“X” Marks the Spot
-- by SWW and AD
This story was conceived as the result of a challenge issued by SarahB: write a whole story over the course of the long Memorial Day weekend! So she deserves the credit for the inspiration. Speaking of credit, the joke George’s nephew tells (and which George passes on to Jessica) was originally told by Orlando Bloom on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno … which only proves, I suppose, that the child’s parents let him stay up too late past his bedtime.
This is a work of fiction – all the characters are entirely made up. Jessica, Seth, Mort and the other Cabot Cove regulars are the property of MCA/Universal; George Sutherland is the creation of Donald Bain. No malicious copyright infringement is intended; we’re just having fun. And we’re definitely not making any money off of this.
“I’m almost certain that if you fold down the back seat it will fit,” Jessica decided as she looked inside the rear end of Seth’s station wagon.
“I’m not so sure, Jess,” he said uncertainly. They were standing outside the familial home of Captain Maxwell Morehead and his descendants where, on this fine autumn day, the contents of the house had been offered up in an auction that had attracted the curiosity of most of Cabot Cove. Among the items had been the large antique doll house that Seth was now eyeing with a dubious look.
“Well, we’ll never know unless we try,” said Jessica.
Seth gave a long-suffering sigh as he watched Gordon Cooper, the auctioneer who had hosted the day’s event, and his son Ben gently lift the doll house she had won into the back of the car. It was a tight fit, and required some turning and shifting to get the angle just so, but in spite of Seth’s pessimistic prediction it was finally nestled in place with even a bit of room to spare.
“See, a perfect fit,” Jessica said brightly once Seth closed the tailgate. He shot her a dirty look, muttered something under his breath that she couldn’t quite catch and headed around to the front of the car.
“Oh, no, Mrs. Fletcher,” Gordon said, shaking his head and declining the tip that she offered. “It was my pleasure. Thanks again.” He took a deep breath of the sweet, salt-tinged fall air as he stuffed his hands in the pockets of his flannel coat and sauntered off to his next task.
The doll house made the trip across town to Jessica’s house without incident, and proved to be easier to remove from the back of the station wagon than it had been to put in – but only slightly.
“Remind me why you bought this monstrosity,” Seth grumbled as he and Jessica maneuvered it into her dining room. The miniature was an exact replica of the stately three-story home built by Captain Max Morehead and lived in by his descendants for more than a century.
“I plan to clean it up and donate it to the children’s wing of the hospital,” Jessica explained patiently once again.
Unable to argue that point – after all, how could he argue over a gift for the hospital? - Seth changed the subject. “What about the nautical charts and the telescope?” he asked, rummaging through a large, overflowing box containing the rest of Jessica’s loot from the Morehead Estate auction. “What d’you plan on doing with those?”
“Those,” Jessica said, “are a birthday gift for George. I’m going to pick out one of the maps and have it framed, and send it to him along with the telescope. They will make nice additions to his den.”
“He’s very special to you, isn’t he?” Seth asked at length even though he dreaded her answer.
“Yes, Seth, he is … very special.”
Seth was keenly aware of how her eyes sparkled a wee bit more when she talked of her Scottish friend. It was difficult for him not to wonder if she had actually fallen in love with him.
“I figured as much,” he said, trying to disguise his disappointment with his trademark cantankerousness, “considering how much you paid for that box.”
“I was afraid that Craig Avery was going to outbid me,” Jessica admitted. She would never have guessed that the bidding would be as frantic as it had been. “It looks as though the legend of Captain Morehead’s long-lost treasure lives on.”
“It certainly looks that way,” Seth observed, remembering the inflated prices that some of the other maps – framed ones from the captain’s personal study - had ended up selling for. “Imagine, people still believing those old fairytales about Morehead’s maps leading to a fortune in gold bullion. People’ll believe anything they hear.”
“Well,” said Jessica, “I think that legends regarding hidden treasure always have a particular appeal – and staying power.”
“Hrumph.” Seth regarded the pile of rolled up charts – there had to be at least a dozen of them spilling out of the box. “Too bad you had to buy the whole lot of ‘em just to get one you like for your friend,” he said, “though I s’pose you could probably sell the ones you don’t want.”
