by Barbara Colley
"Nadia, it's okay. Just calm down, hon." Charlotte
LaRue spoke softly into the telephone receiver as she interrupted
the young woman's tearful tirade. "Believe me, I understand. I
really do," she stressed. "Little Davy has to come first and you
can't help it if he's ill. But Nadia, dear, just this once, couldn't
Ricco take him to the doctor? I know you need the money, and this
will make two days this week you've had to miss work."
Charlotte drummed her fingers on the desktop while
she listened to Nadia's string of excuses why her unemployed live-in
boyfriend didn't have the time to take his own son to the doctor
or stay with him that day.
With a sigh of frustration, Charlotte glanced at
the clock on the wall. In spite of the clock being a silly cuckoo
that she'd picked up on a whim at a flea market, it kept excellent
time. And according to the time showing, she was going to be late
if she didn't leave soon.
"Hm, I see," Charlotte finally told Nadia, though
she really didn't understand at all. "Don't cry, now. I'm sure
things will work out. Just take care of that sweet little boy and
let me know when you're free to work again."
Charlotte hung up the receiver and made a silent
vow to have a real heart to heart talk with Nadia about her freeloading
boyfriend. Charlotte had met Ricco Martinez on several occasions,
and nothing about the man had impressed her. In Charlotte's opinion,
the only reason Ricco Martinez stayed around was for the free room
She'd often wondered why Nadia continued to put
up with him, but the only conclusion she'd come to was that Nadia
had convinced herself she was doing it for Davy's sake. What the
younger woman didn't realize, though, and what Charlotte knew from
her own personal experience was if a boy was given enough love
and attention, he could grow up just fine without a father, especially
a no-account father like Ricco.
Yes, she decided. She definitely needed to have
that heart to heart talk with the younger woman.
Charlotte flipped through the Rolodex near the phone
and finally located the phone number of Janet Davis, one of the
three women Charlotte employed on a temporary basis.
Janet answered on the third ring. "This is Charlotte,
Janet. I'm so glad I caught you at home. I apologize for such short
notice, but I hope you're free to work today."
Janet said she was free, and Charlotte quickly gave
her the address of the client's home. "And Janet, Mrs. Dufore likes
the ceiling fans dusted each time we clean her house. There's a
small ladder in the downstairs storage closet you can use. She's
also very particular about the shower in the master bath. Make
sure you get rid of all the soap scum, especially around the drain."
Charlotte ended the conversation, grabbed her purse,
and fished out the keys to her van. "Thank God it's Friday," she
Satisfied that yet another crisis had been averted
and with one last glance at the phone as if daring it to ring again,
she headed for the front door. "Bye-bye, Sweety Boy," she called
over her shoulder. "Be a good little bird today and I'll see you
From his cage near the front window, the little
parakeet's answer was to burst into a series of chirps and whistles
that made Charlotte smile as she pulled the front door firmly shut
behind her, then locked it.
The small Victorian shotgun double that Charlotte
lived in was located on Milan Street, just blocks away from the
exclusive, historic New Orleans Garden District. The hundred-year-old
double had been inherited by Charlotte and her younger sister,
Madeline, after their parents' untimely deaths, and each half included
a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bath.
Unlike her sister, though, who had long ago sold
her half of the double to Charlotte right after her first marriage,
Charlotte had never felt the urge or the need to live anywhere
To Charlotte, the old Victorian double was more
than just the home in which she'd grown up and raised her son.
The location was perfect for her thriving, sometimes hectic cleaning
service, since all of her clients lived in the Garden District.
Over the years, she'd thought about branching out,
expanding her business to other parts of the city, but when it
came right down to it, she couldn't imagine working anywhere else.
