Jessica is delighted when her nephew Grady invites her to spend a few days with his family in an oceanside New York bungalow. She packs her bags and heads down to the city, ready to spend some quality time with Grady, his wife, Donna, and their young son, Frank.
But the morning after Jessica’s arrival, Donna finds her boss dead on a tennis court, and Jessica’s dreams of a relaxing visit are quashed. Everyone in the small beachside community is a suspect, and the local authorities—headed by an old colleague of Cabot Cove sheriff Mort Metzger—have asked that no one leave town. Will Jessica be able find a killer and salvage the rest of her trip?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I awoke to the sound of chirping and saw a goldfinch perched on the outside ledge of my bedroom window, his yellow body brightening the gloomy overcast sky that served as his background. I slipped out of bed as carefully as I could, trying not to frighten him away. But it was no use. Birds are sensitive to motion, and he flew off. As soon as I opened the window wider, I could hear his friends and cousins singing in the trees. I began to take deep breaths of the warm, moist air coming in off the ocean. I was sure it would bring rain along with it well before the day's end.
During the summer months, I have an almost childlike expectation that every day will be sunny and cheerful. But if today wasn't going to cooperate, it didn't matter to me. I didn't need sunshine to feel exuberant. At exactly eight thirty-seven last night, I had placed my cursor on send and clicked with great determination. That was all it took to propel the manuscript I'd been diligently writing and rewriting for the past several months to my editor's waiting in-box with more than three hours to spare before my deadline.
I stretched my arms far above my head and then touched the floor. In the midst of my second stretch, I made a snap decision. Rain or no rain, I was going for a bicycle ride to shake off the stiffness caused by the long hours I'd been spending hunched over my computer keyboard.
I scrambled into a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt. After I grabbed my faded blue waterproof jacket from the coatrack in the front hall, I headed to the kitchen and poured a glass of orange juice just as the telephone rang.
I glanced at the clock, wondering who would be calling at ten minutes to seven in the morning.
"Jessica, tell me, is it true? Has the world-famous author J. B. Fletcher put another devilishly clever mystery to bed?"
I should have realized it would be my dear friend Seth Hazlitt. Doctors are well-known for being early birds.
I laughed. "Yes, it's true. The manuscript is right where it needs to be-on my editor's desk. I am somewhat surprised that you weren't able to hear me clapping and singing all around the dining room after I sent it off last night."
"Must have been quite a show. Sorry I missed it." Seth laughed. "I had my windows closed in case today's rainstorm came in early. But it's not too late to celebrate. Let's get the revelry started."
"Great idea, Seth. I was about to tour the town on my bike. Do you want to come along?" I teased. Before he could snap at me, I was quick to acknowledge that if Seth was talking about his favorite kind of celebration, it would be one that involved food. "Did I forget we'd made breakfast plans?"
"Woman, with that book taking up every inch of your brain for the past few weeks, do you think you would have remembered if we had?"
He had me there. In recent weeks, I had been so immersed in polishing the final chapters, I could hardly remember to eat three meals a day and to squeeze in enough exercise to keep my heart pumping. Any invitations I might have received were instantly forgotten the minute I agreed to the date and time.
Seth continued. "I will pick you up in, say, ten minutes, and then it's Mara's blueberry pancakes all around."
"I'm more than ready. I'll wait outside." I hung up the phone, put my juice back in the refrigerator, and walked out to wait by my front gate.
My neighbor Maeve O'Bannon was puttering in her garden. She waved at me with a hand wrapped around green-handled pruning shears. "Early morning to you, Jessica-best time of the day. I expect your book is finished?"
She caught me by surprise. "Yes, it is. I sent it to my editor last night. How on earth did you know?"
Maeve laughed and bobbed her head, which set her gray curls bouncing. "Barely seen hide nor hair of you for the better part of more than a week, and now here you are, all smiley and chipper. I said to myself, book must be finished."
"I can't tell you what a relief it is. This particular story had far more than the usual stumbling blocks. Several times I feared I wouldn't get to send it off to my editor on time." I shivered at the thought.
"Imagine that a former schoolteacher such as yourself would be late with an assignment. Now, that would never do," Maeve said with a broad wink.
