Authors: Jan Christensen
Copyright © 2012
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any printed, audio or electronic form without permission.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is purely coincidental.
To my oldest daughter Julie who is also a published writer, because she knows what I went through to make this happen. This one’s for you!
Newport, Rhode Island
She entered her home, hands shaking, her heart beating so hard she seriously thought she’d have a heart attack. After all, she wasn’t a young woman anymore. She was sure no one had followed her, but she didn’t know if someone had noticed her parked on the street where those two sisters lived next door to each other. She bolted the door and walked on unsteady legs to the kitchen.
How had everything gone so wrong? All she’d wanted was for Crystal to be reasonable. Doctor was an old man. To threaten him like that …
She set her purse down, jerked off her coat, which had not been keeping her warm anyway, and put the kettle on to boil. Tea. She needed tea. She took down the package of Earl Gray and rummaged in the far cabinet for the brandy. Kept for medicinal purposes. No, she wasn’t sick, but if her heart didn’t stop pounding, she’d have to call 911. And they were probably busy with Crystal by now.
Her legs wouldn’t hold her anymore, so she plunked herself into a chair and put her head in her hands, waiting for the water to boil.
She could hear Crystal yelling in her head. Telling her Doctor had to make things right. But he was old, he was out of his head a lot of the time, and what good would it do? She shuddered. It would ruin everything. His reputation. Maybe her reputation. No telling what he’d blurt out if questioned now.
She couldn’t believe she took the twenty-two she always carried for protection, laws be damned, out of her purse and pointed it at Crystal. Threatened her. Crystal had grabbed some keys hanging by the back door and bolted. Fortunately, she’d left her cell phone on the coffee table.
What could she do? She had to follow. Being a lot younger, Crystal was faster, but she had to stop to unlock her sister’s back door. And so she had followed Crystal into the house, into that pretty baby’s nursery, and shot her. Emptied the gun.
She wanted to close her eyes against remembering, but they were already closed. She wanted to scream, but her throat was so tight, she couldn’t even do that.
She’d watched Crystal crumple to the floor. The twenty-two had only made popping sounds, but she was scared witless someone had heard. She’d needed to run, and she had, back to Crystal’s next door, around her house, peeking cautiously at the street to see if anyone was about. Then she’d climbed into her car and driven home.
The tea kettle whistled. She started so hard, she almost fell out of the chair.
The kettle became almost dry, the whistling maddening her, before her legs were steady enough for her to stand up and make her tea.
Tina Shaw expected disorganization and clutter when she accepted her first job as a professional organizer. And she found lots of it at Rachel’s house. Rach apparently had not only been collecting her own clutter, but she accepted roomfuls of it no one else wanted after relatives passed away.
It was all a lot more than Tina had imagined when she first thought about her new profession. Her impulse was to run screaming to her car, but she squashed it. She glanced at Rachel often as they walked through the house, wondering about her mental health. And thinking that a small bulldozer might do a better job than they could.
When Rachel opened the door to the perfectly organized baby nursery, Tina stood stock-still because she expected more of the same. The only item spoiling the pristine room was Rachel’s sister, face down on the floor, several bullet holes marring her beautifully coiffed and clothed body, blood sprayed sickeningly over and around her.
Did Rachel kill her sister
? Tina had no idea how to clean up this mess. Her mind skittered to the bulldozer again. She pushed away the image.
“Crystal,” Rachel wailed. She ran to her sister and knelt down, then didn’t seem to know what to do.
Tina’s feet dragged as she walked over to the two women and knelt beside Rachel. With shaking fingers, she took Crystal’s wrist and tried to find a pulse. Nothing. She tried at the neck. Still nothing. Crystal’s skin felt cold, very cold, and Tina pushed down the vomit that rose in her throat.
“She’s gone,” Tina said.
“No,” Rachel screamed. “Crystal—you can’t leave me!” She sprawled over her sister, hugging her, ignoring the blood. Deep, racking sobs shook her shoulders.
Tina rose and looked for a phone. She’d left her purse with her cell in the master bedroom. They’d started decluttering in there. Rachel’s husband had kept his side of the room neat, so Tina had set her purse and jacket down on the bed.
A small, cordless phone sat on a bureau among lots of baby paraphernalia, all perfectly arranged. Tina stared, bemused, at a tiny plush baby kangaroo as she dialed 911. She explained what they’d found to the operator, confirmed the address, and hung up in a daze, even though she was told to stay on the line. Tina knew the murderer was long gone—they’d been through the whole house, hadn’t reached the nursery until last, Rachel obviously reluctant to show her the room.
Why? Because it was a secret place for her, the only spot in the house she kept perfect? Or was it because she knew Crystal lay here, cold, bloody, and dead?
Tina walked over to the partially open sliding glass door that looked out on a small side patio. This room must have originally been a sun room, she thought, then shivered and started to close the door all the way.
. She wondered what else she’d handled. The room was cool, but she knew it was really cold outside. Overcast, a storm threatening, and although she didn’t like looking at storm clouds, she was reluctant to turn around and face what was in the room.
Rachel’s sobs had turned to soft cries and hiccups.
“Do you want me to call Nicky?” Tina asked. Rachel didn’t seem to hear her, so Tina said, louder, walking toward her, “Do you want me to call your husband?”
Rachel looked up then, her face tear-streaked, and sat back on her heels before nodding.
Tina asked Rach for the number. When she got Nicky on the line, she couldn’t think of what to say.
“Tina, what is it?” he asked.
