections away. “Lyme doesn’t have the same clinical presentation in dogs as it does in humans. Trust me on this one. Have your vet test her for Lyme – it’s a quick little in-house test. They’ll have the results in ten minutes or less – and see if I’m not right.”
“You hear that Katie, you’re going to the vet,” Ben said with exaggerated enthusiasm. The dog stopped, lay down and put both paws over her nose. Ben looked down at her empathetically and shook his head. “Sorry, girl, Tipper says you have to go.”
Ben patted his leg and the dog got up and followed. They walked in silence for nearly a full block. It was a perfect summer night. Perfect for flying, he thought. “Are you really apprehensive about flying or was Mrs. Fletcher just covering for you when you threw your little snit earlier?”
“Yeah, when I dropped you off at the B&B and you stomped off because you thought that Katie was the name of my girlfriend. Mrs. Fletcher made up some excuse about you not being yourself since the episode at the airport this afternoon.”
“Snit?” Tipper repeated, the pitch of her voice notably elevated.
“Just calling ‘em as I see ‘em, sweetheart.”
Sweetheart? Who does he think he is? Tipper took a deep breath and counted to ten silently while waiting for a car to pass. Okay, maybe it was a snit.
“I thought that Katie might be the name of your wife,” she admitted reluctantly.
Ben laughed. “Nope. No wife, no girlfriend - but that explains why you didn’t stick around.” He reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “And as far as being apprehensive about flying in a small plane?”
“You could say it’s a major understatement.”
Ben looked at her thoughtfully. “Do you trust me?” he asked.
“About as far as I can throw you.”
She wasn’t going to make this easy for him. “That will have to do,” he decided, stepping down from the curb and starting across the street. “Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?”
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Absolutely not,” she said, shaking her head and turning back in the direction of the B&B.
Ben stopped but didn’t chase after her. “Don’t worry. It’s not our final destination. We just have to stop there to pick something up.”
Tipper stopped, turned around and regarded him closely.
“Oh, come on, Tipper, where’s you sense of adventure? If it makes you feel any better, I’m a good Catholic boy. You can trust me.”
Tipper considered his plea. She knew plenty of ‘good Catholic boys’ and she also knew that they weren’t anymore trustworthy than any other boy; but maybe Ben was different. At certain moments he certainly seemed to be.
“Okay, where to?” she finally agreed.
“You’ll see when we get there.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her the rest of the way across the street.
“Are you a practicing Catholic?” she asked once they reached the sidewalk and he released her hand.
Ben hesitated. “Sort of.”
“Yeah, sort of,” he repeated as they resumed walking.
“Do you go to mass on a regular basis?”
“Almost every Sunday.”
Ben cringed. “Not so much. I’m guessing you’re a practicing Catholic?”
“How’d you know?”
“I figure that only a practicing Catholic would ask someone if he was a practicing Catholic.”
Ben’s house was a three story Victorian with a wrap around porch and mansard roof. They entered through a side door that led into the kitchen. It was clean and tidy with a pink 1950’s Dutch-style oven and a 70’s green stove. “I’m renting,” he explained when he noticed her eyeing the oven. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
The kitchen had a cozy, corner breakfast nook with large windows. On one side of the kitchen was an adjoining dining room, which was completely empty – no table, no chairs, not even a set of draperies. Tipper peaked into the living room - desk with laptop and printer, large sectional couch, recliner, full entertainment center and plasma television.
Ben returned shortly, opened the refrigerator and pulled out a pizza box. “Want a piece?” he asked as he set the box on the counter and opened it. Tipper declined, but looked inside the open refrigerator anyway – Mountain Dew, beer, and Gatorade; Chinese take-out, a bucket of KFC chicken, an open package of frosted strawberry Poptarts, bagels, cream cheese, plum jam, salsa and a bag of unopened salad – no other vegetables or fruit in sight, no salad dressing, and no milk. Tipper looked at Ben and raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Last week was busy,” he said by way of explanation. “I’ve been on call five of the last seven nights.”
She closed the refrigerator door. “And here I thought you were super healthy.”
He finished chewing a bite of pizza. “Based on what?”
“You ordered milk with supper and you ate all of your vegetables, even though they were terribly overcooked.”
“That was guilt, pure and simple.” He brushed a few crumbs from his shirt and crumpled his napkin before tossing it and his left-over crust into the trash can. “I had blueberry cobbler for lunch and don’t get me wrong because I like Mrs. Fletcher, but with her sitting next to me tonight at dinner, I felt like I was eating with my mother.”
Tipper nodded in agreement. “Just don’t let Seth find out that you eat Poptarts for breakfast or he’ll give you a lecture on the health benefits of eating oatmeal.”
Ben kenneled Katie and led Tipper out to his SUV. The garage was unattached and had two stalls – one filled by the Pathfinder and the other with a motorcycle, lawnmower, workbench, toolbox, lawn chairs and a hodgepodge of other assorted objects.
Five minutes later they pulled into the airport but instead of parking, continued west and then north along a single lane dirt road that skirted the perimeter of the property. Ben parked next to one of three red Morton buildings and got out. He walked around the vehicle, knocked on Tipper’s window and motioned for her to follow.
She lowered the window and hollered after him. “You don’t actually think you’re going to get me into an airplane, do you?”
“You need to get back in the saddle sooner or later,” he replied over his shoulder as he raised the overhead door to reveal a Cessna Skyhawk.
“Later,” she hollered, “much later.”
Ben attached the tow bar to the front wheel and pulled the plane out of the hanger. After putting the tow bar away he walked back to Tipper’s window. “How do you expect to get home tomorrow if you can’t even get into the airplane?”
“Quite honestly I thought I would drive back with Jed’s mechanic.”
“Jed told me that Zack is a pilot as well as a mechanic. He’s flying up.”
Tipper rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest defiantly. “I’ll rent a car.”
Ben suppressed a smile and shook his head. Willful. “There’s no place to rent a car, at least not if you’re only traveling one way.”
Tipper looked straight ahead and searched for ideas, and then, with a forced smile, she slowly turned to face him again. “I’ll take the bus…or are you going to tell me that the bus doesn’t stop here either?”
Ben shook his head in defeat. “Yeah, the bus stops here.” He paused and regrouped. “But if you take the bus, you’re not the woman that I thought you were.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tipper wanted to know.
Ben rested his forearms on the roof and leaned forward into the open window. “I guess I figured that any woman who could scarf down a blueberry pie in front of a couple hundred strangers and who had enough courage to hang out of an airplane in midair was fearless.”
“You saw the pie eating contest?” Tipper asked weakly.
Ben smiled and leaned into the window a bit further. “Yeah,” he said softly. “You were a real mess.”
Tipper’s pulse quickened. He was so close and smelled so good, like green tea with bergamot and jasmine. And he was going to kiss her. She panicked and flung the door open, causing Ben to stagger backwards. “Okay, I’ll go,” she said as she bolted from the SUV and walked quickly toward the plane.
Ben watched her march off and climb into the plane. Good job, Ben, now she’s more nervous about you kissing her than she is about getting back in the stupid plane.
After Jed excused himself for the night, Jessica’s suspicions multiplied. Maybe Bob Albert wasn’t as content in his retirement as his wife had indicated. Was it possible that he resented Jed’s success so much that he had tried to kill him? Had Valerie Grant thought that her relationship with Jed so many years ago was more serious than he had? Had she felt abandoned when he left the flight school for a job with United? Had she felt jilted when he refused to renew their relationship?
