With Soul Resolv'd, With Soul Resign'd

"History" part 2

- Excerpts from Manhattans and Mayhem by Donald Bain, as adapted by Anne

 

Author's Note:

The title is taken from a line in Robert Burns' poem "Inscription for an Altar of Independence":

 

Thou of an independent mind,
With soul resolv'd, with soul resign'd;
Prepar'd Power's proudest frown to brave,
Who wilt not be, nor have a slave;
Virtue alone who dost revere,
Thy own reproach alone dost fear-
Approach this shrine, and worship here.

 

"Damned Hillshire case," I cursed to myself. "Nothing is ever straightforward or easy Ö"

††††††††††† I was muttering under my breath as I strode down one of the many corridors of New Scotland Yard, bound for my office. It wasn't the Hillshire case itself that had me in such a foul mood - the investigation was proceeding at a satisfactory pace, actually. There was a suspect already in custody, and I expected the whole thing to be wrapped up relatively soon.

No, it was the timing: I had held out some hope of attending a law enforcement convention in San Francisco, California that was starting a mere week from now, but the Hillshire case had come up in the meantime, and as the lead investigator, I would likely be unable to break away in time. Ordinarily I would not have cared - I'd been to this particular conference before - except that I'd recently heard from Jessica that her latest book tour would be winding up there, leaving her with free time in San Francisco at exactly the time that I would have been arriving.

††††††††††† It had been a year since I had seen her, here in London. The case of the young man who had assaulted her had been settled out of court, negating the need for her to return to testify, and thus denying me of a chance to see her again afterward. Now there was this opportunity to meet with her in San Francisco instead, and I had been fervently hoping that somehow I'd be able to fly to the States to take advantage of it.

††††††††††† "Thrice damned Hillshire case," I cursed again, this time with feeling.

††††††††††† "Inspector Sutherland!" one of the staff sergeants said, hurrying to catch up with me. "Sir!"

††††††††††† "What is it?" I asked, and kept walking. Another complication, no doubt, I thought sourly. Things just keep going from bad to worse.

††††††††††† The staff sergeant fell into step beside me. "Rudy Hardwick, your prime suspect in the Hillshire case - he's confessed."

††††††††††† I stopped in my tracks and looked at the staff sergeant in open amazement. "What did you say?"

††††††††††† "He confessed - Hardwick, that is. He spilled the whole story - says he wants to cut a deal."

††††††††††† "Did he, now?" I said, smiling for what felt like the first time in days. "Sergeant, that is wonderful news!"

††††††††††† "Yes, sir," the staff sergeant said, no doubt thinking that while the news was significant, it didn't exactly qualify as 'wonderful,' at least in his eyes. "Do you want to come take his statement?"

††††††††††† "Indeed I do. But first I have a phone call to make."

††††††††††† I resumed my course for my office at a much brisker pace and with a much lighter step. Rudy Hardwick - and the whole bloody Hillshire case, for that matter - could wait until after I'd called Jessica with the good news.

††††††††††† I couldn't wait to see her.

 

††††††††††† As soon as I had checked into San Francisco's venerable Mark Hopkins Hotel, the first thing I did was call Jessica where she was staying at the Westin St. Francis.

††††††††††† "Hello?"

††††††††††† "Jessica?"

††††††††††† "Yes. George?" She sounded a bit confused, as if hearing from me was a surprise.

††††††††††† "Yes," I said, laughing. "I'm here. In San Francisco."

††††††††††† "You are? Of course you are. I was sleeping and -"

††††††††††† Well, that explained the momentary confusion. "Sorry to have awoken you."

††††††††††† "No, please," she said, collecting herself. "How wonderful to hear your voice. You're at the Mark?"

††††††††††† "Yes. Just checked in. I wondered if you were up to a welcoming drink. Presumptuous, of course, to suggest a formal welcome for me but -"

††††††††††† "I think it's a splendid idea."

††††††††††† "I'll head there straight away," I said.

††††††††††† "I have a better idea, George," she said. "Give me half an hour and we'll meet at the Top of the Mark, right where you are. The views are splendid."

††††††††††† "I know those views well, Jessica," I said, "but they'll be twice as appealing with you at my side."

 

††††††††††† I arrived at the Top of the Mark, and scanned the circular room, looking for Jessica. Spotting her was easy; all I needed to do was look for the flash of gold amidst the dreary crowd of dark-suited policemen. I made my way through the throng to her, pausing now and then to greet a colleague, until finally I stood before her table.

††††††††††† She stood, beaming and clearly pleased to see me, but was a little uncertain as to how to greet me. She decided to go with the safest route, and shook hands with me. I showed her that such formality was unnecessary by giving her a quick kiss on the cheek in return.

††††††††††† "How do you do it, Jessica?" I asked her.

††††††††††† She looked at me with bright blue eyes. "Do what?"

††††††††††† "Manage to look younger with each year."

††††††††††† Jessica laughed. "First of all, I donít. Second, I love hearing it."

††††††††††† I sat across the small table from her, crossed my legs comfortably, and sighed. "It is very good to be here with you," I told her. "Very good indeed."

††††††††††† "For me, too," she said earnestly.

††††††††††† We took a moment to take stock of each other. I'd meant what I'd said to her - maybe it was because she had been so long absent from my sight, but Jessica really did look younger to my eyes, more radiant even than when I first met her in London.

††††††††††† "Let's get the nitty-gritty out of the way," I said at length. "How long will you be in town?"

††††††††††† "Another week," she answered. "I've already been here a week. My latest book has finally hit the bookstores, and I've fulfilled my obligatory book-signing appearances, not to mention television and radio appearances in New York, Boston, and Chicago. San Francisco marks the end of the tour. I've decided I deserve a vacation, so I'm tacking on an extra week here."

††††††††††† A waitress approached our table, and after hearing the list of what single-malt scotches were available, and chose a Knockando on the rocks.

††††††††††† Jessica gave me a curious look. "You've traveled a long way from Scotland to have a single malt scotch," she said.

††††††††††† "Can't afford to drink it at home," I sighed.

††††††††††† Once my scotch arrived we raised our glasses in a toast, then settled in to get some serious catching-up done.

††††††††††† "All right, Jessica, you go first," I said. "You have six minutes to fill me in on the past year."

††††††††††† "I thought I did that in my last letter."

††††††††††† I knew full well she had been censoring herself in her letters; by my count she had been involved in nearly a score of murder investigations in the past year, only a handful of which had been mentioned in her correspondence, and then only in passing. She withheld these details to keep me from worrying about her, I supposed. What she didn't realize was that with my contacts I was bound to hear of her adventures eventually anyway. "You tried," I said. "But I think I know you better. Your life sounded - well, sounded as though it lacked its usual excitement."

††††††††††† "Hardly," she admitted. "But the sense of excitement quickly wanes after the rush of it is over." She embarked on a concise summary of what she'd been up to, concentrating on things that she'd left out of her letters. "Your turn," she said when she had finished. "You have five minutes."

††††††††††† I widened my eyes in mock astonishment. "You've stolen a minute from me."

††††††††††† "So that we can get through with the 'This Is Your Life' portion of the evening, and get on to more substantive things."

††††††††††† "All right," I said, and fulfilled my turn in just over two minutes. "Now, your turn to provide 'substance.'"

††††††††††† Jessica lowered her voice. "Will murder do?"

††††††††††† "Fiction or fact?"

††††††††††† "Fact."

††††††††††† A vague feeling of uneasiness came over me. "Yes, I think that will do just fine," I said grimly. "You're involved again."

††††††††††† "You make it sound nefarious on my part," she said.

††††††††††† "Dangerous is more like it, Jessica. You do know I'm quite fond of you, and worry when you stray from your trusty typewriter and intrude on my turf."

††††††††††† She smiled. "Your turf?"

††††††††††† "Real murder," I clarified. "My balliwick. If you insist upon becoming involved in the real thing, I suggest you apply for a job at the Yard."

††††††††††† "I'd love it," she said promptly.

††††††††††† I winced. "Yes, I'm sure you would. Has this murder in which you're currently interested fallen into your lap, as they say? Or is it something you've pursued?"

††††††††††† "It fell into my lap. Or, more accurately, it fell into my briefcase."

††††††††††† "Did it?" I said, looking at her skeptically. "Sure you didn't instigate things? We have a saying in Scotland: 'He that blaws in the stoor fills his ain een.'"

††††††††††† Jessica blew up into her bangs in frustration. "Whoever said that Scots speak English was wrong. And what does that mean?"

††††††††††† "'He that stirs up trouble, finds himself in it.'"

††††††††††† She nodded and said, "Lesson received and understood. George, does the name Kimberly Steffer ring a bell?"

††††††††††† "Of course," I said. "Pity what happened to her. She's the young writer - children's books, if I'm not mistaken - who murdered - allegedly - her husband. Name, Mark. Owned a restaurant here in San Francisco. She was born and raised in England but moved here when she married the chap. Our infamous British tabloids loved that case. Practically got as much coverage as Fergie and Di. Why do you ask?"

††††††††††† "A complicated story, George, which should come as no surprise considering I've ended up involved - to a degree," said Jessica. "A couple of days ago I visited a women's prison outside San Francisco. My publicity agent arranged for me to speak to the inmates about writing. I emphasized journal writing. When I got back to town, I was surprised to discover that one of the inmates had planted a large black book in my bag. It turned out to be a diary. A diary filled with accounts of a trial, and proclaiming the author's innocence."

††††††††††† "And the author was Kimberly Steffer," I guessed.

††††††††††† "Exactly."

††††††††††† "Go on," I said, not at all sure I was liking where this was headed.

††††††††††† "I read the diary and was mesmerized. So I went back to the prison and met with Ms. Steffer. We spoke briefly in the Visitor's Room, and she divulged some interesting facts to me."

††††††††††† "Such as?"

††††††††††† "She mentioned a partner in her husband's restaurant as being capable of the murder. And she mentioned a stepdaughter, who she believes knows who really killed her husband."

††††††††††† I tapped the tablecloth with my fingers, thinking about what she had said. "I can see why your interest has been piqued."

††††††††††† "I'm not convinced she murdered her husband," said Jessica.

††††††††††† "Nor am I."

††††††††††† Surprised that I agreed with her so readily based on so little information, she said, "You aren't?"

††††††††††† "No," I told her. "Kimberly comes from a lovely, close family. Some members of that family paid me a visit at Scotland Yard when Kimberly was charged with her husband's murder. I listened to their pleas, of course, and was sufficiently impressed to personally look into the case. There wasn't much I could do. San Francisco is hardly my jurisdiction. But I did try to gather what information was available to me. I called Ms. Steffer's defense attorney here, even got hold of the prosecutor of the case. The case against her was purely circumstantial. No eyewitnesses. No smoking gun or bloody dagger. A combination of a zealous and skilled prosecuting attorney pitted against what, in my judgment from afar, was a somewhat inept defense attorney."

††††††††††† "Did her family give you any tangible information that might help establish her innocence?" Jessica asked.

††††††††††† I shook my head, then he leaned closer over the table to lend weight to my words: "Nothing tangible, Jessica. But I believed her family. Hardly what a veteran, hard-boiled officer of the law should be doing, but I did. Believed them, that is. I vividly remember looking into her father's eyes and knowing that everything he said about his 'little girl' was true. That she was, indeed, a genteel writer of children's books, incapable of killing anyone. Her father also convinced me of his daughter's love for this man, Mark, whom she'd married. I found it as inconceivable as did he that his daughter had murdered him."

††††††††††† "Sheer instinct on your part," Jessica deduced.

††††††††††† "Yes," I admitted.

††††††††††† "I've never considered you to be hard-boiled."

††††††††††† "I have my moments," I told her with a grin. "There was some especially gripping testimony from a cab driver, as I remember, and accounts from several other witnesses."

††††††††††† "Some with axes to grind, at least according to Kimberly."

††††††††††† "I heard that, too. Scuttlebutt from American colleagues," I said. 'I received a touching thank-you note from her family for my efforts. It made me want to do something more than make a few phone calls. But my hands were tied. Have you run across the illustrator of her books?"

††††††††††† "Illustrator? No," she said. "You obviously know a lot more about the case than I do. I just got started."

††††††††††† "I canít remember the bloke's name," I told her with a shake of my head. "He'd had a legal problem with Ms. Steffer sometime before her husband's murder. It seems he sued her in court here in the States."

††††††††††† "Sued her for what?" she asked.

††††††††††† "It came down to, I believe, his claim that she owed him money. I have no idea what the amount was, but it did revolve around a contract that existed between them. Coming back to me now. He alleged that his percentage in their contractual agreement should have been considerably higher because the books went on to become international best-sellers. He didn't prevail in that suit. After all, a written agreement is just that. He returned to London after his defeat in your courts."

††††††††††† "Was he questioned about the murder?"

††††††††††† "I don't know about here, but I contacted him. Ms. Steffer's family raised his name with me. He didn't want to meet with me, nor was he obligated to. We had a brief chat on the phone. I always remember his final comment. He said, 'As far as I'm concerned, Kimberly got what she deserved.' Or something equally poetic."

††††††††††† Jessica shook her head. "I'm confused, George. Why would he murder Mark Steffer?"

††††††††††† I finished off my scotch - which had been excellent - and shrugged. "He wouldn't be the first person to kill someone close to a hated rival," I replied. "I asked whether you'd run across him because after staying in London for a short time - he's British - he returned to the States to live. Out here on the West Coast."

††††††††††† I glanced at my watch, and noted the time with a start. "Good heavens, Jessica, I'm afraid I must run out on you," I said. "Tonight is the opening dinner. I still haven't unpacked, and have business to tend to before the 'festivities' begin."

††††††††††† "I understand, George," she said.

††††††††††† "Tell you what," I said to her, "this series of seminars will keep me busy for the next couple of days. But I've made a hard-boiled decision as we've been talking."

††††††††††† She looked up at me with interest. "Oh?"

††††††††††† "I've decided that I deserve a holiday, too. I intend to call my travel agent the moment I get to my room and book a later flight. A week later." My announcement earned me the reward of seeing her beam with pleasure. "I'd like nothing more than to spend a week in this splendid city with an equally splendid woman named Jessica Fletcher."

††††††††††† "Sure you can?" she asked hopefully.

††††††††††† I smiled at her. "A chief inspector can do anything, Jessica."

††††††††††† She smiled back. "Run along," she said. "I don't feel nearly as deprived losing you tonight, knowing I'll have an entire week in your company."

††††††††††† "Care to attend some of the seminars?" I asked her. "Might be instructive."

††††††††††† "Thanks for the offer, George, but I think not," Jessica said. "I don't want to develop a reputation for hanging around with the wrong crowd."

††††††††††† I laughed. "A wise decision."

††††††††††† "Know what I think I might do tomorrow?" she said suddenly as I signaled the waitress to bring me our bill.

††††††††††† "No, what?" I said, reaching for my wallet.

††††††††††† Jessica put her hand over mine. "My treat, George."

††††††††††† I looked at her with a twinkle in my eye and said, "So you've become a woman of the 'nineties, Jessica?"

††††††††††† She made a wry face and abruptly withdrew her hand, and her offer to pay. "If buying you a drink labels me that, feel free to pay."

††††††††††† "Remember," I said as I handed my credit card to the waitress, "'Fair maidens wear nae purses.'"

††††††††††† "Another Scottish expression?" she asked.

††††††††††† "Yes. We Scots may have a reputation for being tight with money, but we balk at having women pay when in mixed company."

††††††††††† We both laughed.†††

††††††††††† "Tomorrow," I reminded her. "You were about to tell me what you might do."

††††††††††† "Oh. Right. Have you ever walked across the Golden Gate Bridge?"

††††††††††† "No," I said.

††††††††††† "Want to?" she asked me. "If you do, I'll postpone it until you're free."

††††††††††† "Better do it while the urge is strong, Jessica. That's what you have on tap tomorrow?"

††††††††††† She glanced out the window. "Weather permitting."

††††††††††† "Well, whatever you do, do it carefully," I told her. "And wear heavy shoes."

††††††††††† "Why?" she asked with a smile.

††††††††††† The waitress returned with my card and the slip, which I signed. "To give you ballast in a strong wind," I said as I repocketed my wallet.

††††††††††† We both stood, and I gave her another gentle kiss on the cheek.

"Do keep in touch, Jessica," I said, reluctant to break my gaze away from her. "I would love to spend as much time with you as possible, even while the convention is going on."

"I will," she promised, placing her hand on my arm and letting it linger there. "Keep me posted on your schedule, and we'll see what we can work out."

"Right then," I said, suddenly feeling rather flushed. "Til next time?"

"Til next time."

I turned away and left, and the crowd of people closed in behind me like a curtain between us.

 

††††††††††† The next day was a busy one for me. The morning was booked completely solid with breakfast presentations, panel discussions, and seminar presentations. Then there was the standard meet-and-greet luncheon to attend, followed by more seminars in the early afternoon.It was after three before I had a moment to myself.

As soon as the lecture I had just attended concluded, I made a dash up to my room to freshen up before the scheduled reception for the speakers began.I was just about to head back out the door when the phone rang. With a sigh I turned back to answer it.

††††††††††† It was Jessica, and she didn't sound like herself. There was a tremor in her voice as if she were shaking. "Are you free this evening?" she asked.

††††††††††† "Yes and no, Jessica," I told her. "I'm hosting a cocktail party in twenty minutes. It seems we have more cocktail parties than working sessions, but I suppose that should come as no surprise."

††††††††††† "And after that?" she asked. "Free for dinner?"

††††††††††† "With you? Of course," I said. She hadn't volunteered what the cause of her distress was, so I decided to broach the subject myself. "You sound upset."

††††††††††† "Do I? I'm trying not to. But yes, I am upset. I need to talk to you."

††††††††††† Alarm bells rang in my head - Jessica was rarely upset, and it was rarer still for her to admit it even when she was. Something truly traumatic must have happened. "I'll pick you up in two hours. I'd come sooner, but this angersome party has me -"

††††††††††† She would hear none of that. "I'm leaving the hotel, George," she said firmly. "I'll meet you at yours. Upstairs, at the Top of the Mark."

††††††††††† "Right on, Jessica. I'll be there as soon as I've discharged my obligations."

††††††††††† Two hours later I was in the lift headed for the Top of the Mark, impatiently tapping my foot as it seemed to take forever to climb past the hotel's floors.The famed San Francisco fog had rolled in, and little could be seen outside the windows that ringed the Mark Hopkins' famed venue.I looked for Jessica; she was sitting by herself at a table near the windows, her chin resting on her hand as she absently gazed out at the blank greyness.I made my way to her quickly.

††††††††††† "Sorry I'm late, Jess," I said as I took a seat at the table with her. I looked down, and saw a half-finished Manhattan sitting in front of her. That in and of itself was alarming: in the time that I had known her, Jessica seldom took anything stronger than white wine, abstaining from hard liquor except in emergencies. That she had opted for a mixed drink now spoke volumes about how rattled her nerves must be.

††††††††††† She broke out of her meditative study of the fog, looked at me, and managed a wan smile. "Wonderful to see you, George," she said. "Let's find the waitress."

††††††††††† "Not for me," I said, shaking my head. "I've had enough to drink at the party. Hungry?"