"It absolutely would not," I agreed. "Seth and I are headed down to Mara's for a celebratory breakfast. Would you care to join us?"
"I thank you for the invitation, but these roses need caring for." She snipped a tiny branch off her yellow tea rose bush as if to prove the point. "Next time for sure."
Never mind that this was not the first time I had invited her to join a few friends for a meal and definitely not the first time she'd refused. Maeve seemed happiest working in her garden and in her kitchen. Even though she consistently refused my social invitations, I didn't take offense because I knew she considered us good friends. It just was not her way to socialize.
I heard a car roll up to the curb behind me.
"Ah, there's Seth. Good luck with your roses."
Mara's Luncheonette sits directly on the dockside of the cove that gives our town its name. It is a homey restaurant in an old-fashioned sort of way, with a long oak straight-plank counter, Formica tabletops, and vinyl booths and chairs. The wide, high windows along the luncheonette's back wall provide a breathtaking view of the harbor, which I suspected generally had the tourists oohing and aahing as soon as they walked in the door. But for most of Mara's regulars-that is, my Cabot Cove friends and neighbors-the real attraction is that the restaurant is definitely the town's gossip central, rivaled only by Loretta Spiegel's beauty parlor.
Seth held the door open for me, and as I had expected, nearly every booth, table, and counter stool was occupied. The chatter and laughter of friendly conversations filled the air, along with the tempting smells of sausage and bacon sizzling on the grill. No sooner had I entered than I was overcome by an instant automatic yen for coffee and a short stack of Mara's award-winning blueberry pancakes.
"Doc, Mrs. F., over here."
Our town sheriff, Mort Metzger, signaled from a table he was sharing with Mayor Jim Shevlin and, surprisingly, Dan Andrews, a newcomer who'd recently become editor of the Cabot Cove Gazette when Evelyn Phillips decided it was time for her to move on. The last I'd heard, she was in Baltimore visiting relatives. I missed her and hoped she'd come to see me soon.
"Are you sure you have room?" Seth looked doubtful. "I have to say that if you three are having some kind of confab about town business, we'd just as soon not interrupt."
We all knew Seth meant that, as always, he didn't want to listen to any kind of serious talk while enjoying his pancakes.
Dan Andrews immediately stood, looked around, and pulled a chair from a nearby table so that there were now two empty seats between his chair and Mort's. "Plenty of room, Doctor. Please join us."
Jim looked at me over the wire-framed eyeglasses perched low on his nose. "Susan told me she met you in the Fruit and Veg last week and you seemed stressed. Something about a deadline. Since you are here, am I correct in assuming everything is now fine? Deadline met?"
Jim Shevlin's wife, Susan, and I served on several committees together and she was my favorite travel agent. I'd been planning a beach getaway for as soon as I was done working on my latest book, so we'd had several conversations. Seeing Jim reminded me to check with Susan to make sure my plans were set.
"You can report that everything is back to normal. I sent my manuscript off to my editor and now I can relax. Tell Susan I'll call her later today."
Mara appeared with a coffeepot before we'd even settled in our chairs. After she poured coffee for Seth and me, she moved to top off the other cups. Jim and Mort accepted gratefully but Dan held his hand above his cup, indicating that he'd had his fill.
Seth and I ordered our pancakes, and when he asked for extra butter, Mara tut-tutted. "As if I didn't know your standard order by now: short stack, maple syrup, extra butter."
"Ayuh, you got that exactly right." Seth was practically salivating. "And since Jessica is celebrating, I believe I'll have a couple of strips of bacon."
"So the book is finished, eh, Jessica?" Mara asked.
"I am happy to report that it is." I couldn't help beaming with a smile that I am sure stretched from ear to ear.
"Well, even though my blueberry pancakes are the best you'll ever taste, I hope you are planning more than a pancake breakfast as your reward for a job well done." Mara laughed as she headed to the pass-through to place our orders.
"As a matter of fact, I am," I said.
"What are you going to do, Mrs. F.?" Mort crinkled his brow and I noticed his face was beginning to develop its usual summer tan line across his nose and cheeks where the shade from the brim of his uniform hat ended.
