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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FAVOR FOR A FRIEND?
“Do you have any idea what this is about?” I asked him in a low voice.
“About last night, Mrs. Fletcher.”
“What about last night?”
He checked to make sure no one was listening, leaned over and whispered in my ear, “The senator is really under the gun, Mrs. Fletcher. I know he asked you for a favor last night to help Mrs. Nebel through the ordeal of this week and what happened at the house with Nikki Farlow.”
Teller accompanied me to the front entrance of the Dirksen Building at First and C Streets where a black town car was waiting, its engine running. Teller opened the back door for me. When I was settled with my seat belt on, he leaned in and said, “I assure you the senator is deeply grateful for this, Mrs. Fletcher. Deeply grateful.”
With that, he shut the door, and the driver, a large man with a shaved head who hadn’t yet acknowledged my presence, pulled away from the curb.
The air in the car was frigid. I shivered and rubbed my arms to warm them up. But I wasn’t sure if the chill that ran through me was from the cold, or from the eerie feeling I had that I was unwittingly being thrown into a potentially risky situation. . . .
OTHER BOOKS IN THE Murder, She Wrote SERIES
Manhattans & Murder
SIGNET Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
Copyright © 2004 Universal Studios Licensing LLLP. Murder, She Wrote is a trademark and copyright of Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpt from Margaritas & Murder copyright © 2005 Universal Studios Licensing LLLP. Murder, She Wrote is a trademark and copyright of Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-01071-6
For Sylvan James Paley—welcome to the world.
“The White House?”
“Yes. A reception there.”
I was enjoying breakfast at Mara’s Waterfront Luncheonette with my friends Dr. Seth Hazlitt, and Cabot Cove’s sheriff, Mort Metzger. It was a gloomy early August day, thick gray clouds hovering low over the dock, the humidity having risen overnight to an uncomfortable level.
“When are you leaving?” Seth asked after taking the last bite of his blueberry pancakes, Mara’s signature breakfast dish at her popular eatery.
“Day after tomorrow,” I said.
“I don’t envy you, Mrs. F,” said Mort.
“August in Washington, D.C.? Maureen and I were there about this time last year. Never been so hot in my life.”
I laughed and sipped my tea. “I’m sure the air-conditioning will be working just fine,” I said.
“Ayuh,” Seth said. “I don’t expect they let the president sweat a whole lot. Or U.S. senators, for that matter.”
Warren Nebel, Maine’s junior senator, had arranged for my trip to Washington. He’d invited me to join three other writers in our nation’s capital to help celebrate a national literacy program at the Library of Congress. I’d eagerly accepted, of course. And when Senator Nebel included a reception at the White House on our first evening there, my heart raced a little with anticipation.
I don’t believe that anyone, no matter how sophisticated, worldly, well connected, or wealthy, doesn’t feel at least a twinge of excitement when invited to the White House to meet the president of the United States. I am certainly no exception. It wouldn’t be my first time at the People’s House, although it had been a few years since my last visit. Adding to the excitement were the writers with whom I’d be spending the week, distinguished authors all, some of whom I’d been reading and enjoying for years, and I looked forward to actually shaking hands and chatting with them. Writers, with some notable exceptions, tend to be solitary creatures, not especially comfortable in social situations. I suppose it has a lot to do with the private nature of how we work, sitting alone for months at a time, sometimes years, working on a book, with only spasmodic human interaction. Those who break out and become public personalities often end up so enamored of the experience that writing goes by the boards. I’ve always tried to balance my life between the necessary hibernation to get a book done, and joining the rest of the world when between writing projects. That was my situation when I received the invitation from Senator Nebel—a book recently completed and off to the publisher, and free time on my hands. Perfect timing.
Our little breakfast confab ended suddenly when both Seth and Mort received calls on their cell phones, prompting them to leave in a hurry, Seth to the hospital for an emergency admission, Mort to the scene of an auto accident on the highway outside of town. Seth tried to grab the bill from the table, but I was quicker: “Please,” I said. “It’s my treat. Go on now. Emergencies can’t wait.”
I wasn’t alone at the table very long because Mara, the luncheonette’s gregarious proprietor, joined me.
“Hear you’re going to Washington to give the president some good advice,” she said, blowing away a wisp of hair from her forehead. She’d come from the kitchen; a sheen of perspiration covered her face.
“I’m sure he doesn’t need any advice from me,” I said.
“Not so sure about that,” she said. “Going alone?”
“To Washington? Yes.”
“Thought you might be taking Doc Hazlitt with you.”
“I’d love to have him accompany me, but—”
“Shame you won’t have a companion to share it with you, Jess.”
“Oh, I really won’t be alone. I . . .”
Mara’s cocked head and narrowed eyes said she expected more from me. Besides being a wonderful cook and hostess at her establishment, she’s Cabot Cove’s primary conduit of gossipy information. She not only knows everyone in town; she seems to be privy to their most private thoughts and activities.
