"Remember the file we had that led you to the conclusion about Emma and her accomplice?" Seth asked Jessica.
"Yes. But how…?" Jessica stuttered.
"I made notes in the margins," Seth declared.
"So now what?" Jessica asked him, relaxing a bit.
"Now, we wait," Seth told her, kissing the top of her head and then leaning his head back against the wall, his arm still tightly around Jessica.
"Christine what on earth are you talking about?" Amanda asked after catching her breath when she finally arrived downstairs.
"Remember how Aunt Jess wrote me that letter about the chess board she bought for Seth at some…auction?"
"That auction in New Orleans?" John asked.
"Right!" Christine sat next to the chessboard and pulled it onto her lap, examining it. "It was when I was reading that Nancy Drew book, remember? The one with all the secret passageways and hiding places?"
"Every Nancy Drew book ever written," John mumbled.
"Anyway, she told me that she had bought Seth a chessboard years prior to that in New Orleans. She solved a murder there with Harry McGraw." She continued to turn the chessboard different directions and examine the sides. "And there was a secret hiding place in it that played a key role in that mystery."
"Didn't they find some sort of hidden papers or something?" Amanda asked, trying to recall the story.
"I don't remember. It's not important," Christine responded. "The important part is HOW did they get it open?"
"Well, how do you know that's the one?" John asked.
"Why wouldn't it be?" Christine asked him. "She said it's Seth's favorite."
"She's got a point," Amanda added.
"But how did they get it open!" Christine yelled, frustrated.
"Perfect," Emma Donnovan said into her telephone. "Yes, they're still up there. I don't think they've realized yet that they could get out if they just looked around…Have you heard anything, yet?…You will NOT!…Because if you do, I'll turn you into the police. Don't think for a moment that I won't. You stay there and mind the phone! And notify me the minute you hear from them!" She slammed the phone into its cradle. "Now, to head to that union meeting."
"Is there a button on the side or something?" Sargent Malin asked, crowding in with the others around the chessboard.
"What about tapping a series of spaces?" Amanda suggested.
"It would take all day to figure out which spaces!" John told her.
"And what order to tap them," Sargent Malin.
"Would you all just BACK UP?" Christine yelled, frustrated. But as she said it, she grabber the chessboard by the King's spaces and a drawer popped out. Amanda gasped, and Christine stood there, dumbfounded.
"Looks like you found it, Christine," John chuckled.
"What's in it?" Sargent Malin asked.
"It's some kind of…note…" Christine said, digging in the drawer for the piece of paper.
"What kind of note?" Amanda asked.
Christine silently read the note and dropped both the note and the chessboard to the floor.
"What, Christine?" John asked.
"What is it?" Sargent Malin spoke up.
"It's…a ransom note," Christine told them.
"A random note?" Amanda asked, concerned.
"From whom?" John added.
"The point of a ransom note is for it to be anonymous," Christine told her father, in a tone that told him he should have already known that.
"Of course, but, who COULD it be from?" he asked her.
"Well, I DID leave her at Emma Donnovan's…" Christine said.
"Is that too easy?" Amanda asked. "I mean, it seem like it would have to be someone else. She's not THAT stupid, is she?"
"She's trying to keep Jessica and Seth hostage. I'd say she pretty much qualifies for idiot of the year," Christine told her mother.
"All right. Enough," John looked at his watch. "Listen up. Here's what I suggest…"
"Charlotte, do you know why this meeting was called?" Emma Donnovan asked, sitting in her chair at the meeting.
"No idea, Emma," Charlotte replied.
"I heard it was because they're going to accuse the murderer," Eileen Williams interjected.
"That's ridiculous. One of us?" Emma asked.
"It's go to be!" Charlotte added. "Who else would know…?"
"Know what?" Emma asked, after Charlotte's sentence had trailed off.
"I'd better not say," Charlotte said, backing down.
"Where's Tsukerman?" Eileen asked. "Shouldn't he be here, too?"
"Oh! He called me," Emma explained. "He's tied up. He can't make it."
"Tied up, huh?" John said, entering the room on his crutches and taking his seat, Sargent Malin behind him.
"Yes," Emma said arrogantly. "He's flooded with grading finals. He's put it off, again, and so he has to get it done."
"But tomorrow's Christmas! Surely he's not planning on working, then?"
"That's why he has to work tonight," Emma explained, smoothly.
"Are you sure it's homework he's working on?" John asked. "He's not…guarding prisoners?"
"And just what are you suggesting, John?" Emma asked him.
"Only that Jessica Fletcher and Seth Hazlitt are missing, and they were last seen going into your house."
"Well, yes, there were there this afternoon, but, they left shortly after they arrived. They called for a taxi and drove God knows where."
"I don't think so," John said. "I think you know exactly where they are. Because I think they're somewhere in your house."
"Well, you'd be hard pressed to prove it," Emma stared coldly at him.
"Is this why we're all here?" Charlotte asked. "Because Emma has Jessica Fletcher?"
"No," John told her. "Actually, we're here to discuss how much money has been stolen from the union funds."