††††††††††† She nodded. "Yes."

††††††††††† "Then," I said, rising from my chair and offering her my hand to help her up from hers, "let's get ourselves some dinner, someplace quiet where you can tell me what's upset you today."

 

††††††††††† "Sushi?" I repeated incredulously.I had made the regrettable gesture of letting Jessica pick where we were to dine that night, and as a consequence we were now seating in a cab on our way to Restaurant Isuzu, in San Francisco's Japantown district. "You like sushi?"

††††††††††† She nodded."Once a year - never more than that - I have a craving for sushi."

††††††††††† "You've had it before then, I take it."

††††††††††† "Twice before," she said. "The first time was in Tokyo, the second in New York. It will never rank on my list of favorite foods. But, as I say, I have this annual craving. And this is the night."

††††††††††† I leaned back and momentarily closed my eyes. "Sushi," I said again.

††††††††††† "You're a real friend, and a trooper, to come here, George," Jessica said once we had arrived and were seated at our table.

††††††††††† "For you, Jessica, I will do anything. Even sushi." I looked around the room, which was situated toward the rear of the restaurant. "I rather like the place. Charming. Besides, it will broaden my horizons, but not my waistline. When you think about it, you don't see many fat Japanese men or women."

††††††††††† Jessica cocked her head. "Sumo wrestlers?" she offered.

††††††††††† "There's an exception to everything," I said with a shrug.

††††††††††† She sighed. "Thanks for stealing time for me, George. I know you're terribly busy and -"

††††††††††† I held up my hand. "Enough of that," I told her. "Now, tell me what has upset you this fine day."

††††††††††† Jessica took a deep breath. "Someone tried to kill me this morning."

††††††††††† "I would say that warrants a bit of upset. Where did this happen?"

††††††††††† "On the Golden Gate Bridge," she said. "I took that walk on the bridge I told you I was considering. Lovely morning. Lots of people doing the same thing. I stopped at mid-span to take in the views, and -" she paused and suppressed a shudder - "well, someone tried to push me over the edge."

††††††††††† This was worse than I had imagined. "What a horrible experience. You obviously managed to fight off the bleck."

††††††††††† "That what?" she asked.

††††††††††† "The bleck - the scoundrel," I explained. "Go on. Who was it?"

††††††††††† "I don't know," she said, shaking her head. "I never saw him, or her. When I fought back, the person backed off and disappeared into the crowd. I suppose if I'd turned around immediately I might have seen the - the bleck - but I was too shaken."

††††††††††† Our Japanese waitress approached our table with a basket of warm towels to cleanse our hands and menus.When she asked for our drink orders, Jessica waved her away. "Nothing for me, thank you," she said. "Just some club soda." I ordered a Japanese beer. When in Rome Ö

††††††††††† "What did you do after it happened?" I asked Jessica when the waitress had departed.

††††††††††† "I came back into town and went to the police. A Detective Josephs interviewed me. He says he knows you."

††††††††††† "Josephs?" I said, thinking back. "Yes, I vaguely recall someone with that name. Was he helpful?"

††††††††††† "Yes and no," she said, wincing. "He's writing a novel and gave it to me to read."

††††††††††† I frowned and said, "How inappropriate."

††††††††††† "Not really," Jessica said. "We struck a deal. I read his novel in exchange for the opportunity to review the Kimberly Steffer files."

††††††††††† I sat back and slowly shook his head. "You amaze me, Jessica. Someone tries to kill you, yet you forge ahead trying to solve a murder that happened years ago, in order to save a woman you barely know."

††††††††††† "Just an old fubdub, I suppose," she said.

††††††††††† Now it was I who needed to ask for a translation: "Fubdub?"

††††††††††† Jessica grinned. "My turn to be colloquial," she said. "From Maine - 'fubdub.' A compulsive person. At any rate, that's what I did."

††††††††††† "Is his novel any good?" I asked.

††††††††††† "I don't know because I haven't read it yet. That's on my agenda for later tonight," she replied. "Maybe we'd better order."

††††††††††† I turned my attention to the menu, skipping the large selection of sushi offered by the restaurant, looking for something that I could count on at least being thoroughly cooked. I was hoping they would have Ö ah, yes, there it was. I was saved.

††††††††††† Jessica must have noticed the pleased expression on my face. "Find something you like?"

††††††††††† "Yes. They have tempura. Fried food always gets my vote. You?"

††††††††††† "The Futomaki sushi sounds good to me. A little of everything, including octopus."

††††††††††† Octopus? I stifled an inward groan.

††††††††††† "Not your idea of classic pub fare, is it," she commented when she saw my expression.

††††††††††† When the waitress returned Jessica ordered her sushi, and I ordered my tempura, well done. Jessica bit her lip, consciously stifling a comment.

"I like my fried food to be burned, Jess," I said to her. "The way my mother always cooked it."

The waitress smiled and bowed, leaving us in privacy once more.

"Jessica," I said, taking up the thread of our earlier conversation, "why didn't you ring me up immediately to tell me what happened?"

††††††††††† "I'm not sure," she admitted. "It wasn't that I intended to keep it from you. I just preferred to tell you in person."

††††††††††† After dinner, over tea and orange slices garnished with cherries, the other cause of Jessica's upsetting day - her confrontation with Ellie Steffer's godmother in the lobby of the St. Francis - came up.

††††††††††† "That settles it," I said when she had finished her tale.

††††††††††† "Settles what?"

††††††††††† "You're moving tonight to the Mark Hopkins," I told her. "I'll arrange for a room on my floor. You mustn't be in a hotel alone, not with the enemies you seem to have developed here in San Francisco." I drained the last of my beer, as if to signify that the topic was now closed. Of course, I should have known better.

††††††††††† "George," Jessica said quietly but with no less firmness, "I appreciate your concern. Believe me, the moment I feel I'm in jeopardy, I'll move right next door to you. In the meantime, I prefer to stay put. They've given me the most magnificent suite. The staff is bending over backward to make my stay comfortable. Unless there's some dramatic reason for leaving, I prefer to stay put."

††††††††††† "Almost being pushed off the Golden Gate doesn't qualify as a dramatic reason?" I asked.

††††††††††† "Enough to keep me off the bridge. But my suite and the hotel are perfectly safe."

††††††††††† "Then, I'll move to your hotel."

††††††††††† She shook her head. "You can't do that. You have the conference to consider. No, we'll leave things just as they are. For the moment."

††††††††††† I sighed.There was no bending that stubborn will; best to surrender now and get it over with. "You're a dour woman, Jessica Fletcher," I said.

††††††††††† "Dour? I don't consider myself morose."

††††††††††† "You aren't," I told her. "You're dour. A misconception about the Scottish language. "Dour: stubborn."

††††††††††† She flashed the first unburdened smile I had seen that evening. "That I can accept."

††††††††††† "Care for an after-dinner drink before I see you safely back to your hotel?" I offered her. "Some silki perhaps?"

††††††††††† "It's saki, George," she said gently, still smiling. "Saki, not silki. And no thank you. I've had quite enough to drink for one day."

††††††††††† We hailed a cab and headed back to the St. Francis, where I insisted on escorting Jessica to her suite. But something was amiss: when she opened the door, lights were on, and so was the television. Someone was in the suite."Hello?" she called.

††††††††††† "Stay here, Jess," I said, moving past her to investigate. I warily approached the living room and demanded, "Who's here?"

A man was seated in the wing chair that faced the television set; he slowly rose and turned to face me.

††††††††††† Jessica - who, of course, had not stayed put as I had asked - recognized him immediately. "Detective Josephs!"

††††††††††† "'Evening, Mrs. Fletcher," the man said.

††††††††††† Detective or not, I was still none too pleased to see him in the suite without an invitation. "How did you get in here?" I asked him.

††††††††††† He flashed his badge. "I asked," he said simply. "The badge helped. How the hell are you, George?" Josephs came across the room, his hand extended.

††††††††††† "Do I know you?" I asked.

††††††††††† "Of course you do. Walt Josephs. San Fran P.D."

††††††††††† Reluctantly, I shook his hand. "I think I remember," he said. "Some conference a few years back." I didn't add that the memories were not necessarily fond ones.

††††††††††† "Right on."

††††††††††† "I still would like to know how - no, why you're here, Detective Josephs," Jessica asked impatiently, but the phone rang before she could get her answer. The caller, from the sound of it, was the hotel manager, no doubt calling to explain why Josephs had been allowed into her suite.

††††††††††† "No need to explain, Mr. Kramer," she said wearily. "I would have done the same thing. But thank you for your concern."

††††††††††† She hung up and faced Josephs again, who said, "I found out something today I thought you'd be interested in knowing, Mrs. Fletcher."

††††††††††† "Such as?"

††††††††††† Instead of telling her, he gestured to the glass in his hand. "I hope you don't think I'm pushy or anything, but I helped myself to a drink from your bar. I'm off duty. Happy to pay for it. Can I get you something, George?"

††††††††††† I could sense Jessica's patience running out, as was my own. "I suggest you tell Mrs. Fletcher what it is you've come here to tell her and then leave, Detective. She's had a long day and is quite fatigued."

††††††††††† "Oh, yeah, I know that," he said. I hope you're not too tired to read my book, though."

††††††††††† "We can discuss that later," Jessica said stonily.

††††††††††† We all took seats before Josephs, remnants of his drink in his hand, said, "Remember that guy you mentioned to me? Brett Pearl?"

††††††††††† "The illustrator who worked on the books with Kimberly Steffer," she said.
"Yes, I remember."

††††††††††† "And you know about the guy who went off the bridge today."

††††††††††† Jessica nodded. "I was in your office when you received the call."

††††††††††† Josephs sat back with a satisfied grin. "Seems they're one and the same."

††††††††††† This seemed to catch Jessica by surprise. "Oh, my. You're sure?"

††††††††††† "Yeah. His father confirmed the identity down at the morgue."

††††††††††† "A suicide?" I queried.

††††††††††† Josephs shrugged. "The verdict's out on that," he said.

††††††††††† "Meaning there's the possibility this Mr. Pearl was pushed off the bridge," I added, following the train of his thoughts to its conclusion.

††††††††††† "Right on, George. A good possibility," said Josephs. "We had a witness call this afternoon. Wouldn't identify herself, but she said she saw a struggle on the bridge about the time Pearl must have gone over."

††††††††††† "An anonymous witness?" I asked.

††††††††††† "Just one witness?" said Jessica.

††††††††††† "So far," Josephs said. "Like in your case, Mrs. Fletcher, having lots of people around doesn't mean anybody sees anything - or wants to talk about it."

††††††††††† "Brett Pearl's death occurred shortly after the attempt on my life," Jessica mused. "Do you think it might have been the same person who tried to kill me?"

††††††††††† "Could be," the detective said with a noncommittal shrug. "But I'll tell you this: if that's the case, you're one strong lady. Not to mention lucky."

††††††††††† "How I successfully defended myself is an enigma, even to me," I said.

††††††††††† Josephs laughed. "Hey, you're in California, Mrs. Fletcher. Must have been the power of positive thinking that saved you. We're big into that out here. Mind over matter. A carrot juice once a day also helps. And plenty of sprouts."

††††††††††† "Or that dreadful sushi," I muttered.

††††††††††† If Jessica heard my comment she chose to ignore it. "Do you have any suspects?" she asked.

††††††††††† Josephs shook his head. "None, Mrs. Fletcher. That's why I'm here. I was hoping you could give us some information. Like, maybe you've remembered something else about what happened."

††††††††††† He looked at her hopefully, but Jessica's blank look caused his face to fall. "I'm afraid I haven't had any flashbacks," she said. "Or psychic experiences, for that matter."

††††††††††† "Well, it was worth a shot," Josephs sighed, finishing his drink. "I know one thing."

††††††††††† "Which is? I asked.

††††††††††† "Some nut is running around San Fran pushing people off bridges. He's one for two. This guy Pearl didn't have his daily carrot juice like you, Mrs. Fletcher."

††††††††††† "I intend to start drinking it from this moment on," said Jessica. "You said Brett Pearl's father identified the body."

††††††††††† Josephs nodded. "Right."

††††††††††† "Would you be good enough to give me his address and phone number?"

††††††††††† "Sure. I don't have it with me. Give me a call at the office in the morning."

††††††††††† "Thank you."

††††††††††† Josephs wasn't about to let the evening end without making another pitch for his precious novel. "You can tell me then what publisher you think should publish my novel," he said.

††††††††††† Jessica had a better idea, one that would make sure Josephs lived up to his end of this bargain of convenience. "Tell you what, Detective Josephs - instead of calling you, I'll come by your office and spend a few hours looking at the Kimberly Steffer files. We can talk about your book then."

††††††††††† "Yeah," the detective said, a hint of dejection in his voice. "Okay. I can arrange that. Make it eleven."

††††††††††† Jessica smiled sweetly, having managed to get her way. "I'll be there on the button."

††††††††††† Josephs went to leave the suite, but before he did I caught up with him at the door. "Two things, Detective Josephs," I said to him quietly, hoping Jessica would not overhear. "One, you owe Mrs. Fletcher for the drink. Two, don't ever enter her room again without her prior permission."

††††††††††† Josephs looked surprised at my insistence. "Hey, lighten up, George," he protested.

††††††††††† I did not 'lighten up,' and held firm. This obnoxious man had taken far too many liberties this evening, and needed to be reminded of his place. "I believe the drink is five dollars."

††††††††††† "Five dollars?" he yelped. "I had a thimble full."

††††††††††† "Five dollars," I repeated steadily.

††††††††††† Giving me a dirty look, Josephs reluctantly pulled out his wallet, retrieved a five dollar bill, and handed me the money.

††††††††††† "And did I make myself clear about not entering her room?" I asked as I accepted it.

††††††††††† Instead of answering, Josephs gave a forced laugh. "You Scotch are some strange breed."

††††††††††† "Scotch is a whiskey, Detective," I corrected him, unsmiling. "I am Scottish. A Scotsman. Good evening."

 

††††††††††† I was scheduled to deliver an address at breakfast on this, the last morning of the law enforcement convention. While I was getting ready, I flipped on the television to catch the morning news.I was half-listening as I gathered my materials and adjusted my tie until I heard Jessica's name mentioned.Suddenly the report had my full attention: word of Jessica's close call on the Golden Gate the day before had reached the ears of the media.

††††††††††† "Bloody hell," I muttered as the news story went on to articulate the inevitable connection between the attack and her involvement with the Kimberly Steffer case. "Bloody, bloody hell."

††††††††††† Lingering to see how bad the damage was nearly made me late for my breakfast meeting.Thankfully, my obligations to the convention ended with the applause for my speech. As soon as it was finished I headed directly back to my room, packed, and checked out of the hotel, bound for the Westin St. Francis.

 

††††††††††† I reached the St. Francis as the press was beginning to mass. While checking in at the front desk I learned that Jessica was currently out, so I moved my luggage up to my new suite - one right next to hers with a connecting door, as I had requested - then returned to the lobby to wait for her.

††††††††††† It wasn't long before her return was announced by a sudden flurry of activity among the reporters. At a shout from someone they quickly moved aside and I saw San Francisco PD's Detective Josephs leading Jessica through the pathway that opened up. As much as I found Josephs irksome, at the moment I was glad to see him.

††††††††††† I stood up on tiptoe and waved to them as they entered the lobby. They headed in my direction, followed closely by the surging press behind them. Josephs turned at bay and held up his badge, temporarily stopping their advance; Jessica used the opportunity he provided to reach my side.

††††††††††† "What are you doing here?" she asked me as I took her hands in mine.

††††††††††† "I came the minute I heard the news on the telly," I said.

††††††††††† "What news?" she asked.

††††††††††† "About the attempt on your life. On the bridge."

††††††††††† "It was on television?" she said incredulously.

††††††††††† "Afraid so, Jessica. They played it up big. Network, I think."

††††††††††† "Network?" she repeated in dismay. "They'll see it back in Cabot Cove."

††††††††††† "Possibly."

††††††††††† "Probably is more like it," Jessica said grimly.

††††††††††† Josephs turned to us and asked me, "You responsible for this?"

††††††††††† "Don't be daft," I retorted.

††††††††††† Jessica pressed closer to me as some of the reporters began edging around Josephs in an effort to get past him to her. "Gorry, what a mess."

††††††††††† "What?" said Josephs.

††††††††††† "She's from Maine," I told him by way of explanation. "Come on, Jessica. Let's get upstairs." I took her by the arm and led her to the elevators. As luck would have it the doors slid open as we reached them and we got in. Josephs was our rearguard, jumping in just as the doors were about to slide shut.

††††††††††† With the press shut out and rapidly receding beneath us, Jessica was finally able to vent. "I cannot believe this," she said angrily. "I wanted a few quiet days here. Not a media circus! Not to have every move I make scrutinized by a pack of reporters!"

††††††††††† The elevator stopped on the thirty-first floor. "Come on," I said, once again taking Jessica's hand. "My room is this way."

††††††††††† She looked at me in confusion. "Your room?" she asked, wide-eyed.

††††††††††† Instead of answering, I led her and Detective Josephs down the hall and into the suite I had reserved just that morning after I checked out of the Mark Hopkins.

††††††††††† "This is your room?" Josephs said as he looked around.

††††††††††† "Certainly is," I said.

††††††††††† "What happened to the Mark Hopkins?" Jessica asked.

††††††††††† "Not as of this morning, Jessica," I told her. "Seeing the story on the telly made up my mind. The last straw, you might say. I called, booked this room, and moved right over. This door connects to your second - empty - bedroom," I said, leveling a glare at Josephs.

††††††††††† Jessica's face softened. "George, it wasn't necessary for you to -" Her expression instantly became stony again when she saw Josephs give her a wink and a knowing smile.

††††††††††† "I don't believe this, George," she said, beginning to pace the room in agitation. "This is a nightmare. What about your speech?"

††††††††††† "Already gave it," I said. "Breakfast speaker. It's the best time - everyone's relatively awake. Went quite well, actually."

††††††††††† She turned to face me again and sighed. "You didnít need this, either."

††††††††††† Using the aforementioned door to the second empty bedroom, we moved over to Jessica's suite, arriving just as her phone began to ring.

††††††††††† "Let it ring," I advised her.

††††††††††† The message light was flashing, and despite my warning she picked up the phone anyway. Fortunately, it wasn't a real person on the other end, but a recorded message advising her that the tape was completely filled.

††††††††††† "Donít mind me," Josephs said as he went to the bar and poured himself an orange juice. He turned on the TV, found a station that was broadcasting the local news, and unceremoniously slumped into a chair. There were a couple of headlines that did not involve us, but the next story, accompanied by Jessica's publicity tour picture, was of intense interest.

††††††††††† Jessica watched the report in silence, her eyes growing darker and darker as she listened to what was being said.

††††††††††† "The nerve!" she stormed when the segment was over. "I came here to promote my book. Getting involved with Kimberly Steffer was an accident."

††††††††††† "I know," I said. "Bloody press. The Italians call them Rapaces. Ghoulish vultures."

