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Authors: Traci Tyne Hilton

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BOOK: Good, Clean Murder
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Jane stared ahead
at the black metal music stand that stood on the small stage and served as a
podium. A white screen was pulled down against the back wall and an overhead
projector on a rolling cart was pushed next to the music stand.

A small mob of
teenage girls clattered into the room. They giggled as one of their number
pantomimed. Jane watched. It looked like an impression of their last guest
speaker, a retired missionary from Nepal. Jane turned back to her computer.

Eventually the
room filled up. Sarah, the one girl Jane felt a real connection with, took a
seat next to her.

“Who do you think
our new lecturer will be?” Sarah asked.

“I guess it
depends on what the topic is.” Jane created a new folder for notes on this
lecture series.

“Yeah. If it’s
another straight exposition class it will probably be Dr. Maxwell again.”

“It’s just a filler
class, isn’t it?” Jane rested her chin on her hand.

“Exposition isn’t
just filler.” Sarah set a notebook on the table and opened to a fresh page. “Is
something wrong?”

Jane let out a
slow breath and nodded. “You know Bob and Pamela Crawford?”

Sarah frowned. “I
don’t think so.”

“I clean for them,
but…” Her voice trailed off. She tried again, “But this morning, when I was at
their house I found them…they were dead.”

“What?” Sarah’s
voice rose over the din in the room. Everything went silent.

“What happened?”
The girl who had been miming sat down on the edge of the table.

“This morning when
I was working, I found my clients. They were…dead.” Jane pressed her lips
together. She didn’t want to have a discussion about this with Mina. If Mina
would mock a retired missionary with Parkinson’s she would make a field day out
of a dead hamburger baron.

“Oooh!” Mina said.

Jane assumed Mina
was going to follow that noise with a wisecrack, but Mina had turned her head
to the front door. The new instructor had entered.

Jane immediately
noticed his dimples. How could he possibly smile like that today? Of course, he
didn’t know about the deaths. He wasn’t the one who had spent the morning with
the paramedics and the cops.

The new instructor
looked young, but not baby-faced. He had a serious case of five o’clock shadow
but he wore Buddy Holly glasses like everyone Jane’s age did.

Mina got up from
the table and sauntered over. “Hey, there.” She put a little southern honey
into her voice, though she was from Oregon, just like Jane.

The instructor
nodded at her but walked to the front of the class. He dumped his briefcase on
the desk closest to the projector and cleared his throat. He was still smiling,
and still dimpling.

“Good evening.
Welcome to Ministry to Hurting Families. I’m Isaac Daniels and I’ll be your
course instructor.” He looked at his papers while he spoke. When he looked up
he shoved his glasses up on his nose and cleared his throat. “I’m all but phud
over at Western. I work mostly with theology and the postmodern mind, but I
have quite a bit of practical ministry training as well. So, that’s me. To
start off class I’d like to learn a little bit about you. Let’s go around the
room and say our names. Since this is a class about family ministry, tell me
two things about your family as well.”

Jane slumped in
her chair.
Say your name? Tell me two things about your family?
This was
her last term in Bible school. She was supposed to be learning how to handle
return-culture shock in preparation for her future as a long-term missionary.
This was not youth group.

Eighty-five eighteen
and nineteen-year-olds hemmed and hawed and coughed into their fists. Isaac
Daniels pulled up a stool and sat on it. He rested his feet on the rung. “We’ll
start with you.” He nodded at the person directly in front of him.

He nodded his way
around the classroom, eventually reaching Jane. He nodded at her, and she
thought, smiled a little more.

“I’m Jane. I’m an
only child. My parents live in Phoenix.”

“Great to meet
you, Jane.” Next, Isaac nodded at Sarah, who followed suit.

Great to meet
you, Jane.
She watched Isaac watching the next student, only, if she wasn’t
imagining things, he kept stealing looks at her. Did she have something in her
teeth? She felt her cheeks flush with heat. He did not say "great to meet
you" to anyone else, before or after her, so, if he was looking, it wasn’t
at something stuck in her teeth. She stared at her computer screen and avoided
making eye contact.

Isaac reached the
end of the classroom. “Great to meet you all,” he said. Jane did not take her
eyes off her computer screen. “Now for announcements.”

Jane couldn’t
suppress the yawn. The new lecturer waded through a list of school and dorm
life-related news. She had a hard time caring about the Spring Showcase, since
her own parents weren’t likely to fly to town for it, or the youth group
speaking tour, since she had to work and couldn’t go on it.

