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Authors: Traci Tyne Hilton

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BOOK: Good, Clean Murder
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The window in
Jane’s apartment that faced the parking lot was dark. Jane checked the clock on
her dash as she parked. It was just after eleven. Sam rarely had the lights out
by eleven, even though Jane slept in the living room.

Her two years in
the cramped quarters of a junior apartment with a girl she met on Craigslist
were beginning to tell on Jane. She sat in her car and stared at the dark
window. Disappointment washed over her like a cold wind. She ought to have been
asleep in that dark room. She needed to be up by five tomorrow.

Her parents had
cautioned her against sharing a junior suite—a space distinguished from a
regular studio by a partition between the “rooms,” but with no real bedroom door.
Her parents had told her not to look for a roommate online either. Her parents
had told her to move to Phoenix with them, enroll in Arizona State, but, Jane
reminded herself, she knew what she wanted.

And that,
apparently, was a small apartment with a stranger and a half-hearted education.

Jane turned her
ignition off. At least the light was out so she could go straight to sleep.

Jane ambled up the
steps to her front door counting the weeks left until the end of school and
attempting to ignore the smell coming from the dumpster at the foot of her
staircase.

May was coming,
and with it, freedom from her classes and her commute. She could move to Phoenix
with her parents and start her fundraising. Good things were coming in May. A
little pang of disappointment hit her. In May she’d be done with Isaac Daniels’
class.

The front door
light was burnt out. The sheltered entry to the apartment was pitch black. Jane
stumbled over something as she crossed the landing to her door. She looked down
and discovered a small cardboard box with her blanket on top. She frowned and
kneeled down. She removed her blanket to discover her pillow, her books from
last term, And her half a bag of Chex Mix.

Was Sam kicking
her out? And if so, where were her clothes? She quickly recalled they were in
her car, waiting to go to the laundry mat, but what about the rest of her
stuff, like the futon she called her bed?

Jane pulled out
her keychain and clicked on her L.E.D light. By its small glow she read a note
scribbled on the side of the box.
Rent overdue. Evicted
. She bowed her
head. “Oh dear God, what on Earth?” She didn’t pray it, so much as turn the
question over and over in her head. She was too confused to pray. She was
absolutely certain that her rent was
not
overdue. She pressed the palm
of her hand to her chest. Her heart thumped against her hand like a drum.

“Okay, Lord. Just
give me my next step.” The words of the Psalm came to her mind
. “Your word
is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

What did the Bible
say she should do? No stories of twenty-year-old girls on their own kicked to
the curb in the middle of the night came to mind so she pulled out her phone
and called Sam. She hoped the phone would wake her up from a deep sleep. Anger
was beginning to replace her confusion.

The phone seemed
to ring forever, but right about when voicemail should have clicked on, Sam
answered.

“Let me in,” Jane
said.

“I can’t. We’re
evicted.”

“What do you mean,
‘We’re evicted’? Just let me in to get the rest of my stuff at least.”

“I can’t, idiot.
We were evicted.”

“But rent wasn’t
late. What do you mean ‘rent was late’?” Jane rocked back on her heels.

“About that…”

“Samantha, did you
not pay the rent?”

“I was going to,
but something came up.” Sam’s voice was slurred.

“How often did
something come up, Sam?”

“Listen, I have a
lot of expenses and I had to use the money for some stuff and now we are
evicted. Deal.”

“Where are you?”
Jane’s mind was spinning. Some unbefore-met part of herself wanted to find Sam
and punch her in the nose. The rest of her just wanted to find a place to spend
the night.

“I’m out of town.
Sorry about this. Hey. I didn’t box your stuff up, the landlord did. Talk to
him about it.”

“But my furniture?
My bed? My dresser? My privacy screen? What about that stuff?”

“Yeah, so, he
needs that to sell for the past rent or something. I don’t know. My dad came
and cleared my stuff out for me. Maybe your dad can come. The landlord is kind
of a bully, but whatever. I’m busy right now. Just get a hold of him yourself
and deal with it.” Sam disconnected the call.