††††††††††† Jessica had a sudden thought: "I know," she said. "I bumped into Camille Inken this morning. She's the publicity gal who handled by San Francisco tour. I'm having dinner with her tonight. I'll call her now. She should know how to put this to rest. To give me - us some rest. If she thinks it necessary, we can hold a press conference. Whatever it takes. Just as long as it results in peace and quiet."

††††††††††† "Any idea how this got out?" I asked her.

††††††††††† She shook her head. "No."

††††††††††† "Perhaps it was this Camille person," I suggested.

††††††††††† "Camille?" she said. "No. She wouldn't do such a thing to me."

"Don't be so sure, Mrs. Fletcher," Josephs said without looking away from the television. "Those publicity types will do anything to get a name in the paper." He jumped up and added, "Hey, this is great for your book. Should sell out all over town. All over the country if the news is on the networks."

††††††††††† Jessica ignored his comment with disgust and said, "It couldn't be Camille. I never even told her about any of this. I was planning on doing that tonight. Of course, she knows now, thanks to our reporter friends."

††††††††††† "I told Mrs. Fletcher I'd like to provide security for her while she's in San Fran," said Detective Josephs. "With all this media attention, it makes even more sense. You agree, George?"

††††††††††† "Frankly," I replied, addressing Jessica directly, "I think you should put yourself on the first available plane and go home. Get away from here."

††††††††††† My words produced a sudden flash of anger, something I rarely saw from Jessica. Although her expression remained set and controlled, it was the flicker in her eyes that betrayed her. "I'm not leaving," she said steadily, her tone defying anyone to tell her otherwise. "The news just broke. Things will quiet down by tomorrow. They'll move on to bigger and better stories."

††††††††††† "Don't count on that, Jess," I told her. I turned to Josephs, who was making himself at home in the suite. "Detective Josephs, I wonder if you'd be good enough to leave Mrs. Fletcher and me alone."

††††††††††† Josephs stood up and turned off the television, much to my relief. "Kickin' me out, huh?" he said with a grin. "It's okay. I still say you should have round-the-clock protection, Mrs. Fletcher. But that's your call. I suppose you don't need it with Scotland Yard on the case."

††††††††††† "Your offer is very kind, Detective," said Jessica, "but not necessary. I'll call the moment I've had a chance to read your manuscript again. Maybe we can get together then, and I can spend a few hours with your computer."

††††††††††† "Why don't you drop that, Mrs. Fletcher," Josephs suggested. "Forget Kimberly Steffer. Go off to the wine country and hide out. Drink wine remember to bring cheese and bread."

††††††††††† I looked at Jessica. "Cheese and bread?" I asked.

††††††††††† "I'll explain," she said to me. "Again, thank you, Detective. We'll be in touch."

††††††††††† Josephs gave Jessica another cheeky smirk (something he did at his own risk), and winked at me. "Have fun, folks," he said, and left.

††††††††††† Finally! I thought. "As we say in Scotland, a thoroughly fousome man," I said. "Most disagreeable."

††††††††††† "George," Jessica said quietly.

††††††††††† "Yes?"
††††††††††† She dropped her eyes to the floor. "You do know how much I appreciate everything you're doing for me."

††††††††††† "I've done nothing."

††††††††††† Keeping her eyes downcast she said, "Moving over here to the St. Francis, listening to me, understanding me."

††††††††††† "I only wish we had more time together, Jessica, to develop that understanding." I stepped closer to her and she looked up at me, meeting my gaze for the first time. For a moment we stood still; it was Jessica who looked away first.

††††††††††† "I would like that, too, George," she said, turning away and nervously rearranging the books on her desk.

††††††††††† "You might have noticed, Jessica, that I'm quite fond of you," I said. I came up behind her and continued, "I know I'm not the most handsome of men. Nor am I the success that you are. I am just a copper. But I sense a certain kinship between us. It's the sort of feeling I haven't enjoyed since my wife died so many years ago."

††††††††††† "George," she said, turning to face me again, "you are a very handsome man. And you are a great success. I would be less than honest if I didn't admit to strong feelings for you, too. A kinship, as you put it. But we really don't know much about each other. We really don't know each other at all."

††††††††††† "You make my point exactly, Jessica," I told her. "All I'm suggesting is that we create the opportunity to get to know each other better. It might turn out that familiarity truly does breed contempt. But I rather think it won't." I smiled at her and added, "I think of you a great deal, Jessica, as I sit in my office, or take a holiday at what was my family's home in Wick. And when I do, I can't help but recite Robbie Burns to myself."

††††††††††† She smiled. "And what did Robert Burns write that I remind you of?"

††††††††††† "A small ditty - a tribute to his wife," I replied. "Let me see: 'Of a' the airts the wind can blaw, I dearly like the west, For there the bonnie Lassie lives, The Lassie I lo'e best.'"

††††††††††† For a moment Jessica was speechless. At last she managed to say, "That's - that's very touching, George."

††††††††††† "Ah, good old Robbie Burns," I said softly. "Putting into words what we feel, but cannot say."

††††††††††† I placed my hands on her shoulders and looked deeply into her blue eyes, as blue as the North Sea on a perfect Spring day. Beautiful eyes, which at this moment were brimming with so much emotion I felt overwhelmed. Instinctively I knew that this was the right moment, and I inclined my head to hers to kiss her.

††††††††††† Before our lips met the phone rang, its sound causing Jessica to flinch and pull away from me.

††††††††††† "Just another reporter," I said, hoping I could convince her to ignore the ringing phone and refocus on me.

††††††††††† It didn't work. Jessica has never been one to ignore anything. She went over to the telephone and picked it up. "Hello," she said quietly. "Oh, hello, Mort. Nice to hear your voice. Your timing is - wonderful." Her voice was heavy with irony.

††††††††††† Yes, his timing is just bloody wonderful, I thought bitterly to myself. I wandered over to the window and looked out over the city, hoping my disappointment at being denied my first proper kiss with Jessica would fade before she got off the phone. I had been so close, so close Ö

††††††††††† I only caught snatches of Jessica's end of the conversation, but from what I heard I gathered that Mort was feeling as much pressure from the media back on the East Coast as we were here on the West.He also seemed displeased over Jessica's insistence on remaining in San Francisco, despite the attempt on her life.

††††††††††† "It's a wonderful city, Mort," she told him. "I love it here. Almost as much as Cabot Cove. And I intend to stay for a few more days and have a real vacation. Please don't worry. I can take care of myself. Besides, George Sutherland is here to keep an eye on me Ö Yes. In fact, he's right here at the moment. Want to say hello?"

††††††††††† There was another pause, and I could only imagine what reaction Mort was having to my presence. The thought made me smile.

††††††††††† "Of what, Mort?" she asked. I glanced over at her and saw that she had that look on her face she gets when someone well-meaning tells her to be careful of something. I don't know what he said in response, but whatever it was, it made her blush a lovely shade of pink. "Ah, no - maybe. Wouldn't that be nice?"

††††††††††† Finally the phone call came to a conclusion."Mort, I really have to run. I'll talk to Camille tonight and call you first thing in the morning.Say hello to everyone, and tell them I'm alive and kicking."She hung up and looked at me."Sorry," she said, "I have a call to make."

††††††††††† "Would you like me to leave?" I asked.

††††††††††† "Of course not," she said. "It's not a personal call. In fact, it occurs to me that I might be able to coerce you into joining forces with me."

††††††††††† "Sounds intriguing," I said warily.

††††††††††† She sat on the corner of the couch, picked up the phone, and dialed the operator. "This is Jessica Fletcher. I'd like the number for the Women's Correctional Facility in Oakland."

††††††††††† She glanced up at me while she was waiting, a slightly guilty expression on her face. My response was to sink into a chair and to slowly shake my head in resignation.

††††††††††† When she had taken down the number, she placed her second call. "Hello," she said. "I'd like to inquire about visiting an inmate this afternoon. Her name is Kimberly Steffer. I've visited her before. My name is Jessica Fletcher. I believe I'm included on the list of visitors she'll see Ö"

††††††††††† I moved over to the couch and sat next to her as she hung up the phone. "I know, I know," she said with a sigh. "I'm a dour woman."

††††††††††† "Yes, you are, Jessica. And worse," I added. "Of course I'll accompany you. You might as well get used to the fact that I intend to be at your side every moment we have together in this jewel of a city. I only ask that we stay off bridges, and do our level best to avoid that annoying Detective Josephs."

††††††††††† Jessica laughed. "Not long ago, when I was in New York promoting another of my books, Manhattans and Murder - I believe I sent you a copy - I had to disguise myself in order to buy some peace and quiet. Silly wig, big sunglasses. I looked like a fool. A real lumper's helper, as we say back home. When that adventure was over, I pledged that I would never put myself through such nonsense again. So, George, if you see me in a wig and oversize sunglasses, you have my permission to put on the staitjacket, and physically place me on a plane back east."

††††††††††† I doubted things would come to that, but it was good to have the option. "Fair enough," I said, and kissed her on the cheek. "Where to first?" I asked as I stood up, grinning.

 

††††††††††† We hit something of a snag when we arrived at the prison, since my name, unlike Jessica's, was not on the list of Kimberly Steffer's approved visitors. The attitude of the prison administrators softened, however, once they saw my Scotland Yard credentials. Then they called Kimberly in her cell to seek her approval, and my name was readily added to the list.

††††††††††† As Kimberly Steffer was led into the prison visitation room, I was taken aback by how pale and serious she seemed. "Thank you for coming again," she said when she was seated at the window.

††††††††††† "How are you doing?" Jessica asked her.

††††††††††† She shrugged. "Okay, I guess."

††††††††††† "This gentleman with me is Detective Sergeant George Sutherland," Jessica said, introducing me. "He's with Scotland Yard in London, and did some investigating in your case there."

††††††††††† Kimberly nodded to me. "Pleased to meet you," she said in her British accent. "I've heard your name. I believe you tried to help me."

††††††††††† "Without much success, I'm afraid," I told her.

††††††††††† "Kimberly," Jessica said, "I assume you've heard that Brett Pearl is dead."

††††††††††† I saw Kimberly study her face with narrowed eyes. "No, I didn't know that. I don't keep up with the news in here. How did Brett die?"

††††††††††† "His body was found yesterday floating beneath the Golden Gate Bridge."

††††††††††† "Oh, my God," she said, her hands covering her mouth. "That's awful." She paused. "But I'm not surprised. Brett was depressed a lot. He had that sort of personality. Downbeat. Seeing the worst in things. Brett's glass was always half empty. But he was talented. Very talented."

††††††††††† "He didn't commit suicide, Kimberly," Jessica said gently. "The police have ruled his death a homicide."

††††††††††† "Homicide?" she exclaimed, clearly surprised. "You mean someone caused him to fall from the bridge?"

††††††††††† "Looks that way."

††††††††††† "Any suspects yet?" Kimberly asked, unable to keep the curiosity out of her tone.

††††††††††† Jessica shook her head. "None, as far as I know."

††††††††††† "I'm sorry to hear that," Kimberly said flatly, which came as little surprise to me, considering that the man had sued her.

††††††††††† "There's more," Jessica said. "I was nearly pushed off the bridge shortly before Brett Pearl's body was discovered."

††††††††††† "What?" She said it loud enough for the guard to look over. "What happened?" she whispered, leaning in.

††††††††††† Jessica kept her voice low to avoid being overheard. "I was taking a walk across the bridge when suddenly, out of nowhere, someone grabbed hold of me and tried to push me over. Fortunately, I managed to hang on."

††††††††††† "How terrible," Kimberly exclaimed. "Are you okay?"

††††††††††† "Yes, I'm fine. Still a little shaken by the experience whenever I think about it, but otherwise okay."

††††††††††† "I'm so sorry," she said. "It obviously had to do with me, and the fact you've gotten involved with me."

††††††††††† "Perhaps," said Jessica neutrally. "There's something else I need to tell you." She told Kimberly about her confrontation with her stepdaughter Ellie's godmother, Nancy Antonio. As she spoke, Kimberly became visibly upset, her mouth tightening into a narrow line.

††††††††††† "I worry so about Ellie because of Joan, even though Nancy has virtual custody of her," she said when Jessica had finished relating her tale. "Joan has an enormous influence over her - after all, she is her real mother - and Ellie loves her. That's understandable. But Joan is an evil and sick woman. Mark knew better than anyone what she was really, truly like, although I've had my share of encounters with her to attest to her wickedness."

††††††††††† "Wicked enough to have killed Mark?" I asked her.

††††††††††† Kimberly frowned. "I've always suspected that she had something to do with Mark's death, Detective Sutherland. I'm certainly not claiming that, of course. I suppose that's why I'm sitting here talking to you through this piece of breath-stained Plexiglas. Hoping you - both of you? - might find proof that I didn't have anything to do with it."

††††††††††† "Do you have any idea who might have wanted Brett Pearl dead?" Jessica asked. "Did Joan know him? Nancy Antonio?"

††††††††††† Kimberly shook her head. "I don't think so. I really don't know, except that it wouldn't have been through my introduction. His name is on some of my books, so they could have 'known' him that way."

††††††††††† "Did Mark ever have a run-in with him?"

††††††††††† "Yes. Absolutely. You know that Brett sued me because the books we worked on together sold much better than anyone could have forecast. Mark was furious about the suit, and let Brett know it. Mark was, after all, my husband."

††††††††††† "Of course," Jessica said sympathetically.

††††††††††† Kimberly sniffed and fought back tears. "Jessica, we may have not had a marriage made in heaven, but we had many pleasant things going for us. Mark wasnít always by my side. He worked hard, long hours, and used what little free time he had to play golf." She managed a small smile. "Which made me the classic golf widow. But he was always on my side. I took considerable comfort from that."

††††††††††† "I understand," Jessica said.

††††††††††† The guard signaled that our time was up.

††††††††††† "We have to leave, Kimberly. But we'll be back." Jessica glanced at me, and I nodded. "I can't say for sure just when, but it will be within the next few days."

††††††††††† It looked like both of us would be extending our stay in San Francisco.

††††††††††† "Jessica, wait," Kimberly said. She spoke rapidly and softly; I strained to hear her. "There is someone you might want to talk to about Brett's death. Brett had a best friend by the name of Norman Lana. They were roommates for a spell. Brett never married. This roommate, Norman, was an odd chap. Mark never trusted him. No real reason for it. He just had a hunch about him. Norman supposedly had a dreadful temper. It's funny because, to tell you the truth, I'd always found him to be pleasant. I actually enjoyed his company, even though we never spent much time together. He'd occasionally join us for a drink, that sort of thing. Norman was a lively, animated sort of fellow. I always suspected he was gay, but he never confirmed that to me. He was fun to be around.

††††††††††† "But after Mark's death, I've thought a lot about Norman Lana. Not just fleeting thoughts. I've wondered if he, somehow, for some reason, might have been involved in the murder."

††††††††††† "Time's up, ma'am," the prison guard said.

††††††††††† "Better go," Kimberly said. "I don't want to be in trouble. It's hard enough here without angering them."

††††††††††† "Of course," Jessica said, and together we left the visitation room.

 

We returned to the St. Francis, expecting to find the press still camped out there, but the lobby was oddly empty of reporters. As we headed for the elevators, someone hailed Jessica by name. At first I feared that one reporter at least had spotted her, but Jessica seemed relieved when she saw who it was.

††††††††††† "Camille," she said to the woman who strode up to us. "What are you doing here?"

††††††††††† "Checking up on my favorite author, that's what," Camille said. "I heard the news. Everyone has heard the news. What a dreadful thing that happened to you, Jessica. Thank God you're all right."

††††††††††† "Oh, yes, I'm fine," she said. "Camille, this is Chief Inspector George Sutherland of Scotland Yard in London. We're friends."

††††††††††† "A pleasure," said Camille, shaking my hand with a confident grip.

††††††††††† "The pleasure is mine, Ms. Inken," I replied. "I've heard nothing but good things about you from Mrs. Fletcher."

††††††††††† "Happy to hear that," Camille said, laughing.

††††††††††† "Who are those chaps over there?" I asked, gesturing over my shoulder at the substantial men in nondescript suits that were roaming the lobby with no particular destination or errand in mind.

††††††††††† "Bodyguards to protect the prince of some country or other," Camille said. "I asked the manager about them. I forget the prince's name. His country, too, for that matter."

††††††††††† Jessica looked around "Where is the press?" she asked.

††††††††††† "Lucky you, Jess," Camille said. "The prince is checking in this afternoon. One of the conditions for his stay here is that all press be barred from the hotel."

††††††††††† "That's good news," I said with a certain measure of relief. "But there aren't any reporters lurking outside, either."

††††††††††† Camille looked very pleased with herself. "I took care of that," she said.

††††††††††† "How?" Jessica asked.

††††††††††† "They think you've left town. I spread the word that you were flying back to Boston this morning. Unofficially, of course. By now, the airport should be overrun with them."

††††††††††† I had to laugh at this. "Bravo, Camille," I said.

††††††††††† "But I don't promise anything if we keep standing here in the lobby," Camille said.

††††††††††† We retired to the privacy of Jessica's suite, where we settled in with refreshments in the sitting room.

††††††††††† "I spoke to Rhet, Jessica," Camille said. "As you can imagine, she's thrilled, absolutely thrilled that you've offered to speak. She's in the throes of organizing the event. Is Friday okay with you? At ten? I need to phone her tonight to let her know."

††††††††††† "Looks like I'll still be in San Francisco," Jessica said. "Sure. Friday at ten sounds fine."

††††††††††† "Perhaps you'd like to join us," Camille said to me.

††††††††††† Jessica explained what she would be doing at the high school: "Camille's niece is taking a class in public relations," she said, "and I agreed to speak to the students Ö though so far, I have no idea on what subject. Probably something to do with crime and criminology - you'd be a perfect follow-up. Won't you come with me?"

††††††††††† "Delighted," I said, "provided I'm not required to do anything, like making a speech."

††††††††††† "That's a promise," Camille said.

††††††††††† I looked at my watch, and quickly calculated what time it was in London. "Would you excuse me for a few minutes?" I said to the ladies.

††††††††††† "Where are you going?" Jessica asked.

††††††††††† "To send a fax to the office. I think I'd better inform them that my return will be delayed for an unspecified amount of time."

††††††††††† "Sure that's all right?"

††††††††††† "No problem, Jessica," I assured her. "Be back in a jiffy."

††††††††††† I left the suite, but lingered for a moment near the door, which was still ajar.

"What a doll," I heard Camille say.

††††††††††† "George? A delightful man."

††††††††††† There was a pause, then Camille ventured to ask, "You -?"

††††††††††† "No," Jessica said emphatically, which caused me to sigh wistfully. "Just a friend. A very good friend."

††††††††††† Camille did not sound convinced in the least. "Uh-huh. How about having him join us for dinner tonight?"

††††††††††† "I think he's committed."

††††††††††† "Too bad. I'd get a kick out of chaperoning you two."

††††††††††† "We don't need a chaperone."

††††††††††† "Uh-huh."

††††††††††† Smiling to myself, I continued on to do my errand.

††††††††††† When I returned, it was with the news that I would be able to accept Camille's dinner invitation. "I've 'cleared the decks' for the rest of my stay in San Francisco, including my previous dinner plans for this evening," I said.

††††††††††† "Great," Camille said. "I've got to be running along. A million things to do before I pick you up for dinner. See you two at seven?"

