Chapter 5: Mother and Daughter
Jacque waited several days after Debi's murder before flying out to California. The tragedy was still something that had only been reported by phone, but as soon as she arrived in California, Debi's death would become irrevocably real.
"Of course I want to be with Karen and Jessica," Jacque told her husband, speaking of her surviving daughter and Debi's motherless three year old child, "but I don't want to bury my daughter. I can't do this."
But Jacque knew she had to go to the funeral. During the long flight across the country, Jacque was able to keep her fear of flying in check. Her claustrophobia still terrified her, but she thought about Debi. What terror had her child experienced in her last moments of life? Jacque tried to block the question, but it dogged her, nipping at her, tearing at her mind. Jacque knew Debi had died protecting her own daughter: she hadn't cried out because she hadn't wanted to wake her little girl. She hadn't wanted the killer to know Jessie was in the next room. No matter how frightened Debi was in those last moments, Jacque knew she had died a hero. In light of what Debi had suffered, Jacque could damn well make it through this flight.
Karen and her husband Cliff met Jacque and Dennis at the airport, and the women hugged and cried on one another. The no-longer-sister and the no-longer-mother-of-two. They had lost Debi, and now they were separated forever from their former selves. It was like some devastating form of reincarnation.
Debi's body had been cremated as she wanted, and Karen had made most of the arrangements for the memorial service. Those attending were asked to wear blue, Debi's favorite color. Jacque didn't have a blue dress, so she and Karen went shopping the day before the memorial. Alone in the dressing room, Jacque hardly glanced in the mirror. What was the perfect dress to wear when burying your murdered daughter? There was none.
Inside the dressing room, a memory leapt out at Jacque. A couple of years ago she and Debi, both avid bargain hunters, had been shopping the sales rack in an upscale boutique. The shop exuded quiet self- importance. At least it did until Debi suddenly laughed.
It must first be explained that Debi's laughter was comprised of sudden expostulation with subtle nuances of gasping squawk. There in the boutique, Jacque halfheartedly shushed her daughter but smiled in spite of herself. Soon women all over the store were looking in their direction.
"Oh, honestly," Jacque said with exasperation, which only made her daughter laugh harder.
A woman across the room gave Jacque a covert grin, then turned her head to hide her own chuckle. Another shopper saw her and giggled. Soon the room was full of women's laughter. Debi's laugh was so contagious that people couldn't help themselves. Jacque had seen it a hundred times throughout Debi's life, and she smiled fondly at her daughter that day as the shoppers began to talk among themselves, their façade of pretentiousness put aside.
The memory raced away from her, stealing the smile from Jacque's face. She glanced at her reflection in the dressing room mirror. The dress was navy blue and slightly uncomfortable. Good enough. She had to get out of here.
Although Jacque hadn't spoken to him directly, she had heard through Karen that Debi's husband, Howie, had been questioned for hours by the Modesto police on the morning after the murder. In fact, Jacque had tried to reach him and couldn't. Eventually the police released him, and yet she heard they had questioned him several more times over the next few days. If he was not a suspect, why did they keep talking to him?
Jacque's mind was reeling from the double blow of grief and uncertainty when she saw Howie later that night. He had brought Jessie to spend the night and, resilient as all children, the girl ran inside excitedly as soon as her father parked in the driveway. Jacque took the opportunity to walk outside where Howie was unloading Jessica's duffel bag from the truck.
"You didn't have to kill her," Jacque said carefully.
The man spun around, and Jacque watched for any reaction. He just looked at her.
"I said, you didn't have to kill her, even if you were having problems. I mean, there is such a thing as divorce."
Howie held Jessie's duffel bag limply at his side. "I didn't kill her, Jacque."
"Some people think you did."
He looked away from her then. What was he thinking?
"Karen said Debi had been thinking a lot about death lately," Jacque continued. "She had just talked to Karen and her father about her will. That was two weeks ago. How did my daughter know she was going to die?"
He looked back at her then, his expression haggard and exhausted. "I did not kill your daughter. I promise you that, Jacque. On my soul. She was Jessie's mother. We had our problems, but I would never do that."
Jacque studied him, then reached a decision. "I believe you," she said, and she meant it. She never questioned him again.
Dove will be doing a reading at Borders Books, on Sisk Road in Modesto on March 28 at 2 p.m.