One announcement
did catch her attention, though. The Next Steps Mini-Missions Fair was coming
up on Saturday. Last year’s fair had been a real eye-opener. She had attended
as a learner—listening, praying, taking notes. This year she would get to
attend as an applicant actively seeking an organization to partner with. It was
a relief to think that the organizations that would send representatives to the
Harvest School of the Bible Mini-Missions Fair would also be organizations that
wanted to partner with Harvest graduates.

While her mind had
wandered back to the people she hoped to meet on Saturday, Isaac Daniels had
begun his lecture on families. It buzzed like television static in her ears.

The Crawfords were
a hurting family. They could use someone to minister to them now. She tried to
tune in to what Mr. Daniel’s was saying, but her mind kept ticking away at
things the Crawfords could use.

Isaac Daniels
caught her eye twice while she tried to avoid his. Once, he was frowning. She
looked at her screen. Could he see her to-do list?

The class dragged
on until the old clock in the hall rang nine. Jane stifled a yawn. The
instructor was still talking as Jane shut down her laptop. She opened her bag
and stuffed it inside with her notebook. Sarah jabbed her in the side with her
elbow. “Earth to Jane.”

Jane looked up.
Sarah was pointing at Mr. Daniels. He was watching her, one eyebrow cocked.

“I’m sorry, yes?”

“I asked if you
had to head out early.”

“No, not early.”
Jane looked around. Several of her classmates were smirking. One was laughing.

Jane sighed. “I’m
sorry, I’ve missed the joke.”

Isaac looked at
his watch. “We’ve got another hour of class.”

Jane closed her
eyes.
Hadn’t the clock just struck nine?
Did she really have to sit here
for another hour?

“I think this is a
good time for a break. All right everyone, make it back to your seat somehow in
ten minutes.”

Jane laid her head
on her desk.

Isaac Daniels
walked down the aisle and sat on the desk next to her. “You look tired. Are you
all right?”

“It’s been a very
long day.” Jane didn’t have to fake the yawn after that sentence.

Mr. Daniels wore
khakis and a golf shirt with a sports jacket over it, but he had the look of
someone wearing his dad’s clothes, like they made him uncomfortable. She let
her eyes linger on his hands—they were tan and rough. He wore a silver ring on
his right hand and it was scuffed and worn looking.

“Do you want to
talk about it?”

Jane recognized
his question from the ‘get permission to get involved’ section of the lecture.
She looked up from his hand. Did she want to give him permission to get
involved? His hazel eyes looked kind. His head was tilted to the side just a
bit and it looked like he was really concerned.

Jane realized she
must look terrible to elicit that kind of concern from a teacher. She ran her
fingers through her hair, an instinctive reaction to the idea that she was a
wreck. Could she tell him what happened without crying? She took a deep breath.

“Yeah,” she said.
“I can tell you about it, but it might take more than ten minutes.” She managed
a weak smile.

The corners of his
mouth turned down with concern.

“This morning at
work—I clean houses—I…” She glanced over the instructor’s shoulder and saw the
gaggle of girls staring at her. One of them winked. Jane sighed. “I found the
bodies of my clients. It may have been murder.”

“No way.” Mr.
Daniels rocked back a little. He shook his head and tried to compose himself.
“Murder…that’s not what I expected to hear. Tired, yes. Hardworking, yes.
Something serious, maybe, since you actually have a life off this campus, but
murder? Wow.” Isaac leaned forward again. “What did you do?”

“I called 911. I
mean, I found my boss dead, but it looked like a heart attack. Then I called
911. The ambulance came and the paramedics found his wife. They said it looked
suspicious because they were both dead.” She looked over his shoulder again and
frowned. Hannah Martin, another pastor’s kid, made a kissy face at her.

“Do they have any
children?”

She pulled her
eyes back to her teacher. “Yeah, but they are my age, in their twenties.”

“That’s too early
to lose your parents.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“Have you
experienced that too?”

Jane thought his
voice cracked.

“No, not like
that. They just moved to Phoenix, but you know, when you are on your own you
grow up fast.”

Isaac nodded.
“True that.” He took a deep breath and looked at his watch. “I think you have a
real opportunity to be Jesus to these guys. Do you have the time to invest in
the family a little bit?”

“Maybe.” Jane
clicked through her schedule. Three houses on Monday plus class. Three houses
on Tuesday, two on Wednesday, plus class, one on Thursday, and two on Friday.
She had a little room in her schedule, if she put off studying until night.

