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Authors: Traci Tyne Hilton

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BOOK: Good, Clean Murder
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“But I’m just the
cleaner…you need to be here. Or your mom.”

“Oh, you’re
that
Jane. I wondered who this was. Call me when you know what hospital he is at and
I will meet him there, okay? It’s just another heart thing. He’ll be fine.”

“I don’t think
he’s going to be fine.” Jane saw the ambulance turn the corner, its lights
spinning and siren blaring. A fire truck was right behind it.

“Okay, so call me
later.” Phoebe yawned again and hung up.

Jane pressed her
lips together.

Bob was definitely
not fine.

She needed to call
Pamela. She scrolled through her numbers again but didn’t see it. Bob’s cell.
Phoebe’s cell. Jake’s cell. Even Pamela’s sister-in-law’s number.

The ambulance
pulled into the driveway.

Jane ran down the
stairs to let them in. She threw open the door and directed two paramedics up
the stairs. “The door at the end of the hall!” she hollered as they passed.

Jane followed
them, with another paramedic right behind her. She reached the room just in
time to see one of the men grab Bob by his feet.

Another man
grabbed Bob’s shoulders. Together the paramedics pulled him to the ground.

Bob landed with a
thud. Jane’s stomach twisted at the sound.

The man at Bob’s
shoulders grabbed the neck of the tank top and ripped it down the middle. He
began chest compressions, counting in a low voice.

The woman who had
followed Jane pulled out the defibrillator. 

Maybe Phoebe was
right. Maybe they could start his heart again. The paramedics stuck wires at
his chest and hip, and then applied the charge.

The man who had
ripped Bob’s shirt attached an oxygen mask.

“How did you find
him?” The third paramedic asked. She had been busy pulling things out of her
medical bag and handing them to the two who were performing CPR.

Jane jumped. She
hadn’t been expecting a question. “I just, I opened the door and went to strip
the bed and there he was. He didn’t look right so I checked for a pulse.”

The paramedic
nodded, encouraging her to continue.

Jane shook her
head. “There wasn’t one so I called 911. Is he going to be okay?”

The paramedic
tilted her head, her mouth in a small frown.

Jane looked back
at her phone and scrolled through the numbers. She needed to find Pamela
Crawford. Now. She went through them all three times, the numbers and names
swimming. She closed her eyes and pressed the heel of her hand over one eye.
She counted to three. She opened her eyes and scrolled through one more time,
slowly.

“Pamela’s mobile.”
Under P, instead of C with the rest of the Crawfords.

Jane hit send.

The paramedic on
his knees looked up at his partner and shook his head. The partner pulled out a
cell phone.

A phone rang in
the master bathroom.

The woman who had
spoken with Jane put her hand on Jane’s back. “Would you like to answer that
call?”

Jane held out the
phone in her hand and pointed at her Bluetooth headset. “I’m trying to get a
hold of Bob’s wife.”

The paramedic
nodded and went back to work.

When Jane’s call
went to voice mail, she hung up. What message could she leave Pamela? Thirty
years of wedded bliss were likely over?

The phone in the
master bath had stopped ringing, but Jane thought she’d check it. Maybe Pamela
had been trying to call Bob, trying to find out where he was.

Everything went in
slow motion as she moved to the bathroom. The doorknob clicked as it turned, as
though it needed to be oiled. The door caught on the threshold as she pushed it
in. She scrubbed that floor every Friday and could feel, in her fingers,
exactly how much higher the bathroom tile was from the bedroom floor.

The voices behind
her sounded like they had gone into slow motion as well. One voice said, “Get
the declaration of death,” but the words went on forever.

Jane pushed
against the doorknob, but it stopped against something. She pushed harder. It
seemed to be hitting something that had a little give, but couldn’t be pushed
out of the way just by opening the door.

She put her
shoulder to the door but couldn’t bring herself to shove it open.

Bob was dead.

The paramedic who
had spoken with Jane put her arm around Jane again and led her from the door.
“It’s been quite a morning for you. Sit down.” She led Jane to a large wingback
chair by the window. “You might be in a bit of shock. Just relax, and keep
breathing, okay?”

Jane looked at the
paramedic. They were about the same age. They had the same brown hair in the
same ponytail, at the middle of the back of their heads. Jane nodded, and then
closed her eyes.

The conversation
of the paramedics was like a low throb around her. She couldn’t follow it. She
could hear the words
declaration of death
repeating in her head like
they were still being said. Would she have to tell Pamela, Phoebe and Jake that
Bob Crawford was at a funeral home?

“Hey guys, look at
this.” An urgent voice rose above the murmuring.

Jane opened her
eyes. They had gotten the door to the bathroom opened a little farther and the
paramedics were squeezing themselves through the gap.