††††††††††† "We'll be waiting," I said.

††††††††††† At the door Camille paused and said, "Now, Jessica, if anyone disturbs you - any member of the press - refer the call or inquiry to me. I know most of them. Believe me, they're a harmless bunch. See you tonight." With those words of advice, she was gone.

††††††††††† "Lovely woman," I said, sitting down on the couch.

††††††††††† "And very efficient," Jessica agreed. "Can I fix you a drink?"

††††††††††† "Thank you, no. I'm sleepy enough as it is. Would you mind if I stretched out for a short nap in my new bedroom?"

††††††††††† "Of course not."

††††††††††† I got up then, and said, "By the way, Jessica, the prince's security entourage has been put on full alert. Seems he received a death threat."

††††††††††† Her eyes widened in surprise at this news. "Oh?"

††††††††††† "Somewhat unsettling isn't it, staying in the same hotel in which someone has received a death threat?"

††††††††††† "Even more unsettling is to be staying in a hotel in which two people have received them," Jessica reminded me. "Especially when you're one of them."

††††††††††† "Yes," I said, wishing I hadn't said anything. "I shouldn't have brought it up. Wake me in an hour?"

††††††††††† "Count on it," she said with a smile.

 

Jessica kept her promise, and rang my suite when the hour was up, leaving both of us enough time to get ready for dinner.

It had begun to rain - heavily - by the time we arrived in the lobby of the St. Francis to wait for Camille Inken's arrival. Presently she arrived in a Lincoln that pulled up to the curb in front of the entrance.

††††††††††† "There she is, George," Jessica said, and we made a dash for the car. Camille opened the rear door for us, and we slid in as quickly as possible to get out of the deluge.

††††††††††† "Sorry I didn't get out to help you," the driver said over his shoulder to us.

††††††††††† "I would have questioned your sanity if you had," Jessica replied.

††††††††††† He laughed. "Where to, Ms. Inken?"

††††††††††† "Coit Tower, please. I thought you might like to share one of my favorite sights," she said to us.

††††††††††† I wasn't sure what could be worth seeing in weather such as this. "Hardly a night for sight-seeing," I commented.

††††††††††† "Perfect night for seeing this sight," said Camille. "It's spectacular in the sun, but even more breathtaking in the rain."

††††††††††† Jessica smiled and gave my arm a gentle squeeze. "Sounds like what a Scotsman might say," she said.

††††††††††† "Aye," I replied. "I've been a doukit more than once back home."

††††††††††† Jessica and Camille looked at me. "Doukit?" they said in unison.

††††††††††† "'Soaking wet,'" I explained. "We do get a wee bit of rain now and then where I come from."

††††††††††† "Where is your home?" Camille asked.

††††††††††† I was sure she was being polite, and replied, "A place in Scotland you've probably never heard of - a small town in the far north called Wick."

††††††††††† But Camille surprised me: "Near John o' Groats," she said.

††††††††††† "Right you are, Ms. Inken."

††††††††††† "I've been there," she said. "One of the most beautiful natural sights I've ever seen was in Wick, Scotland. Right on the coast. I'll never forget it. Or the horizontal rain."

††††††††††† I laughed at her apt description. "It does tend to come at you in a funny way when the wind is blowing hard."

††††††††††† "Sounds intriguing," said Jessica.

††††††††††† "But not enough for me to entice you to visit me there, Jessica," I said. For months I had been trying to convince Jessica to come to Wick, with no success.

††††††††††† "Oh, you must go, Jess," Camille said.

††††††††††† "I'd love to, but -"

††††††††††† "Work on her this evening, Ms. Inken," I said, shooting Camille a conspiratorial wink. "My family home in Wick sits on a bluff overlooking the very sights you mention. Big house. Fourteen rooms, and all empty most of the year, 'cept for a caretaker and his wife. I rent it out to tourists now and then, but make sure it's empty when I visit."

††††††††††† Camille gave Jessica a knowing look and a smile, the sort one woman gives another when she suspects that there is more to a relationship that meets the eye. But if she was hoping that Jessica would commit to the trip there on the spot, she was to be disappointed.

††††††††††† "One of these days," she sighed.

††††††††††† "That's progress," I said cheerfully, earning a dirty look from her.

††††††††††† Camille's destination was Coit Tower, on top of Telegraph Hill, where the rain let up enough to permit us to step out of the car to take in the sight of the city below. Fog swirled about us in the temperamental wind - Camille was right, it definitely enhanced the atmosphere of the place.

††††††††††† Jessica gazed out over the city, its lights muted by the mist rolling across the bay. "Spectacular," she breathed.

††††††††††† "Like Wick?" Camille asked me.

††††††††††† "Not quite," I replied, "but close enough."

††††††††††† The rain resumed with renewed vigor, sending us back to the shelter of the car. "Where to now?" Jessica asked Camille when we were once again seated in the back.

††††††††††† "To eat," she replied, with a wave of her hand to the driver to proceed.

††††††††††† As we headed back toward center city, Camille advised Jessica that her niece's school assignment had changed at the last minute."Her teacher felt it would be more fitting for a class in public relations to stage a mock press conference for you, Jess, instead of simply having you speak."

††††††††††† "Sounds like an interesting idea," Jessica said.

††††††††††† "Rhet will schedule and handle a press conference at which you'll announce a motion picture deal for one of your books. A fake deal, of course."†† "A shame it has to be a fake," Jessica said. "I could use a movie deal. It's been awhile."

††††††††††† "Speaking of press conferences, Jess, how did your sheriff friend back in Maine make out?" asked Camille. "Did he hold one like I suggested?"

††††††††††† Jessica shook her head. "I called him right after you made that suggestion, but he decided issuing a written statement would suffice."

††††††††††† "What was he going to write?" I asked.

††††††††††† "Camille had a good suggestion, George," Jessica said. "Tell them the truth, except the part about my still being in San Francisco. Tell them it was a frightful experience, that I took a vacation someplace else to recover, and that I wanted privacy."

††††††††††† "I like the last part best," I said. "I just wish the first part was true, that we'd - that you'd gone someplace else to get over it." I glanced quickly at Jessica to see if she had caught my slip of the tongue, but if she had she gave no indication of it.

††††††††††† Our driver came to a stop, got out, and came around to the back door of the car carrying a large golf umbrella that was barely large enough to protect all three of us from the driving rain. Between concentrating on opening the door for the ladies and trying not to drown in the rain myself, I was too distracted to note where we were. It was only after we stepped inside and were being helped out of our raincoats that I looked around and realized that we were back at Restaurant Isuzu,

"Well, what do you know," I said, chuckling.Camille didn't hear me; she was busy confirming our reservation with the maitre d'.

Jessica tugged on my sleeve. "Let's not say anything," she whispered.

††††††††††† I grinned. "As you wish."

††††††††††† The maitre d' approached and said, "Mrs. Fletcher. What a pleasant surprise. So good to see you again so soon."

††††††††††† "You've been here before?" Camille asked.

††††††††††† "Yes," Jessica answered sheepishly. "Last night. George and I had dinner."

††††††††††† "I'm sorry," Camille said. "If I'd known, I would have -"

††††††††††† Jessica stopped her in mid-apology. "Not another word," she said. "George and I are very fond of sushi. Aren't we, George?"

††††††††††† "What? Oh, yes, indeed. Can't seem to get enough of it."

††††††††††† The host said, "I was disappointed last night, Mrs. Fletcher, that I failed to ask you if you would be so kind to pose for a picture that we could hang on the wall." He pointed behind us. "We think of it as our celebrity wall. Your photo would be a special treasure."

††††††††††† Jessica looked pleased enough to honor the request, but Camille insisted that it happen after dinner, not before.

††††††††††† As the maitre d' led us to the same room we had dined in the night before, Camille said, "I'm really sorry to be bringing you back here."

††††††††††† "But I'm so glad we're back," Jessica told her. "The food is heavenly, and so is the service. We had a memorable meal." Memorable - it certainly had been that.

††††††††††† Camille and Jessica ordered saki; I stuck with the same Japanese beer as I had enjoyed the previous night. When our drinks arrived I lifted my glass and said, "To the joys of sushi, the staff of every Scotsman's life."

We all laughed and clinked rims. I turned to Jessica and, with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, said, "Enjoy your silki, Jessica."

 

††††††††††† Later that evening Camille dropped us both off at the St. Francis.The rain had stopped by then, and the prince's presence still had the press restricted from the hotel grounds. The evening was definitely improving.

I escorted Jessica up to her suite. "Thanks for going along with Restaurant Isuzu two nights in a row, George," she said. "I know you would have preferred a different choice, but I hated to upset Camille's plans."

"It was nothing," I told her. "It's obvious that Ms. Inken values you as a friend as well as a client, and she really was trying her best to show us a good time."

She smiled as she took her room key out of her purse. "I knew you'd understand," she said.She slipped the coded card into the lock, and the light changed from red to green. "Would you like to come in for a bit?" she asked as she turned the handle and opened the door to the suite.

††††††††††† I shook my head. "No, thank you, Jess. It's been a long day for me."

††††††††††† "Any plans for tomorrow morning?" she asked.

††††††††††† I paused as I was about to head for my own suite. "Actually, I thought we might take a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge."

††††††††††† There was a brief flash of panic in her eyes, which faded when she decided that I could not possibly be serious. "Very funny, George," she said with a smile. "Good night; I'll see you in the morning."

††††††††††† "Good night, dear Jessica." As I strode down the hallway I decided that tomorrow morning would be soon enough for her to discover how serious I was about returning to the bridge.I could not bear the thought of Jessica continuing to live in fear of anything, let alone something as magnificent as the Golden Gate Bridge. It would be better for her to confront this fear, and conquer it.

††††††††††† But as I said, tomorrow morning would be soon enough.

 

††††††††††† "Good morning, Jessica."

††††††††††† "Good morning, George."

††††††††††† I'd called Jessica from my suite as soon as I was up and showered; by the sleepy sound of her voice, her morning had not progressed as far as mine had. "Wake you?" I asked.

††††††††††† "I was half awake," she said. "Now I'm all the way there."

††††††††††† "Lovely evening."

††††††††††† "Yes, it was. I hope two consecutive nights in a sushi restaurant won't permanently upset your digestive tract."

††††††††††† "Not at all," I assured her. "The tempura was as good second time around as it was first. Ready for our stroll?"

††††††††††† A note of suspicion crept into her tone. "What stroll?"

††††††††††† "Across the bridge," I replied. "Splendid day for it."

††††††††††† "Across the bridge? The Golden Gate?"

††††††††††† "Yes."

††††††††††† There was a pause on her end of the line. "I thought you were joking when you suggested it last night."

††††††††††† "Hardly. I've never done it. You have. And I would welcome your expertise, as well as your companionship."

††††††††††† There was another pause, longer than the first. "George, I don't think I can -"

††††††††††† I didn't give her a chance to waver. "You know, Jessica, when you fall off a bicycle, it's best to get right back on."

††††††††††† This made her laugh. "I'm well aware of that sage advice, George," she said. "But falling off a bike, and falling off the Golden Gate Bridge, are two very different things. A scraped knee from one. A watery death from the other."

††††††††††† "I promise that the worst thing that will happen to you is a scraped knee," I told her. "Well?"

††††††††††† If nothing else, I figured that her sense of pride would have her back on that bridge even if all other motivations failed. I was not disappointed. "Get the bikes ready," she said.

††††††††††† After a light breakfast of croissants and tea, we hailed a cab and were soon standing at the San Francisco end of the Golden Gate. The weather was beautiful: clear and sunny, without too much wind.

††††††††††† "Ready?" I asked.

††††††††††† Jessica took a deep breath. "Yes," she said with an effort. "Ready as I'll ever be."

††††††††††† "Then, off we go."

††††††††††† I set a brisk pace, and Jessica fell into step beside me.I stole a look at her, and was pleased to see that she was smiling, and thus far at least appeared to be enjoying herself.

††††††††††† As we walked it occurred to me that this might be a good time to revisit the topic of our relationship, my previous attempt yesterday having been thwarted by Mort Metzger's ill-timed telephone call. On the bridge there would be no ringing telephones to interrupt us, no reporters, and no irritating Detective Josephs.And, not coincidently, no convenient excuses for Jessica to duck the subject, something she often went out of her way to do.

††††††††††† I admired the dramatic view of the city, shimmering beside the bright blue waters of San Francisco Bay. "Hard to imagine that one earthquake, one tremor, could wipe out all this beauty," I remarked.

††††††††††† "Not a pleasant contemplation," Jessica replied through gritted teeth. I glanced at her; she was looking straight ahead, resolutely avoiding the view over the bridge's rail.

††††††††††† "Takes a bit of courage to live out here," I said.

††††††††††† "Depends on your philosophy," she replied. "It's a perfect place for fatalists."

††††††††††† I turned to her and asked, "Are you a fatalist, Jessica?"

††††††††††† "To an extent," she said. "I believe in taking charge of one's life. I don't believe in luck. I think we make our own luck. On the other hand," she added, "there are things beyond our control."

††††††††††† "Like an earthquake?" I asked.

††††††††††† She nodded. "Like an earthquake."

††††††††††† I decided to take the simile a step further: "Love?"

††††††††††† Jessica gave me a sharp look. "Love?" she repeated thoughtfully. "I'll have to think about that."

††††††††††† We continued on in silence, each occupied by our thoughts. I can't be sure what Jessica was thinking about, but I was contemplating how to proceed, now that I had brought up the dreaded "L-word."

We were near mid-span on the bridge, the point where it was just as far a walk to continue on to Sausalito as it was to turn around and head back to San Francisco. Symbolically, it was the point of no return.What the hell, I thought to myself. Out with it, Sutherland: tell her what's on your mind.

††††††††††† "Jessica, I've been thinking," I said, taking her by the arm and stopping her.

††††††††††† This proved to be a mistake. As long as she was walking Jessica was able to hold the memory of her previous misadventure at bay, but the moment we halted, fear caught up with her. And then she compounded the situation by looking down.

I looked at her in concern: she was trembling, and the colour had completely drained from her face. "Are you all right?" I asked.

Jessica didn't answer, but looked up at me with a heart-breaking expression of distress, clearly in the middle of a full-blown panic attack. Wordlessly, I drew her to me and held her close.

††††††††††† "Look," I said to her gently. "The view is beautiful. Take a peek. I won't let anything happen to you."

††††††††††† Gradually her shivering stopped. She slowly raised her head, and I was able to coax her to turn and look at the vision of the magnificent San Francisco skyline from the safety of my embrace.

††††††††††† "From this vantage point, Jessica, everything seems possible. Wouldn't you agree?"

††††††††††† Jessica was recovering, but still seemed far from comfortable. "Let's continue," she said shakily.

††††††††††† "No," I said, not about to let her get away so easily now that I finally had her - and her attention - captured. "Let's stay here for a moment and talk."

††††††††††† She shifted her gaze from the city to me. "About Ö?"

††††††††††† A took a deep breath and said with all sincerity, "At this lovely moment, I wish to say that I enjoy your company more than anyone I know. More than any woman I've met since my wife died." I looked deep into her eyes and smiled. "I think you are a wonderful woman, Jessica. I do hope you know that."

††††††††††† For a moment Jessica experienced another rare lapse of words. "Well, I certainly know it now," she finally said, "although I must admit I had a hunch about it the past few days."

††††††††††† "I suppose I have made it obvious," I sighed. "Not very subtle, I'm afraid."

††††††††††† She laughed. "Oh, no, George, a lot more subtle than most men I know. And I think you are very special, too. I trust you know that."

††††††††††† I hugged her tighter for a moment. "I'd hoped you'd felt that way. What I'm getting at, Jessica, is that I think we should -"

††††††††††† "What I think, George, is that we'd better finish our walk and get off this bridge before there is an earthquake." She tried to slip out of my arms, but I managed to hold on to her.

††††††††††† "Not so fast," I said. "We have precious few moments to talk like this. This is perfect. We're surrounded by beauty. We're alone." I chuckled. "Well, sort of alone. And I haven't finished what I wish to say."

††††††††††† I paused to see if she would make another attempt to escape, but she merely waited for me to finish my thought.

††††††††††† "I've been thinking - Ms. Inken firmed my resolve last night - I've been thinking that it's time for you to visit me in Scotland."

††††††††††† "And I'd love that," she protested.

††††††††††† "Loving the idea, and acting upon it are two very different things, Jessica," I told her. Continuing to meet her eyes, I said, "I want you to make a commitment to come to Wick, and to stay in my family home for a few weeks. You could come for the Christmas holidays - Wick might not offer the same sort of festivities as your Cabot Cove, but it has its own special way of celebrating."

††††††††††† Jessica looked away and said softly, "I don't think I could be away from home at Christmas."

††††††††††† "I seem to remember you recently spent a fateful Christmas in New York City," I reminded her. "I assure you Wick will be considerably less turbulent than New York City."

††††††††††† "I don't doubt that for a moment." I could sense her wavering, and held my breath, waiting for her decision.My hopes that my love for her might yet blossom hung in the balance, tenuously poised at the center of the Golden Gate Bridge.

††††††††††† "I'd love to visit you in Scotland," she said at last, and smiled.

††††††††††† "Marvelous," I said, trying to be reserved in my delight and probably not doing a good job of it. "I'll reserve your flight as soon as I return home."

††††††††††† "Letís walk," Jessica suggested.

††††††††††† I released her, and we hooked arms as we resumed our path down the other side of the bridge toward Marin County. I could not hide my enthusiasm, and talked the entire way about what she could look forward to when she came to Wick in December: holiday parties with old friends, festive dinners with members of my family, and time in London to take in some theater. I knew that Jessica harbored a deep ambivalence about visiting me on my home turf in Wick, and hoped that my preview of the coming attractions would set her mind somewhat more at ease about finally making a promise to follow through with the trip. Once she was there, I felt confident that her previous reluctance would quickly melt away.

††††††††††† We reached the other end of the bridge and walked through the parking lot to an overlook, where we found, of all people, that fousome Detective Josephs leaning on a rail, taking in the view.

††††††††††† Jessica hailed him: "Detective Josephs."

††††††††††† He turned and greeted us. "Good morning, Mrs. Fletcher, Inspector."

††††††††††† I was unable to summon much more than a grunt in return.

††††††††††† Josephs favored me with a small smile. "We must stop meeting like this, Mrs. Fletcher," he said to Jessica.

††††††††††† "We just walked across the bridge," she said.

††††††††††† Josephs chuckled. "Got back on the bike, huh?"

††††††††††† "You might say that," she replied. "Mind if I ask what you're doing here? You're out of your territory."

††††††††††† "That's right," he said. "Pretty morning. Thought I'd drive over and take in the scenery."

††††††††††† "Anything new on the drowning?" I asked.

††††††††††† "Brett Pearl? No," Josephs replied. Then he added cryptically, "Sometimes you get a fresh perspective on a case when you look at it from a different angle."

††††††††††† Jessica cocked her head "From this side of the bridge, instead of the other?" she asked.

††††††††††† "That's right, Mrs. Fletcher. Hey, by the way, did you get a chance to have a closer read of my book?"

††††††††††† "No," she admitted. "Sorry to say I haven't. But I will."

