After the police had left the house, Maggie locked up and drove to Cedar Creek Trailer Park to confront Jess. The sun was high in the sky by the time Maggie turned into the park. Kids were riding bikes on the narrow paved roads and seniors were sitting on their trailer decks enjoying the sunny day. When she approached Jess’s trailer, she noticed her car was not in the driveway. She was stopping and knocking at the door anyway.
Maggie drove up to the steps and turned off the car. She reached into her purse and turned on her phone’s voice recorder. Even though she had no idea if it was legal to record someone without his or her knowledge, she needed proof Jess was guilty.
She walked up to the door and knocked. There was no answer. Knowing Jess was not home, she thought about going into the trailer just to do a little investigating. Maybe she would get lucky and see the jewelry and coin sitting on the counter. She knew that was highly unlikely but worth a try. Looking around she saw no one watching, so she turned the doorknob; it was locked. She had a key to Jess’s trailer just as Jess had a key to her house. Then it occurred to her, is it considered breaking and entering when you have a key? Is she breaking and entering? Was Jess really breaking and entering? What about the permission aspect? Maggie sighed, without catching Jess red handed with the goods, it was probably useless pressing charges. Just as Maggie could say she was stopping to pick up something she had left in the trailer when she lived there; Jess could say she was checking to make sure things were all right at the house.
Maggie unlocked the door and pushed it open. She walked into the trailer and closed the door. The smell of cigarette smoke hung in the air. “Jess, are you here?”
Not hearing an answer, she walked further inside. The living room had empty beer cans sitting around, and the kitchen counter had an old piece of chocolate cake that was attracting a line of ants. So far, nothing looked like Jess had sold the valuables and was living the high life.
She walked to the bathroom and then to Jess’s bedroom. Should she look in dresser drawers? It would be a definite invasion of privacy, but then, she did steal from Maggie and have an affair with her husband. At least that is how things seemed to be.
The month that Maggie had lived with Jess, she had never went into her bedroom or looked through her things. Part of Maggie felt awful for thinking her friend was a slut and thief, but the evidence was there; at least in Maggie’s eyes. She walked up to Jess’s nightstand and slid open the small drawer. Inside were lip balm, hand lotion, a condom, and various insignificant things.
“What are you doing?” Jess said, from behind her.
Maggie pushed the drawer closed and turned around. She had not heard Jess come into the trailer, and now she was the one caught getting into personal items. She had to think of something to say, and quick. “Oh, hi, Jess. I am . . .”
“Why were you looking at my stuff?”
Maggie could not tell if Jess was angry or just putting on a show. “I’m sorry. I left my pendant here and I was just looking for it. I thought maybe if you found it you may have put it in there for safe keeping.” Not a bad lie, she thought.
“I haven’t seen a pendant. What does it look like?”
Gosh, now I have to expand my lie. “It looks like a butterfly.”
Jess shook her head and walked into the kitchen, taking a can of beer from the fridge. “Do you want one?”
“No, I have to get back to the apartment.”
Jess snapped the can tab open, walked into the living room, and sat on the lumpy sofa, propping her feet on the coffee table. “I’ll call you if I find the pendant.”
Maggie was feeling bad. Jess was not acting like a guilty person. She sat in the stained brown velvet chair across from Jess. How was she going to ask questions without sounding accusative? “I just came from the house and it looked like someone has been there since we were there. Did you go back to the house for some reason?”
Jess shook her head. “Not me.”
“You, know . . . I was going through more of Cory’s papers and found one that said you worked for him as an associate accountant. Is that true?”
Jess took another swallow of beer. “Yeah, he hired me to do basic filing and data entry, nothing that has much to do with being an accountant.”
“I didn’t know, why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought you knew; I thought Cory told you. Besides, I didn’t work much, only a night or two a week. It was just to supplement my income from Flashers.”
Okay, she is making sense. Should she ask about the Swiss Chalet and St. Valentine’s Day? If she did not, she would be mad at herself for not getting answers to those questions. “I also saw something about the Swiss Chalet.” She studied Jess’s expression, but she did not detect a look of guilt. At least so far.
“Oh, that,” Jess said, glancing toward the ceiling. “He was busy and wanted me to help him by getting you a bouquet from the flower shop next door. We met in the parking lot of the Swiss Chalet because it was bigger than the little one the flower shop had. Did you get the flowers?”
