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Authors: Traci Tyne Hilton

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BOOK: Good, Clean Murder
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And she’d leave
Jake a batch of cookies too. Not that anyone he knew was looking for a
housekeeper, but it was a little thing she could do for Jake. And Phoebe, of
course.

Nothing much had
changed at the Crawford house since she had been there on Monday, but she
decided to complete the usual cleaning tasks. When she got to the bedrooms her
heart flipped in her chest. She knew that Bob and Pamela were long gone, but
she knocked on their bedroom door first anyway.

Everything in the
room was the way it had been left on Monday. Her mind raced. Was she allowed in
her yet? Should she call the cops to find out if she could clean? Call Jake to
find out? Just clean anyway and claim ignorance? Maybe Marjory had directions
for her. Her phone was in her pocket as always, so she pulled it out again. Her
fingers trembled as she held it. She should call the cops first. She began to
dial 911, but she didn’t hit send. 911 was the emergency number. What was the
regular police number? She tapped her pointer finger on the screen. She should
just call Marjory. Marjory would know what to do.

Jane scrolled
through the numbers and pulled up Marjory Crawford. “Hello, Marjory?”

“Yes?” There was a
hint of irritation in Marjory’s voice.

“This is Jane
Adler, the housecleaner. I spoke with you this morning. I was just wondering
about the master bedroom. Am I allowed to clean it?”

“Excuse me?” Her
voice was thick with irritation now.

“I just, I mean it
hasn’t been touched since the police were here. Do they want to keep it a crime
scene or something?”

“The room hasn’t
been touched,
Jane
, because you are the housecleaner and you haven’t
touched it. In other words, yes. Do your job.”

Heat rose to
Jane’s face. Marjory had hung up on her. Of course. Cleaning this room was her
job. And just because it was unusual for both Bob and Pamela to die on the same
morning doesn’t mean it was a crime. Jane stuffed the phone in her pocket and
stripped the bed. It looked like her quick stop at the Crawfords’ was laundry
day as well.

She knocked on the
next bedroom door. There was no reply so she let herself in. She did not use
her tricky one-swish bed-stripping maneuver, but pulled the blankets off slowly
and carefully. There were six bedrooms in the Crawford house. If she expected a
corpse in every bed the laundry would never get started, much less finished,
but she knocked on the third bedroom door anyway.

There were no
corpses waiting for her. No cobwebs either. She stripped both single beds as
fast as she could, leaving the duvets in a pile on the floor.

She pushed open
the fourth bedroom door.

“Well, hello
there.”

Jane jumped back
and knocked into the door behind her. “I am so sorry.”

“Doesn’t bother
me.” Jake was standing in front of a mirror jelling his hair in nothing but a
short towel. “Need something?”

Jane looked out at
the hall. “I’m just stripping the beds. I’ll come back.”

“Don’t rush out.
You can strip with me here.” Jake chuckled.

“No, I’ll come
back.” Jane pulled the door shut behind her. She held on to the doorknob for a
moment and tried to compose herself, but she was shaking with embarrassment.
The door twisted in her grip.

“Hey now, don’t
lock me in here.”

Jane dropped the
handle and hurried down the hall.

Jake stepped out.
“It’s no biggy. Just grab my sheets when you get a chance. I’ll be downstairs.”

Jane didn’t turn
around. She heard him run down the steps. She was a maid. Seen and not heard.
Seen and not heard. She sorely wished she hadn’t been seen or heard.

At bedroom number
five she knocked again. When no one said anything, she let herself in.

She stared at the
bed for a moment, not exactly understanding what she was seeing. She closed her
eyes and opened them. Luggage. It was just luggage. Three matching Louis
Vuitton suitcases on top of the bed. She hefted them off of the bed and
stripped the blankets. Her first guess was that Phoebe had come home, but this
wasn’t Phoebe’s usual room.

Could be Marjory,
but Marjory had a house twice as big as this back in Maywood. Why would she
move to the second-best guest bedroom at her brother-in-law’s house? When Bob’s
brother William had died while Jane was still a kid, Marjory had demanded that
everyone leave her alone. Surely she wouldn’t push herself on her niece and
nephew right now, but then, who else could it be?

The question of
who this luggage belonged to didn’t matter. What mattered was getting the
sheets in the laundry. She added them to the basket and went to the last
bedroom.

Phoebe had moved
out at the beginning of the year, but you couldn’t tell it from her room. Jane
followed regular procedures and left everything alone except the sheets. These,
she pulled off as fast as she could and dumped them in her laundry basket. She
turned a blind eye to the dust and clutter. It wasn’t her house so it wasn’t
her business.