††††††††††† "Yeah," said Josephs, sounding disappointed. "Well, whenever you get around to it." He turned to me and said, "Having a good time in San Francisco so far, George?"

††††††††††† "Very nice, Detective," I replied, inclining my head to my companion. "Mrs. Fletcher is seeing to that."

††††††††††† He gave me another of his irritating looks. "I bet she is." He returned his attention to view beyond the overlook and said without looking at us, "We've determined that Pearl was pushed to his death between nine-ten and nine-fifteen. His body was discovered at nine-eighteen by a passerby in a boat, which means he wasn't down there very long - just a couple of minutes." He turned and said to Jessica, "If I remember correctly, Mrs. Fletcher, you came into my office about nine forty-five, give or take a few minutes. Let's say for argument's sake it took you half an hour to get to my office from the bridge. Fifteen minutes to get off the bridge, maybe ten, fifteen minutes in a cab. Add up?"

††††††††††† "Yes," Jessica said uncertainly, wondering where he was headed.

††††††††††† "Witnesses placed Pearl walking in this direction, toward Sausalito - the same direction you were headed that morning. I figure he got pushed off at just about the same spot where you almost got it. That means you probably passed him on your way back to the city side. Are you following me?"

††††††††††† "Yes, I think so. But I don't see the relevance of what you're saying," she told him. "Suppose I did pass him. What would that mean?"

††††††††††† Josephs shrugged. "Could me you knew he was going to be there."

††††††††††† "But I didn't know he was going to be there," Jessica reminded him. "I didn't know him."

††††††††††† Finally Josephs got to the point: "I've got somebody who says you did know him, Mrs. Fletcher."

††††††††††† "And who might that be?" I asked.

††††††††††† Josephs backed off a pace at the dangerous tone of my voice. "A confidential source," he said.

††††††††††† "I assume you've heard of the decent concept of allowing citizens to face their accusers," I said, not bothering to disguise my rising anger.†††

††††††††††† "Nice concept, George," the detective retorted. "But when you're investigating a murder, nice concepts don't help."

††††††††††† I had heard more than enough. "Come, Jessica," I said, taking her by the arm. "I think we've lingered long enough."

††††††††††† But Josephs wasn't finished yet. "Mrs. Fletcher, did you know that Kimberly Steffer and Brett Pearl had an affair?"

††††††††††† "No, I did not," Jessica replied. "Kimberly hadn't confided that in me. Nor had I read anything about it in her diary."How do you know this?"

††††††††††† He smirked. "That's confidential too, Mrs. Fletcher."

††††††††††† One moment more with this man, and I would toss him into the icy waters of the bay for sure. "Jessica," I repeated, giving her arm a tug this time, "come."

††††††††††† "You're a brave soul, Mrs. Fletcher, to be out and walking the bridge again," Josephs said. "Even with Scotland Yard at your side."

††††††††††† "Good day, Detective Josephs," Jessica said, and we turned away and left him where he stood.

††††††††††† Once we were out of earshot I gave full voice to my anger at the insolent detective."His tone was accusatory. A thoroughly disagreeable man," I declared as we walked in the direction of downtown Sausalito. "What cheek!"

††††††††††† Jessica laughed and attempted to make light of it. "He's just a type," she said. "Lacking in bedside manner." She changed the subject, and said, "Interesting what he said about Kimberly having had an affair with her illustrator, Brett Pearl. I wonder if it's true."

††††††††††† "Frankly, I wouldn't believe anything that man says," I huffed.

††††††††††† My anger quickly evaporated as we strolled along the main thoroughfare of Sausalito, as charming a town as one could ever hope to find.

"Reminds me of the Riviera," I said.

††††††††††† "I think they call it the Riviera of the West, or something like that," said Jessica. "Feel like coffee?"

††††††††††† "Very much."

††††††††††† We inquired about coffee at the Alta Mira Hotel on Bulkley Street and were escorted us to a terrace with spectacular views of the city and bay. Our hostess offered us a table. "We're just having coffee," Jessica said.

††††††††††† "That's fine," the hostess replied.

††††††††††† Jessica looked at me. "Cappuccino, George?"

††††††††††† I nodded. "Fine."

††††††††††† The hostess returned with the cappuccinos and a copy of that day's morning newspaper. The front page headline immediately caught our attention: "Arrest Imminent in Bridge Murder."Just below the headline was a head shot of Brett Pearl.

††††††††††† Jessica took the newspaper and read the article aloud:

††††††††††† "An arrest is imminent in the death of Brett Pearl, the man police now say was pushed to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge. This paper has learned that police are holding a former roommate of Pearl's as their prime suspect. Pearl, a noted illustrator of children's books, had been a collaborator with children's author Kimberly Steffer, who was convicted of the murder of her husband Mark Steffer three years ago, and is currently incarcerated at the Women's Correctional Facility. Sources further claim that the tip leading to Pearl's former roommate came, in fact, from Ms. Steffer herself."

††††††††††† She handed the paper to me so I could continue reading. I gave her a summary as I did so:

††††††††††† "The former roommate is a chap named Norman Lana," I said. "That's the chap Ms. Steffer mentioned. She said we should talk to him. Let me see. According to this reporter, an anonymous source - Lord, when will the press stop quoting anonymous sources? - this unnamed source says that this Lana fellow and Pearl had a fight the night before Pearl's demise. The fight became violent, and police were called to the scene. Lana was brought in for questioning late last night."

††††††††††† I handed the paper back to Jessica, who resumed reading.

††††††††††† "Following the tip, ostensibly from Kimberly Steffer, police went to the restaurant 'New Dawn,' where Lana had worked as a waiter for the past three months, and he was taken in for questioning. Lana was still being detained at press time, although he had not been formally charged with the murder."

††††††††††† She paused at the final paragraph and winced. "In a related incident involving noted mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, police refuse to speculate whether an attempt to push her off the bridge within minutes of the Pearl incident is, in some way, linked to his death."

††††††††††† Frowning I said, "I wonder why Josephs didn't mention this to us a few minutes ago."

††††††††††† Jessica had a faraway look in her eyes. "I know what I want to do," she said.

††††††††††† I put down my cup. "What's that?"

††††††††††† "Meet again with Kimberly Steffer. Excuse me." She rose from the table and went back inside. A few minutes later she returned with a renewed sense of purpose.

"Drink up, George," she said brightly. "Visiting hours are limited today. It's already eleven. We have to be there by noon."

 

††††††††††† That change in Kimberly Steffer's appearance since the last time we met with her was marked. She looked exhausted in the harsh lights of the room, with a pallor to her features.

††††††††††† "Kimberly," Jessica said, "the police have taken into custody Brett Pearl's former roommate, Norman Lana. The press claims that the authorities acted on a tip they received from you."

††††††††††† "That's not true," she whispered.

††††††††††† "And we were told this morning by a Detective Josephs that you and Pearl had had an affair."

††††††††††† She laughed sarcastically. "Brett was hardly my type, Mrs. Fletcher," she said. "Where did they ever get that idea?"

††††††††††† "I don't know."

††††††††††† I gave a snort. "All unsubstantiated gossip," I declared, "and without attribution."

††††††††††† "I suppose it doesn't matter," Kimberly murmured with downcast eyes.

††††††††††† "It matters to Mrs. Fletcher," I reminded her. "One bloody rumor is that she was out on the Golden Gate the other morning to meet with Brett Pearl. The same morning he fell to his death, and she was almost pushed over."

††††††††††† "I'm sorry to hear that," said Kimberly, looking up at us again. "But it isn't my fault. Nothing is my fault. I'm the one sitting behind bars."

††††††††††† "I understand how you feel," Jessica said. "It must be difficult to keep yourself thinking positive, to not give up. Playing the victim won't help, though. Yes, you're behind bars for a crime I'm convinced you didn't commit. But Brett Pearl is dead, and Norman Lana is evidently about to be charged in that murder."

††††††††††† "In other words, Ms. Steffer," I added, "while Mrs. Fletcher is squarely in your corner, you're going to have to keep your chin up and not feel sorry for yourself."

††††††††††† My words were harsh, perhaps, but necessary. If Kimberly gave up now, then there was very little point in Jessica and me continuing to put ourselves at risk. For a moment she glared at me, but then her eyes drooped down again.

††††††††††† "I know," Kimberly said sadly. "But it isn't easy being here for something you didn't do. I almost think it was better before you came to see me, Mrs. Fletcher. You gave me hope. It was easier when I didn't have any."

††††††††††† "Under that philosophy, you now have double reason to feel that way. Inspector Sutherland believes in your innocence, too."

††††††††††† "I know that, and I'm sincerely grateful to both of you. It's just that -" She swallowed hard and turned her head to hide tears from us.

††††††††††† "It's all right, Kimberly," Jessica said. "I know you're upset. Is there anything else? Are you feeling okay physically?"

††††††††††† Kimberly made an effort to pull herself together. "Fighting a cold, that's all," she said. "Sniffles and a sore throat. Nothing compared to when your spirit gets sick."

††††††††††† "Of course," said Jessica. "We came here because I wanted to hear from your mouth that this rumor of an affair between you and Brett Pearl is just that, a rumor without foundation."

††††††††††† "Brett and I never had an affair."

††††††††††† "And to confirm that it wasn't you who informed the police about Norman Lana's possible involvement."

††††††††††† "I did not do that."

††††††††††† Jessica nodded in satisfaction. "I believe you, Kimberly. We'll be going. But we'll be back soon. In the meantime, Kimberly, don't lose your faith. If you do, I'm liable to lose mine."

 

††††††††††† "Well?" Jessica asked when we had returned to the St. Francis, about to return to our respective suites.

††††††††††† I sighed. "I've always believed in her innocence, Jessica. That opinion hasn't changed. But there was something in her demeanor today, almost theatrical, that bothered me."

††††††††††† Jessica looked at me with interest. "I defer to your experience in sizing up accused criminals. Can you be more specific?"

††††††††††† "No," I admitted, shaking my head. "But we have a saying in Scotland. 'There's nocht sae queer as folk.'"

††††††††††† She smiled. "Which means Ö?"

††††††††††† "'The heart of man, or woman, is more unfathomable than all other natural phenomena' - roughly that."

††††††††††† "Meaning she might have had an affair with Brett Pearl?"

††††††††††† "Of course," I said. I paused, then added, "I have an old Scottish saying for you too, my dear Jessica."

††††††††††† "I'm all ears, as we say."

††††††††††† "'Ye breed o Saughton swine, your neb's never oot o an ill turn.'"

††††††††††† She made a face. "Sounds dreadful."

††††††††††† "It can be," I told her. "It means, loosely, that you are never happy unless you are uprooting something and making trouble."

††††††††††† Jessica smiled. "You're not the first person to have told me that, George."

††††††††††† "But the first to say it in Scottish," I pointed out.

††††††††††† She had to concede that point to me. "Yes. Somehow, it sounds more palatable in a foreign tongue. Bailing out?"

††††††††††† "To the contrary, I'm very much in," I assured her. "You won't get rid of me that easily. What's next, Mrs. Fletcher?"

 

††††††††††† "Joan Fontaine," Jessica answered matter-of-factly. "Or Vivien Leigh. Of course, I'd be pleased if Angela Lansbury played me in a film version of my book."

††††††††††† "Who are they?" one of the students in Rhet's public relations class asked.

††††††††††† Jessica looked out at me helplessly and I looked back, failing to suppress a smile.

††††††††††† "They're very fine actresses," she finally replied.

††††††††††† We were in the auditorium of Rhet's high school, in the midst of the mock press conference Camille Inken's niece had set up for her class project. Camille herself was in the back row, fairly bursting with pride. As the format had changed I was no longer required to participate directly, but I come along anyway to observe.I sat in the audience with the rest of the students, watching as Jessica, standing at a podium on stage, neatly fielded questions from the "press" with practiced aplomb.

††††††††††† "How about Julia Roberts?" someone asked.

††††††††††† "Or Madonna," another suggested, at which point it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud.

††††††††††† "I'm afraid Julia Roberts would be a little too young to play me. And Madonna? I'm not quite sure she would be - well, right for the part," Jessica finished delicately. "Next question - yes, young man?"

She pointed to another student, who rose to his feet. "Michael McCoy with the San Francisco Chronicle, ma'am."

††††††††††† I saw her smile at the gravity with which Michael spoke. "Mrs. Fletcher, let me ask you -" He nervously fumbled with the pages of his notepad, and started again. "Ah, yes. Okay. Mrs. Fletcher, will you be involved in the adaptation of your book into a movie script?"

††††††††††† Several of the students laughed, but Jessica handled the question with respect.

††††††††††† "That's a good question, Mr. - Mr. McCoy, was it? I'm glad you asked it," she said. "Many novelists see their manuscripts fall into the hands of someone else - professional screenwriters. When this happens, you run the risk of having your art, your 'masterpiece' interpreted by someone who doesn't capture the essence of what you've written. On the other hand, some book writers are asked to adapt their own work for the screen. Doing that can be a mixed blessing. The money is nice, of course. And the temptation is always strong to be involved in the process to minimize the risk of a bad adaptation. But, Mr. McCoy, to answer your question, I think I'll stay out of the process of making my book into a motion picture. Screenwriting is not 'my thing,' as you might put it, so I'll leave it to the pros and hope for the best."

††††††††††† Interesting answer, I thought, impressed. Even I had learned something today.

††††††††††† "Thank you, Mrs. Fletcher," he said politely, and resumed his seat.

††††††††††† Jessica nodded her head. "Thank you for asking, Mr. McCoy."

††††††††††† "I think Mrs. Fletcher has time for one more question," Rhet said.

††††††††††† "Yes?" Jessica said, indicating a tall girl sitting directly behind me.

††††††††††† She stood and said in a clear, firm voice, "I'm Ellie Steffer, with the San Francisco Examiner, Mrs. Fletcher. I know you've written many books. Are all of them murder mysteries? Have you ever written about anything else?"

††††††††††† Ellie Steffer? The Ellie Steffer?

††††††††††† It was all I could do to keep from swiveling around in my chair to openly stare at the girl. Looking up at Jessica, I could tell that she had been similarly affected - for a moment she looked shaken to the core, her eyes wide with shock. With an effort she recovered herself, but by then the girl's query had clearly flown from her mind.

††††††††††† "Would you mind repeating the question, Ms. Steffer?" she asked.

††††††††††† "Sure." She looked down at a pad of paper and repeated it.

††††††††††† As Jessica nodded and gave her answer, a swirl of thoughts raced through my mind. What a wonderful coincidence, that Ellie Steffer should be in Rhet's class! But although she was not even three feet from me, she might as well have been on another continent. Unless we could find a way to speak with her, away from the overbearing presence of her mother and godmother, we were at a loss. I could see that Jessica dearly wanted to return Ellie's questions with some of her own; her desperation was almost palpable.

††††††††††† Once Ellie sat down, Rhet ended the "press conference," thanked Jessica for coming, and wished her great success with her new book and its ersatz film version. She handled herself very well - like aunt, like niece, I thought.†††††††††††

Afterwards, the teacher joined us as the students filed from the room.

††††††††††† Rhet extended her hand. "Mrs. Fletcher, thank you so much. You were wonderful."

††††††††††† "Congratulations to you, Rhet, on a fine job yourself," Jessica told her. "Your aunt is obviously pleased, and justifiably proud."

††††††††††† "You bet I am," said Camille.

††††††††††† "Certainly worthy of an A," I said to Rhet's teacher.

††††††††††† "I couldn't agree more," the teacher replied.

††††††††††† "I'll walk you out," said Rhet. "I told your driver to be back at eleven-thirty." She checked her watch and said, "Great. Eleven-thirty on the dot."

††††††††††† As we headed for the door, Jessica looked back at Ellie, who had not moved from her seat. "Coming, Ms. Steffer?" she asked.

††††††††††† Ellie continued to sit until Rhet beckoned her. "Come on," she said, waving to her. "Mrs. Fletcher, this is a friend of mine, Ellie Steffer," Rhet said when Ellie finally joined us.

††††††††††† "Nice to meet you, Ellie," Jessica said, keeping a tight rein on herself. "This is Scotland Yard Inspector George Sutherland."

††††††††††† "Scotland Yard," Rhet said with a grin. "Boy, I'm impressed."

††††††††††† I could see that Jessica desperately wanted to pull Ellie aside for a private chat, but knew that this was neither the time nor the place. We headed for the lobby, the two girls falling back a pace or two behind and speaking in hushed tones.

"No. Don't," Ellie said.

††††††††††† "Why not?" Rhet asked. "She won't mind."

††††††††††† Jessica, who had been listening, stopped and said, "What won't I mind?"

††††††††††† "Ellie wants your autograph, Mrs. Fletcher, but she's embarrassed to ask you for it."

††††††††††† "Of course," she said.

††††††††††† Ellie handed Jessica the notepad. As she did, their eyes met.I could almost sense a telepathic hum in the air as recognition and intent was communicated between them merely through looks alone.There was no doubt in my mind that Ellie wanted very much to speak privately with Jessica, and that Jessica was fully aware of this. I could see her almost visibly struggling to keep from saying something to the girl on the spot as she took the notepad and wrote, "To Ellie. Good Luck. Jessica Fletcher."

††††††††††† The sight of Nancy Antonio, Ellie's godmother, seated on a bench just outside the school was what convinced her to say nothing for now. She handed the notebook back to the girl, who shoved it into the pocket of her jacket, exited the school, and went directly to where Nancy Antonio waited for her. She looked back inside, once more making eye contact with Jessica, who stared back at her wordlessly.

††††††††††† "Ready, Jessica?" Camille asked.

††††††††††† Jessica snapped back to the present. "What? Oh, yes, of course. I was daydreaming."

††††††††††† "Perfect day for it," I said as I pushed open the heavy door for her.

††††††††††† "Not quite," she said. She glanced at me, and from the look in her eyes I saw that she knew exactly what I had meant.

††††††††††† We didn't discuss Ellie Steffer's unexpected presence in the class that morning until we'd dropped Camille off at her office. Once we were alone in the car I put my hand on her arm and said, "I admire your restraint."

††††††††††† "Don't," she said irritably. "I blew a perfect opportunity. I should have said something. She wanted me to say something. Damn! Why didn't I -?"

††††††††††† "At least you know what she looks like," I pointed out.

††††††††††† Jessica didn't reply at first. Then, feeling a sneeze coming on, she said to me, "Kleenex?"

††††††††††† "I think so." I pulled a small traveling pack of tissues out of my coat pocket. As I did, a slip of paper I had not seen before fluttered out with it. I handed Jessica the tissues just in time to catch her sneeze, and picked up the note, which I unfolded and read. "Look here, Jessica," I said, handing it to her.

††††††††††† Jessica read it aloud, a puzzled look on her face.

††††††††††† "I need to talk to you, Mrs. Fletcher. But I'm afraid. I'll cut school tomorrow and be at the Mermaid Fountain in Ghirardelli Square at nine. I hope you will be there. Sincerely, Eleanore Steffer."

††††††††††† "She slipped it into my pocket," I said.

††††††††††† "Evidently." Then she laughed merrily. "Your turn!"

††††††††††† "My turn?"

