Authors: Traci Tyne Hilton
Jane wondered if
HLP might have had an interest in killing Bob and Pamela. Of course, it was
their deaths that were keeping the businesses open, so technically HLP wouldn’t
have liked that. Unless HLP wanted the publicity more than they wanted the hamburger
industry to disappear.
Crawford, you cannot put it off any longer.”
When Jane had
passed through the mudroom, Jake hadn’t looked busy. He had been spread across
the mudroom bench with his feet propped against the floor-to-ceiling shelves.
He had been poking at his iPhone with one hand and holding a steaming
cappuccino in the other. The aroma of coffee mingled with the odor of rain
boots and wool sweaters that hung around the mudroom all winter had followed
Jane to the rack of velvet curtains she was steaming at the far end of the
Marjory stood in
the mudroom doorway with her arms crossed over her chest. Their loud, if
obscure, conversation was as clear as day, try as Jane might to not eavesdrop.
So far Marjory had repeated the demand to “not put it off” and Jake had
repeated how busy he was. It sounded as though they had already been arguing
for some time before their voices rose to the point that Jane could hear them.
Jane put the
steamer wand down and slid the wrinkle-free velvet curtain down to the “clean”
end of her clothes rack. She pulled the next curtain into place and picked her
wand up again. Marjory was so loud she could be heard over the hiss of steam
and the whirr of the machine.
“We have the
funeral home booked, the caterers scheduled, and the announcement ready to
print in the newspapers. You need to get down there today and sign the papers.”
Jane had hoped the
argument was about something a little more interesting than that.
“I don’t want to
be responsible for paying for this circus.” Jake’s words were muffled, like he
had his mouth on the lid to his coffee cup already.
“It doesn’t matter
what you want, young man. You are the next of kin. You have to sign the papers.
For the love of all that is holy, I’ve already paid for everything, but they
won’t take one action until you have signed.”
“But I just don’t
“It was in their
preplanned funeral arrangements! And after all the time we’ve made the funeral
home wait you would be much happier with a cremation.”
“Watch it. That’s
my parents you are talking about.”
“I wonder that you
realize it. Get down to the funeral home today and sign the papers. Jane can go
pick up the last effects. I won’t make you exert yourself overmuch.”
Jane worked over a
stubborn wrinkle on the green drape. She felt defeated. Not that she didn’t
want to go pick up the last effects, wherever they might be, but the dragon
that had been Marjory just days ago
defeated and it was having
its effect. She sounded…small, even, and Jake, the star of Presbyterian Prep’s
basketball team and straight-A student, sounded like the worst kind of snotty
slacker. When she was done with the drapes she had to call Phoebe. This house
needed an infusion of new blood.
Steaming all of
the drapes to be found in the five-story, 100-year-old-home took several hours,
and by the time Jane was finished she was a sweaty mess. Her arms shook as she
carried the last set into the living room to be re-hung, and the sun was
setting. She was determined to call Phoebe as soon as the last drapery clip was
She slumped into
the wingback chair next to the window and took a deep breath. Phoebe hadn’t
been interested last time she had called. Jane hoped that was because she had
been woken up from a deep sleep.
through her phone and found the number. It only rang once.
“Phoebe? This is
Jane Adler, from your parents’ house.”
“Oh. Hi.” Phoebe’s
voice had the same defeated sound in it that Marjory’s had had while arguing
“I, um, I was
wondering how you are doing.”
“As well as could
Jane fumbled for
her next words.
Help? We need you? We’re falling apart here? I know I’m just
the maid, but….
She decided to go with that one. “I know I’m just the maid,
but…things are really tense around here and I just thought that maybe it would
help if you, um, you were to come and stay for a while.”
There was silence
on the other end.
“Yeah, um. I was kind
of rude last time we spoke. You know, you aren’t ‘just the maid.’”
Jane wasn’t sure
what Phoebe was referring to, but was too exhausted to pursue it. “See,” Jane
began, “it’s just your aunt and Jake here and it seems like they could really
Phoebe let a heavy
sigh out that crackled over the cell phone. “Why? They’ve got you. If I’ve
heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times. ‘That Jane is a real crackerjack.
She’s going places.’”
“Um…” Jane was
really at a loss now. “I just think that your brother…and your aunt…”
“I’m sure you’ve
got things under control, Jane. When have you not? If Aunt Marjory is lonely
she can call her own kids, and as for Jake…I’m sure you can comfort him just
“Phoebe, I know
this has all been really hard for everyone…”
call me again. I’ll be where I need to be, when I need to be there.”
