First, a spoiler: lines of excellence is not a reference to cocaine no matter how much I tried to make it be. Trust me, I tried.
JB is hard at work on her typewriter in her New York bunker this week Fletcherfans when DISASTER STRIKES. Her L key breaks off her typewriter, which wouldn’t be so bad if her characters weren’t named Lola and Larry Lamont.
Fun fact: the exact same thing happened to me with my old laptop, except it was the M key which as you may guess gets used a bit when you’re writing wildly inaccurate reviews of episodes of Murder She Wrote.
JB hasn’t got time to worry about a broken typewriter now though, she’s got a class to teach on how to pick a guilty person over an innocent person in interrogation. The first student guesses the guilty one would be pacing the room, agitated but JB says no. The second student, Michael Rossari (aka Salvatore Abruzzi from this time), suggests the guilty person would fall asleep due to coming down off the adrenaline and stress, which Jess says is exactly right. Just as the class is about to end, JB’s boss Dr Auerbach pops in to have a word with Michael. While Jessica issues homework for the next class, she notices the discussion becomes quite heated before Michael storms off. Jessica quizzes Auerbach later and he informs her that Michael will no longer be taking her class after it was discovered that Michael had hacked the university mainframe and faked his results in order to get in.
YOU GUYS I LIKE WHERE THIS IS GOING.
Jessica heads to her office to call administration to find out more infp on Michael Rossari. While she’s on hold, she notices an envelope on her desk with JESSICA FLETCHER written on it. Challenge accepted, she opens the envelope to find a bunch of short stories written by Michael. Getting his address from the admin office, she goes round to his place to return his books and ask him why he did it. He confesses that he’s a writer and a fan, and he wanted to learn more from her about how she does what she does.
JB tells him she wished he’d come to her sooner. He’s a bright student, a hard worker and a talented writer. She’s willing to help Michael get back into the class on one condition – he helps her find a word processor to replace her old typewriter. A WORD PROCESSOR.
Michael knows just the guys and takes her around to the offices of the Serious Cybernetics Corporation (SCC) (SHOUTOUT TO THE SIRIUS CYBERNETICS CORPORATION NICE WORK WRITERS), where Linda Truitt and and Alan Miller give her the grand tour. Not only do they teach people how to use computers, they design both hardware and software (space games mostly) and do commercial scanning for viruses (I’M DYING THIS IS WHAT THE 90S WERE ALL ABOUT).
Michael pops up to tell them that the man in charge of teaching computing to their select clientele of writers, lawyers and so on is in the workroom. As they go in, a student, Henry Waverly, comes out looking less than impressed.
The man fixing the keyboard is Derek St James, who teaches the hardware side of things, while Alan teaches software. As part of the course, the company builds a computer for the student and sets it up in their home so they are all set to hack the interwebs. Alan leaves Jess with Derek, who starts to quiz her on what she wants for her computer.
“How much RAM, how much ROM, VGA, SVGA, 386, 486, 33 25 megahertz…if you do a lot of research you may want to get a CD-ROM or a worm optical system…do you have any offhand preferences? Asks Derek.
Oh I just googled the worm thing, it’s like a CD burner. I’m going to stop feeling so smug now.
Anyway, while JB chats to Derek and makes absolutely zero jokes about floppy disks, Alan and Linda take time out in Alan’s office to “discuss their latest game collabration” (partially true) but also get a bit handsy, which is brought to a skidding halt when Alan’s wife rings up to say hi.
The next day, Derek drops JB’s new computer around and sets it all up, including the connection to the phone line. Now she can send and receive information to any other linked up computer in the country.
While JB wrangles her computer, Michael is at the office of the SSC tinkering with a computer when he sees Henry Waverley march into Alan’s office and tell him he won’t stand for it, he won’t be giving him a penny, and either it ends or Alan ends. Alan seems rather perplexed about the whole situation to be honest.
The next day, JB tries to make good on her offer to get Michael back into her class but Auerbach is having none of it. He wonders if Michael mentioned to her that he has a police record?
Cut to Michael receiving a whole bunch of computer parts from a shady character who pulls a knife and reminds Michael his last payment was late. Ah yes. The shady guy who brings in the 386s. 90s New York was the danger you guys.
That afternoon, JB is sitting down to her first computing class and having her mind blown by it all. “So if I finish a chapter of my book in Cabot Cove, I can send it from my computer through the phone lines to my agent’s computer in New York?”
“Exactly.” Says Derek.
But never mind that, Jessica is just about to cross paths with the GREATEST SERIAL KILLER ON THE HISTORY OF THE PLANET.
While Alan gets Michael to set up another computer for Jessica (and dust the old one for fingerprints trolololol), the class adjourns for a tea break and Jessica gets to chatting with a fellow classmate who tells her he’s been through the course three times and still can’t get the hang of it. “Maybe I’m too old.” He muses.
The man, Jason O’Connell, thinks maybe he’s just having a bad day – he just found out he’s been underbid on a contract by four thousand dollars, for the second time in a month. Jessica notices that Henry Waverley is back in Alan’s office and things are getting heated but Derek wanders past to announce that break time is over and it’s time to get back to work.
Later that night, Michael is closing up the office for night but JB is still hard at work hacking mainframes and patrolling the interwebs. She promises to finish up and Michael goes to finish closing up. He runs into Linda Truitt who is fuming – she’d just found the game she’d been working on with Alan on the shelves and without her name on it. She rants and leaves, and Jessica is unable to keep from eavesdropping. Michael is sure that it’s nothing, and offers to give JB a lift home.
As they drive, Jess tells Michael that she spoke to Dr Auerbach and he mentioned something about a police record. Michael tells her it was for boosting hubcaps, stealing comic books etc etc. He’s hardly a national security threat, but he understands if he can’t rejoin the class. Jessica tells him she hasn’t given up hope yet. Michael says his mother has ordered him to invite Jessica round for lunch the next day and will kill him if she says no.