“I think I’ll donate them to the
“Look at this,” she said, pointing to what looked like someone’s handwriting. She brushed away some dust and the signature became more visible to the naked eye: ‘Capt. Maxwell S. Morehead, 1890.’ “Do you really think that Captain Morehead built this?” she wondered.
Seth inspected the signature closely. “Ayuh, it certainly looks that way.”
Later that evening Jessica
telephoned George at his loft in
“Funny you should mention lost
treasure,” he commented. “I happened to watch ‘Pirates of the
“That doesn’t sound like your kind of movie,” Jessica observed. “Unless you’ve been a secret fan of Johnny Depp all this time and I’m only just now discovering it.”
George laughed. “Hardly,” he said. “But I kept charge of my great-nephew while his parents went to dinner and he’s going through a pirate phase. All children do, at one time or another, I suppose. Would you like to hear one of his pirate jokes?”
“I’d love to.” George babysitting, she thought with a smile. What a sight that must have been!
“Right then, but remember, he’s only ten. Here goes: how do you know you’re a pirate?”
Jessica shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said, playing along. “How do you know you’re a pirate?”
“You just arrrrrrrrgh,” George replied, delivering the punch line in his best pirate accent and earning a well-deserved laugh from Jessica for his efforts.
“So, love, do you think ‘X’ marks the spot on any of those old maps?” he asked her.
Jessica was skeptical. “I don’t think so,” she admitted. “If it did, I’d imagine that one of Max’s descendants would have found his treasure by now. They’ve lived in the house for the last hundred and fifty years and all of the maps have been there since the death of Max’s son, John, the last of the Morehead sea captains.”
“Your natural curiosity isn’t suggesting otherwise?”
He knows me much too well. “No,” she replied, trying to dampen the little spark of enthusiasm George’s suggestion had lit, “it is not.”
“Well, if you do go haring off after buried treasure, just promise me you’ll be careful doing so.”
“I promise,” Jessica replied sincerely. “Anyway, now that the auction for the Morehouse family heirlooms is over with, the house is next up on the block. Eve Simpson is going to be the listing agent for Peter Morehead, Captain Max’s great-grandson.”
“I imagine it won’t be a difficult property to sell, with all the history attached to it,” George said.
Jessica was not so sure. The rambling house was undoubtedly a nightmare to heat in the wintertime and was much larger than what most homebuyers were looking for. “Perhaps,” was her noncommittal response.
George sighed. “I always feel a pang of sympathy for the family in situations such as these. Seems a shame that they auctioned off all of the contents and now they’re going to sell the house.”
“Peter is the last of the Moreheads,” she said. “There’s a rumor going about town that his business is struggling. He must need the money,” Jessica speculated.
“Ah, well – the only true constant in life is change,” George said sagely. “Sleep well, my darling – tomorrow you can play with your new doll house to your heart’s content.”
“I intend to do exactly that,” Jessica said, laughing. “And good night to you too, George. Pleasant dreams.”
“When yours is the last voice I hear before I sleep, my dreams could hardly be otherwise.”
That night Jessica dreamed of pirates,
sea captains, and maps where ‘X’ really did mark the spot. She knew it was silly but she couldn’t resist
the mystery behind Captain Morehead’s lost treasure. By dawn her spark of curiosity had
intensified into a flame, and she spent the morning at her kitchen table
pouring over one map after another looking for some clue that would indicate a
secret cache. Nothing jumped out at her
– the maps seemed to have been used for simple navigation of
Frustrated, Jessica pushed the maps aside and got up to prepare a light lunch. Well done, Jessica, she thought to herself as she warmed some leftover soup on the stove. You’ve wasted half a day on a wild goose chase when you could have been doing something productive. With a twinge of guilt she mentally ran through her list of things that needed to be done that day: raking the leaves in the front yard, cleaning up the old doll house, dusting – she had been putting off this last chore, and now she feared that the dust on her numerous picture frames was thick enough to write in.
The picture frames gave her an unlooked-for flash of inspiration: what if Captain Morehead’s treasure wasn’t buried somewhere along the coast, but instead had been hidden somewhere inside the house? What if it was tucked away behind one of the numerous framed maps that had hung on the walls of his personal study? And what about the doll house?
