Read Whittaker 03.5 If Nothing Changes Online

Authors: Donna White Glaser

Whittaker 03.5 If Nothing Changes

BOOK: Whittaker 03.5 If Nothing Changes
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IF NOTHING CHANGES

I’m ashamed to say that the first thing I thought when I found Jillian lying on the storage room floor was, “Who left that here?” The splayed figure looked like a prop for the ongoing Halloween party, not a dead girl.

She lay on her back in a froth of white petticoats, her blond hair curled in tight ringlets, one hand tucked awkwardly underneath her body. The other arm lay on her stomach, palm up, red smearing the tips. A thin, engorged purple band ringed her neck - not a scarf or necklace - but the indication of how she’d died. Strangled, if my TV/thriller novel education was worth anything.

I screamed just like in the movies, except that nobody came running because nobody could hear me over the band, Dry and Dirty. I screamed again with the same results, thus proving that A.A.‘s slogan “nothing changes if nothing changes” is as true with dead bodies as with addictive behaviours.

I was either going to have to wait for the band to break or leave Jillian alone on the floor, but I felt as though someone had Gorilla-glued my feet to the sticky linoleum. Dressed up as Little Bo Peep for the costume contest, Jillian exuded a vulnerability made infinitely worse by the fact that nothing would ever hurt her again. I just couldn’t leave her.

In the distance, the band thumped at a decibel level dangerous to human hearing. Conversations thrummed in a beehive hum. People laughed.

I stood trapped in a bubble of secret knowledge. Unable to grasp that Jillian lay dead beneath the dusty shelves of generic toilet bowl cleaner and rug deodorizers and a half-used case of industrial strength paper towels. And only I knew it.

Nobody was coming. I backed out into the hall and gave screaming another try. This time, it worked.

For the next few days, the HP & Me members buzzed with speculation. Despite naming the club for our Higher Power, we all turned into amateur detectives, none willing to leave the job to HP or the real professionals, either. Drunks have trust issues. Besides, most were pissed that the cops forcibly relocated us to a local church basement while they “worked the scene.” Drunks also have logic issues, apparently. I needed to talk to Sue, my sponsor. I needed to talk out what it meant to find a dead woman on the floor, but every time I went to the club the gossips swarmed over me, flitting like ill-mannered gnats in my face. Although nobody would admit it, the excitement of murder close at hand - of somebody else’s, that is - was a rush. We take our highs however we can get them.

Nearly a week passed before Sue and I could get together. I suggested we meet at a coffee shop so we wouldn’t be bothered; Sue suggested we slap the shit out of anyone who tried to bother us.

I deferred to violence. We met at the club.

Sue peeked inside an adjacent room that club members used for sponsor meetings and playing cards. Mostly cards, since a group of longtime buddies - nearly all of them veterans of distant war, men used to facing violence and death and chaos - had claimed squatters’ rights to the small room. It stank of cigarettes, old guys, and past conflicts. Sue had the room cleared in under thirty seconds, although not without a steady barrage of cussing and vile threats. The guys cussed back, which just encouraged her more.

In the wake of battle, peace reigned over the stinky room.


So, how’re you doing, Letty?” Now that we were alone, Sue morphed back into a reasonable woman.


I’m doin’,” I replied. “How about you? You were Jillian’s sponsor, too. This has to be hard.”

She nodded, looking away. “It is. She was doing well. She would’ve made it, I think. I know you’re not supposed to say that, but … She was working the program, doing service work, she’d even just taken over the treasurer spot for the Sunday night group. I know you can’t say this for sure about anyone, but I felt like she was going to make it.”

I knew better than to offer a stupid platitude like, “Well, at least she died sober.” It was a good thing, of course, that she’d died sober, but mostly as reassurance for those of us still trying to find the silver lining in sobriety. At least no one’s last memory of her would be face down in the gutter with a mouthful of her own puke.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.


Have the police been by?” I asked.


Yeah, I talked to them. You?”


They took a statement from me that night.”


I bet they loved your costume,” Sue smirked.

I gave her the evil eye. Apparently, my Wonder Woman costume had been quite a hit, both before and after my gruesome discovery. There’d been more than a few jokes about using the Lasso of Truth, and I was pretty sure the cops hadn’t meant on criminals. Even while I was being questioned, I’d heard some joker in the background, humming something about all the world waiting for me.

Time to change the subject. “What did they ask you?”


If she was seeing anyone, if she had any enemies, if she was in trouble with anyone. The usual.”

Sue watched the same crime shows I did, and we traded Jonathan Kellerman and Kathy Reichs novels back and forth like … well … addicts.


Was she?” I asked. “Seeing someone, I mean?”


She’d been with Jay N. for the last four months. They seemed to be getting along just fine. She even got him to wear some hokey animal costume, which, if she hadn’t been murdered, would have made him the laughingstock of the club for the next year. Now that I think about it, making a guy wear that costume is a pretty good motive for murder.”

I dimly recalled seeing somebody dressed up as a fluffy white cotton ball wandering around the dance floor. The fact that there was a brass sheep bell hanging around his neck made a tad more sense now. Sue was right. No man should ever be dressed up as a fluffy lamb.


She must have traded some pretty hefty sexual favours for that getup,” Sue mused.


Or maybe he’s in love?”

Sue made a face. She didn’t believe in warm-and-fuzzy motivations. “Well, there’s always her ex-boyfriend,” she added. “Quinn. You know him, right? That Johnny Depp clone?”


