Jane Ingram
Excerpts

An Excerpt from The Victim

 

Chapter One

Twenty-four year old Jenna Caulfield had already received an Academy Award. She now received another Best Actress nomination for her latest film, The Victim. Her thirty-seven year old co-star Jacob Jackson was also nominated as Best Actor. Immediately after the nominations were announced on TV, Jacob called Jenna to congratulate her on the nomination. “Obviously you’ve heard the news. This is so exciting,” she said, “I’m over the moon. You must be too.”

“I am. After two nominations, I hope this is the big one for me. When are you going back to L.A.?”

“Day after tomorrow,” Jenna said. ”My agent wants to start scheduling me for talk shows.”

“Is there any chance of changing your plans so you could come back here for a celebration?” Jacob asked.

“Hmm. I was just there last weekend.”

“I know, but I think we should really celebrate in person. Besides, you have to change planes anyway to get back to L. A. You can easily get a flight out of Newark.”

“Okay. My mother won’t be pleased about my leaving sooner than planned, but what the heck. You’re right. We should celebrate in person. I’ll get a flight out of here tomorrow.”

“Great. I’ll see you sometime tomorrow. Listen I won’t have a car for a couple of days. The old Jeep is in the shop. Blew a gasket, whatever that is.”

“Not to worry. I’ll rent a car at Newark Airport. I think

I remember the directions.”

Jacob was already an established actor whose success not only brought fame but also wealth. Avoiding the Hollywood scene, he spent all of his free time at his four thousand square foot “farmhouse” in Bernardsville, New Jersey. Like paintings on the walls, every window looked out onto a view of his forty acre property.

At six foot two inches tall, with long, straight blond hair, and a permanent tan, he looked like Fabio, the Italian model photographed on many covers of romance novels. Often he was mistaken for him, which irritated Jacob to no end. If he was recognized, he wanted people to know who he was.

Jenna and Jake were often photographed together having dinner, or walking in Santa Monica, where they both had homes. The tabloids nicknamed them “J & J” assuming they were having a love affair. What they didn’t know was that they were just good friends, feeling comfortable in each other’s company, being in the same business, and not being competitive with each other. Neither confirmed nor denied the rumors of a romance.

Their schedules left little time for them to spend together at his farm. But when they were both free, the outdoors was a perfect place for them to come down to earth. They spent endless hours hiking, or fishing in a stream for trout, which he scaled, artfully filleted, and grilled on the outdoor stone fireplace. Jacob was an expert at hunting pheasant with a bow and arrow, roasting it on a spit, and basting it with Dom Perignon, his drink of choice.

The small spring house alongside the barn was a perfect place to store his wine and champagne. Jacob was a connoisseur of fine wines, picking up rare bottles in his travels. Having had a French nanny, Jenna learned about the various types of wine at a young age, and even helped Martine make wine from the grapes she grew in her mother’s garden. Jacob could identify ingredients in wine without looking at the label. Jenna didn’t have such a keen sense.

“Now tell me,” he would say to her, “can’t you taste the pears in this pinot grigio?” As much as she swished it around in her mouth like he showed her, she couldn’t pick out the individual flavors like Jake could. “Leave that small town Maine attitude behind and get into the mainstream of life.”

Pouting at him, she answered, “What’s wrong with small town Maine? I don’t believe that people who live in large cities are any more sophisticated than anyone from a small town. Let me use New York as an example. Are you listening?”

“Yes, I just can’t wait for this comparison.”

“New Yorkers live on an island. Thousands of people live within walking distance of their jobs. Okay? So, within the span of their walk, they have their supermarket, dry cleaner, pharmacist, probably their doctors, dentist, and hair stylist, all within blocks of where they live, so they live in a restricted area. And sometimes they never even leave the island. Some of them don’t even know Manhattan is an island.

“Yes, they have museums. Maine has museums. Yes, they have theatre, opera, and ballet, but they don’t go to them every day. In fact, the younger generation is probably working only to afford to pay their rent for a minute studio apartment with a galley kitchen, and most likely don’t have any extra money to go to the theatre.”

“So, what’s your point?” Jacob asked Jenna.

“The point is that you are proclaiming that the only sophisticated people live in large cities. I happen to like coming from a small town. I like the feeling of walking down any street and saying ‘hello’ to any stranger who passes me. In New York, as an example, no one talks to each other. They pass people on the street, sometimes even the same people every day without even a nod of the head as recognition. They bump into each other without even acknowledging their contact. So why does that make them more sophisticated than someone coming from a small town?”

Jacob looked at her with his head tilted and his mouth slightly open. “I’m sorry I brought it up.”

 

Jenna never relied on her agent for his advice on scripts. Determining whether a role would bring a nomination or an Academy Award was not the decisive issue in selecting which scripts she would accept. Instead the storyline and its depth of the character were what she was seeking. Scripts came to her regularly, but they had to grab her before she would consider further negotiations.

Since she was now one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, she had the advantage of being selective in her roles. She knew several actors who had to take a role simply because they needed the work. Even if it was a low budget film, actors needed the money to support themselves and their families. Right from the beginning of her success, Jenna invested wisely, and lived modesty considering her stature as an actress in Hollywood.