Jessica sat down with her soup and some of yesterday’s baked bread and regarded the doll house from her vantage point with a critical eye as she ate. When she had discovered Captain Max Morehead’s signature on the bottom of the doll house the previous day it had seemed strange to her that he, of all people, would have built it. Legend be told, he had been a crotchety old man, obsessed with the ocean and rarely home. Had he, in his later years perhaps, become inclined to build an extravagant toy for his grandchildren? Possibly - but maybe he had also built a map for himself.
Discarding the empty soup bowl into the sink to be washed later, Jessica dug out her magnifying glass and began to examine the interior rooms of the doll house. She paid particular attention to the den which, like its counterpart in the original house, looked more like the chart room of a seafaring vessel than a man’s study. Of special interest to her were a miniature map that lay flat, covering the top surface of a small table, and three others, framed, which hung on the walls. Lo and behold, each of the four had been marked with an ‘X’.
Jessica shook her head in amazement. Could it be? It might explain why the bidding for the framed maps had been so out-of-control. Others had obviously been lured to the auction by the legend of the lost treasure and then reeled into the bidding when they spied the ‘X’ on each of the framed maps. She, on the other hand, had been more interested in the telescope and its accompanying lot of loose charts than in the framed maps, explaining how she had missed that tiny detail.
“It couldn’t be that easy – could it?” she asked herself aloud. Well, there was only one way to check.
She set down her magnifying glass and picked up the telephone.
Eve Simpson had her coat on and a sheaf of files tucked under her arm; if she hadn’t paused in front of a hall mirror to double-check her hair and make-up before leaving, she would have missed the ringing phone altogether.
“Eve, this is Jessica. How are you this afternoon?”
“Oh, Jessica, I was just about to walk out the door. I’m showing the Marquardt house to Dr. Heart, the new dentist that is moving to town.” She smiled – actually, it was almost more of a predatory grin. “Isn’t his name great? And he’s so handsome … and single!”
“Yes, he has a lovely name and I hear he’s a very pleasant man,” Jessica agreed before explaining the reason for her call. “Eve, I don’t suppose you might have time to show me the old Morehead house sometime today?”
Eve’s smile turned into a frown of confusion. “Why on earth would you want to see that big, old, white elephant?” she wondered.
you remember my friend George Sutherland from
“Ohhh, yes, the charming Scottish detective. Of course I remember him – how could I forget?”
“Well, Eve, he’s thinking about moving to Cabot Cove after he retires next month and he asked me to look at it for him.”
“That’s a lot of house for a bachelor,” Eve commented. “He is still a bachelor, isn’t he?”
he is,” Jessica assured her, wincing for poor George. “But he grew up in a castle and after living
The crunch of tires on leaves and a short honk from a car horn signaled the arrival of Eve’s next client. “Oh, Jessica, I’m afraid Dr. Heart just pulled up. Maybe Peter wouldn’t mind letting you in to look around,” she suggested. “I’ll call him and then call you right back.”
Peter didn’t mind at all, Eve reported soon afterwards, and so Jessica headed out to test her theory.
Peter Morehead was waiting for her when she arrived at the house. He unlocked the massive front doors and ushered Jessica inside.
“Thank you so much for showing me the house on such short notice,” she said as she stepped across the threshold into the ornate foyer, now barren of furniture but no less imposing and grand in its appearance.
“That’s all right, Mrs. Fletcher, I’m glad to do it,” Peter said. “I needed to stop by today to take out a few more bags of trash and to sweep up. You go ahead and look around. I’ll be up in the attic if you need anything.”
Conscious that she needed to avoid looking too eager, Jessica took her time, spending a few minutes in each room before heading for the den. High plastered ceilings, antique wallpaper and dark hardwood floors throughout the home bestowed an almost museum-like air to the place. George would like this house, she decided as she climbed the stairs to the third story, even if he isn’t really retiring.
She explored the other rooms of the third story first, saving the captain’s study for last. But when she opened the door she received an unexpected shock: the walls of the room had been destroyed and the body of Gordon Cooper, auctioneer, lay lifeless in the center of the room.