“Jessica,” Seth repeated for the second time.
She turned and smiled. “I think Tipper had the right idea. Shall we go for a walk and get some fresh air?”
“No,” Seth answered adamantly. “We’re not walking out to the airport to snoop around.”
“Seth,” she reprimanded him, “what could possibly make you think that I intend to walk out to the airport?”
He looked at her directly. “I know how your mind works, woman,” he explained before standing and retrieving their jackets from the foyer. “I’d better go along,” he said as he held out her coat, “to keep you out of trouble.”
Ben finished his pre-flight inspection as thoroughly but quickly as possible before climbing in alongside Tipper. “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.
Tipper, with her eyes closed and head resting back against the seat, simply shook her head ‘yes.’
“Okay,” he said, suppressing a smile before turning over the engine and checking the instruments and gauges. She is the woman I thought she was, he thought to himself as he taxied the plane to the runway. He radioed his intentions to the local traffic and then taxied onto the runway.
As they barreled down the long, concrete strip, Ben noticed Tipper grasp the seat firmly with two white-knuckled hands. And when the plane lifted off and swayed slightly, she squeezed her eyes shut even harder and bit down onto her lower lip to keep from screaming.
After they were in the air and Ben had leveled off the plane, he reached over and touched her on the knee. “You can open your eyes now,” he informed her.
She shook her head. “No thank you,” she answered firmly into the headset.
“Just a peek,” he prodded. “If you don’t like what you see, we’ll go back.”
Tipper opened her eyes and looked out the window. The site below was amazing. Lights dotted the entire coast line as they
flew north toward
“Do you see the lighthouses,” Ben
asked, pointing into the dark night sky.
“That one is Bass Harbor Head. The
one to the north is
Tipper nodded and followed Ben’s
directions. After making a couple of passes
Ben taxied the plane back to the hangar and when they arrived, the door was open and one of the local deputies was waiting for them.
“Are we in trouble?” Tipper asked when she noticed the police car.
Ben turned the plane and then cut the engine. “I’m not. Are you?”
“Not that I know of.”
Ben turned off their headsets, removed his and then reached over to remove Tipper’s. “Would you like to be?”
Tipper’s eyes went wide. “No.”
Ben shrugged, opened his door and jumped down from the plane. He walked around to Tipper’s side and once she had stepped out onto the arm of the landing gear he placed his hands on her waist and lifted her to the ground. “Are you sure?” he asked softly next to her ear, his words feather light on her skin.
Deputy Kevin Fenton approached the plane, holding Ben’s tow bar in one hand. “Need some help?”
Reluctantly, Ben stepped away from Tipper and turned toward his friend. “Sure,” he answered, reaching for the tow bar. “Take a strut. Tipper can take the other one.” Ben put the tow bar on the front wheel to steer and the trio pushed the plane into the hangar.
After introductions Ben asked Kevin, “Any luck?”
“No, it’s probably a little early yet.”
“Kevin’s on a stakeout,” Ben explained. “Somebody’s been stealing AV fuel.”
“If they come back, won’t they see your police car?” Tipper asked.
“I keep the car parked in the front hangar while I hide out inside the terminal,” Kevin explained.
“Need a break?” Ben asked.
“Sure. I wouldn’t mind making a quick trip to McDonalds before it closes.”
“Go ahead. We’ll keep an eye out until you get back.” After closing and locking the hangar Ben and Tipper climbed back into the SUV. “You don’t mind, do you?” he asked.
“No. I think I can handle a stakeout until he gets back. How long will it take?”
“Fifteen minutes, tops.”
Ben parked the SUV out of sight, behind the front-most hangar. As they approached the terminal, Tipper stopped suddenly and grabbed his arm. “There’s someone inside,” she whispered.
“If you don’t trust yourself enough to spend fifteen minutes alone with me in there, you can always wait in the truck.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. I’m serious. I saw a light moving around inside. See, there it is again,” she said, pointing to a small window on the south side of the building.
Ben placed his hand in the small of Tipper’s back. “Why don’t we go see if we can be of assistance?”
“Why don’t we wait until Kevin comes back?” Tipper countered.
As they argued in hushed tones they noticed the flashlight turn off. A moment later they heard the sound of a door being opened and closed.
“That had to be the back door,” Ben said. “I think I’ll just go see if they found what they were looking for. You can wait here.” With his hand still on her back he pulled Tipper to him and gently brushed his lips against hers. She was caught off guard, her defenses down, and when he kissed her a second time, she responded in kind. The kiss deepened and when he released her, she was left breathless.
“What was that!” she stammered once she was able to breathe again.
Ben smiled and winked. “Just in case I don’t make it back alive.”
Tipper punched him in the shoulder but couldn’t suppress a smile. “You’re a dork.”
“I know, but you like me anyway,” he replied. And with that, he turned and headed for the terminal, assuming that Tipper would stay behind. But she didn’t.
Ben stopped abruptly when he reached the northeast corner of the building and Tipper, caught unaware, ran into him, knocking him forward onto his hands and knees. Suddenly there was a bright light shining in his face, causing him to instinctively shield his eyes with one hand.
“Ben?” Jessica said in surprise before lowering the flashlight. “What are you doing here?”
Before he could answer Jessica heard a rustling sound and aimed the flashlight higher to find Tipper peeking around the corner of the building.
Tipper looked at Jessica sheepishly and gave a little wave with her fingers. “Hi, Jessica.”
As Ben, looking a little sheepish himself, got up from the ground they heard someone standing in the dark behind Jessica clear his throat.
“Hi, Doctor Hazlitt,” Tipper added. Jeez, I wonder who else is here.
“And what are you doing here, Doctor Henderson?” Seth asked.
Uh, oh. Think fast. “Um…Ben conned me into going flying so that I wouldn’t chicken out and take the bus back to Cabot Cove tomorrow.”
“Is that so?” Seth replied brusquely, clearly not convinced by her story.
Ben laid his hand on the back of Tipper’s neck, sending a shiver down her spine, and smiled. “You know what Tipper?” he asked. “I’m kind of curious about something myself - like why Mrs. Fletcher and Doctor Hazlitt are sneaking around the airport at twelve o’clock at night.”
“I think I have a pretty good idea,” Tipper replied. “They’re trying to figure out who might be responsible for what happened to Jed this afternoon. And Jessica and I didn’t have much time to search the terminal earlier.”
Ben was surprised, to say the least. “You searched the terminal?” he asked incredulously, realizing that he had been the one to let them inside.
Jessica and Tipper nodded in unison.
Ben looked at Seth. “Do they do this sort of thing often?”
“I don’t think you want to know the answer to that,” Seth replied.
“Well, did you find anything?” Ben asked.
“Yes. We found a prescription pill bottle with a few Glucaphage pills in it and a used coffee cup with some sort of powdery residue mixed in with the coffee grounds,” Jessica told him.
“You’re not thinking that Gerry Harper drugged Jed, are you?” Ben asked. “I imagine it was his pill bottle that you found,” he added, more statement than question.
“Somebody drugged him,” Tipper replied. “And you’re right. Gerald Harper’s name is on the bottle of pills that we found. I’m surprised that Dr. Flathers didn’t mention any of this to you, even though he seems to think that Jed was trying to commit suicide.”
“That’s nuts. Jed had a plane full of passengers with him.”
“Of course it’s nuts but I thought that he might have said something to you.”
Ben shook his head. “No. He really had no reason to mention it to me. Jed wasn’t my patient and I was kind of busy with that code.”
