Cutting down side streets and alleys, I started back to the mortuary, but the closer I got, the more convinced I became that something was still unresolved. I halted beside a trash can, lost in thought. Was there someone else I needed to bid farewell? I had no living relations and my fellow waitresses at the Slop Pit wouldn’t even notice I was gone. But I did have a best friend–and Jim had said she’d been present when my body was found.
I made my way to her apartment, fully expecting a repeat performance of my initial contact with Jim–equal measures of fear and disbelief before eventual acceptance. To my surprise, light blazed from her living room window, even though a nearby clock had just struck 3 a.m.
Deciding to take a chance, I simply knocked at her door.
My second surprise came when she answered. For one thing, she was drunk. I’ve never seen Janice imbibe anything stronger than ginger ale. For another, she didn’t seem the least bit shocked to discover a cadaver standing in her hallway.
“Caroline! C’mon in,” she slurred.
She offered me bourbon, which I declined.
“When did you start drinking?” I asked, managing to bend my increasingly reluctant knees enough to take a seat on her couch.
“November first,” she answered cheerfully, pouring more liquor into her glass. “Hey, that dress looks great on you.”
“Yeah, right,” I began, then noticed her expression. “Whoops! You’re the one who picked it out, aren’t you?”
She started crying. The glass wobbled, sending booze down the front of her robe. “It’s real silk, set me back half a paycheck, but I figured I owed you that much. I’m so sorry, Caroline, he shouldn’t have pushed you.”
“Janice, why white? Even when I have a tan, I look lousy in…” I broke off. “What did you say?”
She sniffed. “When?”
“Just now, you idiot! Who pushed me?”
“It was only supposed to be a fling,” she wailed. “Jim and I didn’t mean to fall in love.”
“You and Jim?” Even as I said the words, the past few months came rushing back into my memory. Of course I’d known that there was another woman, though I’d had no idea it was Janice. The day my agent had called with the good news, I’d immediately contacted a divorce lawyer. I hadn’t told Jim my plans, but the Halloween party would have been the last shindig we ever threw.
I said as much to Janice and she nodded.
“He found that lawyer’s card in your purse and went ballistic,” she said. “I kept telling him I didn’t care about the money–he’d be free and we could be together, that’s all that mattered.”
“Jim obviously disagreed,” I said softly.
He was still awake when I got back to our apartment, but not for long. The heavy pewter candlestick he’d given me for our first anniversary made a satisfying crack when it contacted his skull. I dragged him down to our car and made it to the mortuary before the last dawn I’d ever witness brightened from rosy to orange.
My stomach was rumbling like mad as I pulled Jim into the coffin with me. What I needed was a nice breakfast before the funeral started.