Maggie sat straight up on the couch, having been startled awake. She had slept from the time she laid down on the couch all the way until Thursday morning. She looked around her apartment; there were no hospital beds or patients. The dream was so real.
“I’m moving out,” she said to herself. She walked to the kitchen, picked up her cell phone from the table, and called Mr. Zimmerman. As usual, the phone rang and rang, not even an answering machine picked up. “Maybe he’s in his office.”
Still depressed from the conversation with Debbie, she did not even bother to comb her hair or brush her teeth. When she walked past the underpants in the basket, it occurred to her that she could defend herself by setting up a hidden camera in her apartment. And the next time Debbie came in—Debbie had to be sneaking into her apartment—she would have video proof that Debbie was making her look crazy. They had a video camera at the house, and it was able to detect motion and begin recording. She would pick it up after she went to Mr. Zimmerman’s office.
She put her phone in her purse and walked out of the apartment, locking the door behind her. She looked at Bruce’s door. Should she see if he was home and clear this mess up? Not now, she decided.
When she reached the lobby, she could see through the windowed enclosure that Mr. Zimmerman was not in his office. Where was he, on vacation? She walked to the room and looked in; maybe there was a note on the door or his desk indicating there had been a family emergency, and he had to leave, but he would be back. There was no note.
She looked through the glass and noticed a framed black-and-white photograph of a fishing charter boat with the name Castaway painted on the stern. The watercraft reminded her of the S.S. Minnow from Gilligan’s Island.
Noticing there was a person at the helm, she decided to get a closer look. Was it the Carl Zimmerman she knew or was it his father? She tried the door; it was unlocked. She walked up to the picture and examined it. The man did indeed resemble Mr. Zimmerman; however he was tall and trim, not stubby and potbellied. She could tell the photograph had been taken a long time ago by the way it was faded and yellowed around the edges. Based on what Claudia ranted about at the grocery store last week, it had to be Mr. Zimmerman’s father. She must have meant it was him that was drunk and killed a man out on the water in front of this horrid place.
“Maggie, what are you doing in Mr. Zimmerman’s office?” Ethel asked, through the open door.
Maggie turned around. “I was just looking at this picture. Is that—”
“It’s not good to be inside this office,” Ethel said, interrupting Maggie’s question. She motioned for Maggie to leave.
“Of course, I’m sorry.” Maggie walked out and closed the door.
Ethel began walking to the vestibule. “I’d like to stay and chat, Maggie, but I need to get to the store and get some items I need. I’ll talk to you later.”
Maggie watched as Ethel rushed out the door and down the porch steps. I wonder what her hurry is, she thought as she walked to her, still empty, mailbox.
The drive to her house distracted her from Debbie’s lies—at least for the moment—as her car hummed along the rain-soaked roads from the storm during the night. Now, however, the rising sun cast warm, bright light over the road and into the car. She pulled down the sun visor as she drove into Black Water. She got a cup of coffee and continued her journey, feeling much better as she got further away from the crazies.
The coffee was gone when she drove into her driveway. Between the trauma of Cory’s death and Debbie’s false accusations, she was becoming numb to the emotional pain. She got out of the car and went into the house, forcing herself to look into the dining room. Only a slight flush of agony rushed through her. Her mind was blocking out the misery, making her desensitized to the pain. She was changing her mind about selling the house; maybe she should move back in. It made the most sense, after all. First, she had to catch Debbie in the act of framing her so that she had more than her words to fight the lies.
Maggie walked into the office and to the drawer containing the camcorder. She took it out, along with the charger, and stuffed it inside her purse. Then she looked around the room and the file cabinet next to her. She remembered the INCIDENTS folder. Out of curiosity, she slid open the file cabinet drawer and pulled out the folder, then sat at the desk and opened it.
Records of on-the-job injuries by employees were inside. She thumbed through them and stopped when she reached the last sheet of paper, it had Jess’s name written on it. It had her listed as an associate accountant. Jess was not an accountant; she was a waitress at Flashers, a bar not far from their house. Moreover, Jess was not taking any accounting classes, so why did Cory hire her and why had not Jess said anything to her?
She pulled the sheet of paper out for closer inspection. If he had hired her as an associate accountant, something must have happened for him to add her to the INCIDENTS folder. There was no mention of an actual incident, other than next to the date February 14, it said, “Met after work for drinks, Chalet, blackmail.” Maggie did not have to think too hard to conclude that Cory was having an affair with Jess and that she was blackmailing him. No way, it has to mean something else, she thought. Then she remembered she was out of town at a book signing that night. Not hard to forget since it was Saint Valentine’s Day.
Maggie closed the folder. Cory did not act as if he was with Jess; but, of course, when someone is having an affair, learning to cover it up would be the top priority. But what about the mention of blackmail? Was it possible that Jess was blackmailing Cory? Was Jess demanding money from him in exchange for not telling her about their relationship? Maggie’s emotions exploded as sadness overtook her. What else could happen?
She went back to the file cabinet and pulled out the folder with the bank statements for his business. Even though Cory had these records on his computer, he always printed them out so that he had another copy. Maggie went immediately to the February statement, looking for anything out of the ordinary. There were expenditures for equipment, supplies, employee wages, and an ATM withdrawal of five-hundred dollars. Then she could not believe what she saw on the next line, a debit for Swiss Chalet. Oh my god, I think that is a motel, she said.
Maggie turned on Cory’s computer and did a search for Swiss Chalet. It was just as she expected. The next town over had it listed as a short-stay motel, in other words, a no-tell motel. Tears streamed from Maggie’s eyes as she went through the statements looking for any other mysterious withdrawals. There was none.
She closed the file and sobbed. It was as though everything had been taken from her. She was alone; there was no one she could count on, no one she could trust.
Maggie stood up and went into the bathroom. She took a washcloth from the closet and ran it under cool water to wipe her face. There had to be a logical explanation, she thought. I mean, if Jess actually was blackmailing Cory, he was not taking money from the business or from their personal checking account, she would have known, if he were. Then it struck her, right between the eyes like a hatchet blade. The only other thing of value they had that Jess could want as payment to cover up the affair was . . . the jewelry . . . The jewelry and the coin in the wall safe.
She threw down the washcloth and ran back into the office. Without concern for 1984 and The Lord of the Rings, she frantically pushed them away from the safe, causing them to fall to the floor as she fumbled with the keypad. When she finally got the correct code entered, she opened the safe. It was empty. Oma Gerdie’s jewelry and the coin were gone. Everything was gone, even the ammunition for the handgun.