“How did you know that it was Gerald Harper’s Glucophage that we found?” Jessica asked.
Ben sighed. “He’s my patient. Besides, everyone knows that he’s diabetic. He doesn’t manage it well; thinks that he can eat and drink whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and not exercise, and then just pop two or three pills to compensate for it. Anyone who knows him at all knows that he keeps his prescription in a drawer in the terminal. He likes to complain about having to follow doctor’s orders, even though he doesn’t. It’s a frequent topic of conversation around here when he has nothing else to complain about.”
“Jed told us that there were a half dozen people in the terminal when he filed his flight plan this afternoon. Gerry Harper was one of them and he also knew two others, Joe Hastings and Valerie Grant. He said that he recognized the other three as pilots, but didn’t know their names. I was hoping that Seth and I might be able to come up with some possible names by going through the fuel receipts, but that didn’t get us very far because there were only two fuel receipts for the entire day.”
“That’s because most people just wait until Gerry sends them a bill,” Ben explained.
“But we didn’t find anything else to indicate that there were any other fuel sales today,” Jessica explained.
Ben turned and pointed toward the fuel pump. “Do you see that mailbox next to the fuel pump? Gerry keeps a spiral notebook in there to record fuel sales. After you fill up your plane you simply write down the number of gallons, your name, address and telephone number and then Gerry sends you a bill in a couple of weeks.”
Tipper couldn’t believe it. “Are you serious? No wonder the sheriff’s deputy has to stakeout the place for thieves.”
“Yes, they do.”
“The thieves that Kevin is trying to catch are probably kids who are stealing it to use in their cars for racing.”
“Airplane fuel works in cars?” Tipper asked.
Ben shook his head and chuckled. “For a while, but sooner or later it will start to cause some problems and by the time they figure it out, they’ll probably have some pretty hefty bills from the local auto mechanic.”
Curious, Jessica asked, “Do you think Gerry’s notebook is in the mailbox right now?”
Ben shrugged. “Probably, but it might be easier if I just told you the names of the other people who were in the terminal when Jed came in to check weather and file his flight plan.”
“You were there?” Jessica and Tipper asked simultaneously.
“Yeah - I guess that makes me a suspect, doesn’t it?”
“But you didn’t even know Jed until today, did you?” Tipper pointed out.
“True,” Ben agreed. “I didn’t meet Jed until this afternoon.”
Jessica laughed softly and patted Ben on the arm. “In that case, I think we can safely put you at the bottom of the list.”
The sound of crunching gravel was heard from the other end of the terminal, causing everyone to flatten against the building. Ben peaked around the corner, and seeing the deputy’s car, peeled himself off the wall. “It’s okay. It’s just Kevin,” he announced. Everyone let out a breath and stepped away from the wall. “It will take him a minute to hide his car and get the hangar closed up.”
He looked at Jessica and Seth. “He knows that Tipper and I are here. We’re supposed to be watching the fuel pump, but I’m not sure how to explain why you’re here without getting you arrested for breaking and entering.”
Jessica thought for a moment. “Maybe you could just keep him busy for a few minutes and we’ll start back for the inn. It’s probably not necessary for you to tell him that we were even here,” Jessica decided.
Ben waved Jessica and Seth over to his vantage point and explained exactly where his vehicle was parked. “Once Kevin is inside, why don’t you go around the south side of the terminal and then cut across the parking lot. If you go around the north side he’ll probably see you through the window. Tipper and I will do our best to keep his attention focused elsewhere for a few minutes and then I’ll drive everyone back to the inn.”
Ben and Tipper slipped into the terminal and sat down. Ben chose the couch and Tipper took a chair opposite him. “You know, you could at least sit on the couch with me,” he said, “for appearance sake anyway.”
Tipper gave Ben an exaggerated eye roll. “You’re pushing your luck, Slick.”
Ben was slumped down with his long legs extended in front of him. “Do I really make you that nervous?” he finally asked.
Presently, there was a knock on the front door and it began to open slowly.
Kevin poked his head through the open doorway. He looked from Ben to Tipper and then back to Ben again. “If you need a little more time I can come back later,” he offered, clearly amused.
Tipper popped up from her chair. “That won’t be necessary,” she said. She was ready to leave but then remembered that Jessica and Seth were still outside. Stall, she thought. “I think I’ll use the ladies room before we go,” she said, looking around the terminal.
“It’s right there,” Kevin said, nodding toward a closed door.
Tipper ducked into the bathroom and nearly shrieked when she saw her hair. Scary. It was full of static from removing her headset. She made a feeble attempt to fix it but without a comb, the best she could do was to run her fingers through it. Okay, that took like thirty seconds. Now what?
She decided to wash her hands. After drying them, she reached for the doorknob and realized that she could hear Kevin grilling Ben. She cracked the door open a tiny bit and peaked out.
He had taken Tipper’s chair and had spread his super sized Big Mac value meal out on the coffee table. He had also poured a few French fries onto a napkin and shoved them in Ben’s direction. After washing down a bite of burger with some Coke, he asked, “So, who is she?”
“A vet from Cabot Cove. Her name is Angela Henderson, but she goes by Tipper,” Ben explained before popping a fry into his mouth.
“She’s cute,” Kevin said, “but what about that little blonde nurse? She’s hot.”
Tipper gasped silently. I knew it!
Ben got up, dropped a couple of quarters into the soda machine and punched a button. “I’m not interested in the nurse.”
“You’re crazy, man.”
“I don’t date nurses,” Ben said emphatically as he dropped back down onto the couch.
“What about that psychology professor, the one who played on your co-ed volleyball team?”
Ben waved off his friend’s suggestion and shook his head “no.”
Kevin thought while he chewed. “Didn’t you take out that personal trainer a couple of weeks ago?”
“Yeah, Paula,” Kevin answered, smiling like a wolf. “I saw her coming out of the health club in this little aerobics outfit one day and almost wrecked my car. The Chief would have been pissed.”
Ben polished off his last French fry. “Not interested. I was ready to call it a night before we finished the appetizer.”
“You do realize that Cabot Cove is almost a three hour drive from here? Althooooough, there are definite advantages to a long distance relationship.”
“It’s only about an hour by plane,” Ben informed him.
“I don’t know,” Kevin said, shaking his head slightly. “Something tells me that she’s a handful.”
Ben grinned. “Yeah, she is. I think that’s why I like her. And she’s really smart.”
Not thinking, Tipper sighed and leaned against the door. It gave way and she stumbled out of the bathroom.
Ben was up in an instant. “Are you okay? You’re not going to pass out again, are you?”
Tipper straightened herself up. Her face was flushed. “I’m fine, but I think I’m ready to go now.”
Ten minutes later Ben dropped them at the Black Swan. Jessica and Seth thanked him for the ride and left him and Tipper standing alone at the curb, but not before Seth fixed the young man with a stern look.
“Why don’t I walk you to the door?” Ben offered, placing his hand at the small of her back and guiding her toward the porch.
When they had climbed the steps and were standing in front of the door he asked, “Are you going out to the airport with Jed and Jessica in the morning?”
“Actually, I was looking forward to sleeping in,” she answered honestly.
Nervously, Ben shifted his weight from one foot to another. “Is there any chance that you’ll be up in time for lunch? I’d really like to see you again before you leave.”
Tipper smiled. “Lunch would be nice.”
“How’s 11:30? We can beat the church crowd.”
“I’ll be ready…11:30,” she confirmed.