The Old World ambience of the Garden District, with
its many huge, imposing mansions, several well over a century old,
was like taking a step back in time. She loved everything about
the unique neighborhood--its narrow streets and hundred-year-old
moss-draped oaks that shaded them, the brick sidewalks, the formal
gardens, lush with ferns, azaleas, palms, and other subtropical
Compared to the rest of New Orleans, living near
and working in the Garden District was like taking a breath of
Traffic wasn't too bad until Charlotte reached the
intersection of Milan and Magazine streets. Turning left onto Magazine
was always tricky under the best of circumstances at that time
of morning, for there was no traffic light and most of the traffic
on the right side was flowing toward downtown. To make matters
worse, a large delivery van was parked on the corner, effectively
blocking sight of the oncoming vehicles.
When several minutes passed and traffic hadn't budged,
Charlotte knew she was in trouble. She glanced around, looking
for an alternative route, then groaned. Ordinarily, she could have
taken one of the many side streets and avoided the congested area,
but the closest one was blocked off by a crew from the Sewerage
and Water Board, patching yet another part of the century-old underground
In the thirty-plus years since she'd founded Maid-for-a-Day,
she'd always prided herself on being thorough and punctual, something
that she absolutely insisted on from the two full-time and three
part-time women she employed. The one thing customers hated most
besides a sloppy cleaning job was having to wait for the maid to
show up. Thanks to Nadia, today looked as if it were going to be
one of the rare exceptions to her rule.
Charlotte reached for her cell phone and punched
out the number of her client, Jeanne Dubuisson. A bit embarrassed,
she explained that she was stuck in traffic and would probably
be a few minutes late.
By the time Charlotte parked her van on the street
that ran alongside the nineteenth-century Greek Revival mansion
belonging to the Dubuissons, she noted that even with the last-minute
crisis with Nadia and the snarl of work traffic, she was only a
few minutes later than normal. Not that Jeanne had any particular
place to go. Certainly not to an outside job.
Jeanne St. Martin Dubuisson was wealthy in her own
right, having come from an old, established New Orleans family,
but Jackson, Jeanne's husband, was also one of the city's most
prestigious attorneys. Jeanne could well afford to simply do nothing.
If not for her invalid mother, she might have been tempted to join
her socially prominent contemporaries who spent their days running
from one luncheon to another or heading up notable charitable committees.
Charlotte preferred to use her own cleaning supplies
when servicing a customer. From the back of the van, she selected
the various cleaners and waxes she would need and placed them in
the special carrier she used. She would have to make another trip
later for the vacuum cleaner.
After locking the van, she approached the fence
that fronted the Dubuissons' house. Made of cast iron and designed
in the traditional cornstalk pattern, as opposed to the simpler
wrought-iron designs, the fence was typical and almost exclusive
to the Garden District. Beside the latch on the double-wide gate
was a buzzer that Charlotte pushed. After several minutes, the
lock clicked, and she opened the gate.
There were eight steps leading up to the lower gallery
that bordered three sides of the old mansion. Charlotte paused
on the seventh step.
"Now that's odd," she murmured as she turned her
head slowly from one side to the other, her eagle eyes following
the trail of debris that had been tracked across the normally fastidiously clean
porch. Dried leaves, grass, and dirt left a trail clear across
the porch, the same type of debris that she'd swept away on Wednesday,
when she'd cleaned.
Oh, well, she thought. Nothing to do but sweep it
all up again. Still puzzling about the scattered debris, Charlotte
jumped when the front door suddenly swung open.
"Why, Miss Anna," she exclaimed. "What on earth
are you doing home?"
Twenty-year-old Anna-Maria Dubuisson was willowy
thin, with shoulder-length blond hair and startling green eyes,
startling and exotic because of their deep emerald color, fringed
by thick, sooty lashes. She was also tall, several inches taller
than Charlotte's petite height of five feet three. In the six years
that Charlotte had worked for the Dubuissons, she'd watched the
gangly teenager grow into one of the most beautiful young women
she'd ever met.
Charlotte narrowed her eyes. "I thought there was
still another week before spring break."