"Are you heading off to buy yourself something special at Charles Department Store? According to Maureen, their summer sale is loaded with terrific bargains. Just yesterday she bought me some snazzy swimming trunks. She's been complaining that she's embarrassed to be seen with me in public because the ones I have are what she calls 'raggy and baggy.' I suppose you could say she eliminated that problem. Last night I saw both pairs of my old swimming trunks in the garbage bin. She didn't even try to hide the fact that she'd tossed them."
"Now, Mort." Seth looked indignant. "Celebration doesn't mean 'go on a spending spree.' Why, I can think of a dozen ways-"
"I'm sure you can." I cut Seth off before he started spouting a long list of his penny-pinching ideas. "But I already know exactly what I am going to do. In fact, Jim, that's why I am going to call Susan later today."
"Planning a trip, are you?" Jim asked.
"Well, I didn't want the summer to get away from me without spending time with Grady, Donna, and young Frank, who is almost eleven and will be off on his own before you can say Jiminy Cricket. I want to spend as much time with him as possible before he is grown and forgets all about old Aunt Jessica." I laughed although I was only partially joking. "And now with the book turned in, I have a window of opportunity."
"So then you'll be off to New York City. Might be a bit too hot for my taste this time of year. And stuffy with all those tall buildings blocking the breeze." Seth huffed. "I suppose you'll want me to keep an eye on your house while you're gone."
"Oh, I don't think it will be too hot where I'm going."
I'm sure I had a twinkle in my eye. Because he could be such a fussbudget sometimes, I did enjoy teasing Seth, perhaps a little more than I should.
Seth raised his coffee cup to his lips and stubbornly refused to ask about my plans.
Dan Andrews said, "Before I came to Cabot Cove, I lived in New York City for my entire life. Jessica, it sounds like you are planning to stay somewhere close to the water."
I nodded and he turned to Seth. "Dr. Hazlitt, many people don't realize that four of New York's boroughs are situated on islands, and the Bronx, which is the fifth borough, is considered by many to be a peninsula, since only its northern tip is connected to the mainland. All through the city, there are dozens of rivers, creeks, and bays where folks can cool off on a summer's day, not to mention that New York City borders on a good chunk of the Atlantic Ocean."
I clapped my hands. "Dan, you got it exactly right. I've been invited to stay in a beach bungalow that my nephew Grady assures me is set right on the edge of the Atlantic."
Jim Shevlin looked surprised. "Surely not in the city proper. I can't imagine beach bungalows actually in the city. More likely the suburbs." He smiled as if he had answered his own question.
But I noticed Mort give Dan Andrews a wink. "Should I tell him or do you want to?"
Dan blushed slightly, his colorless cheeks turning ruddy. Clearly, as the newest editor of the Gazette, he didn't want to go up against the mayor unless he had to, and since this wasn't Cabot Cove news, he most certainly didn't have to.
He nodded to Mort. "You go right ahead, Sheriff."
If Mort had been standing, I am sure he would have hitched his gun belt as he automatically does when he is positive that he has his facts straight and is about to surprise everyone with what he has to say.
"Let me tell you, New York City has miles and miles of sandy beaches," Mort said, in a voice that barred any challenge. Then he turned to me. "Which dazzling New York City beach are you going to visit?"
"Are you familiar with Rockaway Beach?" I asked. "Grady told me it's in the borough of Queens."
"Am I familiar?" Mort chortled. "Mrs. F., I spent my very first summer as a rookie officer in the New York Police Department on a foot post in the Rockaways. Owen Collins and I walked our regular beat along the boardwalk from Beach Eighty-seventh Street to Beach One Hundred First Street. All day long we patrolled back and forth in the broiling sun. We loved it when we rolled into the night tours-you know, four p.m. to midnight. By that time of day, folks might have been rowdier if they'd had a beer or two, but soon enough that blazing sun was setting and the ocean breeze would come along to cool us down."
Dan Andrews laughed. "I'm surprised we didn't cross paths. My friends and I used to spread our blankets to the left of the lifeguard station on Beach One Hundred Third."
"Ahh, took the subway to Beach One Hundred Fifth and then walked a couple of blocks east to avoid the crowd that marched straight from the subway stairs to the sand. Smart move." Mort turned to me. "So, Mrs. F., how did Grady score a place at the beach? They sure are hard to come by this time of year."