Ben opened the door for her. “I’ll see you then.”
Tipper hesitated and then surprised both of them when she kissed him lightly on the lips before disappearing inside.
Jessica smiled to herself when she heard Tipper creep up the stairs. Good for you.
She was ready for bed but couldn’t sleep even though she and Seth had drunk decaffeinated coffee. Instead, she removed a small notepad from her purse and began to make a list of the individuals who had been in the terminal with Jed just prior to their flight late that afternoon.
She began with the two people that Jed knew personally.
Valerie Grant – pilot and former girlfriends
Bob Albert – former business partner
Next, she added the airport manager.
Gerry Harper – airport manage; diabetic, prescription for Glucophage (metaformin); lost airport contract to Jed
Finally, she added the four names that Ben had provided during the drive back to the inn.
John Lehman – pilot, local businessman; did not know Jed
Tim Carpenter – local pilot, member airport board; did not know Jed
Brett Taylor – local pilot, attorney; did not know Jed
Dr. Ben Howard – local pilot; didn’t meet Jed until this afternoon
Tipper awoke slowly, stretched and eventually opened her eyes. It took a moment for her to remember exactly where she was. The room was decorated in a soft, pale yellow, the same color as the filtered sunlight that shone through the white lace curtains.
The alarm clock read 7:30 a.m. and the house was quiet. She knew that Jessica and Jed were already at the airport and there was no rush to start the day. As a matter of fact, it was a free day – no work, no chores, and no errands to run. She didn’t even have to get up to feed Shakespeare and Dante because they were at home in Cabot Cove, and were being looked after by a friend. She closed her eyes and exhaled contentedly before pulling the soft, summer quilt up to her chin and falling back to sleep.
When Jessica and Jed arrived at the airport, Zack was already waiting for them on the parking ramp, coffee cup in hand and grease rag hanging out of his back pocket. It was another beautiful late summer day and still relatively cool, the best time for flying.
“You didn’t get that coffee inside, did you?” Jed asked his mechanic.
“No, sir, I brought my own.”
“Good,” Jed said, thankfully. “Are you ready to get started?”
“I’m set up in the new maintenance hangar and I’ve started but I could always use another pair of hands,” he said as he consulted his ‘to do’ list.
“Jessica, do you want me to go inside with you and introduce you to Will?” Jed asked, referring to her new flight instructor
“Oh, no, Jed, I’ll be fine. And the sooner you two get to work, the sooner we can all go home,” Jessica declared before making her way to the terminal building - another small, almost square building made from concrete blocks. It had been painted a drab tan color with dark brown trim many years earlier and was in dire need of a fresh coat.
Jessica opened the door to find only two people inside. One was a stocky, middle-aged man who was seated behind the counter - Gerry Harper, she presumed - and the other was a tall, thin fellow who leaned casually against the counter.
The younger man stood upright when he saw her enter. “Mrs. Fletcher?”
“Yes, I’m Jessica Fletcher,” she said brightly. “Are you Will?”
The young man, he couldn’t be much older than twenty-two or twenty-three, took two long steps toward her and extended his hand. “Yes, ma’am, I’m Will, your flight instructor.”
Jessica accepted his hand. “I’m very pleased to meet you…and very glad that you could fit me in on such short notice,” she added as she looked around the dreary, vacant room, which had been buzzing with activity the previous day.
“So am I,” he agreed. “Why don’t we sit down and go over a few things before we head out to the airplane.”
Jessica declined his offer of a beverage and took a seat on the couch. “I’m afraid that the only documentation that I have with me is my license,” she said as she removed it from her purse and handed it to him.
“That’s alright, Mrs. Fletcher,” he assured her as he accepted the small, rectangular green card. “Your local airport faxed me a copy of your log book this morning.”
“Oh, good,” Jessica sighed, relieved. “That means that Sheriff Metzger didn’t have any trouble finding my flight bag when he checked on my house last night.”
Will reviewed the fax once more. “With the exception of yesterday, it’s been quite some time since you’ve been pilot in command,” he commented.
“Yes, indeed,” she agreed. “I wish that I had more time to fly purely for recreation but as it is, most of my flying is work related and requires that I fly commercially.”
moment, he looked up. “Well, I have some
good news and some bad news, Mrs. Fletcher,” he said as he handed her license
back to her.
Jessica leaned forward slightly on the edge of the couch in anticipation.
“The good news is that you’re up to date on your night landings, but the bad news is that we are going to have to review nearly all of the other maneuvers. It could take us most of the morning and part of the afternoon to finish, which means that if you still want to work on your high performance rating so you can fly Jed’s plane back to Cabot Cove, it’ll likely be closing in on dinner time before we’re completely finished.”
Jessica was actually relieved by the news. “If you can spare the time, I’m willing to work until we finish everything,” she answered agreeably.
“Then why don’t we get started. If you’d like to call weather service, I’ll pack up my things here,” he said, nodding toward the telephone.
Jessica opened her purse and withdrew a piece of paper. “I already have, just before we left the inn.”
Will’s smile was one of approval. Initially, he had had reservations about flying with an older woman, but as a part-time flight instructor and full-time graduate student, he needed the extra money, so he had agreed. “Okay, then, Mrs. Fletcher, I guess we’re ready to go.”
“Would you like me to do the pre-flight inspection?” she asked as they walked across the parking ramp toward an old white and orange two-seat airplane, a Cessna 150, if Jessica remembered correctly.
Will nodded. He had already done the pre-flight inspection himself but this would be a good opportunity to observe Jessica before getting into the cockpit. She found a laminated copy of the check list in the pocket of the door and began her inspection moving from nose to tail, carefully checking the propeller, the oil, the fuel, and rudders as she went. After completing her inspection, she climbed into the left seat and donned a headset that she had borrowed from Jed. Will joined her in the right seat and buckled in.
“Is this your plane?” she asked as she, too, put on her seatbelt.
Will shook his head. “No, it’s one of Gerry’s rentals. I can barely afford the insurance premium on my plane let alone pay to insure one for flight training.”
Jessica nodded in understanding. “Yes,” she said. “I seem to remember hearing something about there being only a few companies that will insure airplanes.”
“You heard right, Mrs. Fletcher. They have a corner on the market so they can get away with having sky high premiums,” Will explained with a note of disgust before getting down to business.
“I’d like to take advantage of the calm this morning and start with take-offs and landings, maybe three or four touch and go’s to start,” Will suggested. “If the winds come up later, we can practice a few cross wind landings then.”
Jessica agreed and taxied the plane to the hold line. After checking for other traffic and radioing her intentions to the other aircraft in the area, she taxied the plane onto the runway and prepared to take off. After a series of take-offs and landings, Will instructed her to fly due west, toward the local practice area.
the next while practicing maneuvers including slow flight, unusual attitudes,
and steep turns. After a short break to
use the facilities, they were off again.
Actually, Jessica was off again, planning and flying a short solo cross
country flight to
Once she was back on the ground Will met her on the parking ramp. “Mrs. Fletcher, I am very impressed. You passed with flying colors.”
Jessica blushed at the comment. “I have only you and Jed to thank.”
“From what I hear, Jed is a great pilot and instructor. Someday I’d like to model my own business after his,” Will said as they headed back toward the terminal.
“Do you know Jed very well?” Jessica asked.
The young man shrugged. “Actually, we’ve only met once or twice but the aviation community is rather small and he has a very good reputation.”
“I imagine that the aviation community is much like a small town,” Jessica observed.