††††††††††† "To walk away from an appearance with something you didn't arrive with. Just like me with Kimberly Steffer's diary. Now a note from her stepdaughter."

††††††††††† I chuckled at the obvious irony. "You will go," I said - it wasn't a question, but rather a statement of what I presumed to be fact.

††††††††††† "Of course," she said.

††††††††††† "Want me to tag along?" I asked.

††††††††††† "Yes," she replied. "But I don't think you should be with me when I meet with her. Might be inhibiting."

††††††††††† I nodded. "Be there, but out of sight."

††††††††††† "If you don't mind."

††††††††††† "It's your case, Inspector Fletcher," I said, laughing. "I'm a good soldier. I follow orders."

††††††††††† She grinned at me and said, "You're the finest kind of pork, George."

††††††††††† I raised an eyebrow at her. "I beg your pardon?"

††††††††††† "A sincere compliment in Maine," she explained. "Nothing to do with pigs - it just means that you are a terrific person."

††††††††††† "'Finest kind of pork.' People in Maine have a strange way of speaking."

††††††††††† "Almost as strange as a certain Scotsman I know." She glanced at Ellie's note again. "She says she's afraid. Of what?"

††††††††††† "More important, afraid of whom?" I said. "If we find that out, I believe we'll know who really did kill Mark Steffer."

 

††††††††††† "A quick lunch?" Jessica asked when we reached the hotel.

††††††††††† "Love to, Jessica," I said, "but I promised to have lunch today with a colleague from Thailand. Interesting chap. I helped revamp the Thai police department a few years back, and worked closely with him. He attended the conference. Like me, he's extending his stay in San Francisco."

††††††††††† She smiled. "Another page from the life of George Sutherland I didn't know about. Go enjoy your lunch. Maybe he'll take you to a sushi restaurant."

††††††††††† I laughed. "I've already headed off that possibility by making reservations at Harris's. Excellent steak house I enjoyed my last trip here. Meat and potatoes."

††††††††††† "Sounds delicious. Will I see you later this afternoon?"

††††††††††† "Of course," I said. "I intend to do a little shopping after lunch, but should be back by five. Meet in the bar?"

††††††††††† "I'd never turn down a date in the Compass Rose," she said. "It's a date."

 

††††††††††† I returned from my errands a little after five, only to find a message on my voice mail from Jessica, breaking our date:

"George, I had to run out for a few hours. It's now five. I hope to be back here at the hotel by seven. I'll call you then. But please don't wait for me if you can make other plans for dinner. Leave a message on my voice mail and maybe we'll catch up somewhere tonight."

She didn't say why she had to go out, though I had a fair idea that it concerned the Kimberly Steffer case.She was being secretive again, and it frustrated me to no end.

Jessica's go-it-alone style was a fundamental part of her personality; I could hardly expect her to go against her own deep-seated sense of self-reliance. But there was someone in this city - possibly more than one person - who was out to get her. Of this she was fully aware, just as she was aware that the whole purpose of my moving over to the St. Francis was to keep an eye on her. How was I supposed to do that when she was always taking off on her own without telling me where she was going?

I gritted my teeth. Besides being upset by my own impotence to protect her, I did not like the unwanted attention Jessica was receiving. Then it occurred to me - what if I were to deflect that attention away from her, toward myself? If it could be done, it would be well worth the effort. It might even have the effect of moving the investigation forward by drawing the murderer out.

††††††††††† I called the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle and asked to be put through to Bobby McCormick, who had written the reports on the Steffer murder trial back when it had first happened.

††††††††††† "Mr. McCormick," I said when he came on the line. "This is Chief Inspector George Sutherland of Scotland Yard."

††††††††††† "What can I do for you, Inspector?" McCormick asked.

††††††††††† "I'm a friend of the family of Kimberly Steffer," I said. "I am here in San Francisco taking a fresh look at her case."

††††††††††† There was a gusty sigh on the other end of the line. "What is it about that case that has everybody wanting to look into again now?" he wondered aloud. "A few days ago, some mystery writer was in here asking about Kimberly."

††††††††††† "JB Fletcher," I supplied.

††††††††††† "Yeah," McCormick said, clearly surprised. "How'd you know?"

††††††††††† "It's unimportant at the moment," I said. "What is important is that I think I have a new angle on the case, as you reporters might say. I'd like to get together with you and talk about it, if you're willing."

††††††††††† "You bet I'm willing," he said enthusiastically. "This could be a huge scoop - not to mention good news for Kimberly, who I think got royally screwed. Pardon my French."

††††††††††† "Yes. Is there someplace we could meet for dinner?"

††††††††††† McCormick suggested a restaurant not far from the newspaper's offices. We set a time to meet, and I hung up.

††††††††††† Jessica had not contacted me again before it was time for me to go, so before I left my suite, I left a message on her voice mail without being too specific about where I was going or what I was doing:

††††††††††† "Jessica. George here. I got your message and intended to wait at the hotel for you to return. But something has come up that I must attend to, so hope to touch base later. I should be back by ten. If it's later than that, I won't call knowing you're bound to be exhausted and asleep. In that event, we'll ring each other in the morning." I paused, debating what to say next. "Take care, dear lady. This will be one very unhappy Scotsman if anything should happen to a dear friend named Jessica Fletcher."

††††††††††† That done, I left to meet Bobby McCormick.

 

††††††††††† The man was a character, no question about that. But it was also evident that he was an intelligent man, and a shrewd reporter. We shook hands and introduced ourselves, then slid into a secluded booth together with a bottle of Glenlivet.

††††††††††† "Okay, Inspector," he said, "give: how did you know JB Fletcher was working this case?"

††††††††††† "Please, call me George," I said. "Let's just say that the lady and I are old acquaintances."

††††††††††† "Acquaintances, eh?Then she no doubt has already filled you in on our conversation."

††††††††††† "If you're talking about how you wouldn't be surprised to be covering another Steffer murder trial, then the answer is yes. But she didn't get into the specifics of why you felt that way."

††††††††††† Over the course of the next hour, he filled me in on all the aspects of the original murder case that, in his opinion, did not add up to Kimberly being guilty of the crime, but rather pointed to an obvious attempt to frame her. Nothing had gone right for her from the beginning, from the bumbling of her overconfident attorney to the dubious testimony of a near-sighted cab driver.

††††††††††† "What about the murder weapon?" I asked.

††††††††††† "It was never found."

††††††††††† "And her fingerprints in the car?"

††††††††††† "It was her husband's car, for crying out loud! Why wouldn't her fingerprints be found in it? It would have been more suspicious if they hadn't found her prints all over the interior."

††††††††††† "Hmm," I said. "If the case against her was so weak, why was she convicted?"

††††††††††† "Because she made the mistake of going to the mall the day Mark was found dead," McCormick said.

††††††††††† "Going to the mall?" I repeated as McCormick refilled our glasses from the bottle. "Why was that so damning?"

††††††††††† McCormick shrugged, and helped himself to the platter of nachos that had been delivered to our table. "Because thatís where her husband's restaurant is located. And because that's where the car was found, around back, with Mark's body in the trunk. To be fair, they did find receipts in her purse proving she was there that day. But that could have easily been a coincidence! Still, the prosecuting attorney played it up real big, and the jury swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker. But to me, the biggest problem with the case was that the prosecution's witnesses were clearly biased. I mean, come on - they were the guy's ex-wife and her best buddy. What did they expect?"

††††††††††† "I see," I said slowly. "Did Jessica tell you she spoke to Kimberly at the Women's Correctional Facility?"

††††††††††† McCormick smiled, a knowing look in his eye. "Ah, so now it's 'Jessica' instead of 'the lady,'" he said. "Just how good acquaintances are you two, anyway?"

††††††††††† "Never mind that," I said.

††††††††††† "Yeah, she told me that. I asked her to keep me posted on how things developed. I'd really love to do a follow-up on this - it might not win me a Pulitzer, but it would be a great scoop nonetheless."He dipped a corn chip into the bowl of guacamole that came with the nachos. "So, now it's your turn," he said to me. "What's the new angle I'm going to be writing about?"

††††††††††† "Me," I said. "I want you to write about how I have come all the way from London to reopen this case, on behalf of Ms. Steffer's family back in England."

††††††††††† "Okay," McCormick said slowly. "And Jessica - what do you want me to write about her?"

††††††††††† "Nothing," I said. "She is no longer involved."

††††††††††† "Whoa, whoa, hold on," he said. "What do you mean, no longer involved? She took this up as a cause - and if her reputation is any indication, she doesn't give up on her causes."

††††††††††† "No," I said slowly, "she doesn't. Nevertheless, I think it would be best for all concerned if your forthcoming article focused on my involvement, and said nothing of hers."

††††††††††† "I don't understand," McCormick said. "Are you trying to protect her or something?"

††††††††††† I took a sip of Glenlivet and said, "I, ah, decline to answer that question on the grounds that it violates my rights under your Tenth Amendment."

††††††††††† McCormick gave me an odd look. "You're invoking the Constitutional right to have any powers not delegated to the federal government or prohibited to the states be reserved to the states respectively?"

††††††††††† "Picked the wrong one, didn't I."

††††††††††† He laughed. "Yeah," he said. "I think you meant to invoke the Fifth.But it doesn't matter - I'm a journalist, not a gossip columnist.I get your drift."

††††††††††† "Good," I said. "My other goal is to shake things up a little, and in doing so, induce Mark Steffer's killer to make a move that will ultimately expose the truth."

††††††††††† "A noble sentiment," McCormick said. "One that I can drink to, in fact." He raised his glass, and clinked its rim to mine.

 

††††††††††† When I returned to my room around eleven-thirty there was another voice mail from Jessica waiting for me:

"George, this is Jessica. I'm at a delightful dinner with old friends. Well, at least one of them is an old friend, Neil Schwartz. He's here on his honeymoon. He, his wife and I have been celebrating a bit. I hope you're all right. If I get back to the hotel by midnight, I'll give you a call. If not, we'll do as you suggested and meet up in the morning. Sleep tight. And don't worry about me, I'm in good company."

††††††††††† Good, I thought. At least she'd found a worthwhile way to spend the evening. I rang her room to see if she had returned. She hadn't, so I left another message for her:

"I checked for messages a bit ago, Jessica, and received yours. Glad you're having a splendid evening with friends. My evening has developed into a rather interesting one, the details of which I will relay to you when we gather forces in the morning. Breakfast at seven? Donít forget you are to meet the young Ms. Steffer at nine. Sleep tight yourself."

"A late night for you, Jess," I said aloud to myself as I got ready for bed. "But probably not nearly as productive as mine."

Feeling inordinately pleased with myself, I fell into bed. But before I drifted off to sleep, a wicked thought occurred to me: I would hold the nature of my evening's activities close to my chest for as long as possible, and not speak of it to Jessica until absolutely necessary. Besides her elusive behavior this evening, I remembered how during the Ainsworth murder case in London she had been highly selective about what information she shared with me, which had exasperated me to no end. Here, at last, was my chance for payback.

It would drive her absolutely mad having to wait to find out what I'd been up to - of that I was certain. But, I rationalized as sleep finally overcame me, it would be worth it for her to see what it was like to have the shoe on the other foot. And, very possibly, fun.

Jessica was not the only one who could keep secrets.

 

††††††††††† I am usually an even-tempered man, so my unusually high spirits the next morning drew Jessica's attention immediately.

"Ah, good morning, dear lady," I said when we met for breakfast in the lobby. "Have you looked outside? What a magnificent fat day."

††††††††††† She took in my wide smile and the bounce in my step suspiciously. "Yes," she said, trying to look in my eyes to read my mood better. "It looks like we're in for a spell of nice weather. Are we having breakfast here in the hotel?"

††††††††††† "Absolutely not," I said, deliberately avoiding her gaze. "I always like to sample the best a city has to offer. I thought breakfast at the Buena Vista was very much in order this morning. I understand its breakfast offerings are unparalleled. Besides, it is close to Ghirardelli Square, where you are to meet with the mysterious Ms. Steffer."

††††††††††† Jessica smiled; despite her misgivings, my mood was infectious. "All right," she said. "Breakfast at the Buena Vista it is."

††††††††††† The Buena Vista, where legend held that Irish coffee was first introduced to America, was packed even at that early hour. The large, round tables were communal; we waited until two chairs opened up at one, joining six other diners. This worked in my favor, as I was able to deflect Jessica's questions about my previous evening by engaging our tablemates, two of whom were British stopping over en route to Hong Kong, in conversation.

Finally, when she asked me again, I said, "In all due course, Jessica." Then I changed the subject: "That was a delicious breakfast. I think we'd better head for your nine o'clock appointment."

††††††††††† We walked the short distance from the Buena Vista to Ghirardelli Square and found the Mermaid Fountain in the central plaza. We were half an hour early for Jessica's rendezvous with Ellie Steffer, so we bought two cappuccinos to go from a nearby coffee shop - there seemed to be coffee shops everywhere - and took them to an empty wrought-iron table in the central plaza.

"This is as good a place as any for me to wait for her, I suppose," Jessica said, surveying our surroundings.

††††††††††† "Yes," I agreed. "Quite centrally located, with a view of the entire area. I suppose I should make myself scarce." I looked across the plaza to another group of tables partially obscured from view by some trees. "I feel very much like a house detective in a seedy hotel, hiding behind a potted palm in search of unsavory goings-on," I said, laughing at the thought.

††††††††††† "You can stay right here with me if you wish."

††††††††††† "No," I said. "As we agreed, my presence might inhibit the young lady from being candid. She obviously has something very important on her mind, and it seems you are about to become the recipient of whatever that is. I'll be over there."

††††††††††† I started to walk away, but she called me back: "George," she said.

††††††††††† I stopped and turned. "Yes, Jessica?"

††††††††††† "Where were you last night?"

††††††††††† I looked at her, and to my amazement I thought I saw a flicker of worry and - good Lord, could it be? - jealousy in those blue eyes. It occurred to me that a variety of possible scenarios regarding my whereabouts last night had run through her mind, not all of them having to do with the investigation. Still, that didn't change my mind about keeping my own counsel regarding my dinner meeting with Bobby McCormick.

††††††††††† "As my dear, departed father said, patience is truly a virtue," I said, smiling broadly at her. "This afternoon."

††††††††††† "I have to wait until this afternoon to find out what you did last night? To find out why you're in such wonderful spirits this morning?" The flicker was swiftly rising into a flare of dangerous blue fire.

††††††††††† "Exactly," I said smugly, undeterred. "I'll be right over there in case you need me." With that, I turned away and walked purposeful in the direction of my chosen vantage point.

††††††††††† A few minutes later Ellie Steffer entered the square, accompanied by Camille's niece Rhet. I saw Jessica hand Ellie some money and the girl headed off towards a nearby lemonade stand, leaving Rhet and Jessica alone for a moment. They consulted with each other quietly, heads bent close together, until Ellie returned. I saw Jessica glance in my direction, a look of relief passing across her features that came from knowing I was still there. Then she returned her attention to Kimberly's stepdaughter.

††††††††††† For awhile Jessica and Rhet listened as Ellie apparently told them her story - an emotional one, from the looks of it. At the end of the session, I saw Ellie hand Jessica a plastic shopping bag before both girls rose from the table to leave.

††††††††††† Jessica called them back. She looked down at the contents of the shopping bag - it appeared to be a blond wig - then back up at the girls, who stood over her at the table.She smiled, and gave Ellie some final instructions. I saw both girls' eyes widen at what she had to say, then they left the table and were gone.

††††††††††† Once they had departed the square I rejoined Jessica at the table. "So, Jessica, what transpired?" I asked.

††††††††††† She looked at me and said, in all seriousness, "Someone with blond hair killed Mark Steffer."

††††††††††† I laughed. "We already know that," I said.

††††††††††† "No, we don't," Jessica countered. "We know it if Kimberly Steffer did it. But she didn't do it."

††††††††††† "And?"

††††††††††† "Someone who wanted very much to make it look as though she killed her husband did a good job of making him, or her, look like Kimberly. Good enough to convince a jury, at least."

††††††††††† "Him, or her?"

††††††††††† "If you weren't insistent upon playing cat and mouse with me about last night, you'd understand," she answered testily. "Buy me another cappuccino and I'll explain. But you go first. Where were you last night?"

††††††††††† She was so fetching when she was jealous.I smiled to myself, and kept her in suspense for a few more minutes, long enough for us to cross the square to the coffee shop, pick up two more perfect cappuccinos, and return to the table we had occupied earlier.

††††††††††† "I had dinner," I finally told her, after taking a deliberately slow, savouring sip of my cappuccino, and earning a near-murderous look from Jessica, "with Bobby McCormick."

††††††††††† Jessica sat back in her chair, clearly taken aback.

††††††††††† "You look surprised, Jess," I said.

††††††††††† "I have to admit I am. Not that there's any reason for you not to have dinner with Bobby McCormick. But he is, after all, the reporter who followed the Kimberly Steffer trial so closely. I would have thought -"

††††††††††† She paused in what she was saying; I looked at her quizzically.

††††††††††† "I would have thought that you'd have told me of your plans to be with him," she finally concluded.

††††††††††† I nodded, encouraging her to go on.

††††††††††† "George, please don't misunderstand," she said, placing her hand on mine. "I'm not implying that you have any obligation to keep me informed of your whereabouts. But it was Bobby McCormick you had dinner with. You know how interested I'd be in that." She glanced down, and a trace of hurt entered her voice. "And, I must admit, I can't help but wonder why I wasn't invited."

††††††††††† I said nothing; we sipped our cappuccinos in silence until Jessica prodded me for a response:"Well?" she said.

††††††††††† I smiled and set down my cup, deciding that I had tortured her long enough. "Jessica, I know exactly how you feel," I said apologetically. "And maybe I was insensitive to your needs in this regard. It is your case, this Kimberly Steffer matter."

"I'm not claiming proprietary interest, George."

"I know you're not. The truth is, I needed to learn some things to help you, to help us, with this case. I thought Mr. McCormick would open up more to me - than to you."

††††††††††† A smile played at her lips. "Guy talk?" she asked.

††††††††††† I laughed, and so did she. "Okay," she said. "I'm not nearly as upset as I probably appeared. Let's just forget it."

††††††††††† "I'm afraid we can't do that, Jessica," I said.

††††††††††† "Why?" she asked, looking pleased that I continued to pursue the topic.

††††††††††† "I'm happy to tell you why," I told her. "After a couple of glasses of Glenlivet - by God, that stuff is good; if it weren't such a bloody fortune back home - I convinced Mr. McCormick to run another story about Kimberly - sort of a follow-up."

††††††††††† "A follow-up?" she asked. "Based upon what? Reporters usually don't resurrect an old story unless there's a new angle."

††††††††††† I gave her a wise and knowing look. "Ah, but there is."

††††††††††† "Me?" she asked. "Because I'm involved?"

††††††††††† I shook my head. "No, dear lady. Me."

††††††††††† Jessica's eyes widened. "You? What do you mean?"

††††††††††† "What I mean is that he is going to write that I, a high-ranking Scotland Yard inspector, have decided that Miss Kimberly Steffer has been wrongly accused of the murder of her husband," I explained to her. "Not only that, the article will point out that I am in San Francisco to prove her innocence to the world."

