In the USA Today bestselling Murder, She Wrote series—make room for Jessica Fletcher as she cleans house to catch a killer who hasn’t got a ghost of a chance.
Jessica’s friend, Eve Simpson is the town’s premier real estate agent and has recently taken on the task of selling one of Cabot Cove’s oldest properties—the Spencer Percy House, built in 1805 by a sea captain for his young wife. Its current occupant, Cliff Cooper, a crusty former carpenter, is convinced he’s about to die and wants the house sold so he can give the proceeds to his grandson, who spent much of his youth there.
But Eve’s got quite a challenge on her hands. Not only is the building in deplorable physical condition, it is also rumored to be haunted.
When Cliff’s deadly premonition becomes a reality, Dr. Seth Hazlitt is not so sure the man died of natural causes. As Jessica tries to get to the bottom of Cliff Cooper’s death, a medium hired by Eve attempts to rid the house of the alleged apparition. But if Jessica isn’t careful, she may be the one who joins the ranks of the dearly departed.
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Jessica Fletcher is a bestselling mystery writer who has a knack for stumbling upon real-life mysteries in her various travels. Donald Bain, the author of more than 120 books, collaborates, with Renée Paley-Bain on this best-selling series.
“I’m dying and I know it.” Cliff Cooper stretched out a hand to me. “Will you help me, Jessica?”
“Of course, Cliff,” I said, taking his hand in both of mine. “But Seth Hazlitt says you still have plenty of good years ahead of you.”
Cliff pulled back his hand and shook his head. “I know the truth.” He pressed his body forward and coughed into the pillow he’d been hugging. His pale face turned crimson with the exertion. “See?” he said, falling back against the raised mattress. “Dr. Hazlitt’s a crazy optimist.”
“Can’t say as I’ve ever been called that before, Cliff,” Cabot Cove’s favorite physician said as he folded the stethoscope he’d just used to listen to Cliff’s chest. “If you’d take the medicines the nurses give you instead of tossing the pills in the flowerpot, you’d feel a lot better, and so would that plant.” Seth gestured toward a drooping geranium next to vases of flowers lined up on the windowsill.
“You can’t fool an old carpenter. I know when my sanding days are over.”
Seth tucked his stethoscope into his black medical bag. “Probably breathing in all that sawdust instead of wearing a mask—which, by the way, I suggested to you years ago—landed you where you are. Too late to fix all the damage, but with your cooperation, we’d stand a chance of getting you out of here and back home into your recliner.”
“Sounds nice.” Cliff sighed. “Thanks, Doc.”
Seth closed his medical bag and gave Cliff a pat on the arm. “I’ll stop by later. In the meantime, try to be a good patient.”
“I’ll try.” Cliff gave Seth a wan smile.
I accompanied Seth into the hall. “Is there really a chance for him to be able to return home?”
“I wish I could say for sure. There was a good chance when he was first admitted, but he’s refused to follow medical orders, rejected all the therapies we’ve recommended. And the longer he stays here lying on his back, the farther away his chances are of getting better. He’s becoming weaker, getting frail. You have to use your muscles, or they atrophy.”
“That cough sounds terrible. It must take a lot out of him.”
“He has a bad cough, yes, but there’s no underlying malignancy. In his case, getting well looks to be as dependent on willpower as it is on medicine. I hate to say that he’s giving up, Jessica, but that’s how it appears to me.”
“Oh, Seth, that’s terrible. What can I do to help?”
“Maybe you can talk some sense into him. He’s turned away most of his visitors. Far as I know, you’re among the few he’s agreed to see.”
“I am? I can’t imagine why. We’re only casual friends. Haven’t Lettie and Lucy been here to call on him?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“That’s odd. They’ve been friends for years. In fact, I heard a rumor that he was about to ask Lucy to marry him.”
“Mebbe so, but now he says he just wants to be left alone in the dark.”
I returned to Cliff’s room and took the chair next to his bed. A whiteboard hanging on the wall facing his bed said his nurse’s name was Carolyn and the aide was Theresa. Cliff was a patient in the new one-story rehabilitation wing of Cabot Cove Hospital. Seth would never have put him there if he hadn’t expected Cliff to get better. Hospice services were provided on another floor, or at home. The new wing had private rooms looking out onto the woods behind the hospital. A brochure extolling its amenities was on Cliff’s bedside table.
“Each patient is afforded a prospect of Mother Nature’s panorama,” the brochure stated, adding, “Taking in nature’s bountiful beauty each day—our unspoiled forest combined with delightful glimpses of wildlife—is conducive to the healing process.”
Its flowery language aside, the brochure was correct that the view of the woods would be a pleasant sight if Cliff’s nurse hadn’t adjusted the blinds to keep out any light.