“It is, especially if you’re referring to the fact that news…or rather gossip travels fast.” He hesitated when they reached the parking lot. “Mrs. Fletcher, what would you think about the two of us heading back into town for lunch since we’re running ahead of schedule?”
“I think that’s a fine idea,” Jessica agreed. She was beginning to get hungry and also sensed that there was a reason that Will did not want to return to the terminal.
A light knocking on Tipper’s door caused her to stir, but not to awaken. The rapping grew slightly louder. “Dr. Henderson? It’s Mrs. Mitchell.”
Mrs. Mitchell owned and managed the Black Swan. “Dr. Henderson?” she repeated.
“Be right there,” Tipper answered, throwing back the covers and sitting up on the edge of the bed. She was wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts, and her hair was disheveled from sleep. Barefooted, she shuffled to the door and opened it slightly.
Gloria Mitchell was a pleasant, gray haired woman in her early to mid-sixties. Her face was round, her cheeks naturally rosy and her smile apologetic. “I’m sorry if I woke you, dear, but you have a visitor. I would have asked him to come back a little later but he says that you are expecting him.”
Tipper’s head whipped around to the alarm clock – 11:35! She looked and felt panicked when she turned back to Mrs. Mitchell. The woman placed a gentle hand on Tipper’s arm. “Don’t worry, dear, I’ll keep Dr. Howard company while you get ready. Take your time.”
“Thank you,” Tipper said with a sigh of relief. “I’ll only be a few minutes,” she assured her before closing the door and hustling into the bathroom. Fifteen minutes later she was showered and ready to go. She wore knee length denim shorts with a white Red Sox t-shirt and her brown hair, still slightly damp after being towel-dried, fell casually to her shoulders.
When she descended the stairs Ben was waiting for her and Mrs. Mitchell was nowhere in sight. The good news was that like her, Ben was dressed very casually – tan cargo shorts and gray t-shirt. “Where is Mrs. Mitchell?” she asked when she reached the bottom step.
“I’m not exactly sure,” he answered. “She asked where I was taking you for lunch, excused herself for a minute, and told me to wait.”
As they waited, Ben stole an impatient look at his watch. Tipper deflated slightly, knowing that it was her fault that they were running late. “We’re not going to beat the after church crowd, are we?”
“We’ve got a few minutes yet.”
“Where are we going?” Tipper asked, suddenly concerned that they were both dressed a little too casually for a popular Sunday dining establishment.
The kitchen doors swung open and Mrs. Mitchell emerged, carrying a brown wicker picnic basket. She was smiling and her eyes twinkled. “You kids will never beat the crowd. The Trestle is a zoo on Sundays, even if you don’t eat in.”
She handed Ben the basket. “I’ve packed a picnic lunch for you,” she explained before disappearing into a small hall closet. “There are plates and utensils in the basket,” she said over her shoulder. “And here is a nice blanket,” she added when she emerged from the closet. She handed Tipper the blanket and smiled again.
Before Tipper and Ben could thank her, she scooted them out the door and down the steps. “Off you go now. Have fun.”
As Ben loaded the basket and blanket Mrs. Mitchell pulled Tipper aside for a moment. “He’s a good boy. Don’t break his heart,” she whispered.
Ben and Tipper smiled and waved as they pulled away. “Mrs. Mitchell really likes you.”
Ben grinned broadly. “I know. She brings me cookies or a casserole whenever she comes into the clinic.”
“I think she worries about you.”
Ben stopped at a red light and glanced sideways at Tipper. “She thinks I need to settle down and get married.”
Tipper nodded in understanding. “Ah, so this isn’t out of the ordinary?” she surmised.
Ben pulled into the parking lot of a small grocery store and parked. “No, this is very out of the ordinary. Usually she just asks me when I’m going to find a nice girl and settle down. This is the first time that she’s actually become actively involved. I’ll be right back,” he added before climbing out of the SUV and sauntering inside. He returned a few minutes later with two cold bottles of iced tea.
After leaving the store, Ben and Tipper drove to a small, quiet park. The south end was taken up by a picnic shelter and playground and the north end was an open grassy space with strategically placed shade trees. They settled on a shaded spot on the northwest corner of the park and Tipper unfolded the blanket and spread it out on the ground while Ben unpacked their lunch – chicken salad sandwiches, fresh fruit, cheese, crackers, and fresh vegetables with dip. Tipper was strangely quiet while they ate, something that was not lost on Ben. After finishing, he reclined onto his side and propped himself up on one elbow. “Did I miss something,” he finally asked.
His voice snapped her back to the present. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” he said, “you’ve been uncharacteristically quiet since we stopped at the store and I can’t help but wonder why.”
“I’ve just been thinking. I tend to be quiet when I think.”
A chirping sound distracted Ben. He looked down at the display on his beeper and grimaced slightly before choosing to ignore it. “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me what you’re thinking about?”
“Not really.” The truth was that she was having a difficult time dismissing Mrs. Mitchell’s comments about Ben finding a nice girl and settling down.
Ben swore under his breath, reached in his pocket and retrieved his ringing cell phone. He read the caller i.d. and switched the telephone off before stuffing it back into his pocket.
“You should call them back,” Tipper told him.
He rolled onto his back, folded his hands under his head and looked up at the sky. “It’s not important. If I wasn’t waiting on a lab report, I would have left both the beeper and the cell phone at home.”
“Maybe it’s Mrs. Mitchell checking up on us,” Tipper suggested.
“It’s not,” he assured her before the beeper chirped again. Ben rolled his eyes and sighed after reading the display.
“Call them back or I will,” Tipper threatened.
“Fine, just give me a minute,” he said as he got up and headed for his SUV. He returned quickly and dropped back down onto the blanket next to Tipper.
“You didn’t call them back,” she noted. “You just turned it off and stuck it in the glove box.”
“Do you always chew on your lower lip when you’re thinking?” he wondered.
“Do you make a habit of ignoring phone calls and pages?”
“It depends who’s calling,” he replied honestly.
“Who’s calling – an old girlfriend? The personal trainer perhaps?”
Ben narrowed his eyes. “You’re persistent, aren’t you?” He regarded her for a moment while continuing to process what she had said. How does she know about the personal trainer? His jaw dropped open for a second. “You were eavesdropping!” he exclaimed, the pitch of his voice rising much higher than normal.
“I would hardly call it eavesdropping. You knew exactly where I was and it’s not like I was going to be in there for very long.”
“True,” he decided. On an oath he decided that he had better come clean, “It’s my ex-fiancee. She’s in town visiting her family and we ran into each other yesterday at the Blueberry Festival.”
Tipper was caught off guard to say the least and her expression showed it. She had been half joking and it wasn’t exactly the answer that she had been expecting - far from it, actually.
“I just blew this, didn’t I?” he asked warily. He was leaning forward now, elbows on knees, rubbing his eyes.
Tipper didn’t answer his question. Instead she asked one of her own. “Would it be safe to say that you’re not presently looking for a nice girl to settle down with then?”
“No, despite Mrs. Mitchell’s best efforts, I’m not.” At least I wasn’t.
Relieved, Tipper sighed internally. Thank goodness. “Okay - exactly how ’ex’ is this ex-fiancee? A month? Two months?”
Ben removed his hands from his eyes. “Try more like two years.”
He shook his head in disbelief. “You don’t really want the details?”
“You wanted to know if you blew this, right?” she reminded him. “I’ll let you know when you’ve finished telling me why you have an ex-fiancee and not a wife.”