††††††††††† "You are?"

††††††††††† "I am as far as the readers of Mr. McCormick's newspaper are concerned. And, hopefully, find the real murderer."

††††††††††† "I -"

††††††††††† I raised my hand, cutting her protest short. "Most importantly, Jessica, it will take the focus off you. I've been worried about what happened to you on the bridge that morning. I don't think it was coincidental. But Mr. McCormick's story might make whoever is after you realize they're after the wrong man - the wrong woman. I'm the one they should have tried to push off the Golden Gate Bridge. I want to expedite things. I feel we're close, yet so far from getting to the truth. I can taste it. Hopefully, someone - the someone responsible for Mark Steffer's death - will take the bait and try to get rid of this snoopy Scotsman. If it works - bingo! That is the correct American expression, isn't it?"

††††††††††† She nodded, not looking at all happy about my plan.

††††††††††† "Now, if I'd told you about my plan before meeting with Mr. McCormick, you'd surely have tried to talk me out of it. Correct me if I'm wrong."

"No," Jessica sighed. "You're right. I'll even admit that I like your scheme. I see why you're held in such high regard. You're a veritable Sherlock Holmes."

"And you, Jessica? My Dr. Watson?"

††††††††††† She flashed a dazzling grin at me. "Pleased to be."

††††††††††† I lifted my mug to hers, and touched its rim in a toast. "To the new firm of Sutherland and Fletcher. Or Fletcher and Sutherland. Whichever you prefer. Cheers."

††††††††††† "Cheers. Now what, Mr. Holmes?"

††††††††††† I looked at my watch. "Let's see. I presume Mr. Bobby McCormick has already filed his story, hopefully in time for today's late edition," I said. "I suggest we sit tight, just as we are. Enjoy the sunshine and this pretty city. I have a few hours of work to log, and a series of faxes to get off to Scotland Yard before the day escapes me. Your plans?"

††††††††††† "I was going to the San Francisco Zen Center. I understand they have a fabulous restaurant there - Greens, it's called. The views across the bay to the Golden Gate are breathtaking, according to Camille. Not up your alley, though, George. Strictly vegetarian."

"Then I won't feel deprived not accompanying you. My only concern is having you out of my sight. Why not invite Camille to join you?"

††††††††††† She brushed aside my concern and said, "Don't be silly, George. Not much can happen in broad daylight."

††††††††††† "As I recall, your incident on the bridge didn't happen at midnight," I pointed out.

††††††††††† "Beside the point," she countered. "I'm looking forward to lunching by myself today."

††††††††††† "Then take this." I pulled a pager out of my jacket pocket and handed it to her. "Beep me at some point just to check in," I said. "If it goes off, you'll know I'm beeping you, since I'm the only one who knows your number. Go immediately to a phone and call the number that you read on the beeper. That's where I can be reached. Your beeper number, by the way, is three-three-four. My number is five-seven-eight. Beep me if you need help, or just want to talk."

††††††††††† Jessica looked at the pager doubtfully. "I'll feel like a doctor Ö or a drug dealer."

††††††††††† "A thin line between them at times," I said. "Let's meet back at the hotel for afternoon tea at four."

††††††††††† She nodded, placing the pager in her purse. "Sounds wonderful."

††††††††††† I looked down at the bag containing the wig Ellie Steffer had given her. "What do you make of that?" I asked.

††††††††††† She shrugged.

††††††††††† "Want me to take it back with me to the hotel?" I offered.

††††††††††† She considered, then said, "No, that's okay. I'll just put it in here." She placed the plastic supermarket bag and its contents in her bag, together with Kimberly's diary.

We shared a cab; the first stop was hers, at the Zen Center at Fort Mason, where she told me she intended to reread some of Kimberly's diary while alone and able to concentrate. As for me, I headed back to the Westin St. Francis, to collect a newspaper see the results of Bobby McCormick's handywork.

 

††††††††††† Jessica returned a couple of hours later. By now she wasn't merely excited, she was positively elated.

††††††††††† "George," she said, "I learned two very important facts while I was out. The first is that Kimberly Steffer had her hair cut the day her husband was found dead."

††††††††††† I looked up from the newspaper, in which I was re-reading the article by Mr. McCormick. "Am I missing something here? Why is that important?"

††††††††††† "Because she didn't just have a trim, she had it cut way back - from shoulder-length to something shorter," Jessica said.

††††††††††† I tried to follow her logic, but she was too far ahead of me. "Maybe you'd better tell me what the other thing you learned is."

††††††††††† "Robert Frederickson is not a good hair stylist."

††††††††††† Now I was completely confused. "Robert Frederickson cut Kimberly Steffer's hair?" I asked, trying to figure out what the connection was.

††††††††††† "No," she said, once again taking the blond wig from its plastic bag. "But he did cut this."

††††††††††† I looked at it and said, "The wig that Ellie Steffer gave you this morning?"

††††††††††† "Oh, it's much more than that, George," she said. "It's the wig Mark Steffer's murderer wore to frame Kimberly for his death. And it was bought - and cut - by Robert Frederickson."

 

††††††††††† Spurred by this revelation, we went to work on a plan that, we hoped, would ultimately bring the whole sorry affair to its conclusion. The scheme I proposed was unorthodox, to say the least: even Jessica, who had woven her fair share of creative end games, was impressed.

††††††††††† Once we had a workable plan, the next step was to bring all the principles together - including Kimberly Steffer. Her inclusion required the most negotiation, as we worked with Detective Josephs to convince a judge to release her from the prison into his custody for the following evening. But at last the Powers that Be agreed to go along, and with that, the final piece was in place.

††††††††††† "It's all set with Josephs," I said as I hung up the phone, sounding pleased. "He'll bring Kimberly to the restaurant."

††††††††††† "Wonderful," Jessica said with heartfelt relief. She had all but worn a path into the floor with her pacing while waiting for the final go-ahead to be announced.

††††††††††† "Ms. Steffer will be there celebrating her birthday?" I asked. While I had been arranging for Kimberly's (hopefully permanent) release, she had been in contact with Ellie Steffer.

††††††††††† "Yes," she said. "Her mother and Nancy Antonio balked at first. But Ellie said they quickly changed their minds after receiving a call from Robert Frederickson."

††††††††††† I smiled. "Undoubtedly, telling them I would be there."

††††††††††† She returned my smile with one of her own. "Undoubtedly."

†††††††††††

††††††††††† The appointed hour struck - it was time to leave for the restaurant.

††††††††††† "Ready?" I asked.

††††††††††† She took a deep breath and let it out again. "Ready as I'll ever be," she said. "Let's go."

††††††††††† Once we were settled in a cab, I asked, "Have you got the wig, Jess?"†††††††††† "Right here in my bag." She pulled it out and held it up, turning it in her hands by the light of the streetlights that moved past the cab's windows. "How do you think I'll look as a platinum blond?"

††††††††††† "As beautiful as with your natural hair," I replied promptly.

††††††††††† She laughed. "You should have been a diplomat," she said as she placed the wig on her head and adjusted it by touch.

††††††††††† I took in the effect, which was not nearly as dreadful as she had feared. "Nice," I said. "But they'll still know it's you."

††††††††††† "I'm sure of that. But seeing me wearing it should set a few teeth on edge."

††††††††††† I laughed softly. "Of that, I'm sure," I told her. "Oh, yes. Of that, I'm certain."

††††††††††† Jessica was silent after that, as was I.She stared out the window of the cab and allowed herself to slip into a meditative trance - her way, I suspected, of dealing with her nervousness.I reached over and took her hand in mine; she didn't acknowledge the gesture, but she made no move to pull away either.

††††††††††† This would be perfect, I thought, were our destination a happier place. Well, almost perfect. The only thing missing was Ö

††††††††††† As if on cue, the familiar strains of Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" came from the taxi's radio. Jessica also recognized the tune, and stirred a little. I gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and held it tighter for the rest of the trip.

††††††††††† Eventually, our driver pulled into the parking lot of What's to Eat? As he did, Jessica roused herself from her introspection; I could feel a tremor run through her as her anxiety level edged up another notch.

††††††††††† "George. Look," she said, pointing to a small white Toyota parked in the first row of cars. Getting out of it were Ellie and Joan Steffer, and Nancy Antonio.

††††††††††† "Bingo," I said. "So far, so good." I leaned forward and placed my hand on the driver's shoulder. "Don't drop us off at the entrance just yet," I said. "Perhaps you'd be good enough to drive us around a bit."

††††††††††† "Sure," he driver responded.

††††††††††† "Take us over there," I said, indicating a far corner of the parking lot.

††††††††††† As we watched from our remote post Robert Frederickson came through the restaurant's front door to greet Ellie, her mother and godmother. After he and the new arrivals were inside, another taxi pulled into the lot.

††††††††††† Jessica sat up straighter. "Is that him?" she asked.

††††††††††† "I'm sure it is," I said, looking at the taxi closely. "Yes. See? He's parked where I instructed him to park."

††††††††††† She nodded, satisfied. "It really might work."

††††††††††† "Hopefully. I'd still feel better if you didn't insist upon being with me," I said quietly.

††††††††††† "Not a chance," she said, shaking her head. "If you've come here tonight to deliberately put yourself in harm's way, you're going to have to put up with me at your side. I consider myself your partner. Partners stick together."

††††††††††† I let out a deep, long-suffering sigh, then tapped the driver on the shoulder again and said, "You can take us to the entrance now."

††††††††††† As we pulled up, we could make out Frederickson's profile through the window of the restaurant. I paid the driver and opened the taxi's door for Jessica. As we walked up the short brick path to the front door, I noticed that the color of the bricks was yellow. On impulse, I hummed a few bars of "We're Off to See the Wizard." Jessica heard me, and smiled sadly.

††††††††††† "I wish I could kick my heels three times and be home," she sighed.

††††††††††† We stepped inside and were face-to-face with Robert Frederickson.

††††††††††† "Good evening," I said to him with a pleasant smile on my face. "I'm Scotland Yard Inspector Sutherland. I have a reservation."

††††††††††† I'm quite sure he heard me, but his attention was riveted on Jessica, or perhaps more specifically on her temporary blond hair.

††††††††††† "Mrs. Fletcher?" he said in amazement.

††††††††††† To her credit, Jessica didn't miss a beat. "Good evening, Mr. Frederickson. How nice to see you again."

††††††††††† "You look -"

††††††††††† "Different? Must be this wig I'm wearing. I've always wanted to be a blond. How do I look?"

††††††††††† "You look -" He didn't finish his thought, but rather turned back to me. "You said when you made the reservation that you were bringing your niece for a birthday dinner," he said in an accusatory tone.

††††††††††† "Absolutely correct," I replied cheerfully. "My niece is running late. She should be here any minute. Mrs. Fletcher is joining us to help celebrate the occasion. Perhaps we could enjoy a drink while we wait for her. You do serve alcohol?"

††††††††††† "Yes, but this is a -"

††††††††††† "A family restaurant catering to children," I finished for him.

††††††††††† "That's correct." Frederickson took two menus from a rack on the wall and escorted us to a room at the rear. I glanced around; there was no sign of Ellie Steffer, her mother, or her godmother.

††††††††††† Frederickson seated us at a table for six. "Enjoy your meal," he said as he handed us the menus.

††††††††††† "I'm sure we will," I replied. Before he left, Frederickson's eyes locked with Jessica's for a long moment. Then he broke the gaze, walked away and disappeared through swinging doors leading to the kitchen.

††††††††††† A young waitress bounced over to take our drink orders. We pretended to study the menu, although our minds were actually on more important matters.

††††††††††† "Interesting menu," I said, smiling.

††††††††††† "Plenty of things on it to satisfy you," Jessica said, indicating the preponderance of deep-fried food.

††††††††††† "No sushi?" I asked, pretending to sound disappointed.

††††††††††† She smiled at me. "No sushi."

††††††††††† Our waitress returned a minute later with our drinks. "These are compliments of Mr. Frederickson," she said.

††††††††††† "How nice," Jessica said. She looked around to see if he was lurking nearby, but he was nowhere to be found. "Please thank him for us," she said.

††††††††††† The waitress continued to stand by our table, as though waiting for something.

††††††††††† "Yes?" I asked her, looking up.

††††††††††† "Oh, I forgot. What's to eat?" Jessica said. She turned to me and explained, "There's a protocol in this restaurant. You have to ask 'What's to eat?' before you're allowed to order."

††††††††††† "That's right," the waitress chirped.

††††††††††† "If I don't eat my vegetables, will I still get dessert?" I asked. Jessica got the joke, but it clearly sailed far over the waitress's head.

††††††††††† "We're waiting for the rest of our party before we order," Jessica told her. "Besides, I haven't had a chance to scan the menu. So many - wonderful things from which to choose." She gave me a pained look that only I could see.

††††††††††† "I'll be back," said the waitress, and left us in peace.

††††††††††† The minute she was gone, Jessica looked through an archway back into the main dining room. "Donít turn, George," she whispered, "but they're sitting in the main dining room. Behind you."

††††††††††† "Ah, hah. Keep your eye on them, Jess."

††††††††††† Our waitress returned.

††††††††††† "It seems the rest of our party has been held up," I said. "I suppose we should order." Once we had and the waitress was gone, I lifted his gin on the rocks to my white wine. "To Kimberly Steffer," I whispered.

††††††††††† "Yes. To Kimberly. Hopefully, it won't be a wasted toast."

††††††††††† As we chatted, I noticed Jessica's eyes suddenly darken with concern.

††††††††††† "George," she said, placing a hand on my arm, "maybe it isn't such a good idea for us to be drinking and eating here."

††††††††††† "Why?" I asked. "I'm sure the food isn't terribly good, but -"

††††††††††† "Because Mr. Frederickson and whoever else he's involved with might decide to add an extra spice, an extra ingredient that isn't called for in the original recipe." She gave me a significant look.

††††††††††† "Yes. I see what you mean," I said. "But highly unlikely, wouldn't you agree?" My reasoning was that it would be economic suicide - to say nothing of foolhardy - to allow someone to die on the premises of the restaurant. Its reputation would be ruined. For this reason, I figured we were safe enough.

††††††††††† But Jessica was not quite convinced. "How is your gin?" she asked.

††††††††††† "Excellent."

††††††††††† "No funny tastes?"

††††††††††† "No."

††††††††††† "Good," she said, and subsided. She looked over at Ellie's table again and asked, "What time do you have?"

††††††††††† "Almost eight. Josephs and Kimberly are obviously tied up," I said with a frown. "Traffic, perhaps. Or maybe Josephs had trouble getting her out of prison."

††††††††††† "I thought he'd received permission to bring her here."

††††††††††† "Even so, there's always the infernal paperwork," I sighed. "I just hope the judge who issued the order hasn't changed his mind. It took courage on his part to do it, to say nothing of a surprisingly creative move for a judge. I also have to give Josephs credit for presenting a compelling reason to the court. I give that credit reluctantly, however."

††††††††††† "I hope they show soon," Jessica said, stirring restlessly in her chair. "This waiting is getting to me."

††††††††††† "Any sign of Frederickson reappearing?" I asked.

††††††††††† "No. He seated them but hasn't come back to the table."

††††††††††† "I wonder what he's up to."

††††††††††† "As long as it isn't -" She paused in mid-sentence. "They're here."

††††††††††† I turned and saw Detective Josephs enter the room, escorting Kimberly Steffer. She wore a scarf to conceal her blond hair and dark glasses - a thin disguise, but apparently enough to fool Nancy and Joan, who didn't seem to notice her as she passed.

††††††††††† I stood and motioned to them to join us at our table. Kimberly kept her head down, and stayed close to the detective as they crossed the room."Sit down, sit down," I said, holding out a chair for Kimberly to Jessica's left, ensuring that Nancy and Joan would only see her profile.

††††††††††† "Sorry we're late," Josephs said, helping himself to a roll from the basket on our table. "Damn judge changed the rules at the last minute. Couldn't bring her here without a half dozen other cops trailing. Two of 'em are taking a table in that other room. The other four are outside watching every exit in case Ms. Steffer here decides to do something stupid."

††††††††††† "You don't have to worry about that," Kimberly said softly.

††††††††††† "I suggest you leave those on," I said to her as she began to remove her disguise. "Too early for us to spring that surprise," he said gently.

††††††††††† "You look wonderful, Kimberly," Jessica said, patting her hand.

††††††††††† "Thanks, Mrs. Fletcher," she replied in a tense voice.

††††††††††† "Everything's going to be all right," said Jessica soothingly "Just try and relax."

††††††††††† Our food, when it arrived, was disappointing to say the least. I'd ordered a steak done rare, yet what was place before me was all but charred. I sighed.

††††††††††† "Ready to order?" I asked Kimberly and Josephs.

††††††††††† "Yeah," Josephs replied. "What's that thing you're eating?"

††††††††††† "A steak."

††††††††††† "It is?"

††††††††††† "So they say."

††††††††††† "Lemme see the menu," Josephs told the waitress, who left to fetch one.

††††††††††† "Actually, it might be better if -" I began, when Jessica seized my wrist and stopped me. She was looking past me into the main room, towards the table where Ellie sat with her mother and godmother. "A little anxiety in the other room," she said.

††††††††††† "Oh?" I said without turning around.

††††††††††† "You were saying?" Jessica asked, her eyes still fixed on the other room.

††††††††††† "I was saying that it might make sense to hasten things up a bit," I said.

††††††††††† "So?" Josephs said.

††††††††††† Truly, the man was dense. "So, Detective, I think it would be better to skip your main courses and get right to dessert."

††††††††††† "How come?" Josephs asked, taking another roll. It was obvious he hadn't had the forethought to eat first.

††††††††††† "Because," I explained patiently, "according to our astute Mrs. Fletcher's instincts, it's time to push things forward."

††††††††††† "Time for the birthday cake," Jessica said. "Are you ready to celebrate your birthday?" she asked Kimberly.

††††††††††† "Yes," she replied, "even though it isn't."

††††††††††† "Then let's do it."

††††††††††† "Do what?" Josephs asked.

††††††††††† Without bothering to explain, I caught the waitress's eye and waved her to our table. "Our late-arriving friends have already eaten elsewhere. But we're ready for the cake now."

††††††††††† "You don't want dinner?" the waitress said to Josephs and Kimberly.

††††††††††† They shook their heads. Josephs snitched another roll before the waitress took away the bread basket.

††††††††††† I motioned everyone to lean closer. "Here's what happens next," I told them in a low voice. "I've ordered a birthday cake for my 'niece.' Obviously, my niece isn't here." I shrugged. "More to the point, the only nieces I have are back in Scotland, and I didn't think it wise or cost-effective to fly them in for the occasion. At any rate, I requested that the cake not have a name on it. They treated it as a strange request, almost demanded that a name appear. But I held fast. The cake will simply say 'Happy Birthday,' and will contain thirteen candles."

††††††††††† "Thirteen?" Josephs asked, looking at each person at the table, his expression disbelief.

††††††††††† Truly the man had absolutely no imagination at all. "It is Mr. Frederickson's policy to personally join in the singing of 'Happy Birthday' to everyone so honored in his establishment," I said, ignoring him. "Probably, a thwarted theatrical career. No matter. He will come to the table and join in. Is everyone ready?"