Phoebe hung up.
Jane stared at her
phone. Since when had Phoebe hated her? They had known each other a little bit,
via company picnics, and at school, but Phoebe was a freshman at college this
year and really their circles had barely crossed at school. Jane closed her
If she just had a
few grates to clean her transformation into Cinderella would be complete, evil
stepsisters and all.
Jane heard the
soft padding sound of Marjory’s leather-soled boots coming down the hall. She
rubbed her eyes and tried to perk up.
“Ahh, there you
are.” Marjory looked her up and down, like a specimen. “I need you to get to
the Medical Examiner’s office to pick up the last effects.” Marjory looked at
her watch. “You should still have time today.”
Jane’s mind was
working slowly, and Marjory was gone again before she could ask where the ME’s
Her trusty laptop
was waiting in the bedroom on the third floor, so, ruing her not-so-smart phone
for not the first time, Jane trudged her tired body upstairs to find out where
the ME’s office was and if she really had time to get there. It was, after all,
already four in the afternoon.
Her laptop took an
unearthly long time to warm up and connect to the spotty wi-fi. In fact, she
was halfway back down the second flight of stairs before it picked up a signal,
but eventually with the help of St. Google she found what she needed. “Oh,
thank you, Lord.” The prayer of thanksgiving slipped out like breathing.
The state ME’s
office was not downtown, as she had feared. It was still six miles away, but
she could avoid the rush back home from work by taking surface streets. Jane
was pretty confident she could make it there before it closed at five.
Jane pushed open
the door to the ME’s office ten minutes before closing. The drive had been fast
enough for surface roads, but it was a bit farther away than Jane had
anticipated. She paused just in front of the heavy glass door and looked at the
reception desk. The room was cold and smelled like antiseptic and the biology
lab at her old high school.
woman with heavy gray hair hanging in thick bangs over her forehead sat with
her eyes glued to a computer screen. A wall of bullet proof glass, with a small
pass through in it separated the receptionist from the waiting room.
Jane cleared her
throat and went forward to the desk. “Excuse me, I’m here to collect the last
effects of Robert and Pamela Crawford.” Her voice inflected up like a question.
“Are you the next
of kin?” The lady at the desk looked up through her wide plastic glasses.
“I can only
release the last effects to the next of kin.”
Jane took a deep
breath. “Could we call him and have him tell you I can take their belongings
“It doesn’t work
that way.” The woman turned to her computer again.
“Could you let me
know how it does work? I’ll need to explain it when I get back to the house.”
The lady looked up
again. “I can’t release anything to anyone who is not the next of kin. Not the
personal effects, not the investigation report, nothing. Just let them know.”
report? Jane perked up. She hadn’t known she could get a copy of that. Well,
that is to say, she couldn’t yet, but if she came back with Jake she could.
“And how do you prove the next of kin thing?”
“Picture ID. Is
Jane looked at the
wall clock. Technically she still had three minutes. “About that report…would
it tell the cause of death?”
let out a heavy sigh, her shoulders sinking in apparent aggravation. “That is
the point of an autopsy, isn’t it?”
“So we would know
the cause of death…” Jane spoke under her breath.
the results of the blood work. It can take several weeks to get the report back
on blood work.”
“But if it was
just a heart attack?”
“It’s always just
“I’m sorry. I’m
exhausted. I don’t mean to be short with you. The heart always fails when we
die, so between you and me, most deaths are labeled ‘cardiac arrest.’ That or
pneumonia. People with aids die of pneumonia. People with cancer die of
pneumonia. Everyone who doesn’t die of heart failure dies of pneumonia.”
Jane looked back
at the clock. The receptionist sounded like she was ready for a new line of
work, but as long as she was feeling chatty Jane thought she should take
advantage of it. “So, a drug overdose could be written as cardiac arrest, or
heart failure or something?”
“Yes, it could.
They're supposed to write the cause of the heart failure, but it doesn’t always
get recorded.” The receptionist straightened up and looked nervously toward the
door behind her. “The medical examiner always does it right, of course. I’m
just talking about the regular doctors, and I shouldn’t have said that much.”
“But what about
murder? Or something like that?”
death comes here and the ME does a very good job of determining what caused
the…heart failure.” She smirked at the last word, obviously still annoyed by
the nature of death certificates.