"Are we still on that," Emma mumbled. "That two million is old news."
"Who has it?" Eileen asked.
"Where is it?" Charlotte Plank asked.
"Wait a minute," John began. "Those are all very good questions. But I have one for you all, first."
"What?" Eileen asked.
"Does anyone, besides Charlotte, know the exact amount of the stolen money?" John asked, slowly.
"Wasn't it 400,000?" Eileen asked.
"That's what I heard!" Someone else added.
"Me, too!" came another voice.
"No," Emma said. "It was two million."
"Good guess," Charlotte told her.
"It was you all along, wasn't it?" Eileen asked Emma.
"Seth, are you all right?" Jessica asked after she had paced the floor for a while.
"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?" he asked her, but she could tell it was laborious for him.
"Seth, you're lying to me."
"Jessica," he paused for a breath. "I'm…perfectly fine. Why don't you take a nap? Pass the time faster."
"Seth, I don't want to take a nap. I want to make sure you're okay. Is there anything I can do?"
"I can't ignore that fire in your eyes, Jess," he admitted. "Truth is, I may have broken a rib or two."
"Oh! Seth, and you've been holding me for hours. I must have been leaning right…"
"Jessica, not another word," he told her, again putting a finger to her lips. "Do you really want to help?" Jessica nodded. "Good," Seth chuckled. "Then come over here, sit down next to me, and go to sleep."
But just as she was sitting down, they heard loud yells coming from downstairs, and soon banging on the door to the attic.
"Jessica?" Amanda called.
"Aunt Jess?" she heard Christine say. "Seth?"
Christine popped her head up through the floor of the attic and saw the pair leaning against one of the boxes and motioned for her mother to follow her up.
"I didn't think we'd make it in time!" Amanda said, finally making her way up to the attic.
"Did you bring a doctor?" Jessica asked.
"Why? What's wrong?" Amanda asked, concerned.
"It's Seth," Jessica told her. "He might have a broken rib."
"Oh, don't be so naïve, Eileen," Emma told her. "We're all in the same boat, here. We're all teachers. We all work for peanuts. I'm not going to do it, anymore. It's too much work for not enough money. And being under appreciated by those ungrateful little brats! We spend our entire lives working to give them an education. To help them succeed. And what do we get? Nothing. Barely enough money to live on and the piece-of-crap satisfaction of knowing we've 'helped a child learn'. I've had it. I'm out of here." She got up to leave the room and was met at the door by Sargent Malin.
"We found your prisoners about a half an hour ago. And that Tsukerman guy was more than ready to talk to us, and it's all about you. I don't imagine it'll be long before he tells us how it was all your idea and you forced him to co-operate."
"I'm so glad you were able to handle it, Amanda," Jessica said, giving her niece a hug once they had gotten home and Seth's rib taken care of.
"I'm happy to help. That is why I became a nurse," she chuckled.
"Still," Jessica told her. "It's extra nice that we don't have to spend the rest of Christmas Eve huddled around Seth in a hospital room."
"Christmas Eve?" Amanda asked. "Jessica, look at that clock!"
"12:05," Jessica said aloud. "Merry Christmas, Amanda!"
"Merry Christmas, Aunt Jess," Amanda told her through a yawn. "You sure you'll be all right staying up for a while? You've been through a lot, you really should go to bed."
"Oh, I'll be fine, just a bit longer. I'm still quite awake from today's scare."
"Well, don't stay up too late. We'll have to get up early to open presents. Christine has come into my room every Christmas since she was 3 to wake me up and tell me to open presents."
"Aww! That's so sweet," Jessica said.
"Until you find out that she jumps on the bed screaming at 4 AM, insisting we open the presents."
"Well, perhaps this year, she'll give you an hour or two respite," Jessica chuckled.
"Nice thought, but I highly doubt it," Amanda joined in her laughter. "Good night, Aunt Jess."
"Sweet Dreams," Jessica said, hugging her niece.
"Pleasant nightmares!" Amanda yawned, walking to her room.
"I'm glad you let Aunt Jess sleep, Christine," Amanda told her daughter as Christmas ripped open another present.
"Well, I figured she'd been through enough. Besides, she was asleep in a chair next to Seth's bed, holding his hand, so I didn't want to disturb them." She paused after she said this. "What do we do with their presents?"
"We could go leave them at the foot of Seth's bed," John suggested.
"How ya feelin', Seth?" Jessica asked, seeing Seth awake as she walked back into the room after her shower that morning.
"Just fine, Jess," he told her, starting to sit up.
"No, don't get up," she told him, rushing to his side.
"Woman, give it a rest. I'm fine," he restated, sitting up.
"Merry Christmas, Seth," Jessica grinned.
"Merry Christmas, Jess," Seth said, taking her hand.
Huge hugs and thanks to Lizz Browne and the people on the A&E (and now BIOGRAPHY) Message boards for keeping me going through crazy rehearsal schedules of three musicals while I've been writing this!
And huge apologies that it took me soooooo long! Enjoy!