Anna-Maria flashed her a mischievous smile. "Don't
tell Mother," she said softly, "but I skipped out. She thinks I
got special permission to leave early." She shrugged in a dismissive
gesture. "I just had to come home, though. James's father is giving
a small, intimate party tomorrow night for just family and a few
select friends. James thinks that's it's a celebration for his
sister." She lowered her voice. "It's all hush hush, but he's pretty
sure that Laura has been chosen as one of the maids for Rex next
year, maybe even queen." Her eyes widened. "Can you imagine being
Queen of Carnival?"
James Doucet was Anna-Maria's fiance', and it came
as no surprise to Charlotte that James's sister might be chosen
as a maid or even queen. Since James's father, Vincent Doucet,
had reigned as Rex several years back and was prominent in the
Krewe of Rex, it was logical that his daughter would be in line
for such an honor.
"Since I don't have a thing to wear," Anna-Maria
continued, "I came home early to shop." She glanced at her watch. "Oh,
shoot, I'm already late. Got to run." She laughed, and with a small
flutter of her fingers, she waved as she hurried past Charlotte. "I'm
meeting Laura for breakfast; then it's shop till we drop. Oh, and
by the way," she called out, "I love your new hairstyle."
Charlotte reached up self-consciously and smoothed
back a strand of hair as she watched Anna-Maria skip down the front
steps and disappear around the side of the house toward the driveway.
Charlotte usually preferred a shorter, no-nonsense style, but it
had been a while since she'd had time to get a haircut, and her
hair had grown out longer than she normally wore it. Still, if
Anna-Maria liked it a bit longer . . . maybe . . . "Don't be ridiculous," she
muttered. She wasn't some silly schoolgirl who had all the time
in the world to fool with fixing her hair. Shorter hair was much
more practical. Besides, she should just be thankful that she didn't
have to bother with getting it colored as well as cut. She considered
herself fortunate indeed that what little gray she had still blended
with the honey brown color.
Within moments, Charlotte heard the roar of a car
engine come to life. When she turned back toward the door, Jeanne
Dubuisson, dressed in a long silk robe and matching slippers, was
standing in the doorway.
Unlike Anna-Maria, Jeanne's eyes were blue. Otherwise,
in looks, she was simply an older version of her daughter. But
in temperament, whereas Anna-Maria was still outgoing and passionate
about life, Jeanne possessed a quiet, ageless sophistication that
could only be acquired with maturity and time.
"Good morning," she said to Charlotte, sparing her
a brief glance and polite smile. At that moment, her daughter's
bright red Bimmer Roadster shot out of the driveway and into the
street. Jeanne focused a hungry gaze on the retreating sports car. "She
thinks I don't know that she's playing hooky, and I guess I should
be upset with her. It's just that I miss her so when she's away," she
said, her soft voice tinged with sadness. "I worry about her."
Charlotte nodded, fully understanding the emotions
Jeanne was experiencing. "It's hard to let go," Charlotte told
her gently. "It's been a while, but I remember well those first
two years Hank went off to college. It's almost like a part of
you is missing."
The sports car disappeared around the corner, and
with a deep sigh, Jeanne turned her attention back to Charlotte. "And
how is that son of yours these days? Is he still after you to retire?"
Charlotte grimaced. "Isn't that the most ridiculous
thing you've ever heard of? My goodness, I'm only fifty-nine. The
way he carries on sometimes, you'd think I was a ninety-year-old
Jeanne patted Charlotte's arm. "You hang in there,
and don't you dare let him talk you into something you're not ready
for. Just because he's a doctor doesn't mean he knows everything.
Besides, what on earth would I do without you?" Jeanne stood aside
and motioned for Charlotte to enter the foyer.
The grand foyer of the old home was a room unto
itself, and unlike the mere sixteen-foot ceilings of the other
rooms in the house, the foyer soared upward the full two stories.
Placed along the walls were several gilded lyre-back chairs and
an Empire chaise longue upholstered in red brocade with gold trim.