The noise of their
conversation rose louder and louder.

She heard someone
say, “Get the coroner here.”

Another voice
said, “Look at the bruising on her wrists. Go check the other body for
bruising.”

Jane sat as still
as she could, but all of a sudden she couldn’t catch her breath.

She leaned forward
in her chair, letting her head drop. With her head between her knees, she held
her breath and counted to three. Then she exhaled. She repeated it until her
heart seemed to calm down. She hadn’t noticed that her arms had been shaking
until after they had stopped. When her whole body felt still, she stood up.

She took one more
slow, deep, breath, and walked to the bathroom. The door was open several
inches, but she didn’t try to push her way in. She peered through the opening
instead.

Pamela Crawford, a
woman almost as large as her husband, lay crumpled on the bathroom floor, her
face red and bloated.

One of the
paramedics held her wrist in his hand. He looked at the other and shook his
head
no.

The female
paramedic looked at the other two. “I’ll get her out of here.” Jane watched her
mouth say the words, but her voice was almost silent.

“Jane, right?” she
asked.

Jane nodded.

“Why don’t you
come downstairs with me?”

They walked
downstairs and into the kitchen.

“Why don’t you sit
down while we wait for the police? They shouldn’t take long to get here.”

Jane sat down.

“You’ve had a
shock. Will you be able to take the rest of the day off?” The paramedic had a
sympathetic look on her face.

“Yes, I think I
can.” Jane looked at her hands. She had her phone in a white-knuckled grip.

“Then why don’t
you arrange that, okay? I need to get back upstairs.” The paramedic didn’t move
or break eye contact.

Jane nodded and
stared at the phone in her hand. She could call her next two clients and tell
them what had happened. It was just two calls, but they were both friends of
Bob and Pamela. What could she say to them?

“I should be here,
for the family. I should change the linens and put the laundry in and make
lunch.”

The paramedic
shook her head. “We’re just gonna leave things the way they are for a little
while, okay? Until we know what’s been going on.”

Jane pressed her
fist into her knee and took a deep breath. “But it was just a heart attack,
right?”

The paramedic
nodded, “It looks like Bob may have had a heart attack, and Pamela as well. We
wouldn’t expect to find both of them on the same morning. The officers should
be here any minute. Sit tight, okay?”

Jane listened for
the sound of distant sirens. She let go of her phone and smoothed out her
apron.

The paramedic
tapped the table with her knuckles and lifted an eyebrow. “You okay down here?”

Jane nodded and
the paramedic ran back upstairs, taking them two at a time.

“Blessed are those
who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” Jane began the beatitudes where she
had left off, in the faint hope of keeping her panic at bay.

A sharp knock on
the door interrupted her.

 

Jane stumbled off her stool to answer
the door. Two police officers stood at the door. Relief washed over Jane. She
led them upstairs.

The officers and
the paramedics exchanged information and then the paramedics left.

“The coroner is on
his way. Let’s talk to the housekeeper.” The two officers were speaking to each
other as if she wasn’t standing behind them.

She took a step
backwards, bumping against the linen closet door.

One of the
officers, a woman about the same age as Jane’s mom turned first. “Whoops!” She
almost bumped into Jane. “Didn’t realize you were back there. Why don’t you
come downstairs and we can talk.”

Jane took a deep
breath, and held it a little bit. Then she nodded and walked down the stairs.

“I’m Officer
Hanson. Don’t be afraid, sweetie, just tell us what happened this morning.”

Jane pressed her
lips together for a moment. Then she told the officer how she found Bob.

Officer Hanson
nodded. “You didn’t look at the bed before you pulled the sheets off?”

“No, I didn’t. It
wasn’t conscious or anything. I just walked in, grabbed the ends of the
blankets and pulled. When I noticed that Bob was in bed, first I left the room,
then I thought he looked bad. He just had a heart attack less than a year ago,
so that’s what I thought might have happened. I checked his pulse and then
called 911.”

Officer Hanson was
taking notes while Jane spoke. Jane hoped she was making sense.

“When did you find
Pamela?”

Jane shook her
head, “I didn’t find her. I wanted to open the bathroom door to answer a phone
that was ringing and I couldn’t get it open.”

Officer Hanson
nodded and noted it on the paper.

“Then the
paramedics got the door open and found her.”

“While you were
working this morning, did you see anything else unusual that you think we
should know?”

Hanson’s tone was
warm and encouraging. “Nothing was ready for me, no instructions, the paper was
still in the box. It was just kind of an unusual morning.” Thinking the news
about Roly Burgers might be important Jane grabbed the newspaper from the desk.

“I also saw this
today.” She unfolded the newspaper and handed it to Hanson.