Jane stared at her
phone. Unless her lock-box was in the cardboard box on the front-step, her
emergency credit card would still be inside the apartment.

Jane stood up. She
brushed the dirt from her knees. With a shaking hand she pushed her key into
the lock and attempted to let herself in to the apartment. The lock resisted
her key. It had already been changed.

She stepped
backwards from the door and tripped on the box of her stuff. Her little safe
had to be in that box. She pulled out the blanket and the pillow and the bag of
Chex Mix again. She dug through the short stack of textbooks. She pulled out
the pile of fashion magazines that were actually Sam’s. No lock-box. No
emergency credit card. No place to sleep.

Jane looked down
at her rag-top Rabbit. Even with her winter coat on she was shivering in the
early March night air. She’d freeze to death if she tried to sleep in her car.
She grimaced. She wouldn’t actually freeze to death, but it would be
really
cold. She tapped the face of her cell phone. She wanted to call her daddy to
make it all better. He could pay for a hotel room over the phone, couldn’t he?

She paused. Her
parents were on a cruise. Did she really want to panic them in the middle of a
vacation they couldn’t leave?

Something Isaac
said over coffee came to mind.
Sometimes serving others meets our own needs
in ways we didn’t anticipate.

Isaac wouldn’t
have wanted her to move in with Jake, would he? Could that have been the
message God was sending her?

Jane sat down and
folded her cold hands. She closed her eyes. “Okay, God.” This time she prayed
out loud. “I don’t want to move into the Crawford house. I don’t want to live
in the same house alone with Jake. I don’t want to be a live-in housekeeper,
but is this your plan? Is this what you meant for me to do?” Somewhere outside
of the apartment complex an owl hooted. Jane waited in silence until her legs
went numb.

She would go to
the Crawfords’ house because she had nowhere else to go.

In ten minutes she
had reached the Crawford house. She pulled into the side drive and parked
around back by the mudroom door. One hundred years ago, when the house had been
built, it was considered the servants’ door. Very appropriate. She left her car
in the little round drive where Pamela had directed her to park on the days she
worked.

The whole house,
like her small apartment, was dark. She didn’t want to go in. The night
couldn’t have been warmer than thirty and the cold nipped at her cheeks as she
sat in her car.

There was an
empty, warm bed inside that house. There was probably an old school friend
inside that house, and according to the luggage she saw today, there was a
dragon in that house.

Jane shivered from
cold. Marjory might be a dragon, but she was asleep. The cold night was awake.

She let herself
into the mudroom and took her shoes off. She tucked them under the bench and
shuffled in her sock feet to the door. She pulled the door open slowly, hoping
it wouldn’t groan. It didn’t. She was desperate to get in unnoticed. This
morning’s invitation might well have been forgotten. Or the inviter might
already be gone.

She debated which
bedroom to take herself to as she made her way to the bottom of the back steps.
The third floor of the Crawford house was mostly the original ballroom, but
behind the ballroom were two small bedrooms for staff that the family who
originally built the house used to keep. Like the other bedrooms, they were
dust-free and had fresh linens. Barring the bodies in the master bedroom, the
Crawford house was always ready for company.

The third step of
the back stairs squeaked, but otherwise the trip up the first flight of stairs
was uneventful.

The second flight
of stairs squeaked twice at the top so there was no getting away from it. She
reached the first of the servants’ bedrooms and slipped in. She shut the door
behind her with a click and sat on the bed. It was just after midnight now. In the morning she had to go clean the neighbor’s house. Possibly, if she was going
to be staying on here as some kind of live-in maid, she’d have to make
breakfast as well.

Jane shifted her
winter coat off. She plucked her phone out of her pocket and pulled up Jake’s
contact info. Better now than never. “GNite. CU AM” She texted. “Will U want
BFast?” She flopped down on her pillow and hit ‘send.’ Did a text count as a
contractual agreement? She wondered what Isaac’s dad would have to say about
that.

Isaac.