An antique rug, worn thin from decades of wear and all the more
valuable because of its condition, covered the wooden floor.
"Today why don't you start upstairs in Mother's
room while I serve her breakfast," Jeanne told Charlotte as she
pulled the door shut. "She's been so grumpy lately that I thought
I would serve it out on the upper gallery so she could get some
fresh air and a little sunshine."
Charlotte truly admired Jeanne as well as sympathized
with her situation. Jeanne's mother, Clarice St. Martin, had suffered
a debilitating stroke just before Charlotte had begun working for
the Dubuissons. Clarice could have well afforded the best nurses
and round-the-clock care that money could buy, and her condition
had somewhat improved over time, but Jeanne had insisted that her
mother move in with her so that she could personally care for her.
Charlotte could understand why Jeanne, or any daughter,
for that matter, would want to ensure that her mother had the best
of care. Even so, the whole situation still seemed a bit strange,
especially given their financial means, and she couldn't help wondering
if Jeanne had some kind of martyr complex.
"I already have Mother's tray ready in the kitchen," Jeanne
said. "I won't be but a moment." She walked past Charlotte toward
the entrance to the formal dining room that led back to the kitchen.
"Do you need some help with the tray?" Charlotte
called after her.
"My goodness, no," Jeanne answered. "Besides, you've
already got enough to carry."
Within moments, Jeanne reappeared with a large wicker
tray. On the tray were several covered dishes, but it was the pink
rose in a cut-crystal vase that caught Charlotte's eye.
"I see you've already been out to the garden this
morning," she said as she followed Jeanne up the sweeping stairway.
Though Charlotte knew that Jeanne hired out most of the yard work,
one of the few self-indulgent activities she allowed herself was
her rose garden.
"Don't I wish I could get out in the mornings," Jeanne
answered, her tone wistful. "I really love gardening, and truly
the best time is early mornings, before the dew evaporates and
before it gets too hot. But lately Mother has taken to waking up
so early, and what with Jackson working later, I've had to switch
working in the garden to the evenings instead."
The stairway opened to a central hall on the second-story
level, a hall similar to the foyer on the first level and wide
enough for a claw-foot settee and a pair of pillar-and-scroll mahogany
tables. Connected to the central hall were four large bedrooms
suites, each suite containing its own private bath.
Clarice's bedroom was the closest to the stairs.
The old lady was still in bed, her television tuned to QVC, a popular
shopping channel. She was dressed in her nightgown, just one of
the many soft flannel granny-type gowns that she preferred to sleep
in and lounge around in.
"Mother, look who's here." Jeanne set the tray down
on the foot of the bed.
Totally ignoring Charlotte, the old lady pointed
to the television screen. "Quick, Jeanne, look at that."
Jeanne didn't bother looking, but Charlotte glanced
at the screen. A sparkling ruby-and-diamond necklace was being
"Wouldn't that look stunning on Anna-Maria? And
rubies are her birthstone."
With an impatient shake of her head, Jeanne walked
around to the side of the bed and pulled back the covers. "I don't
know why you insist on watching those shows. Now, come along. I
have a special treat for you today."
Though Clarice allowed Jeanne to help her to the
side of the bed, her expression grew hard and resentful. "How else
is an old crippled woman supposed to shop?"
While Jeanne was busy assisting Clarice into a terry
robe, Charlotte opened the French doors leading out onto the upper
"Besides," Clarice continued, "with July only a
couple of months away, I don't have that long to find her a birthday
Outside on the gallery, Charlotte quickly wiped
the dust off the top of a small glass-topped wicker table. But
even from outside, Charlotte could hear Jeanne's exasperated sigh.
"Mother, I've told you that anytime you want to
shop, all you have to do is agree to a wheelchair and I'll take
you anywhere you want to go."
When Charlotte returned for the breakfast tray,
Clarice's lower lip was protruding into a pout. "I refuse to be
seen in one of those things," she said. "I'm not that crippled."
