Authors: Traci Tyne Hilton
To Daniel, of course.
This is a work of fiction. All characters,
places, and incidents are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons
either living or dead is completely coincidental
Good, Clean Murder: A Plain Jane Mystery
31 House LLC
2013 (7/19) by Traci Tyne Hilton
Design by Andrew Rothery
Photo by ariwasabi
There had been a
storm in the night and twigs and blossoms littered the long sweep of concrete
front steps at the hundred-year-old stone mansion the Crawford family called
home. Jane Adler had two hours to get the six-thousand square foot house
whipped into shape. Then she was off to her next client to do the same thing.
Jane was alone on the cool spring morning. The neighborhood was a quiet haven
of sunshine and fresh green gardens. She wished she could trade jobs with the
gardener today, just so she could stay outside and enjoy the long-awaited
On her way back to
the front door she watered the early hyacinth and late crocus in the mossy urns
that lined the steps. She fished the errant petals out of the bubbling
fountain, and gave the brass fish that leapt out of the splashing water a quick
Spring had finally
come, and with it, her last term at Harvest School of the Bible. Jane was one
semester away from graduation. Then she would fly away to the mission field.
There were a few hurdles in front of her still: joining the right organization,
fundraising, convincing her parents she was ready to leave the country for
Jane dusted the
lid of the copper newspaper box and flipped it open. The morning paper was
still lying inside.
Had the paperboy
been late? Jane leaned around the pillar of the front portico to look down the
street. She didn’t see any newspapers lying on the vast front lawns, but odds
were most of the homeowners had boxes like the Crawfords’.
Jane turned the
other way, but didn’t see the paperboy on his scooter. She expected as much. He
had to be sitting in school by nine in the morning.
Jane carried the
newspaper around to the back of the house with her broom and her watering can.
directions for today’s work would be waiting by the door in the mudroom. She
prayed it wouldn’t be a Cinderella day. Cleaning the rugs, drapes, and
fireplaces would destroy her tight schedule.
Jane swept the
back steps, wiped the mildew from the windowsills, and used her rag to polish
the brass porch light before she let herself back into the house.
As Jane racked the
outdoor broom, her cell phone rang.
Caller id showed
it was her roommate, Samantha. She sighed.
“Hey, Sam.” Jane
slipped her Bluetooth around her ear so she could talk and clean at the same
“Get soy milk, okay?”
“And when should I
do that? At nine tonight when my class gets out?” Jane stared at the bulletin
board. The usual slip of paper was missing.
“Oh, are you doing
“Going to school?
Yes.” Jane dropped to her knees and fished under the decorative storage bench
for the list of instructions. She couldn’t feel anything so she pulled the
bench away from the wall. The scraping sound on the slate floor made her skin
crawl. “Was that it? Milk?”
“Soy milk, Jane.
I’m lactose intolerant.” It sounded like Sam was chomping gum while she spoke.
“Did you see the
paper this morning?”
“Funny you should
mention the paper. It was still in the box when I got here.” Her directions
weren’t under the bench, but she’d been cleaning the Crawfords’ home for two
years now and knew the Monday schedule like the back of her hand. She knew
everything except the special little things that were usually left on the
didn’t have it lying out for all to see this morning?”
“What do you mean?
Is he in it? Or one of his kids?” Jane shoved the bench back against the wall.
She stood up and looked around the room. Nothing. If she could get Sam off the
phone, she could text Pamela just to be sure there wasn’t something extra she
needed to get done.
“Do you have it
handy? Turn to the business section.”
Jane carried the
newspaper into the kitchen. She hit the lights on the way in and sniffed.
Something was missing. She sniffed again. Coffee. Had no one made coffee this
morning? She twisted the lid off the coffee carafe. Empty. No coffee. No cups
in the sink. No signs of life.
Jane gave the
carafe lid a tight twist and put it back on the coffee maker. Then she slid
onto a stool and opened the newspaper on the kitchen island. “Sorry. Were you
still talking? I got distracted.”
“Yes, I was,” Sam
said. “I said, get the soy milk on your way
school, and you said
“Did you open the
“Front page of the
business section, below the fold.”
Jane turned to the
page. Near the bottom, she found the headline that said, “Big Bob Crawford Bows
out of Burger Business.”
“What is this?”
Jane ran her eyes across the short article. Bob Crawford was closing the chain
of burger restaurants his father had opened in 1950. He apologized for how his
family business had contributed to the obesity epidemic in America.
“Wow. I knew his
heart attack had affected him, but I never expected this.” Jane’s heart sank a
little. This meant the end of free dinners on the days she cleaned the Crawford
“When you see him,
ask him what he’s planning on doing now. Maybe he’ll get into the smoothie
“I can’t ask him
that, Sam. It’s none of my business and he’s my boss.”
“You and your
boundaries. If I were in your position, I’d ask.”
“Like you’d ever
clean houses for a living.” Jane scratched at a blemish on the granite top. A
dinner spill, maybe. “I bet this is why things are so strange around here this
“What do you
“They didn’t leave
any directions, or make coffee. All the lights are out. It’s just a little
weird. Maybe closing the family business has put them off of their schedule.”
“No coffee? Poor
“No kidding. Hey,
I’m going to let you go. I’ve got to get this house put together before they
“Fine, but see if
you can get Jake to tell you more about this.”
“If I see him,
I’ll ask, okay?” Jane couldn’t remember the last time she had seen Jake
Crawford and didn’t expect to see him anytime soon. Under those circumstances,
it was an easy promise to make.