Was tonight’s
coffee really a date? Did she want it to be? Was it against the rules for her
to date an instructor? These questions were far more welcome than the question
of how Marjory would take it when she saw Jane in the morning.

 

Sleep was hard to
come by, but waking up was a breeze. Jane whipped herself out of bed, still wearing
the same clothes she had spent the day before in. Her laundry was moldering in
the Rabbit. Maybe when she negotiated her new position with Jake he would throw
in laundry room privileges.

The bathrooms on
the top floor were clean and had soap and towels—Jane was particularly glad she
never scrimped on the upstairs work—but no bathtub. She gave herself a quick
scrub up and did her best to smooth her crumpled clothes. She wasn’t a pretty
sight. Marjory couldn’t possibly know her schedule so Jane’s current plan was
to sneak down the back steps, retrieve her shoes from the mudroom and then
enter the kitchen as though it were all perfectly normal.

Jane flicked the
light off and shut the door.

“Hey!”

Jane jumped.

“So what’s for
breakfast then?” Jake seemed to fill the narrow hallway. He leaned on one wall
with his outstretched arm, his legs crossed at the ankle all the way to the
other wall. He smelled like he had been drinking, and like Jane still had on
yesterday’s clothes.

“Whatever you
like.” Jane tried to duck past.

Jake stood up.
“I’m glad you decided to have sympathy on me.”

“It seemed…like
the right thing to do.”

“Eggs. And
pancakes.” Jake let Jane pass.

She hustled down
the stairs, but he stayed at her heels.

“Scratch that.
Eggs, bacon, and waffles. Do we have any bacon?”

“I’ll look.”

“Jane, tell me
again why you clean houses?”

“To make money,
Jake.”

“Yeah, but don’t
you have money? I mean, I thought you Adlers had money.”

“My parents have
money. And I have work, so, that’s like having money, in its own special way.
You wouldn’t know.” Jane rounded the corner into the kitchen. The sun had yet
to rise. The kitchen windows were black as night above the checkered café
curtains.

“It’s too early
for sarcasm.” Jake caught up with her, but bumped into the doorjamb. He leaned
on it, making puppy eyes at Jane.

“My apologies.”

“I understand
jobs
,
but if your parents have money why aren’t you a sorority sister like Phoebe?”

“Where is Phoebe,
by the way?” Jane turned on the kitchen lights. She went straight for the
coffee pot. She could not manage Jake at five in the morning without coffee.

“She’s at school
still. No point in coming here until the funeral, right?” Jake shuffled into
the kitchen, and heaved himself onto a stool.

Jane rested her
hands on the kitchen island. “Jake, I’m a little worried about you. Your
parents…”

“Are dead. I
know.”

“But how are you
doing? Do you know what the stages of grief are? It’s early, I know, but I
think you may be in shock.” The coffeemaker burbled in the background. It was
beginning to smell like something worthwhile. Jane took a deep breath, letting
her nose fill up with the smell of hope.

“I’m
self-medicating. It works. Where do we keep the bacon?” Jake opened the
refrigerator.

“What time did you
get in last night?”

“What are you, my
mom?” Jake tucked his head into the fridge like a dog digging for a bone.

“I’m just
concerned.” Jane found her favorite coffee mug. She drummed her fingers on it,
waiting for the coffee machine light that indicated she could commence with
waking up.

“If a young man in
crisis is going to properly self-medicate he can’t be expected to come home,
okay? It takes a full night to wipe away the grief.” Jake pulled himself out of
the refrigerator. “There isn’t any food in there.”

“I can’t believe
you are joking about this.” Jane couldn’t wait any longer. She pulled the
stainless steel carafe out of the machine. There was almost enough in it to
fill her cup. She took a drink. It was probably psychosomatic, but it helped.
She stood up a little straighter.

“I can’t believe
you are a housekeeper. Look at yourself.” Jake stood in front of the fridge
with the door still open.

Jane replaced the
coffee carafe. She didn’t answer. She knew what she looked like right now. And,
if her hopes for her future came to pass, she would look a lot worse than this
more often than not. The two-thirds world was not a glamorous place.

