I was the one who found Lucy Sphere’s beaten body.  I called an ambulance, but knew it was too late.

When the local golden child is murdered in her living room, it makes all the papers.  People wanted to understand how something like this could happen to someone so loved.

It took five days for the coroner to release the body, and another two to make her presentable.  I’ll never understand why her husband Jack wanted an open coffin.  Then again, I’ll never understand the need for wakes.

Wakes are macabre.  Who’s the psychopath who came up with the idea of putting a dead body in the center of a room, making her loved ones stare at it for days?  Talk about cruel.

Despite finding wakes objectionable, I went to Lucy’s.  I had known her my entire life.

After kneeling in front of the coffin to pray, I made my way over to Angela Sphere’s, Lucy’s mother.

Angela was only eighteen when she had Lucy.  Her marriage to Kim was rushed when she found herself pregnant.  Now she was forty-seven years-old and could have passed for a woman in her thirties – the town gossips liked to say it was thanks to the help of a plastic surgeon, but it was all natural.

“Thank you for coming, Jillian.”  The fumes almost knocked me over.

She never struck me as the maternal type, but Lucy was her only child.  I supposed I would need liquid fortification in similar circumstances.  “I’m so sorry.”

“She has no one to blame but herself.”

I wasn’t sure if that was the grief of the alcohol talking.

“Lucy is dead, because she was fidget.”  Liquor loosened her tongue because Angela was very conscious of her family’s reputation.  I have never heard her do anything but preen about how Lucy was the perfect daughter and her marriage to Jack was a match made in Heaven.

Not sure how to respond, I said, “They seemed fond of each other.”

She snorted.  “She kicked Jack out last week.  If he was there, she would still be alive.”

I raised my eyebrows.  Lucy never mentioned that to me, but then she wouldn’t.  We may have known each other for ages, but we weren’t confidantes.

“She kicked him out because of a minor indiscretion.”

“Jack cheated on her?”  I blurted.  A couple of people turned to look.  Lowering my voice, I added, “I would have changed the locks after draining the bank accounts and before hiring a lawyer.”

“She never put him first.  It was her business and her charities.  He was an after-thought.  A man has needs.  It’s only natural he should satisfy them outside of the marriage.”

I wasn’t sure if I was more shocked by the fact that Jack cheated on Lucy, or that Angela was justifying it.

“You’re Jillian Meadows, right?”  A man interrupted our conversation.  “I’m Chad Goodwin.  Do you mind if we talk?”

Angela turned beet red.  “You!”

“Me.”  He nodded at her as he took my arm and lead me away.  “Come along, before you get a contact high.”

I would have objected to being manhandled, but wanted to get away from Angela.

We found an empty lounge to talk in.

“You’re curator at the local museum, and a trust fund baby.  You and Lucy grew up together and ran in the same circles.”

“I know who I am.  What do you want?”

“I’m a private investigator.”  He pulled out a license.  I felt obligated to look at it, but I wouldn’t know a license from a real one.  “Lucy hired me to follow her husband.  She believed he was cheating on her and needed proof for a divorce.”

“You discovered he his girlfriend.”

“Girlfriends.  Alice Freson was his longest relationship, but she wasn’t the only one.”

Lucy and Jack started dating in college.  They were considered the perfect couple.  Now I was learning it was all an act.  I felt sick.  “Poor Lucy.”

“Lucy told me to see you if something happened.”

“She thought she was in danger?”  The papers claimed a vagrant broke into Lucy’s house thinking it empty.  When they found her home, they killed her.  A couple of hundred dollars in cash was missing along with her wedding ring.  Now I wondered if there was more to her murder.  “Do you think one of the women Jack was seeing is responsible for her murder?”

“I do.

“Why did Lucy tell you to come to me?”

“She said you were her best friend and the only one she trusted.”

I felt tears welling in my eyes.  She must have been lonely if she considered me her best friend.

Angela had made her drunken way over to us, pulling Jack Staples along by the hand.  Glaring at Chad, she said, “You should leave.  Poor Jack is distraught and doesn’t need to see the man who destroyed his marriage.”

Chad leaned in and whispered, “The honor of destroying the marriage goes to the cheater.”

Before things got out of hand, I offered my condolences to the grieving widower, who was still holding Angela’s hand.

Not liking the way his free hand lingered on my shoulder, squeezing it, I move to the side.  “Who do you think killed her?”

“Some addict or drifter,” Angela said.

“Why not a girlfriend?”  Chad asked.

Jack’s eyes narrow.  “Who’s your friend, Jill?”

Angela answered before I could.  “The investigator my silly daughter hired.”

Chad said, “I didn’t think Lucy told anyone.”