“But if you don’t
get the blood work back for several weeks what does the ME write on the death
certificate?” Jane leaned forward on the counter in front of the protective
glass, trying to appear interested and friendly at the same time.
work or obvious trauma? Well, that would be heart failure or pneumonia,
wouldn’t it?” She shrugged. “Send the next of kin in for the personal effects,
and, um, do you mind keeping our little chat to yourself? I’m, um, I have a
understand. You should hear me talk about cleaning houses when I have a
migraine. I’ll let Jake know he has to come here himself. Thanks for
nodded and turned back to her computer screen.
receptionist thought the ME’s report would be helpful or not, Jane was pleased
that she had the chance to get her hands on it. She’d love to put to rest the
idea that the Crawfords had been murdered—she might be the only one thinking it
so far, but she’d love to make that thought go away.
Jane wasn’t in a
hurry to get back to Marjory empty-handed, so she made her trip home go past
the protesters at the Roly Burger. The news helicopters were gone, but one news
van remained. Jane parked behind it.
seemed to have increased since the news broadcast. There were at least thirty now.
Jane scanned the parking lot—she counted three Priuses, a Smart Car, and a
several road bikes. It looked like the protestors had all come straight from their
Most of them
lounged in front of the double glass door, but five protestors surrounded a
family in the parking lot.
Jane got out of
her car. She leaned on the rag top roof and watched, the smell of grilled
burgers and fresh-baked bread tempting her to get closer.
A mom in sweats
and a hoodie held the hands of two medium-sized boys. Jane guessed older
grade-schoolers, wearing dirty soccer jerseys and shin guards. A man who was
possibly their dad stood with them. He was a big guy, broad, and hefty, and
wore a hoodie that said “Coach” on the back.
protestors in their Toms and dread-locks were bearing down on the family.
Jane took a deep
breath. Talk about a family in need. She crossed the parking lot, praying with
each step. She didn’t want to escalate the drama, but those poor boys looked
like they had just finished a game. If so, they were starving.
Jane pushed her
way past the family and stood in front of the protesters. “Let these people
“To poison their
children? Never!” The speaker was a skinny yellow woman with thick blond hair
in a braid that went to the waistband of her hemp pants.
“They aren’t going
to poison their children. Just let them pass.” Jane crossed her arms over her
“Mo-om, I need to
use the bathroom.” One of the kids behind Jane had a desperate twinge to his
The dad seemed to be using his coach voice. “I’ve got two hungry kids who need
to go and a long drive ahead of us. Get out of the way and I won’t call the
expression, brother. We can stay here aaall night.” The speaker was a young man
in a skinny suit with a bushy beard. The protestors linked arms and made a U
around Jane and the family.
ridiculous.” Jane turned around. She grabbed a boy by each hand and dragged
them behind her as she busted through the two skinniest arms. She stepped over
the loungers in front of the door and pushed her way into the restaurant.
“This had better
be worth it.” The father passed Jane and turned his eyes to the menu. The mom
and the two boys went around the corner to find the bathrooms.
“Of course it’s
worth it!” Jake Crawford appeared in front of the register. “I guarantee the
burger with the Roly-Poly bun will be the best you’ve ever had, or it’s on the
house. Hey! You know what? It’s on the house anyway! Whatever you want, it’s
“It’s the least
you can do. What’s with those jerks outside?”
Jake forced his
face into a somber expression. “They are anti-freedom communists who care more
about cows than the rights of people to eat food that makes them happy. It’s a
crime. Or it should be a crime. The least I can do is feed you.”
The dad ordered
several combo meals and then took a seat to wait for his wife and kids.
“And for you?
Whatever you want, Jane the Brave. You faced down the enemy and brought me
customers. Your order is my command.”
“What are you
“This is my
domain. My castle. I defend it to the death.”
Jane leaned to
look behind Jake. He had a full crew cooking up orders. She turned and looked
into the restaurant. The family she had escorted inside sat together, and a
skinny teenager in a Roly Burger golf shirt sat alone playing on his phone.
“This is a pretty sorry dinner hour. Has the whole day been like this?”
“It’s been worse.
You have to help us. Stay here with me until closing, okay?”
Jane eyed the
clock on the wall. There were four more hours till closing. “Why?”
“Because we still
have one news van in the driveway. Eventually the evening news will update the
situation. When they poke their camera in the window, I want them to see a
pretty girl eating a Roly Burger. Please?”
Jane licked her
lips. This could work in her favor. “I can stay until six-thirty. That’s over
an hour, but if I do, I need a favor.”