“But really, what
happened? I mean, what, we graduated high school like yesterday and you’ve come
to this already? You need to come out with us tonight, like old times.” Jake
leaned against the open door of the refrigerator.

“Close the door,
Jake.”

Jake turned
around. He stared at the door for a moment. He shut it, but he crossed himself
first. “There, but for the grace, go I.”

“I didn’t party in
the ‘old times,’ Jake.”

“Don’t I know it.
What was with that? We had a good scene at the old alma mater. Were you playing
hard to get? Because if so, it worked. You had all the boys salivating for
you.” Jake slumped onto his stool again.

“I just don’t
party.” Jake looked rotten. He looked physically ill. She turned away from him.
He needed coffee at least. She pulled another mug down from the cupboard. It
said, “Prez Prep Key Club.” Must have been Phoebe’s.

“We don’t have any
bacon, Jane. Both of my parents are dead and we don’t have any bacon.”

“You just got in,
didn’t you?” Jane poured his coffee and set the mug next to his elbow. She
wondered a bit if he would pass out and knock it over or pick it up and drink
it. Jake’s eyes were red and his nose as well. He had deep bags under his eyes.
“You’re still drunk.”

“Don’t say it like
that, Jane, like it’s a bad, bad thing. I’m medicating my depression and grief,
remember?”

Jane pulled the
mug of coffee back to herself. “Go upstairs, Jake. Go get some sleep. And then…and
then we’ll talk about your grief.”

Jane had cried
every night for three days when her parents pulled the U-haul away. Three
nights of weeping in the junior suite she shared with Sam, just because her
parents had moved away to Phoenix. What would she have done if they had died?

“Janey, will you
put me to bed, please?” Jake wilted over on the counter top, resting his temple
against his hand. His eyes fluttered shut.

Marjory entered
with resounding footsteps. There were three early risers in the house, apparently.
“Oh!” She stopped in the doorway to the kitchen. “I didn’t realize. I see.
Well, good then. I’ll take my breakfast in the dining room.” Marjory bounced
her keen gaze back and forth from Jane to Jake.

“She can’t, Aunty.
We’re out of bacon.” Jake let his head roll off his fist. He began to sob.

Jane closed her
eyes and took a deep breath. This was the family in crisis that needed her
help. She could take it.

“Get that boy
upstairs. He’s a shame to look at.” Marjory stared at him with a furrowed brow.

“Yes, ma’am.” Jane
took Jake by the arm and led him to the front staircase. His sobbing calmed
down as they walked.

“Janey, will you
snuggle me? I’m pretty sad.” He flopped his head over onto her shoulder.

“Just go to bed
and forget about this night, okay?” Jane whispered.

“Please for
snuggle?”

Jake didn’t look
any older than he had looked when they graduated not so long ago. His cheeks
sported a barely visible blond scruff. And far from bulking up he had grown an
inch or two taller, but looked ganglier. He looked so young and vulnerable,
leaning on her as they marched up the stairs, that she was sorely tempted to
snuggle him until he fell asleep.

But he stank like
he had washed up in a bathtub full of hooch so the tempting sympathy passed.

“Get to bed. I’ll
get some bacon so you can have breakfast later today.”

“Janey does love
me.”

Jane pushed him
into his bedroom and shut the door. He’d have to put himself to bed.

“Ja-ane?” Marjory
must have been at the foot of the stairs, her voice carried straight up to
Jane.

“Coming!” Jane
scurried down the stairs.

Marjory stood in
the entryway looking out the front window. “Jane, I’m going to need a lot of
help today. Do you think you can manage?”

“It depends. I
have other clients today as well.”

“I see. And so you
don’t have time in your schedule for us?”

“I have some time,
ma’am. So it depends on what you need help with.” Jane wrapped the edge of her
t-shirt around her fingers. It really depended on how much per hour Marjory was
willing to pay. She didn’t want to agree to anything without establishing her
boundaries first.

“Obviously this is
related to our recent loss. You can see I am in no condition to go looking for
more help.” Marjory looked Jane up and down, her lip curling in disgust, “You
really will have to do.”