Maggie arrived home the next evening, and there was indeed a bouquet on the dining room table for her. It was a beautiful arrangement of red roses, tulips, and frilly white baby’s breath. “Why did you meet in the parking lot? Why not just bring the flowers back to the house?”
“I was not going back to the house, I was staying in town for a while, and Cory was driving through, so we just met up.”
Jess seemed calm and assured. Had she practiced the answers and already prepared for Maggie’s inevitable questions? Maggie wanted to mention the missing jewelry and coin but did not want Jess hiding anything more than what she already had. “I talked to the lawyer today.”
Jess flinched and took a double swallow. “Oh, yeah? What did he have to say?”
“He said that Cory gave Jessica Jane Pinter his grandma’s jewelry and coin.” Maggie did not take her eyes off Jess.
“He did?” Jessica smiled and leaned forward. “You’re kidding?”
“You didn’t know about that?” Maggie noticed that Jess seemed surprised. Maybe the surprise came from her realizing that her blackmailing actually worked.
“No, I didn’t.” Jess finished the can of beer and walked into the kitchen to get another.
“Why would he give you his grandma’s things and not me? Any idea?” Maggie did not like the way that Jess seemed preoccupied with her newfound wealth rather than wondering why Maggie, Cory’s wife, had not inherited them.
“I don’t know.” Jess sat back down. “But the two of you have not been getting along. Sometimes when he’s working late and you’re gone on business, he tells me things.”
Maggie was shocked. Jess had to have noticed her reaction. “What things?”
“I don’t know if I should say.”
“He’s dead, you can say.” Maggie wanted the answer.
“He said you’re gone a lot and he gets lonely, and that when you’re home you’re either busy writing or too tired for anything and then you go to straight to bed . . . to go to sleep.”
The tide was turning. By what Jess was saying, she was leading up to the affair. However, Maggie had no idea anything was wrong with her and Cory’s relationship. “Please, explain further, Jess. Just say it.”
Jess leaned back and smiled. “Well, he and I have always gotten along, and quite frankly I have always been attracted to him.” She looked at Maggie. “I don’t believe you knew that he was attracted to me. Did you?”
Maggie sat speechless.
“I didn’t think so. But now that he’s dead, like you said, I might as well say it because I think you do know now.” Jess leaned back and gazed out the window as if she were dreaming. “One night I stopped by the house to see you, but you were gone on business, some book signing or something, but Cory was home. He invited me in and we had a few drinks. Actually, more than a few drinks. And what can I say, one thing led to another and we . . .” Jess looked at Maggie. “Do you want me to continue?”
Maggie got the picture. Jess was a traitor friend and Cory was a cheat. She nodded.
“Well, I won’t give you all the details, but I will tell you that we made love. Actually, since I’m coming clean, we made love many times. I’m surprised you never picked up on it. By the look you’re giving me, I can tell you did not know he was planning on divorcing you. He was taking a long time to tell you though. I guess he felt sorry for you.”
This was one more blow to her senses. Jess had reached into her chest and pulled out Maggie’s heart. She did not cry, she was too numb. But one more thing was bothering her—the suicide. She kept her cool and asked, “Do you know anything about the suicide? Why would Cory commit suicide?”
Jess raised her eyebrows in thought. “I don’t know. I think he was torn between us and couldn’t take it anymore.”
Even though Maggie was numb, it did not dull her suspicion of Jess. If Jess could have an affair with Cory behind her back, maybe she knew more about Cory’s death than she was saying, so decided to lie. “The police told me they think someone murdered Cory, that it wasn’t suicide.”
Jess had a change of state. “What?”
Maggie smiled inside, but not really. Jess may have had something to do with Cory’s death, but that was absurd. Jess is not capable of murder. Maybe she hired someone. “I don’t know any more than that.”
Jess’s calm demeanor returned. “Are you a suspect?”
What? How had Jess turned this around? Had she done something to make Maggie look suspicious? But, first of all, the police saying it could be murder was a lie. Was it true? Maybe Jess was capable of more evil than Maggie had imagined. She stood up. “I think I need to get back home.”
Jess did not say anything until Maggie was closing the door.
“Have you seen a psychiatrist lately, Maggie?”
What the hell, was everyone insane?