Charlotte picked up the wicker tray and took it
out to the table.
"Come along, then," Charlotte heard Jeanne tell
Clarice. "It's such a beautiful day, I thought we could have breakfast
out on the gallery."
"I'll get cold out there," the old lady complained.
"No you won't," Jeanne argued. "Besides, if you
don't come outside, you won't get breakfast."
Within moments, Charlotte heard the slide-thump
of Clarice's walker, and she quickly slipped back inside before
the old lady reached the doorway.
Charlotte retrieved clean sheets and pillow cases
for Clarice's bed from the hallway linen closet. As she stripped
the bed, she could hear the murmur of Jeanne and Clarice's voices
coming from the gallery. Clarice was complaining again, only this
time she was grumbling about having oatmeal for breakfast for the
third day in a row.
"I want eggs--fried eggs over easy," she whined. "And
bacon--lots of bacon fried nice and crisp. Why can't I ever have
"Mother, you know fried foods are bad for your cholesterol."
Once Charlotte had dusted in the bedroom, she began
wiping down the sink and countertop in the bathroom. From outside,
the murmurs between the two women grew louder.
Charlotte did her best to ignore what was being
said. Instead, she concentrated on replacing each item on top of
the counter once she'd cleaned beneath it, especially Clarice's
numerous prescription bottles. By the time she'd cleaned the toilet
and started on the shower stall, the loud murmurs had turned into
a shouting match that was hard to ignore.
"He's stealing you blind!"
"Now, Mother, how could you know that?"
"Leopards don't change their spots. That's how I
know. You mark my words, missy. He's a no-good scoundrel, and what's
worse, he's smart. And if you weren't such a namby-pamby, you'd
see him for what he is."
"Mother, stop it!"
"I won't stop it. It's time--past time--you grew
a backbone. If you'd had the guts to refuse to marry him in the
first place, your father might still be alive today."
"That's not true, and you know it."
"Don't you walk away from me!
"I'm not listening to any more of this."
"Jeanne, you come back here!"
Charlotte had just finished scrubbing the scuff
marks off the bathroom floor made by Clarice's walker and was mopping
the bathroom floor when Jeanne stalked across the bedroom.
At the hallway door, Jeanne hesitated, then turned
toward Charlotte. Tears filled her eyes, and her voice shook with
emotion. "Would you please make sure that she gets back to bed
Before Charlotte had time to answer, Jeanne fled
through the doorway. Seconds later, Charlotte heard a door farther
down the hall slam shut.
"Charlotte!" Clarice called out. "Are you still
Charlotte set the mop aside and hurried out onto
the gallery. There she found the old lady struggling to get out
of her chair. "I'm cold," she told Charlotte. "I want to go back
"Here, let me help you." Clarice wasn't much bigger
in size than Charlotte, but it was like lifting dead weight. As
she struggled to get the old lady to a standing position, she wondered
how on earth Jeanne managed day in and day out by herself.
"I swear, I don't know what gets into that daughter
of mine," Clarice said as she aimed her walker toward the open
French doors. Then, without so much as a please or thank-you, she
began her arduous journey back inside.
Charlotte simply shook her head and wondered yet
again about the strange relationship between the two women. Why
did Jeanne continue to put up with her mother's rudeness, a rudeness
that at times bordered on abuse?
By the time that Charlotte cleared off the outside
table and set the tray on the floor in the hallway, Clarice was
entering the bathroom. Except for vacuuming, Charlotte was finishing
cleaning Clarice's suite. Even so, she waited a few minutes before
leaving the room just in case Clarice needed more help.
"Be careful, Miss Clarice," she told her. "I just
mopped that floor, and it might still be a bit damp."
Clarice stopped, turned her head, and glared at
Charlotte. "I'm not going to mess up the floor, Charlotte. I just
want to rinse my teeth."
Messing up the floor was the least of Charlotte's
concerns, but she figured trying to explain that she only feared
that Clarice might slip and fall wouldn't do a bit of good. The
old lady only heard what she wanted to hear.