“Nicky.” She cleared her throat. “You need to come home. It’s Crystal. We found her. I’m afraid she’s… dead.”
“Yes, I heard you. But how?”
“She was shot. The police are almost here. Rachel will need you.”
There was a click on the line, and Tina knew he was on his way. She heard the sirens now.
“I’ll get the door,” Tina said and walked to the front of the house, down that hall made narrow with stacked boxes. What would the cops think? That Rachel was crazy? Crazy enough to kill her sister? She shuddered.
Banging on the door made her hurry, and she bumped into some boxes.
“Coming, coming!” She reached the door and pulled it open.
Two paramedics stood there, cases in hands.
“This way,” Tina said and took them to the nursery, leaving the front door open.
Quickly they knelt down and checked on Crystal. One of the paramedics spoke on a radio, giving their findings, then they stood up.
“We’re sorry. Nothing we can do. The police should be here any minute.”
And then there they were, in the doorway, guns drawn. They both glanced around the room, gazes lingering on Crystal. One of them said, “Everyone stay right where you are while we make sure no one else is here.”
The only sounds while they searched were from their footsteps, some radio chatter, and the occasional soft sob from Rachel. Tina shook, waiting for them to return. Had the killer been in the house while she and Rachel worked in the master bedroom?
When the officers came back, Tina realized she wasn’t sad, but mad. Why would anyone kill a young woman, a woman of Tina’s own age—only twenty-nine? Crystal could be annoying, and the urge to bitch-slap her had come over many of her friends, including Tina. But to kill her?
Tina knew the grief would come later because, after all, they’d been friends since first grade. The paramedics left, and finally, numbness came over her, taking away the mad, leaving her feeling empty.
The officers holstered their guns, and one said, “Come this way.” He led them to the kitchen. “We’ll wait here until the detectives arrive.”
The kitchen depressed her. Two chairs and a part of the table were clear of clutter, but the rest was piled high. It looked as if a giant hand, full of kitchen stuff and other miscellaneous junk, had tossed everything in the air and let it lay where it landed.
Mail, both opened and unopened, piled on the table. Chairs and floor littered with such a mess of items, Tina couldn’t even sort them out in her head. All the counters were crammed with pots, pans, dishes, plastic containers, gadgets, and utensils. A couple of cupboard doors stood open revealing more disorganized stuff.
One thing she noticed that she’d been warned about in her training—no food was left out. But a few dirty dishes sat in the sink, not even rinsed. Tina guessed Nicky would deal with them when he came home because everything else was clean.
Tina knew this was all a sign of Rachel being depressed. And Crystal’s death could be a blow that would take much time and therapy to overcome. She was glad she was no longer a clinical psychologist. As hard as it was going to be to help Rachel clean up this mess, working on her mental state would be even harder.
Within minutes, a male-female team in civilian clothes entered the kitchen. The first two left after receiving instructions from the woman officer. Then she said, “I’m Detective Lisbeth Dotson, and this is Detective Smith. Who are you?”
Rachel didn’t answer, so Tina explained, “I’m a friend of Crystal’s, the woman who was, um, killed.”
“You just move in here?” Smith asked.
“No. No, I don’t live here. This is Rachel Palmer. It’s her house. She’s Crystal’s sister, and I came to help her declutter. I’m a professional organizer.”
“A what?” Smith asked.
“A professional organizer.”
“What the hell is that?” He rubbed his weak chin. He was dressed decently enough in a gray suit and tasteful blue tie, but Tina disliked him on sight.
“What does it sound like, John?” Detective Dotson asked. “She’s gonna help the sister put stuff away.”
“What? She can’t put it away herself?”
His full name was John Smith, Tina realized. He must have fun checking into motels. She almost giggled, realized she was close to hysterical. Taking deep breaths, she tried to think of something else. Nothing came to mind. She imagined him standing with a blowsy-looking woman at a motel counter, the clerk sneering.
No one said anything, and Rachel began to cry again. She’d looked perfectly put together when Tina had arrived, as she always had in high school. Blond hair curled and sprayed, flawless makeup, dressed to kill. Oh, bad choice of words. Until Tina had walked inside, she hadn’t been able to imagine why Rach would need a professional organizer.
Tina felt scruffy with no makeup, hair pulled back into a ponytail and in her white t-shirt, jeans, and blue blazer. All appropriate for the job, she’d thought. She fingered the moss agate worry stone in her blazer pocket. The one she’d bought when mentally wrestling with giving up being a psychologist.
“Well,” John said, “we have to take you somewhere else for questioning. Can’t contaminate the crime scene, you know.”
Several people went by in the hall. Tina realized they were crime scene techs, looking surprisingly like those on TV.
“I think we’d better go to the station.” He looked at Detective Dotson.
She gave a slight nod. She was short with a sturdy body, a square face, and shrewd blue eyes. Her glossy brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She carried herself in such a way that Tina didn’t think she’d want to ever see her angry. She wore a maroon pantsuit with a creamy silk blouse. As the detective turned to leave, the slit in her jacket parted, and Tina caught a glimpse of her gun in a holster at the small of her back. The sight did not reassure her. A gun had been the instrument used to kill Crystal, after all.
John started for the hallway, and Detective Dotson gestured for Tina and Rachel to follow. They marched out the door, single file, and down the walk.
The outside yard, driveway, and sidewalk were all clean and free of clutter.
Nicky must keep that up
, Tina thought. Nothing for the neighbors to complain about. Crystal had told her they’d been in the house for six years and Rachel couldn’t get it organized.