Authors: Paula Boyd
Jolene Jackson Mystery
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Jolene Jackson Mystery
Copyright © 2014 by Diomo Books
Digital Edition Copyright © November 18, 2014 by Diomo Books
Original Cover Art by Layna Boyd, Copyright © 2014
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, locales or events are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The 4th Jolene Jackson Mystery
By Paula Boyd
“You’ll have to speak up, Mother, I can’t understand you.”
“I can’t speak up,” she hissed. “They’ll hear me. I’ve told you they watch me like a hawk.” Lucille paused then said louder, but more muffled as if she had her hand over the phone. “They’re trying to kill me, Jolene. I mean it. You better listen to me this time.”
“I know it’s painful to do the exercises—”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, it’s not that. There are things here that just aren’t right.”
Yes, and I was talking to one of them. “Do tell.”
“Don’t patronize me, missy. I already told you that Fred Dirkus just up and died for no reason at all not twenty-four hours ago. Darlene Smithers started sweating and having chest pains for no reason at all and liked to have died too. And just a few minutes ago, Helen Williams’ arm fell down at her side like a dishrag and she’s here for her knees! Do you hear what I’m saying? This is no rehab hospital, it’s a Nazi death camp. And besides that, the food is horrible and I’m starving to death! You have to get me out of here, Jolene. Right now!”
I reached for my ever-present bottle of antacids still sitting on my now-empty desk. I’d packed away just about everything else in my house, but thanks to my mother, those mint-flavored stomach-soothers had become as vital to me as air and water. I shook two tablets out of the bottle and popped them into my mouth. “Mother, dear, you have a new hip and an old femur held together with steel pins and rods. You need rehabilitating and that’s why you’re there.”
“You aren’t listening to me!”
“I have heard every single word you said, just as I have heard every single word from every one of your previous phone calls. Specifically, on day one, you wanted me to come get you immediately because the place was a loony bin. You were the only sane person in there—staff, patients or otherwise—and there was no way you were going to get better surrounded by people like chain-smoking alcoholic Fred and hypochondriac-kook Darlene. And to further recap, eating fresh fruit will not kill you and the therapists do not wear black masks and carry whips. I could go on.”
“You listen to me!” she said in a whispered shriek. “Things are not right here, and you have to come get me. Right now!”
“I will be there in a few days, Mother. But you need help and they won’t release you until you’re ready to go.”
“Well, if you don’t hurry up, they’ll be releasing me to the funeral home, that’s what they’ll be doing!”
I sighed, hung up the phone and reached for another mint.
Unlike some of my other forced sojourns to Kickapoo, Texas, I’d escaped the last one without taking a bullet. Of course, getting shot might have been less painful than what actually did happen.
The skeletons my mother had entombed in the family closet were doozies. I still couldn’t integrate them into any kind of reality that actually pertained to me, so we’re going to ignore the emotional trauma and mental anguish aspects of the situation and focus only on the cold hard facts, such as that I became an heiress of sorts overnight. No kidding.
Yep, it isn’t every day that some attorney tracks you down to hand you the keys to a ranch in Texas peppered with your very own oil and gas wells. Now, given that scenario, there’s not a soul alive who wouldn’t envision herself as the next Jed Clampett—I did.
Well, the first thing you know Jo-lene’s a millionaire…
It was amusing for about thirty seconds, but the more the attorney talked, the more I realized that what I’d actually inherited was a job, a liability and a royal pain in the ass.
Oh, to be sure there’s a truckload of assets associated with the estate. There are also creditors, liabilities, lawsuits and other various vermin swimming in the cement pond trying to drain it.
Technically, I didn’t actually know what all was in the estate since the attorneys only hit the highlights then informed me that I had to be present in Texas to deal with it. They also informed me that it would not be a speedy process even if there wasn’t toxic waste buried amongst the pump jacks and mesquites, which, of course, there was.
Said waste presumably came from a large plastics manufacturing plant in Redwater Falls that, to everyone’s dismay, now claimed me as major stockholder. There was a pending sales contract for the culprit company, and the legal beagles on both sides of the fence were scrambling to figure out how the hazardous waste and I fit into their picture of corporate bliss. It was a tossup as to which problem seemed to worry them the most.
I suppose you’re thinking that I could have just said “no thank you” and declined the inheritance. Well, you would be wrong, because Lucille Jackson made that virtually impossible to do by entangling her properties into the mess in some way that I will probably never understand. So, by order of the team of attorneys who now apparently ran my life, I was heading to Texas.
In a moment of delusional optimism, I’d arranged for professional caretakers to live in my house for three months. The attorneys had strongly suggested three years. I’d made strong suggestions for them as well, but it didn’t really change anything. Like it or not—and we all know I did not—I was going to Texas for an extended stay.
As I’d done a thousand times before, but would not be doing again anytime soon, I swiveled my chair around and looked out my big bay window. The view of the Rocky Mountains was magnificent. The tallest peak in the distance had a smattering of snow still in the upper crevices. Framed by the deep blue of the high altitude sky, it was picture perfect. The temperature outside was about seventy degrees and the air was crisp, clean and virtually bug-less—pretty much everything Kickapoo, Texas was not. Yet tomorrow morning, I was heading south.
Yes, I know I told my mother I wouldn’t be there for a few more days, and yes, I know lying is bad. However, I needed some time to adjust to my own captive situation before I had to go deal with hers.
And well, I had some other things to deal with too. Truth be told, my mother’s injuries and the bizarre estate problems might have forced my hand, but what really made me cowboy-up for the long haul in Texas was the need to know if Jerry and I could sustain a relationship that wasn’t based on my mother’s propensity to commit felonies. We’d been crazy about each other in high school, but ego, pride and plain stupidity on both our parts caused us to go our separate ways. Having Lucille become the county’s most wanted after my dad died had come in handy for reuniting us, but the majority of interactions we’d had with each other had been around just that. What would a normal everyday full-time relationship that didn’t revolve around a homicidal investigation look like?