Jenna grew up in Maine in a single parent home. Her father died when she was six months old. Her mother, Laura Caulfield Gardenhour, was a well-known sculptress, commanding high commissions for her work in clay. Although a bit eccentric, she raised Jenna to be a grounded, well-educated, and a personable young woman.

Old photographs and her mother’s stories brought Jenna’s father to life. In the photographs Jenna could see that he was much taller than Laura, yet he looked so thin and frail. In her later years, Jenna wondered what it was about him that attracted her mother. Her mother’s answer surprised her: “I knew him from high school. Even then he was very sickly. We found ourselves at the same football game on a Saturday afternoon. He was sitting in the bleachers all bundled up in a blanket on a rather mild November day. I had a clear view of him from the upper row of the bleachers. When he was turning around from his first row seat looking at the crowd, he caught my eye.

I waved to him. I felt badly for him because no one was sitting next to him.

“After the first quarter of the game, I moved down and sat next to him. He seemed so self-sufficient, enjoying himself, but he was on his own when everyone else seemed to have their little clicks. Apparently he was used to doing things on his own. At that point he was sixteen and I was fifteen.

“I wasn’t sure whether I liked him for himself or if I felt sorry for him being on his own so much. It surprised me when he invited me to his home. His father had a library filled with hundreds of leather bound books. That impressed me. But what further impressed me was that he told me that he had read many of the classics his father collected. I figured with his illness, which, at that time, I had no idea what was wrong with him, he probably read a lot.

“He felt the cold more than I did, perhaps because he was so thin, so most of our time together was spent at his house.

I hadn’t read all the books he had. That encouraged me go to the library to take out some of the books that I knew he had already read so that we could talk about them.

“His parents were, how should I put this, very strange. After all, they were your grandparents. They were not at all welcoming to me when I was at their home. The only one who greeted me warmly, other than your father, was their housekeeper. It seemed like his parents wanted to keep him separated from other people. That made me worry because at that time

I wasn’t sure what he was suffering from or if it was contagious.

“His illness didn’t stop me from falling in love with him. When I told him, he smiled because he was already in love with me. It was after we declared our love for each other that he told me he wanted to know what it was like to be with me, you know, intimately,” Laura said to her daughter, somewhat embarrassed.

“I gave myself to him, my gift to him. Believe me, finding time to be alone with him was miraculous since he was so guarded by his parents. Neither of us gave a second thought to birth control. But I didn’t become pregnant with you until after we were married.

“My mother was most curious about Keilman and his family’s background. I have to admit that my parents were both snobs and certainly wanted me matched with someone of my own social background. Keilman was of my social background, but it was because of his illness that my parents felt that by marrying him I would live with a lot of pain and sorrow. Actually both sets of parents were opposed to our marriage knowing that his terminal illness would give us only a brief time together, and probably with me nursing him for the rest of his life, which is exactly what I did.

“At nineteen we were married. Then you were born, the apple of his parents’ eyes, their first and only grandchild. They doted on you because they knew no others would follow. And then, one morning he just didn’t wake up.” At this part of the story, Laura broke down. Jenna, also crying, embraced her mother.

“You were a child born of love, Jenna.”

“I never saw you with another man, Mom.”

“They say that only one person is the love of your life. Your father was mine and no one could replace him. Even in the short period of time we had together, and most of it was spent in our bedroom, I loved every minute with him. I don’t think another man could come close to the qualities your father had.

“I won’t say, Jenna, I haven’t been with another man. I have. But it’s very different being with someone you don’t love.”

 

Jenna always felt pulled about where to spend her free time. She enjoyed being with Jacob, but she also wanted to visit with her mother and somehow squeeze in time to be at her home in Santa Monica.

As much as she loved her mother, she would forget how tense it could be to be with her for long periods. Her mother’s personality was so strong and domineering. Within a few days, she wanted to be free of her. Laura wanted to control her daughter and her daughter wanted control of her own life.

After three of the five days she had planned to spend with her mother, Jenna decided to tell her mother that her plans had changed. Laura didn’t argue because she was deeply involved in working on a commission for a sculpture for the plaza in front of the Bangor Free Library.

The following afternoon Jenna left Portland, Maine at 4:40 p.m. and flew via Boston to Newark Airport where she arrived at 6:06 p.m. A light snack of a piece of chicken, smeared with an indescribable dressing, on an ice cold bun, was served on the plane.

She took only a couple of bites of the sandwich and almost immediately her stomach did flip-flops. She had been experiencing cramps since early that morning. Her calendar showed it was her time of the month. Resting her head back on the headrest, she closed her eyes and took in and let out some deep breaths. She took the hot tea that was served by the flight attendant then rummaged in her handbag looking for a Midol, and took two with the tea. Usually they helped with her menstrual cramps, but with the added problem of turbulence, she felt dizzy and thought she was going to heave. The air sickness bag was visible in the pocket in front of her. More than anything she didn’t want to have to use it.

When the plane reached the gate, she remained seated and waited until everyone deplaned before she got up. She put the air sickness bag in her pocket, just in case she would need it on the ground.