The next day, Mr and Mrs Michael’s Parents are delighted to have Jessica over, but are puzzled by this whole writing endeavour. Michael’s father in particular thinks it’s a scam. Stephen King, sure. Jessica Fletcher, sure. But Michael? He ain’t the type. He gets into trouble too much.
“So who is the type, Norman Mailer?” Michael retorts.
“Don’t answer back. And who’s this Norman guy, he one of these friends getting you in trouble? Says Michael’s father.
A knock at the door is the final word in the argument. It’s one of their neighbours, rather fancily dressed for a trip to the laundry. She just popped into say hi…but recognises JB in an instant. Michael’s mother swears she only mentioned it in passing, but the woman wonders if JB could sign a copy of her book…and a few of her friends?
“Sure, but I’m not sure this is the right ti-” says JB.
It becomes all too much for Michael, who adjourns to the kitchen. JB comes in to check on him and he goes into rant mode about how he wants to get out of the neighbourhood and make something of himself but he’s worried he isn’t good enough.
starts singing that song from Sister Act II tells him to follow his passion and everything else will follow. Fame and success is just smoke and mirrors.
The next day Derek arrives at SSC HQ to find the class milling around outside the classroom door. He tells them he left a message with Alan that he was going to be late, and that they should have started without him. Jason guesses that Alan didn’t get the message.
Inside the classroom, they find the body of Alan on the floor. “It appears you’re wrong Mr O’Connell” says JB. “Looks like he got someones message.”
NYPD’s finest double act roll in, in the form of Lieutenant Cynthia Deveraux (cousin of Blanche almost definitely) and Lieutenant Timothy Chance. Chance is delighted to meet JB, he’s a big fan. JB tells him her theory that Alan was strangled by a computer cable, and also mentions the discussion she’d heard between Linda and Michael the other night. Derek tells them Linda had quit and gone to work at a competing company. JB says Michael can back up her story but it seems he’s not here just now. Derek says Alan told him he was going to fire Michael but he didn’t know why.
“Are you sure the business is doing okay?” Says Deveraux. “You seem to be losing a lot of staff.”
“In more ways than one,” Chance chimes in.
Michael, it turns out, is at home reading when he gets a knock on the door – it’s the Shady 386 guy, and he is looking for payment.
Later that afternoon, JB is on the phone to Cabot Cove, issuing strict orders to be called the minute someone’s baby is born, when she gets a knock on the door. It’s Michael’s mother wondering if JB had heard from Michael. Jessica says no, but she’s sure he has nothing to do with the dead body at the SSC. Michael’s mother says if that’s true then why is he running?
The lieutenants head over to Linda’s new office to ask some questions but she tells them she had nothing to do with Alan’s murder, and she’s not talking to them unless they arrest her which means a Miranda in which case they only thing they will be getting is the name address and phone number of her attorney.
“You been watching too many of those TV crime shows.” Says Chance.
Back at the Fletcher Bunker, JB is tinkering with her computer when Michael calls her to ask that she tell the police to look into Henry Waverley, and explains about the fight he overheard. She says she’ll do what she can but she’d rather discuss it in person. Michael agrees to meet and gives her directions, which she types onto the computer due to lack of pen.
Over at the SSC that night, the lieutenants have been summoned by Derek who has made an Alarming Discovery – the computers that the company gets Michael to purchase are made of stolen parts. Chance thinks this cracks the case, but Deveraux, who’s just had a page from the office, says JB thinks they should look into Henry Waverley.
The next morning JB meets Michael at the park, but they soon hear sirens heading towards them. Michael tries to leg it but is caught. JB swears she didn’t tell anyone she was meeting him, but Michael says she was the only one who knew he was coming.
Jessica goes to the precinct but Michael doesn’t want to see her. She does however see his parents, who are devastated. At the moment Michael is only being charged with receiving stolen goods, but he swears he thought the computer parts were just fakes with brand names stuck on, and he swears he didn’t kill Alan. Jessica thinks it’s time to get to the bottom of it all and asks Lieutenant Deveraux where the info came from. She says it was an anonymous tip, but she doesn’t know how the tipster knew where the meeting was happening.
Later that afternoon JB gets a phone call from Susan Cabot Cove – someone had a baby boy. Jessica is delighted but a bit miffed she wasn’t the first phone call. Susan tells her they tried to call at four in the morning but the line was engaged.
JB just can’t understand it. How could her phone line be busy when she was in bed asleep?
She gazes at her computer. The phone line! Internets! Lines of Excellence! (Whomp there it is)
After calling the phone company to find out what numbers have been dialled in the last 24 hours, JB goes to find the Lieutenants who are on their way to have lunch. JB offers to shout them a sandwich if they take her to reinterview Henry Waverley, and heaven forbid the lieutenants ever knock back a free lunch.
When they find Waverley at his office, he is fairly tight-lipped about the whole thing, but when JB shows him the phone number her line had been dialling he comes clean – he was being blackmailed after someone found out about his affair. He thought it was Alan, but when he confronted him Alan knew nothing about it.
And that, my friend, is because Alan was in charge of hardware, not software. And thanks to some clever acting on Jason O’Connell’s part, they manage to trap the killer.
And because JB cares, she launches into an indepth explanation about how computers work and how Derek managed to get all the information he needed to blackmail people.
And, because Jessica is a firm believer in not tying up loose ends, she pops round to Mrs and Mrs Michael’s Parents house to see a newly released Michael and to let him know that while Auerbach won’t let him take the class, there’s no reason he can’t audit the class for free.
Cue the entrance of the party women.