Everybody knows Quinn. Do you know he showed up at the Halloween party as Jack Sparrow?” At Sue’s look of confusion, I added, “The character Depp played in
 
Pirates of the Caribbean?
Anyway, he spent the whole night swaggering around, waving a cutlass in everyone’s face, acting dashing. He’s so arrogant.”


He didn’t ask you to dance, huh?”


Oh, shut up. How long did he and Jillian date?”


Just long enough for her to figure out he was screwing two other women. About a month and a half. She caught him schnogging one of them in her apartment. I guess he didn’t want the chick to know where he lived. Or maybe he got a thrill out of doin’ it in another woman’s bed. Who knows? And, you know, the guy still acted surprised when she dumped him.”


I-can’t-believe-you-won’t-give-me-another-chance surprised or I’m-going-to-kill-you-dead surprised?”


I’d say the former, except Jillian’s stuck in a coffin at Becks Funeral Home.”


You think he did it?”

Sue gave me a “duh” look that she must have seen a gazillion times when she taught middle school. It didn’t look any better on her grizzled face than it would on a sulky teen.


Anybody else?” I asked.


You mean, who else should we put on the suspect list, Nancy Drew?” Her frown served to remind me of the times I’d been caught up in unexpected and highly dangerous situations. None of them my fault, I might add.


Look, I’m just trying to make sense of this. It’s not like I found her on purpose.”


What were you doing in the supply closet, anyway?”


Looking for toilet paper.”


Would’ve been better if you’d just drip-dried. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been the first time.”


I’ve got higher standards now that I’m sober. Anyway, whoever killed Jillian must be one of us. Nobody except A.A. folks can come to the dance.”


A.A. people and their families,” Sue said.


Was Jillian’s family here?”


Not hers. But Quinn’s wife was.”

Sue waited while I picked my jaw up off the table. “He’s married? How did I not know that? What was he doing dating Jillian?”


They’re in one of those ‘open’ marriages, although from what I understand, he’s the only one with the key to the door. I don’t think Nan’s ever hooked up with anyone else. Not that I’ve heard, anyway.”


Jillian wasn’t still seeing Quinn, was she? I mean, if his wife was going to kill her wouldn’t she have done that during the affair? Why wait four months?”


With Quinn, I wouldn’t rule anything out. He likes to play ‘doctors without borders,’ if you know what I mean. Jillian dating some other guy wouldn’t stop Quinn from making a play any more than his being married has. In fact, I could see her becoming more of a challenge for him.”


Why would his wife put up with that?” There were so many people at the club that it was conceivable I might recognize Nan without knowing she was Quinn’s wife. Especially since I hadn’t known he was married to begin with. Sue, having been in recovery far longer than me, had a better understanding of who belonged with whom in the club. “Do I know her?”


Probably not,” she said. “Unless you’ve been going to Al-Anon. Nan’s a regular there. She’s great at giving advice, but not so good at listening.” Sue gave me one of those “significant” sponsor glares, which was supposed to help me recognize one of my own character defects.


So, was she at the dance?” I persisted.

Sue scowled. “I have no idea. I mean, I can recognize her if she comes to the club, but in a costume? No way.”

I kept my eyebrows raised in expectation. She sighed.


Okay, I’ll ask around at the next Al-Anon meeting, but Letty, I’m not kidding. You be careful.”

Well, duh. Of course, I’d be careful.

* * *

Jay N. was easy to track down. For one thing, everyone was talking about him. For another, he was the only male weeping openly in the lobby. And the meeting room. And in every connecting hallway and adjacent side room. Word had it that he only left the club to go to work, which was sporadic.

As a therapist, I’m used to men who cry, but in Northwestern Wisconsin, I was in the minority by a wide, wide margin. Occasionally we get a drunk guy who stumbles in to the club bawling at the thought that sobriety might require actually giving up booze. That was easier to overlook. We’d all wrestled with that conundrum as we teetered on the cusp of making a change.

Sponsors are usually okay with crying, too. Tears get shed when we look at our past, our mistakes, our willful wronging of others. That’s not uncommon in private meetings, or even in our home groups. Even strong men break down then.

But in the lobby? Whoa.

A six-foot radius existed around Jay, as men and women alike gave him a wide berth. He sat on the same couch every day, crying and picking absently at the threads on the armrest. Every now and then, when he’d used up all the tissues, some Good Samaritan would toss him a fresh box. I surprised him by plopping down beside him, immediately wishing someone had tossed him some deodorant. The hammer-blow-to-the-nose B.O. smell proved that the few occasions he’d left the club hadn’t included a trip home to shower.

He recognized me. Grabbing my hand (which would have been fine if not for the soggy tissue squishing between our palms) he said, “You found her, didn’t you? My Jillian? You’re the one who found her.”


Yes, I did. I’m so sorry for y - ”


I don’t know if I can deal with this. I feel like I’m going crazy. I know I’m freaking people out, but I’m afraid to leave the club. It’s my sanctuary. All I can do is sit here and cry.”

Warning bells. “Afraid?”

He waved a hand, wafting the odorous cloud around us. “That’s not important. I just can’t believe she’s gone. Jillian was - ”


Jay, are you thinking of hurting yourself?” I had to be direct. Even if he wasn’t a client, if he was suicidal, I was obligated, morally, if not legally, to take action.


No, absolutely not.” He looked downright appalled at the thought. In fact, the question had shocked him so much, he stopped crying.

BOOK: Whittaker 03.5 If Nothing Changes
3.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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