“I don’t know.
Can’t you make it any longer?”
“Absolutely not. I
have class tonight. You’ve got an hour and a half or nothing What do you say?”
Jane folded her arms across her chest in an attempt to look stern.
“What’s the favor?
Maybe it’s not worth a mere hour and a half of Jane Adler’s precious time.”
“I need you to
come with me to the Medical Examiner’s office first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Your first thing
“Don’t worry, the Medical
Examiner’s office isn’t open by
first thing in the morning. Yours
Jake stuck out his
hand. Jane shook it.
“It’s a deal then,
Janey, but I’m going to do my best to make you forget about your class
“Good luck with
that.” Jane settled into a booth by the front window where she’d be in plain
sight of any news cameras. “If I’m going to sit here for the next hour I would
love to be able to read the newspaper.”
“Yes, that’s what
“As you wish.”
Jake bowed deeply and went back into the kitchen.
Jane watched the
protestors relax outside. One of them smoked what Jane assumed was a clove
cigarette. It seemed at odds with the Harm No Bodies philosophy of Help.
Eventually Jake brought her a tray full of food and a newspaper.
Jake moved to
hover around the windows, watching for news cameras.
Jane opened the
newspaper to the business section. She found what she was looking for on page
three, a tiny paragraph near the bottom. Headline: Yo-Heaven Corp Expansion
Stymied by Crawford Family Deaths.
According to Jim
Needles of the Oregon Journal, The Yo-Heaven Corporation and the acting head of
the Crawford Family Restaurant Corporation were both aggravated by delays in
the planned transformation from Roly Burger to Yo-Heaven. Jane turned her head
back to Jake. He seemed to want to keep his restaurant open at all costs. Would
he have killed his parents to save the store?
Before she could
completely dismiss the idea as impossible, her phone rang. Caller ID said it
A wave of anger
rolled off Jane. She took a deep breath before she answered. “Yes?”
“Hey, so, yeah.
The landlord wants your junk cleaned out of the apartment.”
spread across Jane’s tense shoulders.
“By like, tonight,
“So, he’s um,
unloading your stuff tomorrow morning. He’s got a dumpster. So if you want it
back you need to get it tonight.”
“Slow down. What
do you mean? How can I get it? He changed the locks. And it’s furniture. How do
I get furniture in my rabbit?”
“You know what,
Jane? I don’t need this. I totally didn’t have to call you. I’m trying to
“Okay.” Jane took
another deep breath. She did need help and Sam drove a pickup truck. If she
could keep herself together, keep it friendly, she might be able to salvage
“Let’s just take
it one step at a time, okay? How can I get in to get my stuff?”
“Do you know
anyone who picks locks?”
Jane glanced up at
Jake. She’d bet money he could do it. “Not offhand.”
“Then call the
landlord, Jane. Do I have to do everything for you?”
Jane took a drink
from her soda so that she wouldn’t blurt out what she was really thinking. “May
I have his number?”
“Yeah, um, about
that. I wasn’t supposed to have a roommate in that small apartment, you know?
So, um, calling him isn’t a good idea.”
Jane bit her lip.
When she tasted the first coppery hint of blood she stopped. She prayed
silently for the strength to be gracious. “Sam…I really want to get my stuff.
Thank you for calling me.” It hurt to say it, but it was said and she thanked
God she did it. “But I really don’t know what to do now. I don’t want to be
involved in a breaking and entering situation.”
“Then get there
first thing in the morning to collect your stuff when he opens the apartment
come too? I am not supposed to live there then I am not supposed to have stuff
there. Would you come and help me get it?” Jane crumpled a napkin in her fist,
squeezing it until her knuckles went white.
There was a pause
on the other end.
“Yeah…I could do
dropped. Sam agreed too easily.
“But I’d need gas
money. It’s a long ways from here to there.”
Jane squeezed her
napkin harder. Sam wanted money. It made sense. “How much will you need?”
sharply. She did not have three hundred dollars to spare, but she forced
herself to agree. “Take the truck, okay, Sam? So I have something to carry the
Whatever. Be there at seven.”
“Of course. Seven o’clock tomorrow.”
Sam hung up.
Jane stared at her
tray of food, her stomach in a knot of anger and frustration. She’d be there to
get her furniture, if she gave up all of her time and money. She stared at her
phone. She wanted to call Isaac, but she didn’t want to be
life was always a mess of drama. She checked the time on her phone. She still
had a long hour left before she was free to leave.