“If you can, make
yourself available to the kids. This is a real crisis for them and knowing they
have someone they can call on to help will be invaluable.”

“I can certainly
keep their house clean while they sort things out for themselves.”

“You can do more
than that. They may need to talk to someone that they feel isn’t connected to
family. Be available to listen. I’m sure you are up to taking care of the
practical stuff, but make sure your heart is ready for the other stuff too.”
Mr. Daniels looked over her shoulder for a second, then continued, his voice
low. “There may be a lot of dumping going on, since they are your peers. That’s
what this class is about, though, how to be Jesus in the lives of families in
crisis.” He caught her eye again while he spoke. “You were supposed to have a
class on reverse culture shock, right?”

“Yeah.”

“But that won’t be
useful until you come back from your first overseas trip, and by then you would
be in reverse culture shock so you wouldn’t be of much use counseling
yourself.”

“And since this
school program is worthless…”

“What?”

“I mean the
certificate is meaningless.” Jane leaned her chin on her fist again. The
thought of being a dumping ground for Jake and Phoebe’s issues made her tired.

“But what is
meaningless, really? A certificate from Harvest means you were serious about
studying the Bible and cross-cultural engagement. It might not be necessary,
but it’s not meaningless.”

Jane closed her
eyes. Not necessary. Weren’t those the exact words her parents used when they
told her not to waste her time here?

“If you do go into
fulltime ministry this won’t be your last family in crisis.” Isaac looked like
he had more to say but the class began to filter back in. “You can head home,
if you need to. You can get the rest of the notes from another student.”

Jane shook her
head. “I’ve got a family in crisis on my hands. I guess I’d better stay here.”

Mr. Daniel’s
offered a sad smile. His eyes were still thoughtful, but he walked to his
podium with a lighter step, and when his lecture started up again he was much
more animated.

 

Jane had to wait
until Wednesday to hear how the Crawfords were doing. By the time she reached
their house she was itching to serve them—and to get paid. She tried to keep
her financial needs in the back of her mind. God had taken care of her issue
with the schoolbooks. He was sure to have a plan for her student fees and rent
as well. As for lunch…her stomach grumbled. She could figure something out for
lunch. Dinner might be an issue though.

Jane pushed the
vacuum around the front hall of the Crawford house. The morning light showed
gray through the windows, but Jane didn’t want to turn on all of the lights. It
felt disrespectful in a house of mourning.

She shivered in
her hoodie. She had turned on the furnace when she arrived, but it had yet to
warm the house. It had clanked into life eventually and the dusty warm smell of
the furnace waking up after a break had already filled the room, so she had
hope she would be warm soon.

Like last week,
all was quiet. There was no sign of police and no indication that she shouldn’t
be there. She clicked her machine off. What if her guess was wrong? This could
still be a crime scene.

Jane drummed her
fingers on the handle of the Crawfords’ Dyson. How should she go about this?
Did she need to call the police to find out if being here was okay? Or could
she call someone in the family?

Phoebe came to
mind. She lived nearby and had answered the phone last time. Of course, she
hadn’t been up yet, and there was a good chance that was the case this time
too.

Footsteps on the
stairs shook Jane out of her reverie. Jake was home. His sandy brown hair stood
up on end and he had a two-day growth of blond bristles on his thin face. His
short bathrobe was open, revealing his skinny chest and boxer shorts.

Jane’s face heated
up and she turned away.

Jake shuffled into
the front hall. “Oh. Hey, Jane.” He yawned and stretched his arms over head.

Jane tried not to
stare at his fuzzy chest.

“Is there coffee
on?”

“No, sorry. I
didn’t know anyone was in.”

Jake shrugged.
“I’ll make it then.” He shuffled off into the kitchen.

Jane turned her
vacuum back on. By the time she had finished the rugs in the hall the scent of
coffee filled the room.

Jane wrapped the
cord of the vacuum and pushed it into the kitchen. “How are you holding up?”

Jake pushed a cup
of coffee across the kitchen island. “I thought you’d never get in here. Who does
the cooking now?”

Jane’s eyebrows
flew up. “Pardon?”

“When I was here
over Christmas that lady…Dorothy? She did the cooking. Does she always do
that?”

“No…I think your
mom does the cooking.” Jane dropped her eyes. “Did the cooking.”

“Not likely. Maybe
they just ate out all the time. Is there any food in the house?”

Jake stood in
front of the refrigerator.

Jane frowned. “I
really don’t know. When did you get here?”