Officer Hanson
furrowed her brows. “I see.” She put her notepad on top of the newspaper and
made another note. “Thank you.” She didn’t look up from the notebook.

Jane shifted on
her feet. Maybe she shouldn’t have brought up the article, but Hanson had asked
if anything unusual had occurred. “That was it though, nothing else out of the
ordinary.”

Hanson looked up
and smiled a sort-of-reassuring half smile. “Thank you, Jane. You are free to
go.”

Part of her wanted
to bolt, right there. She could run home and go straight back to bed and forget
this morning ever happened.

“But don’t they
need me to do something?” She stumbled over her words. Who would need her right
now? Maybe Phoebe would.

“No, honey, it’s
okay.” Officer Hanson nodded at Jane and then clicked on her walkie.

Jane walked slowly
to the door, trying not to listen to the officer. She was talking about the
coroner and time of death.

Jane let herself
out and stood on the front doorstep. Her cleaning caddy was still in the house,
but standing on the step in the sunshine, Jane did not want to go back in and
get it.

Once home Jane
wanted to curl up and disappear, but it was almost an impossibility in her tiny
apartment. The one bedroom belonged to her suitemate, Sam, as Sam had rented
the apartment first. The rest of the tiny living quarters were divided in half
by a breakfast bar that separated the “living room” from the kitchen.

The living room
consisted of Jane’s futon, a Japanese paper screen that opened up to become
Jane’s bedroom wall, a TV, and piles of junk that Sam needed for her graduate
studies at the school of design.

Cramped, messy,
and lacking privacy as it was, at least it was quiet for the moment. The room
was gray from the light that filtered through the Venetian blinds. Jane watched
the dust motes dance above her bed. She unfolded her screen and lay down on her
futon.

The Crawford house
had been her second of the day. She had been up since five in the morning. She
closed her eyes hoping to get some rest but sleep failed her. Her mind whirled.
Dead boss. Dead friend. Phoebe and Jake. Who would tell them? How would she pay
for her school fees this evening? Would Sam get soy milk? How much longer would
she have to live with Sam? Her old family friends were dead.

She rolled over
and buried her face in her pillow. She would have to call her parents and tell
them. What would they say? Would they come out for the funeral? Her heart
fluttered. She would love for her parents to come out for the funeral. They
would feed her and stay with her and keep her from being so lonely.

No, they couldn’t
stay with her. Not in Sam’s apartment. Bible school would be over on the 25
th
.
After that she could pack up, move to Phoenix, and start fundraising. She could
get out of Portland. Just four more months of cleaning, school, and sharing a
one-bedroom apartment.

Her racing mind
began to calm at the thought. She could do anything for just four more months.
Eventually, she was able to fall asleep.

That evening, on
the long drive out to school, Jane turned over the morning’s events. The police
had come to the house. They had talked about the coroner. The paramedic had
said finding both Bob and Pamela dead was something they wouldn’t expect. All
in all, the professionals made it sound like murder. A finger of fear traced
Jane’s spine.

It was absurd.
Preposterous. She respected and admired the Crawfords, but there was no denying
that they were in poor health. Sure, they were only in their 60s, but they were
both overweight and on medication. Jane thought she must cap and re-shelve at
least six prescription bottles every time she cleaned their bathroom. Their
hearts were heavily taxed.

Jane tried to
picture the scene as it might have happened: Bob and Pamela chatting in the
morning, Bob in bed, Pamela getting dressed. Then Bob clutches his chest and
groans. Maybe he sputters. Maybe his face gets red. Heart attack stuff. Pamela
would recognize it from last time. She’d try and help, maybe do CPR and then
run to find her phone. She had her phone on her when they found her. What if
fear and stress of the moment gave her a heart attack? It seemed possible.

A sigh of relief
escaped. The cops would have checked Pamela’s phone by now. They would have
seen that she had started to dial 911. Maybe she had only gotten the 9 and the
1 dialed…that had to be it. The coroner would see that it was a sad
coincidence, but that was all.

Murder?
Preposterous.

Harvest School of
the Bible was an hour out of town. By the time Jane arrived she felt in control
again. The shock of the death scene had been replaced by a kind of melancholy
for the family, and, if she admitted it, a little bit of panic nipped at her
over the issue of the school fees she needed to pay. The school would have to
understand, and the family would pay her as soon as they got their bearings.
She’d just have to be patient and trust God.

Jane snaked her
way up the curvy hill to her school. Her little car quivered with its last
ounce of energy, but Jane prayed it to the top.

The school was
nestled into a flat spot midway up a hill, overlooking rolling hills of
vineyards. Supposedly the hillsides were facing the sun in such a way that they
produced award-winning harvests.

