Between the Lines

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Chapter 33

Although she did not really believe that Claire could think she was a threat to the other woman’s potential relationship with Joe, Keeley decided to confront Claire with what Lily had said, and get the matter out in the open. She figured it was better to talk about the issue, or the non-issue as she thought of it, and hopefully clear the air. She didn’t want a misunderstanding affecting her friendship with the other woman. She decided to deal with this before going to find Corinne Williams, and went into the coffee house after lunch the next day, hoping Claire would be alone. There was a customer lingering over his coffee and pastry, so Keeley ordered a latte, and waited for him to leave. Once he paid, and walked out the door, she asked if Claire could spare a few minutes to talk.

“I guess I can take a short break. It’s been busy, and I haven’t sat down all morning.” She poured a coffee for herself and sat down across from Keeley, looking at her inquiringly.

“I don’t have many friends,” Keeley began with some difficulty. “I was lucky enough to meet Kira in junior high school, and she’s been like a sister to me since that time. Mark and I socialized with some people I considered friends, but when my mother got sick, most of those friendships faded away because I just didn’t have time for anybody else. When I got divorced, the rest of them ended. I really value your friendship, and Lily’s, and I’d hate to lose it. There’s nothing between Joe and me, on his side, or my side. Believe me!”

Claire had been listening with her eyes fixed on Keeley’s face, but now she looked down, and started playing with her coffee spoon. “Lily was shooting her mouth off again, I see,” she muttered angrily.

“I knew something was wrong, and I asked her to tell me what it was. Please don’t be mad at Lily. She cares a lot about you, as I’m sure you know. So do I, and so does Kira.”

Claire smiled. “I know. I feel the same way about you and Kira, and of course I love my sister, even though she drives me crazy sometimes. I wasn’t really mad at you, and I’m not mad at Lily. I guess the only one I’m really mad at is myself. If I had any sense, I would just forget about Joe. I’ve told myself to do just that at least a thousand times, but then I see him again, and somehow I can’t. Anyway, not to worry. We’re good.” She leaned forward and the two women engaged in an awkward hug that made them both feel much better.

Keeley still hadn’t told anyone that she had a lead on where to locate Joyce’s mother, mostly because she didn’t want to explain how she had come by the information. She decided she would check it out on her own. If it didn’t pan out, there was no point in mentioning it. She wasn’t worried about going to see Corinne Williams alone, because she reasoned that the woman would be pleased that someone was taking an interest in finding her daughters killer.

The neighborhood she found herself in when she arrived at the address she’d found in the police file was an older, run down area. Most of the houses were in the fixer upper category, and none had been fixed up that Keeley could see. The yards on the entire street were overgrown, many of them filled with junk. No pride of ownership was evident here, if in fact, there were any owners living here. Maybe they’re all owned by slum landlords, Keeley thought. How depressing it must be to live around here.

She parked the car in front of the house where Corinne Williams apparently lived. It had once been painted a green shade that had faded into an unattractive gray. There were no flowers or trees, and if the yard had ever had a lawn, it had long ago been choked out by an invasion of weeds. Keeley pressed the doorbell and waited. She could hear a television going inside, but no one came to the door. She pressed the doorbell again, and then knocked sharply several times for good measure. A moment later, the door was opened by a middle aged woman who smelled strongly of cigarette smoke. She looked inquiringly at Keeley but didn’t speak.

“Are you Corinne Williams?” Keeley asked, smiling. The woman nodded, still not saying a word. “I’d like to talk to you about your daughter, Joyce. Can I come in?”

She stared at Keeley for a few seconds, and Keeley was almost expecting her to refuse, and close the door in her face, but at length she nodded, and moved away from the door. Keeley followed her inside. A large, balding man sat on the sofa in the living room, watching wrestling on the large screen television. It appeared to be the only thing of value in the entire room. He didn’t look up or acknowledge Keeley’s presence in any way. He held a beer can in his hand, and Keeley noticed there was another one in front of him, as well as an overflowing ashtray. The room reeked of stale cigarette smoke.