Jessica backed slowly out of the room, her eyes never leaving the body in the middle of the floor. “Peter,” she shouted toward the attic steps, “you need to call Sheriff Metzger – right now.”
“Peter said that Gordon and Ben were the only ones here when he left for home last night after the auction,” Mort told Jessica after Gordon Cooper’s body had been taken to the morgue. They stood together on the back porch of the Morehead house, waiting for the forensics team to finish up inside. “He said they had a few more things to pack up and then they would lock up and be on their way.”
“Do you think Gordon is the one who ripped open the walls or do you think he found someone else still in the house tearing things up when he was locking up?”
“We’ll know that as soon as the fingerprint analysis comes back,” said Mort, “but I’d say Gordon must have thought that old Captain Morehead’s treasure was buried inside the walls.”
“I have to admit that I thought the same thing,” Jessica offered sheepishly as she kicked at a drift of leaves that had collected in a corner of the porch.
Mort looked at Jessica in surprise – it was unusual for her to agree with his first assessment of a crime scene. “You, Mrs. F?”
“Yes,” she admitted, going on to explain her theory about the framed maps and the doll house.
“Do you remember the location of each of the maps?” Mort asked hopefully.
“Yes,” she said. “They match up almost perfectly with the holes in the walls.”
Mort adjusted his cowboy hat and groaned. “That means that anyone who was at the auction yesterday might have had the same idea.”
“I’m afraid so,” Jessica agreed.
“The revelation about the maps means that Mort will ultimately have to interview everyone who took part in the Morehead estate auction,” Jessica told Seth the next morning over coffee in her kitchen.
“Heh heh,” Seth chuckled. “I don’t envy him that task. Half of Cabot Cove was at that auction!”
“You don’t sound very sincere in that sentiment.”
“You are absolutely right about that,” Seth said. “After all, isn’t that what we pay him to do?”
“I know, I know,” said Jessica, rinsing out her own coffee cup in the sink. “But it’s going to take a long time, and time is something we don’t have in abundance.”
“Never do, in a murder investigation,” Seth said sagely.
Jessica paused in the act of putting the cup away. “There may be a way to shorten the list,” she said thoughtfully. “I think I need to pay a visit to Ben Cooper.”
“A lot of people were interested in those framed maps, Mrs. Fletcher,” Ben said when Jessica caught up with him in the storage room of the auction house later that morning. “I was in charge of keeping an eye on things out back. It was all I could do to keep them from being handled to death before they were put up for bid.”
“But did anyone in particular show special interest in the maps?” Jessica asked, following Ben as he moved from item to item, tagging each with a lot number.
“Well, Craig Avery for one,” Ben replied. “He’s crazy about charts and maps – the older, the better. He was like a kid in a candy store!”
That squared with what Jessica had observed of Craig’s insistent bidding for the box of charts she had ultimately won. “Anyone else?”
I don’t know … let me see. Luke Merriweather was pretty keen to get a few for his antiques
store, and then there was someone up from the
Jessica smiled. “Yes,” she said. “What are your plans now, Ben?”
The young man affixed another tag to an antique lamp. “I guess I take over the auction house,” he said at last. “That’s what Dad was training me to do anyway.”
“Hello, Andy, Sheriff,” Jessica said as she entered the Cabot Cove Sheriff’s Department – it was, conveniently, on her way home from Gordon Cooper’s offices. “How is your investigation going?”
Mort tunneled his fingers through his hair in frustration. “Not so good, Mrs. F,” he sighed. “The only fingerprints on the crowbar are Peter’s and Gordon’s. Peter already admitted that the crowbar was his. He said he used it the day before to pry a rusty lock off the attic door and then claims that he must have forgotten it up there when he was done.”
“And what about Gordon’s contacts – any luck there?”
Mort motioned Jessica to have a seat and offered her a cup of coffee, which she waved away. “So far as we’ve been able to find out, the last people to see Gordon alive were Peter and Ben,” he said as he poured a cup for himself. “Ben was late for a ball game so he took Gordon’s truck. He got there just in time to take infield practice. As for Peter, he drove to the landfill to dump an old washer and dryer. The afternoon attendant said he recognized Gordon’s truck pulling in as he was leaving.”