Ben sat up straighter and looked Tipper directly in the eyes. “So, let me get this straight - the only chance that I have of getting you to see me again is to tell you my life story. That’s practically blackmail.”
Tipper shrugged. “I just want to know who I’m dealing with, especially since it sounds like you’ve left your fair share of women in your wake.”
“What ever gave you that idea?”
up her hand and counted on her fingers as she explained. “One - from the way Kevin talks, it sounds
like you could easily be the Hugh Hefner of
Put that way, it sounded pretty bad to Ben, too. “What do you want to know?”
Tipper thought for a moment and carefully formulating her first question. “Who called off the wedding and why?”
“I did. I didn’t want a marriage that was based on a lie.”
Tipper raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t love her?”
“No, I didn’t.”
Just my luck - one night he’s this great guy and the next morning he’s…well, he’s not at all who I thought he was. “You know, Ben, I’m usually a fairly decent judge of character, but there’s something that I just can’t quite figure out here. Why in the world would someone who otherwise seems to have a pretty good head on his shoulders propose to a woman who he wasn’t in love with?”
“Because I was trying to be responsible. I was trying to do the right thing.”
Oh, jeez. She was pregnant! Tipper couldn’t believe it. But then again, she obviously didn’t really know him all that well. Her temper sparked. “You got your girlfriend pregnant, asked her to marry you and then called it off!” What a jerk!
“Nooooooo,” Ben said, waving off the accusation. “She told me that she was pregnant so I’d marry her. I didn’t find out until a few days before the wedding that she had lied about it. She wasn’t pregnant and never had been. She even admitted it when I confronted her. After thinking on it for a couple of days, I decided that wasn’t how I wanted to start out a life-long commitment, so I called it off.”
Tipper didn’t know what to say so she sat silently, thinking and chewing on her lower lip.
Ben watched her curiously. “You’re chewing on your lip again,” he finally said, breaking what had quickly become an uncomfortable silence for him.
“Huh?” Tipper responded. “Oh, yeah, right,” she said, nodding her head. When she looked at him, her expression had softened and she smiled. “Wow, I bet you were really ‘Mr. Popular’ after that.”
“Yeah, for a few months - at least until she finally told her parents and friends the truth and it started to make its way through the local gossip wires.”
“You mean you didn’t tell anyone?”
“Just my immediate family and a couple of close friends – I thought that it was better for everyone if I just let it go and moved on.”
“Weren’t you angry? I would have been. I may have even been tempted to get out my tranq gun.”
“Of course I was.” He paused and added hesitantly, “You have a tranq gun?”
“Yes, but it’s only for emergencies.”
Ben nodded slowly. “Good to know.”
“And now?” Tipper asked.
“Are you still angry?”
“No, it’s more that I’m …” he paused to search for the right word.
“Afraid of commitment?” Tipper guessed.
“Actually, no - I was going to say cautious…and more patient.”
“Patient? About what?”
Ben was starting to look uncomfortable again. “You’re not really going to make me spell that out for you, are you?”
Suddenly, the light flickered on and it made perfect sense. Oh, Lord, how do I respond to that? “Patient is good,” she finally said, nodding. Really good.
Nervous again, he noticed. She wasn’t the only one. Ben ran his hand through his hair before muttering, “This didn’t exactly go as I had planned. Is there any chance that you’re going to agree to see me again?”
Good question. “Did you have something specific in mind?”
“Is that a yes?” he replied, a slight smile playing at the corners of his mouth and brightening his face.
Tipper didn’t respond right away. He really does seem to be pretty nice – not really the stubborn, opinionated, macho guy that I thought he was. Maybe he has a little baggage, but who doesn’t? And at least he’s honest about it. He’s smart, has a good sense of humor, and likes baseball. He’s also got a nice smile, incredible eyes, and looks great in Levi’s…well, anything for that matter. Face it, Tipper, he’s great.
“Tipper?” he asked. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, just thinking.” And trying not to freak out.
“Have you by chance come to a decision?”
“Okay, I’ll go out with you again. Where and when?”
Tipper couldn’t stifle her excitement. She popped up onto her knees, wide eyed, and grabbed him by the front of his shirt. “You have tickets!”
He laughed, a full, deep laugh. “Forty yard line, 12th row.”
She sat back onto her heels, suddenly deflated and slightly worried. “Do you think we can actually watch the entire game without killing each other?”
Ben shrugged and did a palms-up gesture with his hands. “I don’t know. Maybe we should consider other options. How about a nice, quiet weekend away somewhere? Just the two of us,” he suggested mischievously.
Wise guy. “No way, Doc, we’re going to the football game.”
Ben rolled his eyes and gave an exaggerated sigh. “I guess if you’re going to insist that I spend my Saturday watching football there’s not much I can do about it.”
Tipper tried to punch him playfully in the shoulder but he caught her hand and pulled her close. Then, he kissed her.
“Hey, I thought you were patient,” she said quietly when he released her.
“I am, but I’ve already kissed you before so, I figured it was okay.”
“Ah, you make a very good point,” she said before kissing him again.
This time when they parted, he got up and helped her to her feet. “Too bad we have to go pick up Doc Hazlitt and get you two out to the airport.”
Yeah, too bad, she thought.
Will drove Jessica to a family style steakhouse not far from the airport. The after church crowd was beginning to trickle in, but they were able to find a small table for two in the front corner of the main dining room. The establishment was decorated simply with wooden tables and chairs.
“She and her husband own this place,” Will said of the hostess once the pair had been left alone with their menus. “He does most of the cooking – bakes his own bread and makes the salad dressings form scratch. They both work seven days a week and they also do catering. Their daughter,” he continued, indicating a beautiful brunette taking a nearby table’s order, “works weekends and summers as a waitress.”
“It really is a family restaurant then, isn’t it?” Jessica observed.
After ordering, Will ran through their lesson plan for the afternoon. Once he had finished, he became somewhat anxious, eyes darting around as though he wanted to say something but was worried about being overheard.
Jessica glanced around, too, but it didn’t appear that anyone was particularly interested in their conversation. “Will, is there something you want to tell me, perhaps something that you couldn’t tell me while we were at the airport.”
Will glanced around once more and then leaned forward toward Jessica. In a low voice, so as not to be overheard, he began to explain. “Actually, Mrs. Fletcher, there is. I heard about your emergency landing yesterday afternoon and I have this feeling that maybe it wasn’t an accident.”
“What do you mean, Will?” Jessica asked as though she had no idea what he was talking about.
“Well, I don’t think that it was a coincidence.”
“Was there another plane that had problems with its landing gear?”
“No, but last year when the airport board decided to put the management contract up for
bids because the activity at the airport had dropped off so much since Star Point took over four years ago, there was another near accident.” He paused to take a drink of water.
“Is Star Point Gerry Harper’s company?”
swirled the ice cubes in his red plastic glass.
“No, Gerry is just an employee. Star
Point is a fixed base operator in
“That sounds very cost-effective but it probably doesn’t maximize their profits or result in very good service for their customers,” Jessica decided, shaking her head slightly. “Who provides the maintenance and flight instruction when Gerry’s flying a charter? Jed mentioned that you’re also a business student. That certainly doesn’t leave you much extra time for instructing if he’s out of town.”
“Well, Gerry lost his medical six months ago because of his diabetes so he can’t fly any more. He can only do maintenance. And he’s only an A&P so he still needs an IP to sign off when he does an annual, and that’s the bulk of the maintenance work that’s done here.”