“I’ll be meeting George,” I said casually, making a point of picking up the bill and scrutinizing it.
“Yes,” I said, pulling cash from my purse. “George Sutherland.”
“That Scotland Yard fella you met in London years ago?”
“That’s right,” I replied, standing and brushing crumbs from my skirt. “He’ll be there attending an international conference on terrorism. Just a coincidence. Breakfast was great, Mara. Bye-bye.”
The last words I heard from Mara as I pushed open the door—and she headed back to the kitchen—were, “You are a sly one, Jessica Fletcher.”
I chided myself on my walk home for having mentioned George Sutherland. Knowing Mara, half the town would have heard about it by noon, the other half by dinnertime. Mara didn’t mean any harm with her penchant for gossip, nor was she the only one. Charlene Sassi’s bakery is another source of juicy scuttlebutt. (What is it about places with food that seem to spawn hearsay?) Small towns like my beloved Cabot Cove thrive on rumors, and in almost every case they’re utterly harmless. As far as George Sutherland was concerned, there had been plenty of speculation that he and I had become romantically involved since meeting during a murder investigation in England. There was no basis to those rumors, although he’d expressed interest in advancing our relationship to another level, and I’d not found the contemplation unpleasant. But after some serious talks during those times when we managed to be together, we decided that neither this handsome Scottish widower, nor this Cabot Cove widow were ready for a more intimate involvement, and contented ourselves with frequent letters, occasional long-distance phone calls, and chance meetings when our schedules brought us together.
The rain started just as I reached my house. I picked up the local newspaper that had been delivered while I was gone, ducked inside, closed some windows, made myself a cup of tea, and reviewed the package of information Senator Nebel’s office had sent, accompanied by a letter from the senator.
It promised to be a whirlwind week in Washington, and I added to my packing list an extra pair of comfortable walking shoes. The reception at the White House was scheduled for five o’clock the day I arrived. Following it, Senator Nebel would host a dinner at his home. The ensuing days were chockablock with meetings and seminars at the Library of Congress, luncheons and dinners with notables from government and the publishing industry, and other assorted official and social affairs. Why event planners think they must fill every waking moment has always escaped me; everyone appreciates a little downtime in the midst of a hectic week. My concern, however, was that I wouldn’t find time to enjoy again being in George Sutherland’s company. It had been a long while since we’d last seen each other, our schedules making it difficult for him to come to the States from London, where he was a senior Scotland Yard inspector, or for me to cross the Atlantic in the opposite direction. It had been too long, and I didn’t want to squander the opportunity of being in the same city at the same time.
When I picked up the newspaper, a headline on the front page caught my eye: NEBEL’S VOTE ON POWER PLANT STILL UNCERTAIN.
The battle within the Senate over the establishment of a new, massive nuclear power plant in Maine, only twenty miles outside Cabot Cove, had been in the news for weeks. From what I’d read, the Senate was almost equally split between those in favor of the plant, and those opposed. Its proponents claimed it was vitally necessary to avoid the sort of widespread blackouts the East Coast had experienced since the late fifties, five of them since 1959, including the biggest of them all in 2003. Senator Nebel, who’d pledged to fight the plant during his most recent campaign, had pointed to the enormous cost, not to mention the ecological threat the plant posed to our scenic state, and further condemned the lobbyists behind the project and their clients, large multistate electric power companies that would benefit handsomely from the plant’s construction. Some members of President David Dimond’s cabinet had enjoyed strong ties to those companies prior to entering public service.
But the article claimed that Nebel’s opposition to the plant could no longer be taken for granted, according to unnamed Washington insiders. The piece ended with: Reports that Senator Nebel has recently received death threats are unconfirmed, although unnamed sources close to the senator say that security has been beefed up for him, both on Capitol Hill and at his home.
Death threats! Usually they came from demented people who have no intention of carrying through on them. But you can never take that for granted, and every such threat must be taken seriously. I knew one thing: Our junior senator had chosen a contentious time to be hosting a literacy program at the Library of Congress. Was there ever a time when something important, something potentially earth-shattering, wasn’t going on somewhere in the world, and by extension in Washington, D.C.? I doubted it.
I replaced that weighty thought with a more pleasant one: visiting the White House and meeting the president, spending time with some of my fellow writers, and, of course, touching base in person with George Sutherland.
“Ah, Jessica Fletcher, Maine’s very own Agatha Christie.”
Senator Warren Nebel crossed the room, hands extended, a dazzling smile painted across his square, tanned face. “But Dame Agatha could never hold a candle to you,” he added, to my discomfort.
“How nice to see you again, Senator,” I said, losing my hand in both of his. “Thank you so much for including me in this exciting week.”
Excerpted from "Murder, She Wrote: a Vote for Murder"
Copyright © 2005 Jessica Fletcher.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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