“Speaking of Ben, I spoke with him a little while ago at Cooper’s Auction Services,” said Jessica. She peered at the contents of Mort’s mug and decided she had made the right decision in declining his offer. “He says he’s going to run the auction house in his father’s place.”
“Which should make him a very wealthy young man,” Mort said, finishing her thought. “From the looks of things, that place ain’t hurtin’.”
“It’s a possible motive, I admit,” Jessica said. “But since Gordon was training Ben to do just that anyway, I don’t know how good a motive it is.”
Mort shrugged. “Maybe he got impatient.”
“Maybe. Speaking of Cooper’s, what about everyone at the auction who bid on the maps? Have you managed to get a list of them?”
“We have, and it’s a long one. We’re still checking out Craig Avery’s alibi but ‘most everyone else – that’s most of the town, actually - was at the baseball game until after ten o’clock last night. And because I know you’re going to ask,” he added, forestalling the question that was on the tip of her tongue, “the coroner has set the time of death at between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m.”
“That leaves Ben out, then, since he was playing in that game,” Jessica mused. “And where was Craig?”
“He said he left the game at 8:30 to go back to the office to finish a report before the weekend.” Mort took a sip of the coffee and made a face. Andy’s coffee was not very good under the best of circumstances, but after sitting in the pot for several hours it had taken on the consistency and taste of used motor oil.
Jessica considered this new information regarding Craig Avery. “Did anyone see him at his office? It’s a rather poor alibi if no one did.”
says he saw Chester Hill leaving his office next door when he arrived, but
Jessica sighed. “Could Peter have gone back to the house after going to the landfill?”
“I suppose he could’ve,” Mort said, adding three generous spoonfuls of powdered creamer to his coffee cup in an attempt to salvage its contents. “But Mildred Stark said that she saw Peter’s truck parked at the new house at around 8:00 and that it was still there at 6:00 this morning.” He paused to take another experimental sip, and found the results, while not exactly flavorful, at least tolerable. “Besides, I don’t see that Peter had much of a motive. He’s had years to search that old place for his great-grandfather’s hidden cache and if he’d found Gordon tearing things up, he could have just reported it to me. If Gordon found any gold, it would rightfully belong to Peter anyway.”
“Yes,” Jessica said thoughtfully, “I suppose it would.”
The telephone was ringing as Jessica returned home.
“Hello, Jessica, it’s Eve. What did you think of the Morehead house? Do you think that your friend will be interested in it?”
“It’s hard to say,” Jessica said, stalling. “He’s only seen a few pictures on the Internet and I didn’t get to see the whole thing myself the other day because of …”
“Yes, I know. How awful!” Eve exclaimed sympathetically. “But Jess, that’s no reason that George shouldn’t consider it. If anything, it will probably mean that he could get a really good deal on it. From what I understand, the damage was minor and can be easily repaired. It’s a very well-built house and it has a rock solid foundation,” she continued, trying her best to sell Jessica on the house that was now the bane of her existence as a real estate agent.
Something Eve had said made Jessica smile. “Eve,” she said slowly as she began to formulate a plan. “Do you think I could take another look at it this afternoon?”
“Of course, I’ll pick you up as soon as I call Peter with the good news.”
“Oh, Eve, could you also call Craig Avery as well? I would feel much better picking out a house for George if I had an experienced home inspector with me.”
“I’m sure he’ll be happy to come along. See you in a bit.”
“Well, Mrs. Fletcher, I really hate to make it a habit to agree with Eve but this house is built like a rock,” Craig Avery said as he brushed aside some fallen leaves and sat down on a back porch step next to Jessica. “A few hundred dollars worth of repairs in the den, a couple of other minor repairs, and a good thorough cleaning and a person could move right in.”
“The electrical and plumbing systems seem to be okay?”
He nodded his head. “They were replaced less than five years ago.”
Jessica smiled and stood up. “Thanks, Craig,” she said. “You’ll send me a bill?” she asked when he motioned to leave.
He stopped and turned. “Nah, I can’t do that,” he said. “It was a pleasure just getting a good look at the old place. People don’t build like this anymore.” He patted one of the broad hand rails that surrounded the porch.