“What is it you
need?” Jane thought Marjory looked perfectly competent still, but she cautioned
herself against judging too quickly. Only God knew what was going on in
Marjory’s heart.

“We are about
ready to schedule the funeral. This whole house needs to be cleaned in
preparation for it. I can’t imagine what you have been doing for my poor
sister, but I can’t have all of the guests here with the house in this
condition. Can you fit a deep clean into your schedule?”

Jane took a deep
breath. The house looked gorgeous, like always, and it raised Jane’s hackles to
hear otherwise. Pamela had done nothing but praise her work. Besides, she
honestly couldn’t fit a deep clean in, if for no other reason than she couldn’t
get the house any cleaner than it already was, but she decided to try. She
needed extra work, and this job was conveniently located. “Yes, if you don’t
mind my working late evenings and early mornings to get it done, and if you
will give me a list of the specific jobs you want done.” She paused and tried
to smile. “My rates are fifty dollars an hour.”

Marjory lifted an
eyebrow. “Ah.”

Jane kept quiet.
Only the Crawfords paid her that much, and they had suggested it in the first
place.

“Can we set that
up as an auto payment?” Marjory glanced at the computer with a frown.

“Usually Pamela
left my payment in an envelope with the day’s instructions on the first Monday of
the month.” Jane squared her shoulders. This was her one shot to get her
affairs in order. She didn’t want to chicken out.

“Mondays?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then you were
already paid for this week?”

“No, ma’am. I
wasn’t.”

“Hmm…I suppose you
can’t
prove
you weren’t paid.” Marjory pulled out the desk chair. She
rested her hands on the black leather headrest.

Jane looked
Marjory in the eye. She supposed she couldn’t prove it either, but if she could
get enough hours of deep cleaning in it would help make up for the loss.
“Because of the lost wages I would need to be paid half up front.”

“Indeed?” Marjory
said. “Well, I’ll think about it.”

“I plan to book my
schedule this morning, ma’am. So if you would like to book me you’ll have to
decide now.” Jane felt like she was holding Marjory up, rather than serving
her.

“Fine, fine. You
are
a live-in maid, correct?”

Where to start
with that question? “I am, but only at the recent request of Jake.”

“You’ve moved in
with Jake?” Marjory’s knuckles turned white as she gripped the chair.

“No, ma’am. Not in
the manner you are implying. The morning we met you in the office to get his
car he asked me to move in as a housekeeper because the place was too big for
him to manage alone.”

“And you just
jumped right on that offer?” Marjory’s lip curled up in disgust. “Now that he
is going to inherit, the
maid
moves in.”

“Like I said…”
Jane’s voice cracked. The conversation had been going so well until the
question of her housing came up. She didn’t want Marjory to think she was a
gold digger. She wasn’t anything of the kind.

“All right. That’s
fine. Don’t make a scene. We’ll discuss this later.”

Jane stood her
ground for a moment. She prayed silently.
The meek shall inherit the Earth.
But
that was the point, wasn’t it? She wasn’t trying to inherit anything. Just
trying to have a safe place to sleep at night.
The meek shall inherit the
Earth.
She may not want to marry the Roly Burger heir but that didn’t
change what God was whispering to her.
Be meek.

“Yes, ma’am.” She
left the room as quietly as she could. She wasn’t sure that Marjory still
wanted breakfast, but better safe than sorry. She went back to the kitchen and
started to cook.

 

Marjory was
somewhat less than impressed by the toast and fried egg, but Jane couldn’t
fault herself. Buying groceries and cooking had never been on her to-do list.
If Marjory wanted to add it now, she’d have to pay for it.

As she scrubbed the
yolk off the china plate, Jane wondered about the etiquette of contract
negotiation during a time of mourning. Not for the first time her mind wandered
back to Jake and what he might think about it.
No, Isaac.
She shook her
head. She wanted to know what
Isaac
thought of this situation. Not Jake.

BOOK: Good, Clean Murder
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