With the help of a feisty group of young-in-spirit retirees, Jessica must track down the clues and find out who prescribed the fatal treatment...
About the Author
Donald Bain, Jessica Fletcher’s longtime collaborator, is the writer of over eighty books, many of them bestsellers.
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Table of Contents
A SNACK IN THE SUN?
The sun’s rays were blinding even with the protection of my new sunglasses, and I shaded my eyes with my hand, peering out at Foreverglades, visible beyond the expanse of tall grasses and tangled vines. A movement in the undergrowth next to the boardwalk caught my eye. I looked down. Two yellow eyes with black vertical pupils stared back at me. The head of the creature was huge, its broad, flat snout rounded at the end, its eyes twin bulges in the bumpy black hide. For a few seconds, we stared at each other, both frozen at the unsuspected intrusion into a private moment. Then it opened its jaws and hissed.
I glanced around quickly to see if a baby alligator was nearby, but from the size of the creature in front of me, I was guessing that this was no mother, but a bull alligator, and one that was close to twelve feet long. I shivered, my breath coming in short spurts. So I wasn’t between a mother and a calf, but I was between the alligator and the water.
It must want the water; it’s hot. Unless, of course, it’s not hot? What if it’s hungry? You’d make a tasty meal. . . .
Other Murder, She Wrote mysteries
Majoring in Murder
You Bet Your Life
Provence—To Die For
Murder in a Minor Key
Blood on the Vine
Trick or Treachery
Gin & Daggers
Knock ’Em Dead
Murder at the Powderhorn Ranch
A Little Yuletide Murder
Murder in Moscow
Murder on the QE2
The Highland Fling Murders
A Palette for Murder
A Deadly Judgment
Martinis & Mayhem
Brandy & Bullets
Rum & Razors
Manhattans & Murder
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
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First Printing, April 2004
Copyright © Universal Studios Publishing Rights, a division of Universal Studios Licensing, Inc., 2004
eISBN : 978-1-101-01068-6
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Warm, humid air washed over me as I stepped from the airplane onto the steel steps leading to the tarmac. I squinted against the glare of the sun and shifted my coat to my left arm. I knew I should have bought new sunglasses. My old pair had broken when Seth Hazlitt had sat on them. It wasn’t his fault. I’d come in the door and carelessly flung my coat on the chair to answer a ringing telephone. Later, when I went to hang the coat in the closet, I didn’t see that the glasses had slipped out of my pocket. The armchair is Seth’s favorite, and when he sat down after dinner—I’d baked a lobster casserole—we heard the snap of the plastic. He was up like a shot, but it was too late. One earpiece had broken off and both lenses were cracked. I’d told him it was no matter at all, and it wasn’t. But I’d been remiss in not replacing them, and now here I was, my hand shading my eyes from the intense Florida sun.
“Would you like me to hold that coat for you, Mrs. F?”
“No, thanks, Mort,” I said. “I can manage.” The stairs had been sitting in the sun and the handrail was hot. I used the sleeve of my coat as a pot holder, stepped quickly down the portable staircase, and waited for the others at the bottom.
There were four of us who had come to Florida to attend the funeral of a former neighbor. Traveling with me were my dear friends Dr. Seth Hazlitt and Mort and Maureen Metzger. Mort is our sheriff back in Cabot Cove, Maine, and the funeral coincided with the week he and his wife had planned for vacation. “We’ll pay our respects to Portia, and then me and the missus will go on down to Key West.”
We’d been lucky to get a flight—this was Presidents’ Day weekend—and the airport in Miami was so busy, there hadn’t been a jetway available for our plane. Instead, the pilot had pulled the 767 to a stop away from the traffic of the terminal and we were instructed to deplane and climb aboard one of the fleet of buses waiting to take passengers to a doorway near the baggage area.
I unbuttoned the tweed jacket of my suit. It had been fourteen degrees and snowing when we’d left Boston’s Logan International Airport. Most of the people boarding the flight carried winter coats, scarves, and gloves, there being little room in their suitcases to accommodate the heavy winter clothing. I would be happy to put away mine as soon as we arrived at Portia’s condominium complex, where several unoccupied units would serve as accommodations for our stay, a suggestion from Portia’s neighbor Helen Davison that had proved a good one. She’d given me the telephone number of Mark Rosner, the manager, who’d assured me that the apartments were nicer and more convenient than the local hotels, and besides, the hotels were all full. We’d agreed on a rate, and Mr. Rosner had arranged for a car from the airport and three furnished apartments in the same building, across the courtyard from the one Portia had shared with her husband of two years, Clarence Shelby.
“I’m surprised they had any units available,” Maureen had commented when I’d called with the news. “Mort and I had to make our reservations for Key West a year in advance.”
“Perhaps this part of Florida isn’t as popular as the Keys,” I’d said.
“Portia said it was beautiful, although she did complain about the bugs. Poor thing. She finally finds a nice guy and settles down, and then her heart gives out. There’s just no justice.”
“I wish she’d had a longer time to enjoy her life there, too,” I said. “The warm weather was much better for her arthritis. In her last e-mail, she told me that instead of being locked in her house for weeks during the winter in Cabot Cove, she was out strolling along the boardwalk every day. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?”
We filed into the air-conditioned baggage area and followed our fellow passengers to the carousel that had been designated for our flight.
“Any chance you can join us for a few days in Key West, Mrs. F?” Mort asked.
“We’ll have to see,” I said. “If Portia’s husband needs a hand packing up her things, I’d like to offer to help.”
“What about you, Doc?”
“I might, I might. Got a colleague of mine from medical school lives there. Been invitin’ me for years. Could practice up on my golfin’.”
