She would never show it, but this was always her favorite part. It would be uncouth to appear like a braggart, and the men wouldn’t appreciate being made to feel like simpletons, so she was always careful to couch her statements in gentle guidance, rather than arrogance, but inside she felt a great deal of pride. She addressed the sheriff first.
“You see, I first began to suspect Will Kane when we discovered that the method was rat poison. While poisoners are often women, we knew it had to be a man because Mr. Jameson was last seen having dinner with a man.
“While women will choose poison over, say, stabbing or shooting someone, to avoid getting messy, rat poison is an especially gruesome way to die. This suggested the killer had a deep-seated grudge against the victim, but wasn’t a bold or aggressive enough person to kill someone with their bare hands. That made me think of old Will Kane.”
“Well, I have to agree that no one would think of Will as aggressive.”
“Exactly, Amos.” Jessica hated how he always interrupted her, but would never let it show. It was important to get along with everyone in a small town, but for someone in her line of work, staying friendly with the sheriff was especially important.
“The profile for using poison, especially men, is someone who hold grudges. This person may perceive the most trivial slight as a grievous harm, and store it in their memory for years, waiting for the day they can have their revenge. When the second victim, Sally died, I paid even closer attention to Will’s habits.”
“I would never have hurt Sally!” Will was struggling in the deputy’s arms. It was always like this. They denied their wrongdoing, Jessica outlined how they must have committed the crime, clearly enough that any jury would be convinced, and then later she’d write a story about it that would pay well.
“Oh, sure, on the outside you seemed devoted to her, but inside you seethed over her choosing Scott over you all those years ago. You loved her, desperately, ever since you were kids, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Will said, “but…”
Jessica cut him off with a curt wave of her hand, not unlike when she taught him English in high school so long ago. “You couldn’t stand that they were finally going to marry, taking her away from you permanently.”
“You do hold grudges, Will,” Amos was turning the argument over in his mind, slowly. It was always slowly with him, but he always came around to Jessica’s point of view sooner or later. She was a bit sad that Amos would be moving away to Kentucky soon, and she’d have a new sheriff to train. “I remember when I didn’t return your lawnmower quickly enough for your taste, what was it, five years ago? You wouldn’t speak to me for a month. I can’t imagine how you would react to Sally rejecting you so completely, especially after the Jameson mill closing and you being out of work.”
“Once I had the motive and a suspect that fit the profile, it was simply determining means and opportunity. The mill would certainly have attracted rats, and finding a box of rat poison with Will’s fingerprints on nit would be easy enough. But WHEN could he have poisoned them? With Mr. Jameson, it was obviously after they had their huge fight over at Ginny’s Cafe that night. We all saw them eating together, after all Amos, you and I were there eating dinner ourselves. We all saw Will glowering after old man Jameson stormed off to his car. It was really a silly thing to do, Will, trying to convince him to reopen the paper mill.”
Will was weeping. “I know paper is dying in Maine, but there was a mill over in Derry that had an innovative plan to revolutionize the industry. If he would have just LISTENED to me…”
Jessica put on her most sympathetic face. “But he wouldn’t, would he? And that made you angry, didn’t it?”
“Yes, but…” Jessica continued, talking over the suspected killer.
“Angry enough to slip rat poison in his coffee before he left. It wouldn’t take much, and the bitterness would disguise the taste. You knew he took his coffee black, after working for the man for the last twenty years. You also knew he had a long drive home, going the same way you always drove from Ginny’s. That was how you got to the scene first, finding his car along the embankment. That was lucky for you wasn’t it, arriving before Amos and I did? That way you could convince us the accident caused the blood, and NOT the poison.”
“That’s true,” said Amos. “I wouldn’t have thought to run toxicology if Jessica hadn’t mentioned it. Someone had blood on their face and shirt after driving their car off an embankment, that would seem normal. What did make you suspect poison so early on, Jessica?”
Jessica feigned humility and gazed down at the floor while shaking her head. “Well, to be honest, Amos, I didn’t. I just knew something was off about the way Will acted during that dinner. He kept looking around nervously, seemed shaky, and at one point I saw him stirring something into old man Jameson’s coffee. I remember thinking that there would be no need to stir Jameson’s coffee since he didn’t take cream or sugar, something I think everyone in town knew.”
Will erupted at this. “That’s a lie! I never TOUCHED his coffee!”
Amos began to get annoyed on Jessica’s behalf. The nice thing about being a sweet little old lady was never having to defend yourself. “Well, now, I remember clearly Jessica saying that was odd at the time. And you know, later we tested the mug and the spoon, and we found your fingerprints on it, along with the rat poison.”