“Last night, well,
this morning, I think. Around three. I’m starving. Let’s go get some breakfast.”

“I, uh…” Jane was
at a loss for words.

“I
will
put
clothes on first.” Jake stretched his shoulders back and patted himself on his
firm stomach.

“I can’t leave. I
have a ton of work to do.”

“Do it when we get
back. Aren’t you starving? You’re skin and bones.”

Jane preferred
petite, or slender, but he had a point. Scant wages and high rent kept her on
the skin and bones side. And, like always, she was hungry.

“Come eat, then
come back and work. How hard is it to clean an empty house? It’s not like
anyone used the place in the last few days.”

But…Jane
thought…they had. At least the police had used it. It didn’t look like Jake had
any better idea about whether they should be there or not than she did, but a
free meal was a free meal, even if she had already eaten her half-bowl of
crisped rice cereal. “Let me just put this away.”

“Good girl.” Jake
and his coffee cup ambled out of the kitchen.

Breakfast would be
a good chance to learn how she could best serve the Crawford kids. And to find
out if she would get paid.

Jane closeted her
vacuum. She stuffed her cleaning smock into her caddy. It was too late to find
something cute to wear, but she could at least put a little lip-gloss on and
run a brush through her hair. She stepped into the powder room. She noted the
dark shadows under her eyes and her pale skin but decided it was caused by the
fluorescent bulbs. She pulled the kerchief off of her head and tried to make
something nice out of the ponytail. At least this was her first house on
Wednesdays so  she wasn’t a sweaty mess already.

When she stepped
out of the powder room Jake was waiting by the door. He was dressed, but looked
worse than she did.

He looked her up
and down. “You definitely need to eat. Don’t they feed you anymore?”

She didn’t have an
answer so she followed him out in silence. He went straight to her Rabbit.

“Can you drive?
The guys dropped me off last night. We can go get my car and then eat.”

“You could have
just asked. I would have driven you to get your car.”

He got in the
passenger seat. “Whatever. We need to eat anyway.”

Jane sat in the
driver’s seat with her hands on the wheel.

Jake reclined his
seat. He closed his eyes and stretched an arm over his face.

“And where are we
going?” Jane asked.

Jake lifted his
arm an inch. He yawned. “Do you know where corporate offices are?”

“Aren’t they in Maywood?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

She took his
mumble as a “yes” and headed for Maywood. It looked like she’d have to wait for
him to wake up a little before she asked about getting paid.

The Crawford
Family Restaurant Corporation offices were behind their original restaurant, in
downtown Maywood, a small town on the outskirts of Portland. The downtown
consisted of Main Street and the streets two blocks to the north and south of Main.
It stretched about three miles long and was generally more charming cottage
business than financial district, though one or two of those kinds of
businesses had survived the generations.

Roly Burger was
just north of Main. Jane parked around back.

When the car
stopped Jake stretched up and yawned again. “Thanks a million Jane. Run
upstairs and I’ll bring you some breakfast.”

Jane let her hand
rest on the stick shift. She was tempted to say thanks but no thanks, but the
gnawing in her stomach swayed her opinion. She had no confidence in Jake’s
ability to or interest in paying her. Or his grasp of the concept that people
worked for money.

She hiked
upstairs.

A receptionist, or
admin assistant, or someone along those lines sat behind a small desk in front
of the door. Bob Crawford’s sister-in-law Marjory stood beside her.

Jane slid in and
took a seat. The office was warm, and the smell of bacon-breakfast-sandwiches
wafted up from the restaurant. Jane took a deep breath. It smelled like home.

Marjory, six feet
tall in heels, was an imposing figure. She looked over the top of her horn
rimmed reading glasses at Jane. She narrowed her eyes. “Aren’t you that Adler
girl?”

Jane flinched.
“Ummm, yes.”

“Your parents had
a couple of locations of Roly Burgers, right? That one out in the country and
the other one on the East side?”

“Their franchise
had three locations. Two outside of town and the one on the Eastside.”

“Hmmmph.” Marjory
turned back to the lady at the desk. “Let’s finish this up later today, all
right?”

The admin frowned
at her computer screen. “I need to get the statement off to the franchisers as
soon as possible, don’t I?”

Marjory glanced at
Jane and shook her head.

“What do you
need?”

“I’m waiting for
Jake.”

“Ahhhh.” Marjory
let out an annoyed sigh. “You went to Presbyterian Prep with him, didn’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Marjory raised an
eyebrow. “This is an early date.” Marjory turned her eyes to the front window.
“Getting breakfast?”