She hesitated at
the door. Half-naked Jake could be anywhere right now, but she thought she
could avoid him if she stuck to the back stairs, the cleaning closets, the
laundry room, and the cellar. Basically anywhere work might get done. Too bad
she still needed to clean the rest of the house as well.

She braced herself
and shouldered the door open. Eyes firmly ahead she made it to the laundry room
without distraction. She popped the door open with her hip and set the basket
down.

“Hey, one more
idea.” Jake was sitting on the laundry machine with his bare legs hanging over
the round, glass-faced door. He was still in his towel.

Jane sighed.
“Yes?”

Jake hopped down,
to the detriment of the arrangement of his towel. He snatched it up and
clutched it in front of him with a chuckle. “I have too much to do around here.
I need live-in help.”

Jane trained her
eyes to the ceiling and said nothing.

“What do you
think?”

“I think you need
to get dressed.” Jane held the laundry basket in front of her like a shield.

“Heh-heh. Yeah,
but I also need someone to cook and do the laundry and stuff. Are you
interested?”

“I’m not a live-in
maid.”

“It’s a big house,
Jane. Have some sympathy for an orphan.”

Jane looked up at
him. “I think you are in shock, Jake. How are you dealing with losing both of
your parents?”

“Terribly, Jane,
just terribly. Won’t you move in and take care of me? I can’t stay here all by
myself.”

“All by yourself?
Someone is in the guest bedroom.” She motioned toward the hall with her basket.

“Never.”

“No, really.
Someone is in the second best—the yellow room.”

“You’re crazy.
What makes you think someone is staying here?” Jake walked over to the door and
stood in front of it, one hand holding his towel up, the other resting on the
doorjamb.

“The matching set
of Louis Vuitton luggage sitting on the bed makes me think it.”

“But who is it?”

“Jake, really?
Where is your head?”

“It’s in mourning,
Jane. Have some sympathy. Let’s go see whose luggage is in the yellow room.”

“Feel free. I have
to do the laundry.” She motioned to the machine with her hefty basket of
sheets.

Jake gripped his
towel with one hand and grabbed Jane’s elbow with the other. “Come on. Let’s
see who horned in on the family riches.”

Jane set her
basket on top of the machine. She let Jake pull her out of the laundry room.
She was running out of time to get everything done before school started, but
she was curious who was staying at the house.

In the bedroom
Jake popped open the first suitcase. “Cotton nightgown, size huge? Real rabbit
fur slippers? Any guesses yet?” He tossed the slipper on the floor. “I have
one. Aunt Marjory. Let’s see.” He pulled a smaller case to himself and flipped
over the luggage tag. “Mrs. M. Crawford. That would be the lady herself. The
Aunt-in-question. But when did she get here?”

“Sometime after we
got breakfast?”

“Or was it before?
We could check the status of her bed if
someone
hadn’t stripped it of
its clues.”

“Sorry.” Jane
turned to the door. It wouldn’t be pleasant for her if Marjory were to pop in
right now. “Can I get back to the laundry again?”

Jake tucked the
ends of his towel in a little tighter and took Jane by both of her hands, “Not
until you promise to move into the third-best guest room. You wouldn’t leave a
nice innocent boy like me in a house like this with a woman like that, would
you?”

It was tempting.
To not leave him, that is. “I can’t move in here. Marjory wouldn’t like it at
all.”

“Another good
reason!”

“I’m going to do
the laundry.”

“Can I bring you a
load? You might have noticed, you might not have, but I have nothing to wear.”

Jane sighed again.
Another hour to wash his clothes too? Why not? “Yes, yes, bring them in. But I
do have to get to school today.”

“Whatever.” Jake
dropped her hands and sauntered out of the room, his towel slipping just a
little as he went.

Jane turned away
again. She absolutely did
not
want to be Jake’s live-in maid.

 

 

Class time came as
a relief after the long day. The musty basement with the flickering fluorescent
lights felt like a retreat. Jane sat at her desk next to Sarah. Getting to the
end of Jake’s laundry and the rest of the cleaning had taken her to the last
minute. She hadn’t had time to run home and change much less get to the laundry
mat to do her own clothes. She smelled like a combination of fresh baked
cookies, lemon pledge, and hard work, but hoped her friend wouldn’t notice. She
thanked the Lord that books for her class hadn’t come in yet, since she still
didn’t have money to buy them, much less time to read them.

Jane typed
furiously as Mr. Daniels lectured. Her hand cramped as she hit the keys, but
attempting to get down everything she heard helped her stay awake.