“Good enough. Get
the soy milk, yeah?”
“Nada. I’ve got
work to do.”
“What evs. You’re
a rotten roommate.” Sam hung up.
Jane frowned at
her phone. Sam’s attitude problem was nothing new, but losing Roly Burgers was
quite a blow. Jane’s stomach grumbled. Free burgers had been a great perk.
Jane tied a pink
bandana around her head to keep her wispy brown hair from shedding while she
worked. Fast and thorough. She would try to make life for the Crawford family
as easy as possible in the face of massive changes, but get in, get clean, and
get out was her main goal.
Jane folded the
newspaper back up. She set it on the kitchen desk, next to the charger station.
She wondered what her dad would say when he found out about the end of the
Burger with the Roly-Poly Bun. Running a Roly Burger franchise had made her
parents’ early retirement possible
family home in the exclusive Laurelhurst neighborhood of Portland and all of
the lavish lifestyle that went with it was entirely thanks to the
second-generation burger chain.
Jane stared out
the front window. How many people would lose their jobs when the restaurants
went dark? She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer for them all. Portland
did not need more layoffs.
After his heart
attack, Bob Crawford had been morose. Depressed even. He had spent weeks on end
huddled in his office, unshaven and wearing a bathrobe. Eventually he had
cheered up, and it occurred to Jane that his new lease on life was probably due
to the decision to quit making burgers.
Jane tried to
shake off her own morose thoughts. If Bob didn’t want to make burgers any more
God must have something else in store for the people who relied on him. She
felt a catch in her throat. It might be true, but it was hard to believe. God
let a lot of people suffer more than even the poorest of Portlanders. While she
believed that God had his hand on the Roly Burger family of employees, she
still felt a little sick about their impending loss of work.
Jane needed to get
her mind out of the shadows. She recited the beatitudes as she made her way
upstairs, in an effort to get her own attitude in order. “Blessed are the poor
in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” She pulled out a rag and
dusted the deeply-carved wooden frames that lined the staircase. “Blessed are
those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” She turned back and ran the rag
down the banister. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.”
She tried not to
hurry as she rubbed the dust off the stair-rail spindles. Pamela Crawford
always noticed dust on the mahogany. “Blessed are those who clean others' dirt
for they will be able to pay for their schoolbooks.”
Jane tucked her
lemon-Pledge-soaked dust rag back in her apron pocket and moved on to the
laundry room, the chemical citrus wafting away with her. She needed to strip
the beds and get the laundry going if she was going to get out to her next
house on time. On her way past the laundry room, she grabbed a hamper.
Then she stopped.
Monday was laundry day. Laundry day and
. The envelope full of
cash was always pinned to the bulletin board with her directions. That envelope
was supposed to buy her books today. Standing still with the hamper on her hip
she debated. Stop now, call Pam, and ask for directions and money, or just keep
working? The laundry would take two hours, whether she was paid or not, so she
moved to the master bedroom. She could call Pamela after she had the first load
in the machine.
Jane pushed open
the bedroom door with her hip.
In a smooth set of
motions perfected over her two years as a housekeeper, she set the hamper down,
grabbed the end of the comforter and pulled all of the bedding off the bed.
Then she looked up to grab the pillows.
Bob was still in
“I am so sorry!” she
whispered. She backed away from the bed.
Bob hadn’t seemed
to notice her.
Heat rose to
Jane’s face. What a complete moron! She should have knocked. She could have
given him the chance to wake up a little. She looked away from the bed, waiting
for him to speak.
He didn’t say
In fact, Bob
hadn’t moved a muscle when his covers had come flying off him. Surely, if a big
guy like him had moved, she would have noticed.
She stepped back
to the bed.
Bob was very
still, and his face was pasty.
thumped against her ribs, like a small, hard fist.
Bob was not well.
Her feet felt like
bricks as she pulled herself across the Persian rug to the side of Bob’s bed.
He was wearing an
A-line tank top—a wife-beater. His huge shoulders were covered in brown wiry
hair. She had never seen Bob’s naked shoulders.
Jane placed two
shaking fingertips under his jaw, and turned away.
She couldn’t feel
a pulse. She moved her fingers across his thick neck, trying to find even the
faint hint of life, but it wasn’t there.
Jane shoved her
hand into the pocket of her jeans and yanked out her phone.
911. Must call
Police, or Fire Department?” The voice of the 911 operator was steady, solid.
“Where are you
Jane gave the
operator the address of the Crawford home.
“An ambulance will
be right there. Can you stay on the line with me?”
“No, I can’t. I’ve
got to call his wife.”
We’ll be right there.”
Jane ended the
call and began scrolling through her phone for Pamela’s number.
Pamela could be at
the gym right now, or at the salon, or with the board of directors dealing with
the business. She could be anywhere.
Jane found their
daughter Phoebe Crawford’s number first and hit send.
“This is Phoebe.”
Her voice was rough like she had just woken up.
“Phoebe, it’s Jane
Adler. I’m at your parents’ house and your dad—” Jane’s voice broke, but she
took a deep breath and continued, “I called the ambulance. I think it was
another heart attack. Can you get here?”
“Slow down, what?”
“I’m at the house,
and I think your dad has had another heart attack. The ambulance is on its way.
Can you make it over here? Do you know where your mom is?” How did Phoebe not
understand? Jane walked to the window to watch for the ambulance. Her knees
felt like water.
Phoebe yawned on
the other end. “That’s awful,” she said. “I had a rough one last night. Call me
when he’s at the hospital and I’ll be right there, okay?”