“How’s that going, Doc?”
Seth shook his head. “Wasn’t too good, last summah. But I still have hopes to improve, that is if Dr. Jenny’s still willin’ ta see my patients in my absence.”
After years of resisting anything close to retirement, Seth had taken a young physician into his practice. Dr. Jennifer Countryman—Dr. Jenny, as she soon was dubbed—was perfectly suited to Cabot Cove. Her parents lived nearby. She’d already had her fill of big-city hospital work. And she loved the mix of medical cases a small-town practice provided, everything from a child with a splinter to an old man with senility, and all life’s myriad woes and wonders between.
“I’m sure Dr. Jenny will manage just fine,” I said. “She’s always encouraging you to get out more.”
“She’s always harping on me to exercise, you mean.” He frowned. “Don’t think I don’t know she’s pulled you into this campaign.”
“Oh, look,” Maureen said, pointing to sign that read JESSICA FLETCHER PARTY. “That must be our ride.”
“Probably a child,” Seth growled. “Can’t even see his head over all these people. I’m not riding with any crazy teenager, I’ll tell you that right now.”
I stood on tiptoe to see who our benefactor was, and when there was a break in the crowd, I waved to the sign holder. He was a wizened gentleman, barely five feet tall, with tufts of white hair fringing his bald pate and framing his jug ears. He wore a green T-shirt, khaki shorts, and purple-and-gray sneakers. When he spotted me, he scuttled over to where we stood, his lips parted in a big grin over the whitest teeth I’d seen since Tina Treyz’s youngest child wore a Bugs Bunny mask for Halloween.
“Mrs. Fletcher, it’s a pleasure. I’m Sam, Sam Lewis,” he said, pumping my hand. He had a surprisingly strong grip.
I introduced him to Maureen, Mort, and Seth, and watched the surprise reflected on each of their faces as Sam briefly crushed their fingers.
“When you get your bags, meet me outside. Car’s in a no-parking zone and I’ve gotta move it before they tow me. Look for the pink Caddy.”
He snapped a baseball hat onto his head and disappeared back into the crowd. I had no idea how long he’d been waiting, and hoped for all our sakes that his car was still there. It was another half hour before we’d assembled all the bags and showed the matching luggage receipts to the guards. Outside again, we had little time to adjust to the warmth and humidity before Sam pulled to the curb, hopped out of his car, and opened the trunk.
Sam’s Cadillac was a vintage model with huge fins trimmed in chrome. Seth walked around it, admiring the highly polished surface. “Nice vehicle you got here,” he told Sam. “Haven’t seen one of these in years.”
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” Sam said, running a gnarled hand over the sleek pink fender. “Got it from old friend in South Beach about five years ago. They took his license away from him, poor guy. First they said he couldn’t drive at night. Then they said he couldn’t drive in the day.” Sam shook his head.
“Get in a lot of accidents, did he?” Seth asked.
“Never got into an accident at all,” Sam replied, “but I hear he left a lot of them in his wake. Police got tired of pulling him over for driving too slowly. They grounded him permanently. And he was only eighty-seven, a youngster.” He winked. “Tough luck for him, but good luck for me.”
Mort hauled his heavy suitcase to the back of the car, his face red from the effort. He and Maureen had vowed to take only one piece of luggage on this trip, but it was a big one, and didn’t have wheels. Sam rushed to pull the suitcase from Mort’s hand.
“That’s okay, Sam. I’ve got it,” Mort said. “This one’s a backbreaker.” He wrestled the suitcase into the trunk, stepped back, and dusted off his hands.
Maureen’s eyebrows disappeared under her bangs as she looked up. “I told him we should use two bags,” she muttered just loud enough for her husband to hear.
Sam took my rolling bag, nestled it next to Mort’s, and swung Seth’s suitcase on top. The trunk of the car could have taken double our load. We pressed Seth to take the front passenger seat, and after he cranked a bit about wanting to be a gentleman and letting me sit there, he complied. We were on our way.
Sam’s method of driving was a bit unnerving. He could barely see over the steering wheel and drove very slowly until the traffic light up ahead turned red. Then he pressed his foot down on the accelerator to catch up with the cars stopped at the light, jamming on the brakes at the last minute.
“You must be tired after comin’ all this way to pick us up,” Seth said to him. “Would you like me to spell you awhile? I can drive and you can give me directions.”
“Are you kidding? Driving this boat is the most fun I have all day,” Sam said, pounding on the dashboard affectionately. “You just sit back and relax and I’ll show you the sights.”
Fortunately for us, once out of the airport, heavy city traffic kept Sam from racing between lights, and we did as he said, sitting back to take in our new surroundings.
Miami in February is a joy to New Englanders whose winter experience revolves around snow, ice, and cold, and more snow, ice, and cold. As we neared the coast, the balmy air wafted in through the partially opened windows—we’d convinced Sam to lower the air-conditioning—and we breathed in the sweet, briny aroma of salt water and sun-softened earth, admiring the passing landscape of tall palm trees, flowering bougainvillea, and pastel buildings. At first we had only glimpses of blue, but when we reached Biscayne Bay, the sun-sparkled water stretched out before us. Familiar sounds accosted us—the lines of sailing boats docked in the harbor jangling musically against the masts. Familiar sights drew our eyes—the white triangles of sails and other boat shapes moving on the water. Yet it was all new and different. It was the same Atlantic waters that washed the rocky coast of Maine we’d left that morning, but here the blue was turquoise, not slate; the air was warm, not frigid. I felt a combination of pure excitement and deep relaxation flow into me.
“Thought I’d give you a bit of the scenic route,” Sam chirped from the driver’s seat. “Now I’ll take you home.”