Once Clarice was safely back in her bed, Charlotte
gathered her supplies and started on the bedroom next to Clarice's.
Within the hour, she'd cleaned all of the bedrooms except the master
suite. Since the door to that room was still firmly shut and she
hadn't heard Jeanne come out, she decided she would wait and clean
After dusting the small tables in the hallway, Charlotte
moved to the staircase. The handrail and balusters were fashioned
from antique mahogany, but the steps were of oak, sanded and finished
to a high gloss.
It was rumored that when the original owners of
the Dubuissons' house had built it, they had procured the handrail
and balusters from a house that was reputed to have been the temporary
headquarters for Andrew Jackson when he had defended New Orleans
against the British. Just thinking about the historical significance
of the staircase gave Charlotte a lot of pleasure, and she took
a great deal of pride in the polishing and upkeep of the old wood.
From her supply carrier, she removed a bottle of
lemon oil and a special cloth she used to apply the oil. She also
removed a polishing cloth, which she tucked into the waistband
of her slacks.
After sprinkling the first cloth with lemon oil,
she rubbed it into the handrail, tediously working her way down
the staircase. It was when she was working her way back up as she
polished the handrail that she noticed the scuff marks on the steps,
scuff marks almost identical to the kind made by Clarice's walker.
Impossible, she thought. Even as wide as the steps
were, Clarice's walker was wider. Charlotte frowned in thought
as she stared at the scuff marks. The only way they could have
been made by Clarice's walker was if the walker had been folded
and dragged down the stairs, which meant that Clarice would have
had to hold on to the banister for support . . .
"Oh, for pity's sake," she muttered. What on earth
was wrong with her, standing there, wasting time obsessing about
such a silly thing? Something else or someone's shoes had to have
caused the marks. The only time Clarice ventured down the stairs
was when she had her monthly doctor's exam. Even then, Jeanne enlisted
the help of Max, a part-time chauffeur she'd hired to assist her
It was almost noon by the time that Charlotte had
scrubbed away the scuff marks on the stairs and cleaned and vacuumed
all but the main parlor and the kitchen downstairs. She was ready
to begin dusting in the parlor when she heard the clink of dishes
coming from the kitchen.
Jeanne, she decided, had finally come out of her
room and was preparing lunch. Once again, she had to admire the
younger woman. Jeanne might be hurt or angry with her mother, but
she would still take care of her needs.
Charlotte quickly gathered the supplies she needed
and climbed the stairs. Now she could finally clean the master
suite, then she would take her own lunch break.
By midafternoon, Charlotte was almost finished with
everything but one last chore in the kitchen. As she stacked the
last of the plates from the dishwasher into the butler's pantry,
Jeanne entered the kitchen.
"Charlotte, could we talk for a moment?"
"Of course." Charlotte nodded, then closed and locked
the door to the dishwasher.
Jeanne motioned for Charlotte to take a seat at
the small breakfast table. But instead of seating herself, Jeanne
began to pace the distance between the table and the cabinet. After
a moment and a deep, steadying sigh, she finally stopped behind
a chair across from where Charlotte sat. Her hands gripped the
back of the chair so hard that her knuckles were white.
"I'm--I'm truly sorry about what happened earlier," she
told Charlotte in a halting voice. "I want to apologize."
"You don't owe me an apology," Charlotte said gently. "I
really understand. Your mother has--er--she has problems."
Jeanne grimaced and sat down hard in the nearest
chair. "Oh, Charlotte, what am I going to do about her?
What Mother has is more than just problems. She's going senile
and seems to be getting worse with each passing day."
Charlotte's heart went out to the younger woman. "Sometimes
simply talking about a situation helps," she suggested. "At least
talking seems to work for me."
Jeanne placed her arms on the tabletop and leaned
forward. "You're right, I'm sure. With Anna-Maria off at school
and Jackson gone most of the time, I don't have a chance to talk
to anyone much."