“Is that when Star Point hired you, when Gerry lost his medical?”
“Not exactly. I don’t
work for Star Point. I work for ProAir
over in Parker but I’m also trying to finish up my business degree, so I’m in
They paused when the waitress returned with their orders, fried chicken with mashed potatoes for Will and a salad with grilled chicken breast for Jessica.
had any other students here in
Will finished chewing a bite of chicken, wiped his chin, and then answered, “Not many - even before Gerry lost his medical, I don’t think that there were many students, just the occasional biennial flight review. And there really aren’t very many active pilots here anymore, so those were few and far between.”
“Oh, dear!” Jessica exclaimed. “Flight instruction isn’t a very profitable
part of Star Point’s business then?” Jed
was a big promoter of flying and had built up a very active flight school with
students coming from as far away as
“No. They don’t put any effort into promoting it. I think they make their money off the manager’s salary, fuel sales, and a few charters. Gerry mans the terminal, cuts the grass and does some maintenance. They send a plane over from Warrensburg if someone needs a charter…and then they charge them an arm and a leg,” he added with a disapproving shake of the head.
Jessica said, “I suppose doing business that way keeps their expenses down but
it sounds like the airport is suffering…and probably the town, too. I don’t know what I would do if Jed wasn’t
able to fly me to
“You’d have to drive,” Will said matter-of-factly.
Jessica smiled and shook her head. “But I don’t drive. I don’t even know how.”
“You don’t? I thought everyone drove.”
“But you fly an airplane?”
“Yes, I do.”
Will was amazed and impressed. “You know, Mrs. Fletcher, you’re a very interesting lady.”
“Well, thank you, Will, but I think we’ve gotten a little bit off track.”
“That’s right,” he agreed. “I was telling you about what happened last year.”
“Yes, please continue,” Jessica encouraged him.
“Okay,” he said before setting his fork down. “Last year there were two other companies who submitted bids. They both showed up for the Blueberry Festival fly-in to check the place out because the bid letting was the following month. One of the guys had a mechanical problem on the flight home and had to make an emergency landing on a dirt road. He suspected someone had tampered with his plane, but he couldn’t prove anything and nothing ever came of it. I think he got a good deal on an FBO in Connecticut somewhere, so that left only one other company bidding against Star Point – a two man operation, one full-time pilot and one full-time mechanic, which incidentally is what Kettle Falls really needs.”
Jessica listened intently as he talked. She knew that like most small town politics, airport politics were tricky.
“Their bid was somehow delivered to the terminal instead of to the county offices. Now,” he said, looking around once more, “I’m not saying that Gerry opened it and took a look, but the Star Point bid came in a few days later and the services that they proposed were virtually identical to the other bid…and the bid amount was exactly $1000 less.”
“How do you know the specifics of the bids?” Jessica asked between bites.
“It’s public information.”
“And?” Jessica said, prompting him to give more details.
Will smiled. “And I’m dating this girl who did some temp work for the county last fall. She saw the bids.”
“But Jed’s already been awarded the contract,” Jessica informed him.
Ben swallowed a bite of mashed potatoes before continuing. “But Star Point was the only other bidder. If Jed had crashed…well…” he finished with a shrug and a grimace.
“Is it really that lucrative of a contract?” Jessica wondered.
“It’s more than adequate…and if you have several other similar arrangements it’s a pretty decent amount with little work,” Will replied, “plus from what I hear Star Point needs the money. They had a charter go down last year and are being sued by the widow of the passenger.”
Jessica remembered the incident well. The pilot had accepted the risk of flying in marginal conditions and had paid the ultimate price. It was a shame – the lives of two promising young men, lost.
“Have there been any mishaps or shady dealings at the other airports?”
Will shrugged. “I don’t know. LeAnn didn’t tell me about last year’s bids until the other night when I mentioned that I was planning to sit in on the board meeting. Once I heard about your incident and started thinking about things, I started to wonder. Anyway, I thought that I should tell someone and since you’re already involved…”
“But what about the Sheriff?”
“The Sheriff isn’t particularly fond of me,” Will admitted.
“For Heaven’s sake, why?”
“Well, he already dismissed the incident last year and he seems to have a negative opinion about college students in general.”
“But you seem to be a responsible young man.”
“Thank you,” he replied very quietly.
“Maybe the Sheriff would be more receptive if I spoke with him,” Jessica volunteered.
“Would you?” Will asked earnestly. “I overheard Gerry on the phone this morning. The Sheriff asked him to be available at 3:30 this afternoon.”
When they returned to the airport, Sheriff Avery Corbin was no where to be found. The parking ramp and terminal were buzzing with activity again, a sign that the Blueberry Festival’s Committee Chairwoman was preparing to hand out awards for the Airplane Show.
“It helps draw a few more people for the second day of the festival,” Will explained to Jessica.
Before heading out to the airplane to resume their lesson, both student and instructor automatically headed for the terminal – the location of the only public lavatories on the airport property. The ladies room was occupied and Jessica was third in line.
While she waited, she walked around
the small waiting area, stopping to look at each of the photographs and plaques
that hung on the walls. Of particular
interest was a photograph of the owners and employees of Star Point Aviation
welcoming visitors to the
Jessica moved on to the next photo, an aerial view of the city, and nearly collided with Valerie Grant. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” Jessica said instinctively. “I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see there.”
Ms. Grant smiled shyly. “Actually, Mrs. Fletcher, it was my fault. I just wanted to meet you. Betty and I,” she said, sweeping her hand toward another woman who sat on the couch, “wanted to tell you how much we respect your piloting skills. Jed was lucky that you were on board.”
Jessica accepted Valerie’s compliment graciously and tried to downplay the seriousness of the incident. “Really, if it wasn’t for Jed, things might have turned out much differently. He is an exceptional instructor and if he hadn’t taught me to keep a cool head, a simple mechanical failure might have turned into something far worse.”
“Yes, you’re right, Mrs. Fletcher, but Jed should have known better than to fly when his blood sugar was too low.”
“Is that why he passed out?” Betty asked.
“Yes, he’s hypoglycemic,” Valerie answered just as the ladies restroom became available.
Jessica excused herself as the women continued to talk. When she reemerged, Will was ready to resume their lesson, but when she tried to exit the building, she was stopped.
“Mrs. Fletcher, my name is Bob Albert. I’m a friend of Jed’s.”
Jessica shook his offered hand and glanced around for Will, who was gone. “I was wondering if you might know where I can find Jed.”
“He and Zack are giving the plane a good going over before we fly back to Cabot Cove,” Jessica explained.
Bob sighed. “Good. I can’t believe what happened. It’s bad enough to have your landing gear fail, but to lose consciousness at the same time,” he said, shaking his head. “That just doesn’t happen.”
Or, at the very least, it shouldn’t happen, Jessica thought.
“Anyway, we go back a long way and I just wanted to make sure that he was okay and that it was nothing serious, like his heart or something like that.”
“I’m sure he would appreciate that,” Jessica said as Will poked his head back into the terminal in search of his student. “We’d better go,” she said as she followed Will. “Try the new maintenance hangar. I think you’ll find him there.”
Jessica was starting to feel the effects of the summer heat by the time they touched down on the runway at the end of the afternoon. As they taxied past the maintenance hangar, Will gave Jed, who was standing outside, a double thumbs-up. Jed jogged across the field and met them on the parking ramp.
“I knew you could do it, Jessica,” he said, greeting her as she climbed down from the cockpit.
She smiled wanly and blew her bangs away from her forehead in a gesture of heat-induced fatigue.
