After driving for an hour, Jess pulled into the driveway of Maggie’s two-story colonial home just outside the Breedsville city limits. She turned the ignition off and they sat there, staring at the house.
Jess looked over at Maggie. “Are you ready to go in?”
Maggie was surprised her hands were trembling as she took the house keys from her purse. “No, I’m not ready. I’m totally dreading this.”
“Do you know where all the paperwork is that you need?”
“It should be in Cory’s office in the file cabinet or in the safe.”
Jess’s hand rested on top of the whiskey’s brown paper sack. “Do you remember how to get into the safe?”
“Yeah.” Maggie nodded. “I haven’t been in it for a while but unless the combination was changed, I should be able to get into it.”
Jess pulled the whiskey out of the sack and held it up. “Do you want a swig of this before we go inside?”
“Nah,” Maggie said, opening the car door. “Let’s get this over with.”
Jess held the bottle as they walked up the brick steps to the front door. Maggie unlocked the door but was afraid to open it.
“Are you going inside?” Jess asked.
Maggie put her hand on the brass knob, turned it, and pushed the door open. Jess walked past her and into the foyer.
“It’s okay, Maggie. You can come in.”
Maggie stepped onto the rug and stopped. She looked into the living room, then toward the stairway, and finally into the dining room. The oak table had it chairs pushed neatly into place. A vase with artificial daffodils sat on a doily in the center of the tabletop. Then she looked at the floor. It was clean. Actually, the house looked like it was ready to be shown by a Realtor during an open house. Nevertheless, images of Cory’s dead, crumpled body flashed through her mind. She could still see the red blood on the slate tile floor. The handgun that was at his side was the one that they kept locked inside the safe. At least it looked like their gun. The police had the gun now.
“Are you okay?” Jess asked, noticing she was looking at the suicide scene.
Maggie looked at Jess and nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. You guys did a nice job cleaning the house.”
“Anything to help,” Jess said, walking past the dining room table and into the kitchen as if nothing had ever happened. She retrieved two tumblers from the cupboard and put ice cubes into each. “Does ice get stale?” she asked, walking back to the foyer.
“Probably,” Maggie said, taking the glass that Jess handed her.
“What the hell.” Jess smiled and poured the bourbon over the ice. She raised her glass to propose a toast. “To our dear Cory: May you be in Heaven fifteen minutes before the devil knows you are dead.”
They clinked glasses, drank down the woody liquor, and then walked past the stairs to Cory’s office.
Tears welled up in Maggie’s eyes when she saw the picture of her and Cory at the Grand Canyon. It was sitting on his desk next to the round glass paperweight with an American Staffordshire inside. She had gotten it for him on his birthday last year. She wiped the tears from her eyes with the side of her hand.
Jess gave her a hug. “It’s okay, everything will be all right.”
Maggie took a tissue from a box sitting on top of a worktable and dabbed the moisture around here puffy eyes. After she had shoved the tissue into her pocket, she walked over to the file cabinet. Even though Cory owned a construction company, he should have been an accountant because he kept meticulous records. Files were in alphabetical order and color-coded. She pulled open the second drawer and found the folder labeled INSURANCE and pulled it out from behind the folder labeled INCIDENTS.
She sat at the desk and opened the folder. The auto, homeowners, and life insurance policies were inside. Maggie pulled out the life insurance policy and looked for the section on coverage for suicide cases. “Hmm, I’m not sure if the policy has coverage for suicide or not. It says that bodily injury that is the result of willful or malicious acts of the insured or is intended by the insured is excluded from coverage.”
“Take it to a lawyer,” Jess said as she moved around the room, looking inside cabinets and drawers.
“Yeah, I will.” Maggie looked up from the policy and watched Jess open a cigar box filled with miscellaneous items instead of cigars. “What are you looking for?”
Jess closed the lid. “Nothing. Just being nosy, I guess.”
Maggie drummed her fingers on the large desk pad calendar. “What else am I looking for?”
“The will?” Jess immediately answered.
“Oh, yeah.” Maggie stood and walked to the bookcase built into the far wall.
“I thought the will was in a safe,” Jess said, watching Maggie as she began taking books off the center shelf.
Maggie took George Orwell’s 1984 off the shelf and sat it gently on the floor beside her. Then J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy of The Lord of the Rings was next. When she finally removed an oil painting that had been cut to fit behind the books, and between the shelves, sitting flush against the wall, a previously hidden wall safe was revealed.
“Good hiding place,” Jess said, moving up behind Maggie.
Maggie punched in a code on the keypad and the small wall safe opened, revealing two narrow shelves. The lower shelf used to hold the handgun that Cory used to commit suicide, now only a box of ammunition sat there. The other shelf had an envelope, an old coin, and jewelry.
“Is that coin and jewelry valuable?” Jess asked, moving in for a closer look.
Maggie took out the envelope. “They belonged to Cory’s grandmother. She was wealthy and passed them down to Cory.”
“What about Cory’s parents, did they get anything?”