††††††††††† Everyone nodded, and I saw Jessica give Kimberly a reassuring smile, all the while continuing to keep an eye on Joan and Nancy's table in the other room. I stole a quick glance over my shoulder at them - their dinners had been served, but went unnoticed as they watched what was happening at our table.

The kitchen door opened, and our waitress came through it carrying a small cake with the promised thirteen candles. Behind her, Robert Frederickson stood in the open kitchen doorway, seemingly unsure whether to follow through with his custom and sing along with the others. Seeing his ambivalence I waved him over to join the festivities. Whether he would have come over voluntarily or not will remain forever a mystery, because the other members of the wait staff, seeing him there, took him by the arms and brought him forward whether he will or nil.

††††††††††† As I motioned for the waitress to place the cake in front of Kimberly, Jessica spoke to her quietly: "Time to take off the scarf and sunglasses, Kimberly."

††††††††††† She slowly removed them, raised her lovely face, and looked directly at Frederickson, the warm candlelight from the cake rendering her natural beauty even more apparent. A waiter started the song, but Frederickson was dumbfounded as he stared at Kimberly, his mouth agape.

††††††††††† When the song was finished the waiters and waitresses drifted away, back to their duties.

††††††††††† "Time to blow out the candles," Jessica told our guest. "Make a wish, Kimberly." As she did, Jessica rose and faced Frederickson, who was still trying to work through his shock. "Yes, Mr. Frederickson," she told him, "it's Kimberly Steffer."

††††††††††† "What the hell is -?"

††††††††††† "What's going on," she said, "is this." She pulled the wig off and held it out to him, but Frederickson recoiled from the sight of it. "I don't blame you for not wanting to touch it - again," she said grimly. "This is the wig you bought as part of your efforts to frame Kimberly Steffer for the murder of her husband, Mark Steffer."

††††††††††† Now I also stood, adding, "You should stay out of the haircutting business, Mr. Frederickson. Not a very appealing cut you gave it."

††††††††††† Jessica turned and openly faced Ellie, her mother, and her godmother, holding the wig aloft for them to see. "Maybe they'd like to join us," she said to Detective Josephs.

††††††††††† Josephs went to their table, showed the ladies his badge, and spoke to them.A moment later the three women got up and followed him to our table. While Joseph's plainclothes suggested to the few diners in our room that they leave and herded the other onlookers away.

††††††††††† "What is this nonsense?" Nancy Antonio asked, her large face in a sneer.

††††††††††† "I wouldn't call it 'nonsense,'" I said. "You know Mrs. Fletcher, of course."

††††††††††† Jessica smiled at her pleasantly. "Hello."

††††††††††† Nancy ignored her and turned to Frederickson instead. "What have you done?" she demanded.

††††††††††† "I imagine you look rather fetching as a blond," I said to Nancy. "Jessica." At my nod, Jessica offered the wig to her. "Try it on for size," I suggested.

††††††††††† She stood with her arms crossed defiantly, refusing to take it. "Where did you get that?" she demanded.

††††††††††† "I gave it to them," Ellie said in a voice so soft it was barely audible.

††††††††††† "You?" Joan Steffer blurted.

††††††††††† "What are you trying to prove?" Nancy asked.

††††††††††† "Your guilt in the murder of Mark Steffer," said Jessica. "Go ahead, Mrs. Antonio. We're all waiting."

††††††††††† She snatched the hairpiece out of Jessica's hands, causing Joan, who looked rather panicky, to try and leave.

"Stay around, Mrs. Steffer," said as the two plainclothes blocked her path. "The show isn't over yet."

††††††††††† It was then that Joan noticed her daughter for the first time, moving toward Kimberly. "Ellie, stay away from her," she ordered, but her words had no effect; Ellie and Kimberly fell into a joyful embrace and openly wept.

††††††††††† We all looked at Nancy Antonio, who continued to hold the wig. "Well, Mrs. Antonio?" I said.

††††††††††† Angrily, she pulled on the wig. "Satisfied?" she snarled.

††††††††††† Jessica shook her head. "As a matter of fact, we're not. I'd like to see it on Mrs. Steffer."

††††††††††† Jessica and I exchanged glances - this was the moment of truth. We knew Nancy Antonio, a woman of ample proportions would never have been able to pass for Kimberly Steffer, with or without a wig. Joan Steffer, on the other hand, was smaller in build and about the same height as Kimberly. Once we saw her wearing the wig, then we would know.

††††††††††† Nancy Antonio yanked the wig from her head and fairly threw it at her. "Go on, Joan," she said. "Give 'em a show."

††††††††††† "I will not," Joan said firmly.

††††††††††† "Why not?" The question was asked by Ellie, who now faced her mother. They were no more than a foot from each other. "Why not, Mom?" she repeated. "Afraid?"

††††††††††† With a sidelong glance at Jessica, I left the room and went to the restaurant's entrance, where I made a signal to the man waiting in the other taxi. He left the cab and met me at the door.

††††††††††† "It's time," I told Phillipe Fernandez, the cabdriver who had testified to picking Kimberly up at the mall the day her husband was found dead. "This won't take but a minute."

††††††††††† We returned to the room just in time to see Joan finally put the wig on. "Here," she said. "Satisfied?"

††††††††††† "Yes," Jessica said.

††††††††††† I turned to Fernandez, pointed to Joan, and asked, "Could this be the woman you drove from the mall to the health club, Mr. Fernandez?" "That's her," Fernandez declared. "That is the woman."

††††††††††† "Sure it wasn't her?" Jessica asked, nodding to Kimberly.

††††††††††† Mr. Fernandez leaned closer to Kimberly, then took in Joan Steffer again. "It's her," he said, his eyes focused on Joan.

††††††††††† Frederickson had not said a word throughout all of this. With the focus on the Joan and the wig she wore, he had relaxed somewhat - no doubt figuring that he was now in the clear."Very clever, Mrs. Fletcher, Inspector Sutherland," he said. "I'm impressed."

††††††††††† He had relaxed too soon. "Impressed that we're pointing the finger of guilt at you, Mr. Frederickson?" I asked.

††††††††††† He laughed, but it was a worried laugh. "You're looking at the wrong person," he said.

††††††††††† "No, we're not. You killed my husband, and a wonderful young girl's father." Kimberly's voice was quiet, but the words still powerful. She rose to her feet and openly accused Frederickson, Nancy, and Joan. "I've spent a good part of my life paying for your horrible, horrible crime," she said, her voice steadily gaining in strength. "In jail, I woke up every morning to the cold, dank reality of a prison cell while all of you wake up in your lovely homes, listening to the singing of birds, smelling a fresh-brewed cappuccino. Maybe a long, leisurely shower, or a Jacuzzi. Time spent choosing what to wear - silk or cashmere today, blue suit or brown? I knew that when you looked at yourselves in the mirror, you knew that underneath your good looks were evil people.

††††††††††† "Ironic, isn't it, that I preferred to wake up as me, in a prison cell, rather than you and the lies your lives represent. I thought of you every morning, Robert. And you, Nancy, and Joan. Because I didn't have proof that you killed Mark, I could only take comfort in knowing that I hadn't. I didn't kill anyone. But you did!" She said it directly to Robert Frederickson.

"Look," Frederickson, once again agitated, said helplessly to Jessica and me, "you two have done your snooping around and figured out a few things. But you're talking to the wrong person. You've got the ones you want right in front of you." He looked first and Nancy Antonio, then at Joan Steffer.

††††††††††† "But you bought the wig," Jessica reminded him.

††††††††††† "Prove it!" he spat.

††††††††††† "As easily done as said. The Wonderful World of Wigs, Mr. Frederickson: you purchased a shoulder-length blond wig there. We've entered the computer age. You should know that, being a successful businessman. You purchased this wig using youíre American Express card. Every wig paid for my credit card at that shop is recorded. The moral, I suppose, is to never leave home with it."

††††††††††† He said nothing, so Jessica continued. "Must have been quite a shock to learn that Kimberly had her hair cut shorter that day, and not just a trim. A whole new look. That left you no time to buy a new wig. Not on the eve of the big night."

††††††††††† "Excuse me, I have a restaurant to run," Frederickson said, turning away, but Detective Josephs stepped in front of him as he took a step toward the main dining room. "Hey, look," he then said, indicating the bystanders watching what was unfolding in our room, "we're making a scene here."

††††††††††† "That's the last thing you should be concerned about, Mr. Frederickson," I said.

††††††††††† "So I bought a damned blond wig," Frederickson said. "That doesn't make me a murderer. I bought it for her," he said, pointing at Nancy Antonio.

††††††††††† "Shut up, Bob," Nancy said.

††††††††††† Jessica held up her hands and said, "Let me tell you what I think happened here." She paused, glanced at Ellie, and said, "The night of Mark's murder was one of his weekly scheduled visitations with Ellie. He was to pick her up at her godmother's house at five for dinner, and return her home by nine. It was a weekly event. Joan, her mother, was there. As usual, she instructed Ellie to wait outside for her father. She did that and -"

††††††††††† "Can I finish the story, Mrs. Fletcher?" Ellie asked from where she stood next to Kimberly, holding her hands.As Kimberly smiled warmly at her Ellie began her tale, of how her father failed to show up. Eventually she had given up waiting and gone to bed with the sinking feeling that she would never see her father again.

††††††††††† "I couldn't sleep," she continued. "Later that night I heard the garage door open. I got up and looked out my window. I saw Daddy's car being driven into the garage. I thought it might be Daddy, but then I saw that the driver had blond hair. I came downstairs and saw Nancy, and you, Mom. You looked so different wearing that blond wig. Remember? You saw me leaning over the banister and started screaming at me. Nancy grabbed the wig off your head and told me to go back to bed.

††††††††††† "I had plans to go shopping with Kimberly at the mall that morning. You'd said it was okay for me to do that. You even encouraged me to go with her. That was really strange because you were usually against my seeing her. While I was getting dressed that morning, I heard the car start up in the garage. I looked out my window and saw you drive off, Mom."

††††††††††† Now Ellie broke down into tears, but she still managed to continue her story. "What I didn't know was that my daddy was in the trunk. You killed him that night. You and Mr. Frederickson and Nancy." She buried her face in her hands, and Kimberly hugged her.

††††††††††† "I need to finish," she said, taking a deep, prolonged breath. "I remembered at breakfast, you said I couldn't go to the mall, Mom, because you said Kimberly had called to cancel and was worried about where Daddy was. I wanted to call her, but of course you said I couldn't. You hadn't told me the real reason I wouldnít be seeing Kimberly, that Daddy was dead, and that Kimberly would be blamed for his murder."

††††††††††† Jessica took over the story from there. "I know what happened next," she said, and related how Joan had actually called Kimberly and told her that Ellie was sick, and couldn't go to the mall - but encouraged Kimberly to go by herself, if only to get Ellie a gift to make her feel better about missing out on the excursion. "According to what Kimberly wrote in her diary, you sounded anxious that she buy Ellie a gift - a big change in what had been your earlier attitudes toward her and her relationship with Ellie. In any event, she took your suggestion and went to the mall in search of a gift for 'the sick child.'

††††††††††† "Joan," she continued, turning to face Ellie's mother, "you drove the car to the mall that morning and parked it in a remote spot in the lot, locked it, and went inside. Several hours later you called a taxi service. This gentleman, Mr. Fernandez, picked you up and dropped you off at the health club. Knowing that Kimberly worked out at that same club, you went there hoping the cabdriver would recall having dropped you off there. You'd told Mr. Fernandez that your car had broken down at the mall, which was why you needed the lift. Of course, you were wearing the blond wig Mr. Frederickson purchased for you, and that had been cut to a shorter length to match Kimberly's short haircut the day before.

††††††††††† "When Mark hadn't returned home the night before, Kimberly called Ellie to see if he might be there. Joan told Kimberly that Ellie was still sick and in bed. Meanwhile, Mr. Frederickson here called the police to inform them that his business partner hadn't shown up at the restaurant, and that he was worried because he wasn't answering his beeper, either. The police found Mark's car at the mall, and arrested Kimberly as a prime suspect in the murder.

††††††††††† "The night you actually killed Mark also went smoothly," Jessica concluded. "You, Ms. Antonio, got Mark to agree to meet you to talk about some bogus traumatic situation Ellie was undergoing. You thought this lie wouldn't be noticed. But Ellie overheard your call to Mark and it puzzled her -what traumatic situation was she facing? None as far as she knew. But she rationalized it away. She was so used to dysfunctional family life that nothing was beyond possibility.

††††††††††† "Mark loved his daughter dearly. When he received that call, he readily agreed to meet with you. How sad: a loving father comes to discuss his daughter's problems with someone he assumes has her best interest in mind, but instead faces a murderess. Is that when you shot him, Nancy, and dragged him into the car? Ellie saw you arrive at home that night wearing the blond wig. You pulled the car into the garage. What happened then, Ms. Antonio? Did you stuff his body into the trunk all by yourself, or did Joan help you?"

††††††††††† Jessica now turned back to Ellie, who had regained her composure. "Ellie," she said, "do you know any reason your mother, your godmother, and Mr. Frederickson would have wanted to kill your father?"

††††††††††† "I didn't kill anybody," Frederickson said sharply. "All I did was buy the wig for them because Nancy asked me to. There' s no crime in buying a wig."

††††††††††† "Are you saying that it was these two women who murdered Mark Steffer?" Jessica asked.

††††††††††† "I suppose so."

††††††††††† "You bastard," Joan Steffer snarled.

††††††††††† Frederickson held up his hands in mock defense. "Hey, no need to get testy, Joan. All I know is that if what Mrs. Fletcher and her Scotland Yard friend says is true, you've got yourself a pretty big problem."

††††††††††† "Bob," Nancy Antonio said in a surprisingly soft voice. "Please."

††††††††††† "Please, hell. I'm not taking the rap for anybody."

††††††††††† "How can you say that?"

††††††††††† Jessica and I looked at each other - the conspirators were tearing into each other now, just as we had hoped.

††††††††††† "You were extremely jealous of Kimberly Steffer's relationship with Ellie, weren't you, Mrs. Steffer?" Jessica asked Joan.

††††††††††† "I wouldn't say that," Joan replied haughtily.

††††††††††† "But Kimberly was aware of it. There are many entries in her diary that refer to it. You hated Mark's new wife. Resented her creative success."

††††††††††† At that, Joan's carefully constructed mask disappeared, revealing a face filled with hatred and rage. "You bet I hated her."

††††††††††† "And thatís why she killed Mark," Nancy Antonio said. "I want a lawyer."

††††††††††† "Sure," Josephs said. "As soon as I take you and your friends downtown and charge you with the murder of Mark Steffer."

††††††††††† As Josephs started the process of herding the three of them from the restaurant, Jessica placed her hand on Nancy Antonio's arm for a private word. "What I can't figure out, Ms. Antonio, is why you wanted Mark dead."

††††††††††† Nancy looked deep into Jessica's eyes, as though seeking understanding, or forgiveness - all of her original bravado and aggression were gone. "It was him," she said, looking at Robert Frederickson. "I was in love with Robert, and would have done anything for him. He got me into this mess. He figured that if Mark was dead, and we could successfully frame Kimberly for the murder, Robert would get the business for himself, which he did. He promised me we'd be married once Mark was out of the way." She turned away, tears running down her face. "He lied. The only thing I got was cancer."

††††††††††† Once outside, Detective Josephs displayed a rare smile and slapped me on the back, much to my chargin. "Nice job, George. Real nice."

††††††††††† The man was utterly insufferable. I ignored the compliment.

††††††††††† "Hey, Mrs. Fletcher. What about my manuscript?"

††††††††††† "I'll return it to you in the morning," Jessica sighed. "In the meantime, I suggest you not give up your day job."

††††††††††† His grin was now wide and warm. "Yeah," he admitted. "Not very good, huh? Well, writing about murder is your game. Me? I'm better at the real thing."

††††††††††† Jessica gave him a peculiar look which caused him to add, "You're not bad, either - at the real thing. Have a nice night you two." He grinned. "Yeah, I figure you will. Good night."

 

††††††††††† The next night marked our last in San Francisco; tomorrow morning we would be on flights to our respective homes. Seth Hazlitt called once the news of Kimberly's release hit the media to find out what happened; Jessica was busy packing, so she put him on the speakerphone and left it to me to fill him in.

††††††††††† "Jessica became so involved in trying to clear Kimberly Steffer, she dismissed her own near-death experience," I told him when he asked whether there had been any resolution to the bridge incident. "We learned just today that the bleck was a local hoodlum hired by Mark Steffer's former partner, Robert Frederickson."

††††††††††† "A bleck?" Seth asked.

††††††††††† "A nasty fellow. A term we often use."

††††††††††† "Ahh," Seth said wisely. "A 'some-ugly fella.'"

††††††††††† "If you say so, Dr. Hazlitt. By the way, Jessica told you about Ms. Steffer's former illustrator falling to his death from the bridge the same morning as her unfortunate incident."

††††††††††† "Ayuh, she did."

††††††††††† "The police out there have decided that he jumped, just as his former male lover described it," I said.

††††††††††† "That threesome finally confess?" Seth asked.

††††††††††† "Indirectly," I told him. "They keep pointing fingers at each other. Adds up to a confession.I don't think a jury will have trouble convicting them."

††††††††††† "Thatís good to hear," Seth said. "I suppose Miss Kimberly Steffer is one happy lady these days."

††††††††††† "That's for certain. We had dinner with her and her stepdaughter Ellie, just this evening. They're both happy, and grateful I might add, for Jessica's interest and determination to clear Kimberly. As you can imagine, Jessica Fletcher is a very popular lady with Kimberly and Ellie Steffer."

††††††††††† "So, where you off to next, Jess?" Seth asked.

††††††††††† "Scotland," I answered before she had a chance to respond. "Jessica will be spending the Christmas holidays with me at my home in Wick, Scotland. Give her a chance to see my hometown and meet some of my family and friends. We'll probably sneak some time in London for a show or two."

††††††††††† There was silence on the other end. Sensing trouble, Jessica quickly picked up, made some soothing reassurances to Seth, and wrapped up the phone call.

††††††††††† Once she had hung up, I suggested a night cap. Brandy snifters in hand, we clinked rims: "To a successful resolution of the Kimberly Steffer case," I said.

††††††††††† "Definitely worth raising our glasses to," she agreed.

††††††††††† "I have the feeling I shouldn't have announced your plans to visit Scotland over the holidays to Seth," I said.

††††††††††† Jessica waved my words away. "Oh, he'll get over it. I think he's more upset that you're staying in the same hotel as I am."

††††††††††† "Yes, I sensed that," I said, laughing. "Now that all of the excitement is over with, I could go back to the Mark Hopkins, I suppose."

††††††††††† "The Mark Hopkins is a wonderful hotel, and I'm sure they'd be happy to have you back," Jessica agreed. "And I donít want to hear another word about it. This is where you shall stay, Inspector Sutherland."

††††††††††† I finished off my brandy and rose to retire to my own suite.

††††††††††† "Go to bed and have a fair night's sleep, Jessica," I said as I took her hand and kissed it. "To paraphrase Robbie Burns, 'My Jessie's asleep by thy murmuring stream; Flow gently sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.'"