Yeah, I couldn’t picture it either.
Jerry had strongly hinted that he wanted to find out though. Okay, he hadn’t hinted, he’d very clearly asked me to marry him—and I’d panicked. The panic attack that followed wasn’t pretty, but he’d talked me down off the ledge and it had actually turned in to a moment of honesty about things that we both needed.
It wasn’t news to me that I’d become jaded about that thing called marriage—having your husband leave you and your children for a doe-eyed teenager will do that. But cynicism aside, the cold hard truth is that no matter how you dress it up with flowers, lace and romantic notions, marriage is first and foremost a legal contract between you, your partner and your state government. And getting untangled from it can gut you like a fish mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially—at least it had me.
Now, I trusted Jerry not to do that—I trusted him implicitly—which was something I certainly never said about Danny or the rebound guy who came after him. But the biggest problem in the situation was that I didn’t trust me. Not that I was going to cheat on him—that’s not in my DNA. I didn’t trust that I would still be “me” if I got married. Saying, “I do,” apparently activated some subconscious “Stepford Wives” programming that turned my brain to mush and rearranged my priorities to not include me—I lost myself. That crazy train could only lead back to Lucille, but I had enough family baggage to unpack without adding that to the pile, so I’d decided to ignore the whole marriage thing for the time being.
Ditto for ignoring my mother. She had at least a month in rehab, which meant her ability to cause trouble was limited. I realize history does not support that theory, but it’s my delusion and I’m keeping it.
* * * * *
“Miz Jackson, are you on that phone again?” A short stocky woman in blue scrubs rolled a wheelchair into the room. “It’s a good thing you have that wireless earpiece, because holding that phone up to your head all day would have your arm and shoulder in a big mess and then we’d have to be working on that too.”
“I don’t know why you’re so worried about what I’m doing, Christine,” Lucille said, keeping eye contact with the physical therapist as she slipped the cell phone into her pocket.” She made a show of pulling off the earpiece and putting it in the drawer of the bedside cabinet. “I haven’t seen a sign anywhere saying that inmates can’t make phone calls.”
“You can’t talk while we’re working and you know it,” she said, pointing to Lucille’s pocket. “Put that away too.”
Lucille huffed and tipped her nose in the air as she pulled out the phone and put it in the drawer. “I don’t see what it hurts to have it with me. I might need it.”
“You won’t,” Christine said, as she set the brakes on the wheels and flipped up the foot holders. “You’re here to get that leg of yours working again, not talk on the telephone. You can do all the talking you want once you’ve done your therapy and exercises. I get paid to get you better and you’re going to get better whether you like it or not.”
“I could do just fine by myself at home right now. I don’t need this.”
Christine propped a hand on an ample hip and shook her head. “We lost half an hour yesterday afternoon arguing about this very same thing, now you get yourself into that chair.”
Lucille clenched her fists. “I don’t want to.”
Christine put the other hand on the other hip and glared at Lucille. “Miz Jackson, you better tell me what’s going on with you these last two days. We’d been making good progress, much better than expected even and now you’re acting like this. You keep this up and you may never get out.”
“Well, I darn sure don’t want to get out the way Fred Dirkus did.”
The physical therapist’s eyes narrowed. “Just what are you trying to say?”
Lucille realized her mistake, but it was too late to take it back the accusation. However, it was never too late to adjust her story. She sucked in a ragged breath and grabbed a tissue from the cabinet. “It’s just that, well,” she said, sniffing a little and pretending to wipe a tear. “I guess I’m just afraid I’m going to die here. That’s what scares old people the most, you know.” Implying that she was old to get on the good side of some little thirty-something dumpling went against her grain, but it might keep her alive, so she swallowed her pride, sniffed and dabbed the corner of her eye. “Nobody wants to die in a nursing home.”
Christine continued to scowl. “If you want to tell yourself you’re in a nursing home, you go right ahead, but I work in a rehabilitation center. If you want to worry about dying, you can do that too. Right now, you look ten years younger than you are. You sit in this room and don’t exercise and you’ll look ninety in a month.”
Lucille’s head snapped up. “Well, that’s just a plain hateful thing to say.”
“It’s the truth.” Christine clasped Lucille’s arms and guided her into the chair. “I’ve seen time and time again. Is that what you want?”
Lucille settled herself then pulled another tissue from her pocket. “You just watch,” she said, dabbing at her nose and sniffing for effect. “I’m going to surprise everybody and get out of here sooner than you think. A lot sooner.”
“I hope you do, Miz Jackson,” Christine said, pushing the chair out the door. “Believe me, I
hope you do.”
As they made their way down the hallway to the workout room, Lucille made it a point to look in every open door that she could, waving at whoever might be in there. It wasn’t her way, and seemed highly undignified, but that was beside the point. It made her look like she was just being friendly rather than suspicious, which she very well was. She doubted that she’d catch a nurse smothering somebody with a pillow, but she had to start somewhere, and keeping tabs on who was in what room seemed a good start.
“Here we are,” Christine said, pushing through the automatic doors into the therapy room. “Are you ready to work that leg?”
Lucille pushed herself up out of the chair and stood. She was still a little wobbly at times, but she was far better than she let on. As she shifted her weight, a slight twinge shot down from her hip all the way to her toes. It hadn’t really hurt, but she moaned because she figured the therapist expected it.
“It’s normal for it to hurt; you’re still very early in the healing process. Age makes a difference too. Bones just don’t heal as fast as we get older.”
“Mine do, you hateful heifer,” she muttered under her breath.
“Do you want a pain pill?”