Cliff’s eyes had closed, and he appeared to be sleeping. Once a strapping man, he looked as if his body had melted into the hospital bed, his shoulders no longer broad, his arms withered to half their previous size, his strong features softened with time. His large hands, now knurled with age, were the only evidence of his youthful vigor. I remembered how handsome he’d been, and how, after his wife died, so many of the single women in town brought him casseroles and cakes, hoping to impress Cliff Cooper. But he’d allowed only two people into his inner circle in those days and ever since: Lucy Conrad, his neighbor, and Lettie, her twin sister.
I waited for a few more minutes before deciding not to disturb Cliff’s rest. I had begun gathering my things, intent upon leaving, when he called out to me in a rusty voice.
“Don’t go yet, Jessica. I need to talk to you.”
“I’m here, Cliff. What can I do for you? Are you in pain? Would you like me to call the nurse?”
He shook his head and cleared his throat. “Bunch of pill pushers in this place.”
I laughed softly. “Most hospitals and nursing homes are like that. But if the pills will help you get better, don’t you think you should take them?”
“Too late for me. But I want you to do me a favor.”
“Anything that’s in my power,” I replied.
“I want Miss Simpson to sell the house before I die and give the money to my grandson. She knows. I called her. She said she’d get on it right away.”
“Didn’t you already provide for him in your will, Cliff?”
“Never got around to making one.”
“Well, it’s not too late. Would you like me to arrange a visit by your lawyer?”
“Don’t have one of those either. Just put it down on a piece of paper, if you would.”
I rummaged through my shoulder bag for a notebook and pen, scooted my chair closer to Cliff’s nightstand, and used the book I’d brought for him to lean on as I took his dictation. “Okay, I’ll write down what you say for now, but I’m bringing Fred Kramer with me tomorrow. He specializes in family law and estate planning. He probably has a simple form you can fill out with your instructions.”
“Do I know him?”
“He was a colleague of Cyrus O’Connor Senior and took over his law practice when Cy’s son gave it up to move to New York.”
“Junior was a foul ball if I remember correctly.”
“You do. But Fred Kramer is as upstanding as Cy Senior was. Will you talk with him if I can get him to come with me?”
“I suppose. I don’t want anyone making a claim on my property. I promised it to Elliot.”
“If you promised the house to Elliot, why do you want to sell it? Your grandson might like to inherit the home he grew up in.”
“He’s young and eager for adventure. The house would only tie him down. Knowing him, I figure he might feel guilty about getting rid of it, even if he wanted to. I don’t buy the whole business about it being the family home for generations. I don’t want anyone to put Elliot’s head in a bucket and trick him into keepin’ it.”
“Who would do that?”
“You never know. I want the decision out of his hands.”
“All right, but—”
“Don’t argue with me, Jessica.”
“No one’s arguing with you, Cliff. I only meant you might want to think about the legal—”
“It’s my house,” he said, raising his voice, “and I can do with it what I want, can’t I?”
He inhaled deeply, setting off a paroxysm of coughing. He ducked his head and hunched his shoulders, curling into the pillow as he attempted to muffle his spasm.
A nurse in a green uniform bustled into the room. I got out of her way and stood by the window. She roughly pulled my chair aside and made soothing noises as she began patting Cliff, making circles on his back with her hand. “Take it slow, Cliff. No deep breaths at first, just little soft ones. In through the nose, out through the mouth. That’s better, sweetheart. Didn’t I tell you what happens when you get excited? I could hear you yelling all the way down at the nurses’ station.” She aimed a stern look at me. “I’ve told him before that excitement isn’t good for him,” she said. “Maybe it’s time to wind up your visit, and tell the others to stay away, too.”
“Not her fault,” Cliff managed to squeeze out between coughs. He took a few short breaths and knocked the nurse’s arm away. “She stays.”
“Only if you calm down,” the nurse said, taking a step back and scowling, her gaze darting back and forth between Cliff and me.
Cliff made a circle with his finger, gesturing for me to take the chair again, and batted his hand at the nurse. “You can go now,” he told her.
“If you insist, but if I have to come in again, she leaves.” She walked out the door, rubbing her arm where Cliff’s slap had connected.
“Yeah, yeah,” Cliff said under his breath.
I couldn’t tell if the nurse heard him.
“Always too bossy, that one.”
I sat in the chair again.
“Where was I?” he asked.
“You were telling me you want Eve Simpson to sell your house and give Elliot the funds from it. There are going to be fees taken out for her commission, and taxes and other expenses. You know that, don’t you?”
“That’s okay. This way, he gets a lump sum and the freedom to do what he wants with it. No one can challenge him.”
“Who could challenge him?”
“No one. That’s the point. Did you write it down?”
“Yes. Is there more?”
“Yes.” He leaned back against the mattress, his eyes searching the ceiling for the right words.
“I want Lucy to have whatever she wants of my things, not that there’s anything valuable there. There are some bowls and such that my wife had. Glass things, I think. Or maybe they’re crystal. Don’t even remember when we got them. Might even’ve been wedding gifts. I never used ’em. Lucy can have them if she wants.” He closed his eyes and lay quietly for a while.