Jane didn’t like
what Marjory’s tone implied. “Jake needed to pick up his car. I was at the
house anyway so I gave him a ride.”

“Oh?”

It was getting
worse. Jane stammered and closed her mouth.

“Did you stay
over, then? And his parents dead just a few days.”

“Ma’am. I’m the
cleaner. I come Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”

Marjory raised an
eyebrow. “Oh, yes. I remember Pam saying that the Adler girl cleans houses.
You’re not still coming are you?”

Jane opened her
mouth to speak but Marjory didn’t give her a chance.

“Oh I suppose she
set up auto pay. Well you’d better keep coming then until the estate is settled.
I don’t want to be paying you for nothing.”

Jane stood up.
“Ma’am, the thing is…”

Marjory held her
hand up, “Not now, please. We are a family in crisis. I really don’t have time
for whatever problems the housecleaner has.” She turned from Jane, and let
herself into the office marked “Bob Crawford.”

Jane sat down
again.

Jake burst through
the office door. “Aunt.” He kissed Marjory on the cheek.

Marjory frowned.

Jake dropped a
to-go bag on Jane’s lap. “Thanks, Janey. You’re a real sport.”

Jane gripped the
top of the paper bag in her fist.

“Whatcha doing
tonight?”

“I’ve got class.”
The warm, familiar aroma of the Roly Burger breakfast sandwich sent Jane’s
hunger into hyperdrive. All she wanted to do was slip away and eat.

Jake snorted.
“Have fun with that then.” He opened the door and let himself back out again.

Jane followed him.
“Wait a second, Jake.”

“Yeah?” He smiled,
one dimple popping in his cheek.

“Marjory said
something about me cleaning until the estate is sorted out. Because of auto
pay—but I’m not on auto pay and I really need my last paycheck. Err, cash. Your
mom always paid cash.”

Jake frowned. He
narrowed his eyes. “Is that so? She always paid cash?”

Jane nodded. “I’m
sorry. I don’t mean to be a bother, it’s just that my budget is tight and every
little bit makes a big difference.”

Jake looked at his
watch. “Sorry. Auntie Marge is right. You’re just going to have to wait until
the estate is sorted out.” He looked up and smiled, but not with his eyes. “I
wouldn’t quit cleaning if I were you. It would make your case for another
‘cash’ payment pretty hard.”

Jane crossed her
arms. “And if I quit you’d have to clean up after yourself.”

Jake’s eyes
relaxed a little. “You got it. Listen, you keep coming and I’ll see what I can
do about getting you paid. Deal?”

“What other choice
do I have?” Getting a new client sounded like a good choice to her. The idea of
serving the family in crisis nagged at the back of her mind. “I’ll do what I
can, okay?”

“You and me both.”
Jake opened the door to his Camaro. “See you around.”

Jane decided to
drive back home to eat her free breakfast.

Sam wasn’t at the
apartment, which was a welcome relief. Jane sat on her bed without putting the
screen up. Her Roly Breakfast Burger and hash brown sticks were cold, but it
still tasted like heaven.

According to
Isaac, God had put her in his class so she could minister to the Crawfords.
According to Marjory she was obliged to clean until the estate was sorted out.
According to Jake she ought to do the cleaning so he wouldn’t have to.

According to her
budget she needed over $500 if she wanted to keep her place in Sam’s apartment,
get her books for class, and continue to eat. She expected $300 from her
clients on Monday, but the Crawfords were her big-ticket family. They paid for
a month of service all at once and paid much more per hour than the others. The
$300 on Monday just wouldn’t cut it.

Jane created a new
flyer for Plain Jane’s Good Clean Houses and printed them out. She’d start
soliciting referrals at her next house. She checked her watch—she had just
enough time to whip up a batch of cookie dough before she left.

When Jane had
cleaned her way down to the main floor of the Larsen house she spooned the
chocolate-chip dough onto the cookie sheets she had brought with her. She would
bake them so that when she left the house it would smell like heaven. Several
of her fliers would be waiting with a tray of fresh-baked cookies. She would
write a little note explaining that she had room in her schedule to add a new
client. She closed the oven door and said a little prayer.

Jane had left a
lot of unfinished work at the Crawfords’ because of the little breakfast run.
If she went to the Crawfords’ house before she hit the laundry mat she would
feel much better about her day. As a bonus, she’d be less likely to run into
Sam getting ready for another night of clubbing.

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