“We can talk in the kitchen,” Corinne said, the raspy voice indicating smoking was not a vice she had taken up recently. Once there, she sat down at the kitchen table, and indicated Keeley was to do the same. She did not offer anything to Keeley, which was just as well, since the cleanliness of the kitchen was in question. Corinne reached for a package of cigarettes sitting on the table, and lit one. Her face still held onto hints of the beauty that Joe had mentioned, but a life of dissipation had taken it’s toll on her looks. Her face was lined and leathery from too much sun exposure, and her mouth was surrounded by dozens of vertical lines, the result of many years of smoking. She was too thin, with sagging skin, and an unhealthy pallor on all her visible skin. Her DIY hair colour was an unnatural blond with a quarter inch of grey showing at the roots. Her eyes were large, the colour a still beautiful blue, but the expression in them was close to lifeless. This was not a happy woman, Keeley suspected.

The stale, musty, smoky air made it hard to breathe, but Keeley was afraid if she asked Corinne to open a window, or better yet, go outside to talk, she would be shown the door, and lose her opportunity to question the woman. She tried to put the unpleasant odors out of her mind, and concentrate on why she had come here instead. She explained what her connection was to the case, and offered Corinne her condolences on the death of her daughter. The older woman just nodded her head. She did not seem visibly upset, but of course, it had been many years since she would have last seen her daughter, so perhaps that was not so unusual. She knew the relationship between mother and daughter had been strained even before that, but surely, you would have to feel some grief at the death of your child, no matter what the circumstances. Different people react differently, and you can’t judge them for that, Keeley reminder herself.

“What can you tell me about your daughter,” Keeley began, hoping the woman would say something that would give her an idea of which direction to take the conversation in after that. No such luck.

“What do you want to know?” Corinne asked in return.

“What kind of relationship did you have?” Might as well jump in with both feet, Keeley decided.

Corinne’s mouth tightened, and she took a long drag on her cigarette. “It wasn’t any picnic, being a single mother with no help from anybody,” she said defensively.

Yikes, that had been the wrong question to ask. Keeley quickly assured her that she could totally understand, and Corinne relaxed slightly. “We got along alright, most of the time, especially when Joyce was younger. When she got to be a teenager, she developed an attitude. Started getting a little too big for her britches, thinking she deserved better than she got. Well, we both did, but you have to play the hand you’re dealt, don’t you? She was always criticizing everything, the house we lived in, the furniture we had, everything.” Corinne looked around and added “we lived in a bloody palace then, compared to this dump.” She put out her cigarette, and immediately lit another one.

“What about her friends,” Keeley prompted.

“She didn’t have any girlfriends, really. None of the girls wanted to be around her, because she was prettier than they were, and they were worried she’d get all the attention from the boys. Which she did. She had lots of men friends, if you could call them friends.” The way Corinne said this made Keeley wonder if Joyce had received attention from Corinne’s male friends.

“When was the last time you saw or talked to Joyce?”

“A week or two before she disappeared.”

“How did you know she had disappeared?” Keeley asked.

“The cops came around, asking me if I knew where she was, which I didn’t.”

“Weren’t you worried about her?”

Corinne shrugged. “Not really. She had said she was seeing a guy who was going to solve all her problems. I just figured she had taken off with him.”

Keeley questioned her further, but the only other information she divulged was that Joyce had not named her lover, but she had admitted that he was married. Corinne did not seem to think that was unusual. I wonder why she agreed to talk to me, Keeley thought to herself, as she got back in her car and drove home. Probably just for the company, and to alleviate her boredom. Her partner had not seemed to be much of a conversationalist.

Later, as she was writing up her notes in the murder book, she stopped to consider whether it was likely that Corinne had anything to do with her daughters death. If it was a Lolita situation, and the beautiful young woman was considered a rival by her mother, it was possible, she supposed. It seemed suspicious that Corinne hadn’t made any apparent attempt to locate her daughter after her disappearance. Still, it was hard to believe the woman could have killed two people. Of course, it was hard to believe anyone could have done it, and yet, clearly someone had.

She told the others about her visit to Corinne Williams the next time the foursome got together, and although they were impressed by how she had come by her address, they all scolded her for going to see the woman alone. “We can’t rule anyone out, no matter how unlikely they seem,” said Kira when Keeley had protested that there had been no danger involved in visiting Joyce’s mother.

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