Charlotte reached over and patted Jeanne's hand.
How sad, she thought. She couldn't begin to imagine leading such
an insular, lonely life. "Well, I'm here now," Charlotte told her, "and
my middle name is discretion, so you just talk all you want to."
Jeanne seemed to hesitate, but only for a moment. "She's
always making accusations about someone or something," she blurted
out. "Take for instance that stuff she was saying this morning
about Jackson. Why, Jackson isn't even home half the time, what
with all of the late nights he's been keeping at the office lately.
When he is home, he stays holed up in the library. And who could
How convenient for him, thought Charlotte. And how
totally selfish. Charlotte didn't really know Jackson Dubuisson
that well, since most of the time he was at work when she cleaned.
But from the different things that Jeanne had let slip over the
years, Charlotte's opinion of the man was zero on a scale of one
to ten. She had often wondered how such a warm, loving woman like
Jeanne could have ever married someone like him.
But if, as Jeanne pointed out, Jackson was never
around, why would Clarice choose to pick on him? she wondered. Where
there's smoke, there's usually fire. The old saying played
through Charlotte's mind. Over the years, Charlotte had seen the
truth in the cliche' more than once. "Why do you think your mother
is so fixated on maligning your husband?"
Again Jeanne hesitated as a myriad of emotions played
across her face. After a moment, she seemed to compose herself. "For
one thing, when Jackson and I married, Father made him a full partner
in the firm. Ever since, Mother has always claimed Jackson only
married me to get control of the firm. She says all he cares about
is money, specifically my money. But even worse, she still blames
Jackson for Father's death. Never mind that it's been fifteen years
since Father was murdered. Mother simply won't stop harping on
Murdered. Charlotte's stomach turned queasy. "Oh,
goodness, I'd forgotten that your father had been murdered." Even
now, Charlotte only vaguely recalled the incident. At the time,
though, she hadn't paid much attention to the story or the gossip.
She'd been too caught up in her own tragedy, that of trying to
console her son after his wife had purposely aborted their child,
her grandchild, a child Hank had wanted badly. "The murder of someone
close leaves its mark on the whole family," she murmured, still
thinking about the loss she and her son had suffered. "It's a terrible
Jeanne nodded and lowered her gaze to the tabletop. "It
was terrible," she whispered. "A burglar broke into the house,
robbed the safe, then killed Father."
Charlotte reached out and squeezed Jeanne's arm. "Oh,
you poor thing. I'm so sorry."
Jeanne suddenly laughed, but it was a bitter sound
filled with irony. "Don't be too sorry. My father would never have
won any Father of the Year Awards, and he had a cruel streak." She
shrugged. "But my mother loved him just the same, something I never
Charlotte immediately thought about Nadia's situation
with Ricco. "I know exactly what you mean," she said, "but I've
never understood how a woman could stay with a man who was cruel
or abusive. I guess love takes on many forms, but I sometimes think
women confuse love with other things, things like security, or
they feel trapped or feel there's no other choice." She shrugged. "For
whatever reason," she added.
"Yes . . . well, I figure that Mother felt she had
no other choice since my father controlled the money. Even so,
she just couldn't accept that he was gone, and she went a little
crazy at the time. As if Father being murdered wasn't enough, she
made terrible accusations about Jackson to the police. You see,
Jackson and Father had argued the night before . . . something
about some investments Father had made using the firm's money.
But of course Jackson had an alibi the night of the murder. As
usual, he was working late on an upcoming court case with his secretary.
But not even that seemed to convince Mother he was innocent. Never
mind that it completely satisfied the police."
"Was the murderer ever caught?"
Jeanne shook her head. "No-- No, he wasn't. And
after a while, I think the police gave up."
Jeanne's next words chilled Charlotte to the bone.
"My father's murderer is still out there," she said. "Somewhere
. . .
Excerpt from Maid
Copyright 2001 by Barbara Colley