“My daughter was not stealthy.”  She pointed at Chad.  “Now that Lucy is gone, I expect anything you found to be destroyed.  There’s no use dragging the Sphere or Staple name through the mud.”

I was confused.  “He might have evidence regarding your daughter’s death.”

“I told you, it was some vagrant.  Or that low life Jack had his little indiscretion with.  She uses drugs, and spent time in jail for assault.”

My ears perked up.  “Assault?”

“She beat her ex with a bat, striking the first blow from behind.  Most of the attack occurred after he was knocked out.”

I frowned, shaking my head.  “Why would she kill Lucy?  She threw Jack out the minute she found out he was cheating, thus freeing him for Alice.”

“Alice didn’t do it.”  Chad said.  “She was arrested for possession of crystal meth with intent to sell and was locked up.”

“Maybe it was Jack who killed her, objecting to being thrown out,” I suggested.

Angela and Jack protested, but it was who Chad supplied an alibi.  “Jack was nestled in a room at the Dew Drop Inn with a friend when Lucy was murdered.”

“Gross,” I shuddered.  The Dew Drop Inn was a dive at the edge of town known to be patronized by prostitutes, pimps, and drug dealers.

“That’s a lie.”  Angela protested.

Chad pulled out his cell phone and showed her a couple of pictures.  Outraged, she slapped Jack.

“How could you?”  She stormed off, Jack running behind her apologizing

“That was more intense than I expected,” I muttered to Chad.

Chad reached into the messenger bag he carried and handed me a folder.

“Lucy said to give this to you.”

“Why me?”

“You were her best friend.”

That was the saddest thing I heard all day.  It brought tears to my eyes.  Lucy and I were never close.  If she felt that kind of bond with me, her life must have been lonely.

“She said my business would be ruined if I did things myself, but you would help.  Listen, I have an obligation to show Sheriff Oaks.”

I took the folder and looked inside.  My eyes almost popped out of my head.  “Do you have copies?”

“Yes.”

I pointed at the sheriff.  “Take them to Paul.  He’s new in town and seems to be a good man.  I doubt he’s been bought.  I’ll handle the Spheres.”

Without waiting for a reply, I made a beeline to Kim Spheres, Lucy’s father.  He looked at me through red eyes.  At least someone was grieving for Lucy.

I hated myself for bringing him more bad news, but he needed to know.  Taking a deep breath, I handed over the folder and said, “Kim, Angela betrayed you.”

He rubbed his face.  “Not now, Jillian.”

“You know?”

“About her dalliances?  Yes.  She’s been with the pool boy, the gardener, a reporter.  More.  I stopped keeping track.”

“Why are you still with her?”

“Lucy.”

I hated Angela.  “Please.”  I showed him Chad’s photos.

“Who knows?”

“Paul, Chad, you, and I.”

“Let’s keep it that way, for now.”

He strode out of the room, cell phone in hand, and a purpose in his eyes.

The next day Angela and Jack were arrested.

 

 

Chad and I started hanging out.  Lucy’s death made me realized I needed real friends.  About a week after Angela’s arrest, we sat in a coffee shop sipping espressos and discussing Lucy’s murder.

“My mother says Angela came from a poor family.  Lucy was her way of getting the wealthiest man in town to marry her.  She was always just a means to an end.”  I sighed, feeling sad.

“Because she built herself a reputation of being an upstanding citizen, no one suspected she would sleep with her daughter’s husband.”

“Your pictures went a long way towards proving things weren’t as they seemed.”

“After kicking Jack out, Lucy confronted Angela.  She threatened to tell Kim.  Angela acted.  She went to Jack and they agreed to a friend of Allice’s to kill Lucy.”  He shook his head.  “I don’t get it.  Why would Angela worry?  Kim admitted to knowing about her numerous affairs.  He never did anything before.”

“This was different.  By sleeping with Jack, Angela was hurting Lucy, and Kim loved Lucy.”

“She still would have gotten something if he divorced her.”

“Not only would she be a pariah, she would be destitute.  Kim’s mother insisted Angela sign a prenuptial agreement.  Even after all these years, if Kim left her, she’d get nothing.”

“And Jack?  The Staples have more money than the Spheres.””

“There was a clause in their prenup.  Lucy would get the bulk of his trust fund and half his gallery in the case of infidelity.”

“This was all about money?”

“Yep.”

“How could a mother do that to her own daughter?”

I didn’t have a good answer.

“Sheriff Oaks said she and Jack turned on each other after being arrested.  His mother posted his bail, but Angela was left to rot.”

I sighed.  “Sometimes I hate people.”

“Me too.”

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