Night class. Jane
yawned. She looked at her computer screen. The words “let’s take five” were in
front of her blinking cursor. She smiled at them. It was a good thing she was
taking notes, since she was clearly not paying attention.

“Earth to Jane.”
Sarah waved her hands in front of Jane’s screen. “Want to run out to the cart
and get a coffee?”

“Not if I want to
be at work on time tomorrow.”

“You don’t look
like you could even remember where you are going tomorrow.”

“I’ll remember in
the morning.” Jane rested her head on her fist. “It’s been a trying week.”

“Want to go out
after class then? You seem like you need some kind of break.”

“Don’t you all
have curfew?”

Sarah smiled and
opened her fist. She held a big silver key. “What’s curfew when you have a
key?”

Jane rolled her
eyes. “I know it’s no fun to be stuck in your dorm at ten every night but…how
do I say this…” Jane looked around the room full of almost-adults. “You all
live in Honeywell. What on earth would you do here after ten anyway?”

“Drive to town, of
course. Are you in?”

Jane sucked on her
bottom lip, a laugh bubbling up inside her. “Let me guess, I get to drive.”

Sarah grinned.
“Well, you know. Eddie is the only one with a car and he’s not likely to sneak
out after curfew, is he?”

Jane spied out
Eddie. His head was in his Bible. “No, he’s not likely.”

Jane toyed with
the idea. Cram her Rabbit full of repressed eighteen-year-olds for a night on
the “town” or go home and sleep?

Before she could
voice her opinion, Isaac Daniels caught her eye. He smiled and crossed the room
to join them.

“How did it go
this week?” His voice was low and he sat with his back to Sarah.

Jane could feel a
blush coming on. She was not even remotely interested in sneaking Sarah and her
friends off campus. “I don’t know, really. There isn’t much family around to
minister to.”

“It’s early days.
Have patience. Sometimes the small stuff, done faithfully, makes a bigger
impression anyway.”

“That’s what it
comes to. My only trouble now is they don’t want to pay me until the estate is
settled, but I need the income.”

Isaac frowned, his
brows pulling together. “Can they do that?”

“Anyone can do
anything, I guess. I need to figure out who is in charge of the estate and
discuss it properly. Someone assumed I had some kind of auto-pay, but it has
always been cash. I have to sort out that misunderstanding first thing. Well, I
need to get another client or two first thing.” Jane rubbed her pencil’s eraser
on her desk, making a small square with the pink rubber. “Or sort out the issue
with Marjory first. Or do them both at the same time. Right? The best way to
handle a problem is to be unfocused and distracted.”

Isaac choked on a
laugh. “Sorry. I shouldn’t laugh, but I get it. Talk after class?”

She looked up from
the eraser doodle. He watched her with big, sympathetic hazel eyes, but the
corner of his mouth was turned up in a smile.

“Maybe we can
brainstorm a solution.”

“Sounds good.”
Jane smiled a little too.

Isaac resumed his
spot at the podium with a bounce in his step. His smile was slightly out of
line with the data on families in crisis he quoted. And considering the thin
line Jane was walking, her smile felt a little out of line as well.

The last half of
class flew by. Jane found her notes harder to concentrate on and Isaac easier
to watch.

Jane lingered at
the back of the class until the rest of the students had filtered out. When the
room was empty Isaac joined her. “I have to head back to town.” He ran his hand
through his hair.

Jane’s heart sank.
“Oh, okay.”

“You head back to
town too, right?

“Yes.” Jane sat up
straighter.

“We could meet at
Starbucks.”

“Yes, let’s.”

“To talk about how
you can be a light right now.” Isaac kept her eyes locked in his as he spoke.

“Of course.” Jane
blushed again, she just knew it, but, at the same time, she didn’t mind.

Jane and Isaac
left the classroom.

She followed him
into town, admiring his aging Range Rover. She had a light, fluttering feeling
in her chest for the first time in days. As sure as she was that it was against
Bible school rules, she was fairly certain this was a date.

Her suspicions
were confirmed when he paid for the grande non-fat latte, decaf, that she
ordered.

The aroma of
fresh-brewed Starbucks, warm pastry, and Isaac, standing close to her, made
Jane forget, for a moment, that she was still a mess from work.

Once they sat
down, Isaac appeared more confident, and younger too. The diffident, unsure
manner he had used to invite her to coffee had been replaced by a cheerful
smile and a more relaxed voice. Plus he had left his jacket in the car.

He leaned forward
in his chair with his elbows on the table. “So you have more problems right now
than you expected on Monday, I’d say.”

“I do. I don’t
know how it spun out of control so fast, but I’m kind of up a creek.”