“Are you ready to fly us home,” Jed asked good-naturedly.
Jessica wilted slightly, making Jed laugh. “Don’t worry, Jess, it seems that Seth has saved the day.”
Jessica looked at Jed with a quizzical expression.
“It’s seems that everyone’s favorite doctor spent the day observing at the hospital and by early afternoon, he had convinced Dr. Flathers that I am neither diabetic nor suicidal.”
“That’s wonderful! Where is Seth now?”
“In the terminal with the Sheriff and Dr. Flathers. They just called the maintenance hangar and asked me to join them.”
When they entered the terminal they found Gerry Harper, under the watchful eye of the Sheriff, frantically searching his desk. He slammed one drawer closed and then began searching another. “I don’t understand it. I always keep them right here…and I know they were here yesterday because I took one at three o’clock.”
“What is he looking for?” Will whispered to Jessica.
“His diabetes medication.”
“Because the Sheriff obviously thinks that he is responsible for Jed’s hypoglycemic episode yesterday.”
“Is that why Jed passed out?”
Gerry Harper froze and slowly looked up at Jessica and then at the Sheriff. “What?”
“Someone slipped enough of your diabetes medication into Mr. Richardson’s coffee yesterday afternoon to not only make him pass out but to kill him,” the Sheriff explained.
“How do you know it was mine?” Gerry asked defensively.
“Because the pill bottle that Drs. Flathers and Hazlitt turned over to me had your name on it. And the coffee cup has your logo on it.”
“Not only is it possible, Gerry, but there were only a few pills left. Carl Daniels down at the pharmacy said that he just filled that bottle for you two weeks ago. It should still be at least half full. ”
“It is, or at least it was,” Harper said as he slowly sat down.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to come with me,” the Sheriff said as he took a step toward Harper.
“But I didn’t do it.”
“He’s right, Sheriff,” Jessica said matter-of-factly.
All eyes in the room turned to Jessica. “I think that if you check the fingerprints on the pill bottle, you’ll find a second set belonging to Valerie Grant.”
Valerie was up in an instant and spitting fire. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m not the only one who was in the terminal yesterday afternoon.”
“That’s true,” Jessica admitted, “but you are the only one who was in the terminal yesterday afternoon and who knew why Jed passed out. If you remember earlier this afternoon, you told Betty and me that Jed had let his blood sugar drop too low. The only way that you would know that for sure was if you had been the one who drugged Jed’s coffee.”
Pleading, Valerie turned to Jed. “You don’t believe her, do you?”
“She’s rarely wrong,” was Jed’s response.
Valerie’s pleading quickly turned to rage. “It’s exactly what you deserve. You got me pregnant and then abandoned me for your chance to be a big shot pilot.”
Jed was rendered speechless. This was news to him.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. I took care of it.”
Jed finally managed to speak. “How did you take care of it, Val?”
“What do you think? I had an abortion. And now you think you can destroy my business, take it away from me piece by piece?”
“Star Point is your business?”
“Yes,” Valerie answered throwing her shoulders back and raising her nose slightly. “I’ve owned it lock, stock and barrel for the past three years and I’m not about to let you ruin it.”
She lunged for her flight bag but the Sheriff wrestled her to the ground before she could get to her handgun.
When Ben and Tipper pulled into the parking lot Sheriff Corbin was leading Valerie Grant out of the building in handcuffs.
“What happened?” Tipper exclaimed as she ran into the terminal with Ben only a step behind her.
“What else?” Seth said with a shrug. “Jessica figured out who tried to kill Jed.”
“How did you know it was her and not Gerry?” Tipper asked.
“I didn’t for certain,” Jessica admitted. “I just knew that she was involved in some way. If she hadn’t confessed, we still wouldn’t know for sure.”
The phone was ringing when Jessica opened the front door. She hurried into the kitchen and dropped her purse and new overnight bag on the table.
“Hello,” she said as she raised the receiver to her ear.
Jess,” a deep voice said, greeting her from across the
“Aye, love, it’s George.”
She collapsed into a chair and sighed. It was good to hear his voice and she made it a point to tell him so.
“How was the Blueberry Festival?” he asked after they had exchanged pleasantries.
“We had a nice time. Seth got his fill of pancakes and Tipper took second place in a pie eating contest.”
“How was the flight? Uneventful, I hope.”
Jessica hesitated momentarily. “We had great flying weather all weekend,” she finally replied.
George cleared his throat. “So, the Associated Press story that I’m reading right now…let me get the headline right,” he said, pausing and adjusting his reading glasses before continuing, “Mystery writer makes emergency landing. Aye, that’s it,” he decided. “The AP’s story is erroneous?”
Jessica laughed and shook her head. “I should have known,” she replied before continuing with an exaggerated sigh. “How much have you heard?”
“Not nearly enough,” he answered with a smile as he leaned back and propped his feet up on the corner of his desk.
After Jessica had filled him in with the details - and being a Chief Inspector with New Scotland Yard, he certainly wanted all of the details – George inquired again about everyone’s welfare, especially her own.
“I’m fine,” she assured him, “just a little bit on the tired side.”
“In that case, I’ll ring off so you can have a nice hot bath and some much needed rest.”
Taking his advice, that was exactly what she did.
Several weeks later, Jessica and Tipper enjoyed a cup of tea together in Jessica’s kitchen.
“Did you enjoy the football game?” Jessica asked her guest.
Tipper grinned. “It was a blast. Cornell walked all over U Penn.”
“How did Dr. Howard take it?”
“Ben? Oh, he was a pretty good sport.”
Jessica inched the plate of cookies toward Tipper’s side of the table. “Did you give him a tour of campus?”
face lit up again. “As a matter of fact,
I did,” she answered before picking up a cookie and nibbling off a small bite. “
This is like pulling teeth, Jessica thought to herself.
“Did Ben say if they ever solved the case of the disappearing aviation fuel?”
“Oh, I forgot about that,” Tipper answered as she chose sugar cookie and broke it in half. She took a small bite and then continued. “Ben said that the police department hasn’t collected enough proof to arrest anyone, but a couple of college kids who are supposedly well-known for street racing are suddenly having some major engine problems.”
Jessica smiled and shook her head, imagining that the cost of repairing an engine far outweighed the cost of the fuel that they had stolen.
Jessica took a sip of her tea and contemplated taking a more direct approach with Tipper. As usual, curiosity won out.
“Do you think you’ll see him again?”
Tipper chewed on her lower lip before answering. “I don’t know. Do you think that I should?”
“You seem to enjoy each other’s company,” Jessica observed.
Tipper sighed and rested her chin in her hands. “We do but I kind of get the feeling that it’s my turn to…uh…”
“Why don’t you invite him to the Haunted House next weekend,” Jessica suggested.
Now, that’s an idea, Tipper thought to herself. She definitely wanted to see him again but wasn’t quite ready for the pressure of a romantic date; and what could be less romantic than an evening of ghouls, goblins, and gore?
“Would you like to use my phone?”
Tipper blushed. “No, that’s okay, Jessica. I’ll call him as soon as I get home. It’ll be fun,” she added as she stood.
“And you’ll stop here for hot cider afterwards?”
Tipper stopped with her hand paused on the handle of the door. “That’d be great,” she agreed with a smile.
Jessica rinsed their tea cups and smiled to herself as she watched Tipper make her way through the side yard with a smile still plastered onto her face and a spring in her step, and thanked her lucky stars for Frank…and again for George.