“They got a lot,” Maggie said, opening the envelope to make sure the will was inside it. “But his Oma Gerdie, that’s what he called her, didn’t entirely trust that his parents would pass down any of their wealth to him. I disagree, however, because they dote on him and give him whatever he wants.” Maggie looked up from the envelope. “I mean gave him . . .”
“It’ll get easier,” Jess said softly.
Maggie took a deep breath and read the beginning of the document. “Last will and testament of Cory McGee.” She sighed and placed it gently back inside the envelope. “I’ll take this to the lawyer, too.”
“Were there any changes to it?”
“Changes?” Maggie asked, closing the safe. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s always good to know those things.”
Maggie replaced the picture in front of the safe and began re-shelving the books. When she had finished, she sat back down at Cory’s desk. “I could use another shot of that whiskey.”
“I’ll get us more ice,” Jess said, leaving the office.
Maggie leaned forward and began reading Cory’s entries on the calendar while she waited for Jess to return. A meeting with a client had been scheduled for yesterday; a hair appointment for this Monday and a note to call JP. Who was JP? Cory’s crew foreman was named Jim Peterman; it could be him. But then, Maggie did not know all the people that Cory had dealings with.
“Here you go,” Jess said, walking into the room. She sat the tumbler of ice and bourbon on the desk next to the calendar. “Drink up.”
Maggie downed the contents of the glass; it felt both cold and hot in her mouth. “You know Jess, I don’t usually drink whiskey, but I guess I have a good excuse today.”
“Yes, you do.” Jess had taken a seat in the chair in front the desk, facing Maggie. She sat her empty glass on the desktop.
“You’re not going to be able to drive.” Maggie waved her hand in front of her face, trying to catch the bit of air it moved, to cool her now flushed face. She looked back down at the calendar and looked at the date he had taken his life, May first. There was only one note jotted into the box, it simply said JP. Surely the police had noticed this and followed up on it. Maggie still could not believe Cory could take his own life, someone else had to be involved, but the police seemed not to agree. His death was caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, there was no evidence to the contrary.
“We’ll just stay here tonight,” Jess said, leaning forward. She put her elbows on the desk and asked, “What are you looking at?”
“Oh, nothing.” Maggie leaned back in the cushioned chair. For the moment, she was happy.
“Let’s play some music,” Jess said, looking at the small radio on top of the file cabinet. “Do you mind if I play music on the audio system in the living room? It’ll sound better than that radio up there.”
“Sure, but I’m not going into that part of the house,” Maggie said, closing her eyes.
Jess picked up Maggie’s glass and walked into the living room.
Maggie was surprised that Jess chose classical music. She had never heard her listen to anything other than rock or pop. Still curious about JP, Maggie flipped the page of the calendar to April. She found one JP and then another.
“I brought you another drink.” Jess sat it beside Maggie along with the whiskey bottle. “Still looking at that calendar?”
Maggie shrugged and reached for the tumbler. She was feeling the whiskey’s effect on her senses, or rather lack of senses, as she downed the drink. Then she looked at Jess’s empty tumbler. “Your glass is empty.” Maggie was beginning to slur her speech.
“I already drank it,” Jess said.
“Is that Bach you’re playing?” Maggie’s elbow slipped off the table.
“It is the Goldberg Variations; do you like it?”
“I didn’t even know we had it,” Maggie said. “It sounds beautiful though.”
Jess reached over and filled Maggie’s glass.
“No more,” Maggie said, reaching for Jess’s hand.
Jess continued pouring. “I don’t want you to get all depressed on me, being here in the house and all. Besides, it’s Saturday and I want to have some fun.”
The whiskey had taken Maggie’s common sense and thrown it out the window for the buzzards to peck at like road kill and carry away. “One more, then. I don’t want to go all crazy on you.”
Jess filled the glass and sat back into the chair on the other side of the desk. “Maggie, you know you can call me anytime if you need anything. I know this is hard for you, losing Cory, but I will always be here for you.”
With words that smeared into each other, she said, “I know Jess; you’re my best friend in the entire world. If I can’t depend on you, who can I depend on?”
Jess smiled and watched as Maggie tipped to the side and almost fell out of the chair. “I still think you should move out of that awful apartment building. It’s so old and run-down, not to mention it has a spooky history. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone died there, actually I’m sure people died there because it was a hospital.”
The whiskey was going down like cherry Kool-Aid. So much so that when she sat the glass back down it tipped over. Jess jumped up and ran to the kitchen, returning with a dishtowel.
“I think it’s time for bed,” Jess said, drying the desktop.
Maggie tried to stand but slid to her knees, giggling. “But I don’t want to go to bed, I’m having fun. Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“To your feet,” Jess said, helping her stand. She guided her to the downstairs guest room where she fell onto the bed. Jess took off Maggie’s shoes and covered her with the blanket that had been folded at the foot of the bed. “Sweet dreams,” she said, closing the bedroom door tight as she left the room.