“Once we linked Will to the rat poison from the mill, and the coffee cup, it wasn’t long before the pieces began falling together. I just wish we had been able to put it together before…” Jessica paused here, knowing everyone hung on her every word, knowing that the right affectation was a hint of sadness and regret. She shook her head slightly, and wiped a non-existent tear from her eye, before pretending to overcome her emotion with that stiff upper-lip New England attitude. “Poor Sally.”
Amos patted her on the shoulder. She hated the patronizing tone of men in her generation, but she was good at hiding it. “Now, now, Jess, you know that wasn’t your fault.”
“I can’t help but feel SOME responsibility.” She laughed inwardly at her secret joke, but her faced showed only mournful burden.
Will had stopped struggling, a sign Jessica knew well as someone who was becoming resigned to his fate. “Amos, you have to believe me,” he pleaded.
“Will, it’ll go easier on you if you just confess. The DA might make you a deal,” the sheriff continued.
“But I didn’t do it, I swear!”
“We have what was left of Sally’s drink from the night you went over to ‘congratulate’ her. We have your fingerprints. We have witnesses. You have to see that there is no way to talk your way out of this,” Amos was hoping to get a confession. That was one of the things Jessica genuinely liked about him. He hated paperwork, and wanted to close his cases with minimal effort and fuss. His laziness was convenient for her. She hoped the new sheriff would never notice how strange it was that a town of about 3500 people had so many murders.
Sometimes it even worked. As the suspects Jessica accused saw the proverbial noose tightening around their necks, sometimes they’d cut a deal. Just as often they’d deny it all the way to prison. Either way, Jessica would get her new book out of it. The only difference was how much the case would feed the marketing cycle. Confessions actually hurt her sales slightly, so she didn’t mind when they swore they were innocent, sometimes all the way to the end. Jessica so rarely saw the death penalty, as she primarily worked in Maine and New York, but occasionally she traveled.
This looked like it might be a best-seller indeed. Poisons always did well on the cozy mystery market, and if Will maintained his innocence and went to trial the free publicity would serve her well. She hid her pleasure, and looked at Will with disappointment. She made sure it still showed in her eyes as she looked at Amos.
“Take him away, Floyd,” the sheriff said. It was about time. Why did these men always take so long to make decisions, she thought with a silent eye-roll. She had a lot to do before bed, but as much as she had to do all the thinking, she knew she had to stay within the lines of proper behavior.
It was another hour before she could finally get home and start working. She hated the tediousness of that last conversation with Amos, but knew that was a vital part of the job. She’d stand around, murmur the right noises, express the right amount of shock, the right amount of world-weariness, and then finally he would drop her off at home. She never drove herself. That was important. No one could ever suspect she could drive. That could disrupt her work.
She waved at Amos as she opened the white picket gate to her house. She was tempted to begin writing, but pushed aside the thoughts of titles and chapter divisions to focus on her real work, reviewing every last thread of the crime. This crime was easier than most, as she only had to dispose of the rat poison she stole from the paper mill where no one would find it.
She whistled to herself as she thought about her latest crime. She felt no remorse for killing Sally. That little bitch had been a nightmare back when she taught English, and she got what she deserved. When she killed Jameson, though, she felt something, although she didn’t suppose it was remorse. That was why she did it, of course, going through the trouble of coming up with murders and finding the perfect person in town to frame for it. It was difficult work, using her ample knowledge of her fellow small town residents to design the perfect crimes for them to commit, but each time it made her finally feel alive, like she had some kind of power. It was the only way she could free herself from the rigid expectations society had put on her throughout her life.
She supposed that was what she was feeling when she killed Jameson: nostalgia. Whenever she used poison, whatever the kind, it made her think of her dearly departed husband. Frank would always be her first. No one ever suspected poison, of course, as they only recalled a devoted wife, nursing her poor, ailing husband in his final, miserable months of illness. And of course, they’d never find anything if they checked. Frank was her greatest work of art, but she’d never be able to publish that story. It was hack, really, stolen from an old Dorothy Sayers, to feed someone arsenic slowly over time until they became dependent on it. The poison was never what killed them, and thus would never be found. The withdrawal, however, was always fatal.
She hid the rat poison in the root cellar, behind the jams from last season and beside the guns that were never found, and sat down at her typewriter. As she began the draft of her next novel, she thought about how tiring the publishing and touring process could be. Writing paid better than English teaching, though, and as a widow she had to support herself. As occupations, murder wasn’t easy, but it was a decent living.