Jane pulled up the
ebrake. She looked at the little church building with the three-story dormitory
behind it. Perhaps this place, which faced the
Son
, would also produce a
good harvest.

Dusk was falling
and the dorm windows began to spark to life as lights were switched on for the
evening. To pay for school, Jane had to work. To work, she had to be in town
early in the morning. She needed to work to pay for school, but she could not
live in the dorms and still maintain a solid work schedule. She was this year’s
lone commuter student, but it would be worth it. Community College would have
been cheaper, but she wanted—needed—Bible training, not poly-sci and biology.

Classes met in the
basement of the church. All of the administration happened in the ground floor
of the dorms. Jane crunched her way across the gravel parking lot to the dorms.
She filled her lungs with the fresh, clean air of the spring evening, always a
welcome contrast to days filled with the chemical scents of ammonia, bleach,
and polish.

The building the
students used as a dorm had once been a tubercular hospital. It was over one-hundred-years
old now, a petite three-story concrete and cast-iron building. In years gone by
it had been the last place of refuge for hopeless cases. The church building
across the parking lot had been drastically remodeled from what it had been
when it was the chapel for the hospital, but Jane liked to think that hopeless
cases could still come here for healing.

She pushed open
the heavy glass doors and trudged to the office. She knew she wasn’t the first
student to take only night classes and finish a certificate in two years
instead of taking the full-time nine-month program, and surely she wasn’t the
only student to run out of money right at the end. All she needed were books
and tuition for her last class. The Crawford paycheck would be enough…when it
came.

Glenda, the
administrative secretary, was at her desk. Her hair was pulled back in a high
bun, stabbed through with a pencil. She had dark circles under her eyes and her
glasses were low on her nose.

“Yes?” Glenda’s
voice was raspy like she was coming down with something.

Jane cleared her
throat. She looked down at her hands.

“You’re wanting
your books, aren’t you? I don’t think they are in yet. Something about the
class change. I got the old order stopped in time but I haven’t gotten the new
ones yet. You are here for class tonight, right?”

Jane nodded. Class
change? No books? She wasn’t sure if she should praise God for this or not.
“What do you mean, ‘the class change’?” Her schedule had been arranged so
carefully. This last class was required for her certificate.

“Donald had to go
back East. Something about a crisis at the Debriefing House. We had to cancel
Reverse Culture Shock, but the new class should be really good.”

“Don’t I need
Reverse Culture Shock? I mean, it was required, right?” Jane ran the course
requirements through her mind. She was sure RCS was a requirement for the
Overseas Ministry Certificate.

Glenda prodded her
glasses with her knuckle and looked up. “We can’t offer it again until summer,
but this class is good, you’ll like it.”

“But what about
graduation and the certificate?”

Glenda took a deep
breath. “Can I be honest, Jane? You live out in the real world and have a job,
so I think you can appreciate this.”

Jane swallowed.

“The certificate
is just a piece of paper. We give one to everyone at the end of the program.
You’ll get a certificate. If you want to take Donald’s class you can take it in
the summer.”

“I know it’s just
a piece of paper, but I want to go overseas, so I want to be trained…”
The
piece of paper didn’t matter?
Jane’s knees felt weak. Two years of hard
work scrubbing floors and studying late and the piece of paper didn’t matter?

“You’ve been
trained well. Don’t worry. People know us. You apply where God calls you and
they will know that you know your Bible.” Glenda looked sorry, like she hadn’t
meant to let out the secret. “Why don’t you head to class? I promise it’s a
good one. You’ll be glad you took it.”

“But what is it?”

“Oh, I don’t know
Jane, just go to class.”

“Man plans and God
laughs,” Jane muttered. It should be the school motto.

She schleped
herself back across the parking lot and to the classroom. Things like only
having one classroom were on the list of reasons her parents told her not to
waste her time at Harvest.

When she had
signed on for a nine-month program designed to prepare her for overseas
ministry it hadn’t seemed like a waste of time. Two years into it…she still
wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a waste. God doesn’t waste time, but it had
gone on longer and been a different experience than she had imagined.

She settled into a
chair in the middle of the room. She set her aging laptop on the desk. The
classroom had felt cavernous on the day of her first class. Eighty odd students
had poured into the classroom that day. She was the only one who didn’t live in
the dorms, didn’t eat in the dining hall, and didn’t already know everyone. It
had been a lonely first day.

Now the room was familiar,
from the dark patches of night sky that peeked in through the casement windows
to the musty basement smell of damp concrete. The students were familiar as
well. She watched them trickle in. She knew them, but only a little. She had
invested in last year’s class, not realizing how much she would miss the
friends she had made in her first year of school—how hard it would be to care
about the next set of students.

BOOK: Good, Clean Murder
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