“Would you accept a few old nautical charts instead?” Jessica asked.
Craig’s face lit up like a small child’s at Christmastime. “Sure,” he agreed.
“I’ll drop them by your office next time I’m in the neighborhood,” she said.
“I’ll look forward to it,” Craig said, and he headed home to enjoy the remainder of his Saturday afternoon.
Jessica watched him go then walked the length of the deck before she heard footsteps behind her.
“So where is it, Mrs. Fletcher?”
As she suspected, when she turned around she stood face to face with Peter Morehead. She looked down at his feet. “I’d say just about where you’re standing, Peter.”
He looked down and laughed. “Under the porch? You’ve got to be kidding!” He knelt down and searched for a loose floor board or any other indication that something had been hidden beneath the porch.
“Why did you kill Gordon?” Jessica asked bluntly.
Peter began to get up. “Why don’t we go inside and I’ll explain it to you,” he said, lunging for her arm. Caught off guard Jessica tried to back away but was unable to avoid Peter’s grasp. With her shoulder caught in his vice-like grip, she had no choice but to follow him as he forced her toward the back door.
“Was it because he tried to steal your gold?” she asked him.
“Sure, you could call it stealing if you like,” he said as he fumbled with the door handle and pushed Jessica inside. “You see, Mrs. Fletcher,” he said as he closed the door and let her loose, “old greedy Gordon told me that he had figured out where the treasure was stashed and that if I would split it with him fifty-fifty, he would show me.”
“But he was wrong,” Jessica surmised.
Peter laughed. “Wrong?” he asked incredulously. “Not only was the gold not hidden in the walls but he tore my frickin’ house apart!”
“But he certainly didn’t deserve to die, just because he was mistaken,” Jessica replied, rubbing her shoulder.
“You probably won’t believe me, but it was an accident,” Peter said with a hint of remorse. “When we didn’t find the gold, I was livid. I was ready to dig up the floor boards but Gordon tried to stop me. During the struggle he fell and hit his head on the crowbar. I figured the Sheriff was bright enough to figure out what Gordon was searching for and if I gave him a logical explanation for why my fingerprints were on the crowbar, he’d chalk it up to Gordon’s own clumsiness, an unfortunate fall. Which,” he said, his eyes sliding from Jessica to the open door of the cellar nearby, “is what you’re about to have as well.”
He took a step toward her but before he could do anything else, the click of a gun being cocked stopped him in his tracks.
“That’s all I need, Mrs. Fletcher,” Mort said as he stepped out from the shadows.
“How did you know Gordon’s killer was Peter and not Craig Avery?” Seth asked as they sat around Jessica’s kitchen table later that evening.
Jessica took three slices of pumpkin pie she had reheated out of the microwave and passed them around. “I wasn’t sure at first but if it had been Craig and he had been searching for the gold, he would have recognized the chest for what it was and removed it when he inspected the foundation beneath the porch. I checked it myself while he was up in the den assessing the damage and it was still there.” She opened the small wooden chest set in the center of the kitchen table, revealing its treasure of gold and silver coins and jewelry.
“You know I’m going to have to take that into evidence sooner or later,” Mort said before polishing off the last of his coffee.
“I know,” Jessica said with a hint of a smile, “but you have to admit, it’s sort of thrilling.” She picked up a handful of the chest’s contents and then let them fall, piece by piece, back into the box.
“I think you’d better take it now,” Seth said to Mort, closing the lid, “before something goes missing.”
Mort grinned and reached for the whipped cream to add to his slice of pie. “Just one more thing, Mrs. F - how did you know it was hidden under the porch in the first place?”
“I’ll show you,” she said as she rose from her chair and walked into the dining room. Intrigued, Seth and Mort followed her.
“The doll house really was the map,” she said as she tipped the toy onto its back side, once again exposing the foundation. “You see Captain Morhead’s signature here?” she asked, pointing to his name. “The ‘X’ in ‘Maxwell’ marks the exact spot where the chest was hidden.”
“’X’ marks the spot,” they echoed in unison.
“Precisely,” Jessica said with a laugh. “Precisely.”