“Why won’t you let her visit you?” I asked softly.
Tears welled up under his closed lids. He wiped the moisture away. “I don’t want her to see me like this.”
“Like this.” He looked down at the sheet that covered his body. “Like a beached striper, flopping and gasping for breath. She don’t need to remember me this way. I’d rather she remember me in better days. Now, let me autograph that thing.”
I gave him the paper I’d used to write down his bequests. He grabbed my pen with his right hand and signed his name.
“You give that to your lawyer friend. If he needs to get paid, there’s some cash in a hollowed-out book of poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It’s on a bottom shelf in the library.”
“I didn’t know you read poetry,” I said.
“I don’t, and no one I know does either. That’s why I put my stash in there. If I’da used a Stephen King book, someone mighta borrowed it and I’d be out the money.”
“I’ll give this to Fred Kramer, but it may be wise to execute a more legal document. It’ll be much better if he comes to see you. Will you agree to see him?”
He nodded wearily. “If I’m still here. Give his name to the nurse. I’m not acceptin’ too many visitors. Takes too much outta me.” He heaved a sigh, then froze, his body stiffening.
“What is it?” I asked.
He let out a stream of air. “Whew! Was afraid I’d start it up again.”
He nodded. “Ever’ time I try to take a deep breath. Doc is right. It’s all them years of wood dust in the air. It’s killing me now.”
“Seth says if you worked at getting better, you might be able to get well enough to go home. Why won’t you listen to him?”
“Not to say the doc don’t know his business, but a man knows when he’s dying, and I’m knockin’ at death’s door.”
“In that case, you may not be up to reading my new book,” I said, holding up the novel I’d brought as a gift. “Should I offer it to the nurse instead?”
“Put that back on the nightstand where you found it,” he said, scowling. “I’ll read it tonight. Good-bye, Jessica.”
“Good-bye, Cliff. I’ll be back. With the lawyer. You need a formal will, even though I expect you’re going to live a lot longer than you think.”
But I was wrong.
1805 HOUSE FOR SALE
Charming historic colonial built by a sea captain for his young wife
· Spectacular water views
· 8 bedrooms, 3 baths, kitchen, dining room, laundry, library
· Lots of period details
· Separate barn on the property
· Price on request
· An Eve Simpson exclusive
“If Cliff Cooper knew what we’re doing, he would spin in his grave—that is, if he’d already been buried,” I said to Eve Simpson.
To Seth’s consternation and contrary to my prediction, Cliff had succumbed within a few days of my visit, and I was never able to arrange for him to execute a more formal will than the makeshift one he’d dictated to me. Attorney Fred Kramer said Cliff’s will would likely stand up in probate court, but he wished he could have made one with another witness’s signature on it.
“I have to get rid of those books, Jessica. No one wants to buy a house where the bookshelves are overflowing. They’re everywhere—on the floor, chairs, and on the steps going upstairs.”
“That may be, Eve, but just throwing away all these books would be a crime.”
“That’s why I asked you to look through them. If there’s anything of great value, I figured you’d recognize it.”
Eve steadied the library ladder, on which I was perched five steps up, while I inspected one of the multiple shelves of books in Cliff’s big seaside house, which she had recently advertised as on the market. With Cliff’s encouragement, Eve had started the sales process right away, putting a notice in the local newspaper and planning improvements to the huge house. She billed herself as Cabot Cove’s premier real estate agent, and I didn’t doubt that she was. She didn’t have a lot of competition. Even so, Cliff’s home was the historic Spencer Percy House, the oldest house in Cabot Cove. Selling it would provide considerable bragging rights, plus a sizable commission, if Eve could find a buyer. But that was a big “if.”
The house was much larger than the average family was likely to want. Cliff Cooper had been a widower with little interest in keeping it up, and with a tendency to save rather than throw things away. He was a hoarder, Cabot Cove’s version of the compulsive Collyer brothers, who collected tons of items in their New York town house in the first half of the twentieth century. Thank goodness Cliff hadn’t gone to the extremes of those famous siblings.
But he almost had.
Apart from two furnished bedrooms, other rooms in the Spencer Percy House had been repositories of cast-off furniture, old luggage, and piles of household items that were saved even though they no longer had a function in the lives of the occupants. Whether much of this had already been here when Cliff and his wife, Nanette, first moved in, or whether Cliff filled the empty spaces himself after her death, neither Eve nor I knew.
“Fred Kramer said he’s officially the lawyer for the estate. I assume that means he’s found Elliot,” Eve said.
“Yes, but don’t ask me how he discovered his whereabouts. He said Elliot was camping in Alaska with a friend who’s a bush pilot. He’s coming home, but he’s coming by motorcycle, of all things. We’ll have to hold off the funeral until he arrives.”
“When was the last time he was in Cabot Cove?”
“No idea. I nev...
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