“Because you are
expected to work for no pay, right?” Isaac picked up his paper cup and held it
in front of his mouth, blowing lightly into the lid.

“Exactly.” Jane
copied his motion, but not on purpose. The warm cup was a comfort. She took a
sip that was still too hot.

“Do you have a
lawyer?”

Jane choked on her
coffee. “A lawyer? Far from it. Why would I need a lawyer?”

“If you need to
quit working for them to pick up more clients to meet your bills, the family
might make things difficult. Well, only if they truly believe you are being
paid still or have been paid in advance.” Isaac’s jaw tensed.

“I can’t imagine
who would sue me.” Jane furrowed her brow. She had expected him to recommend
some Bible verses, to pray with her, to make small talk.

“Sorry. My dad is
a small claims court judge so problems tend to appear litigious to me. They
might not sue, but even if they don’t you still have trouble.”

“Yes. Well…I am
seeking new clients now so that should help. And you haven’t given any homework
yet, so, you know, I’ve got time.”

Isaac grinned.
“Yeah…I haven’t. Do you think that crowd would do homework?”

“What do you
mean?” Jane blew into the lid of her coffee. She wanted to hear what his
thoughts on the little Bible school were. Her own concept had been so recently
called into question.

“Well…” Isaac
flushed. “I mean it’s not exactly Harvard, is it?”

“I suppose it
can’t draw quite the same caliber of professor.”

Isaac shifted in
his seat. “Touché.”

“Sorry. I didn’t
mean that. What do you think about this school? What’s the deal with it?”

“You tell me.
You’re a student there.”

“I’ll say this
much: The catalogue made it look like a great training school for someone who
wanted to serve overseas.”

“It is that.”

Relief swept over
Jane. She tilted her head from side to side, stretching her neck out. That was
all she wanted to hear. She was well-trained for the mission field.

“But it’s not as
good as seminary.”

Jane lifted her
eyebrow. “Oh?”

“Look at it this
way. At the Bible school you studied some pretty basic theological concepts,
some pretty basic intercultural stuff, some pretty basic linguistic skills, and
you learned how to get along with PKs.”

Jane rolled her
eyes.

“Or not how to get
along with PKs. Either way it was a pretty basic education. Kind of the Junior
College version of seminary.”

“So then why are
you teaching there?”

“PhDs are
expensive.” Isaac shrugged. “Sorry. I don’t mean to be a drag about your
school. I guess I just figured since you are an adult, and live in town rather
than in the dorms, that you would get it. Considering all of that though, why
are you at Harvest?”

“Because I want to
be a missionary and I didn’t see the point of studying biology and essay
writing. I wanted to focus on my goal.”

“What is your
goal?”

“The ten-forty
window.”

“How do I say
this…” Isaac set his cup down. He was suppressing a smile.

“I know.” Jane
scrunched up her mouth.

“You can’t get
into the ten-forty window with a Bible school degree.”

“I said, I know.”
Jane did her best not to sigh. She had learned a lot in her almost-two-years at
Harvest, including that she needed something besides a Bible school certificate
to get into her ideal mission field.

“But if you knew
that, why did you pick this school?”

“Well, I didn’t
know that when I started, did I? But I need to finish what I started. I’ll get
where God wants me to be. I’m not worried about that part.”

“You look
worried.” Isaac took a drink from his paper cup.

Jane looked down
at her coffee cup. Why had she said she wasn’t worried? Of course she was
worried. “Okay. I hadn’t been worried until Monday. When my clients both died and
then Glenda told me that the Bible school certificate was meaningless, I began
to have some serious doubts about what I was doing.”

Isaac reached
across the table and grabbed her hand. “I can believe it, but listen, we can
straighten out the ministry thing at least—we can figure out how you can serve
these guys in their need, because in reality, this one family in this major
crisis could be the whole reason God has you at Harvest School of the Bible.”

“God has arranged
the last two years of my life so that I could be in your class?”

Isaac’s face lit
up as he smiled. He tried to pull his features into a more somber look, but it
didn’t work. “Would that have been so bad?”

Jane liked the way
his hand felt on hers—rough and strong. A shiver ran down her spine. “I plead
the fifth.”

Isaac let go of
her hand and took a big drink of his coffee. “So can you anticipate any needs
your clients may have in the coming week?”

They brainstormed
household chores that Phoebe and Jake might have until the coffee shop closed
up for the night, and then they parted ways. Jane watched Isaac drive off in
the opposite direction from her. She assumed he wouldn’t have lied about where
he lived, but from the direction he was driving away it did not look like he
had needed to come all the way into town.

 

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