Having carried her garment bag on-board, she had no luggage to claim. Still feeling queasy, she went to the ladies room, locked herself in a stall, and with her head over the toilet she only produced dry heaves. After twenty minutes, she walked to the car rental desk. While filling out her paperwork, she still felt odd, so she sat for a while in the terminal.

Fifteen minutes later she hopped on the mini-bus that took her to the rental car parking lot. At their kiosk she was instructed to go to Bay 4, slot 12 to pick up the car. Throwing her coat and her garment bag into the back seat, she got in, adjusted the seat and the mirrors then opened the driver’s side window for some fresh air, but the smell of airline fumes made her more nauseous. At first she thought she would sit in the car for a while to let the feeling pass but then she just wanted to get away from the airport and to fresher air. Before she pulled out of the lot, she took out her cell phone and dialed Jake’s number. Nothing happened. She had forgotten to charge her cell phone. “Damn,” she said as she threw the phone onto the passenger seat.

She exited the airport, drove a short distance, then pulled into the parking lot of a diner, where she sat for twenty minutes until she felt a little better to drive on. Bernardsville was only thirty miles from Newark, making it a popular base for high profile residents to have easy access to the airport, and to New York as well. Many stage and screen stars lived in the affluent area, boasting that it was the tenth highest per capita income city in the State of New Jersey.

Still feeling a bit queasy, Jenna put the air sickness bag next to her on the seat. The last thing she needed was to throw up in a rental car. She laughed at the thought of the hypothetical headlines of the rag papers: Jenna Caulfield returned her rental car to Newark Airport with vomit all over the steering wheel and front seat.

Even though the air was cold for a March evening, Jenna kept the window down to let in the fresh air, taking in deep breaths. With the bottle of water she had in her hand bag, she took another Midol hoping it would kick in quickly to make her feel better.

Once again she tried her cell phone, as if miraculously it recharged itself while lying on the seat. But the battery icon was orange indicating she had no power. “Damn,” she said out loud, “I must try to remember to charge that thing.” Again she threw it back on the seat.

It was dark now and raining hard. She hated driving on the unlit roads that led to Jacob’s farm. She had made the trip several times, but with Jake driving. She was grateful that she paid attention to the route he took.

She drove the last two miles to the farm leaning forward to watch the road carefully to avoid any sudden animals crossing in front of her. She knew what to look for having lived in rural Maine most of her life.

It was almost 8:30 when she arrived at the turnoff leading to his property, which was accentuated by a white horizontal slat fence. Normally the gates to the long, tree lined driveway were kept closed and to open them, she would have to put in the code Jake gave to her, but they were already open.

Whenever she thought about the amount of money Jacob spent to bring in these fully grown trees to line the driveway, she shook her head and rolled her eyes. She used to tell him “You could feed the whole population of Sri Lanka for what you paid for these.”

As she turned into the driveway, she should have seen the lights on outside the house, but everything was dark. That was odd because Jake was expecting her. The only light visible was that from her headlights, which now were shining on a vehicle exiting the driveway, with no headlights on. Jenna quickly swerved to her right while the other car swerved to her left. She almost hit the gate. The other vehicle then accelerated and drove around her car, turning left onto the main road.

It took a few moments for Jenna to catch her breath. She almost had a head-on collision and wondered why their headlights were not on. She would be sure to tell Jake about this.

As she continued her approach to the house, no inside lights were on either. Jacob’s Jeep was not in the garage, as she could see from the open door, but she knew it was being repaired.

It was odd that the house and property were so dark. Jake did not have timers on the outside lights because he didn’t want them lit when he wasn’t in residence. But he always turned them on at night from the switch near the front door. They should have been on since he was expecting her.

Staring at the house, several thoughts went through her head. Should she go back to the center of town and call him? Or should she just knock on the door? Had he fallen asleep waiting for her? Even so, he would have heard her car or seen the headlights.

There was no bell. Why would he need a bell? No one just passed by. “I don’t think the Fuller Brush man is going to just stop by to sell me laundry detergent,” Jake used to say to her. There was a brass door knocker of a lion’s head that she had given him as a house gift. She banged the knocker three times. Nothing. Again she banged it. Nothing again. Turning the knob on the massive wood carved door, it surprised her that it was unlocked. She yelled in, “Jake?” Nothing. “Jacob?” Louder this time. Still nothing. There was dead silence.

On the wall at the entrance was a series of light switches. She felt for them with her hand and turned on a light that lit up the living room. Slowly she walked in, still calling out his name.

The glass paneled doors separating the living room from the dining room were open. She called again. Walking around the dining room table, she could see two places were set for a meal. An empty bucket awaited a bottle of wine, or most probably a bottle of champagne. A box of matches lay next to candle holders. She stopped to listen for any noises. It was eerie, especially since he knew what time her flight was expected and could judge her arrival.

She opened the swinging door to the kitchen and turned on the light. On the island counter food was laid out in preparation for a meal. A half-filled glass of red wine stood next to a toppled bottle of wine that seemed to empty its contents on the other side of the counter. Another glass lay on its side, with shards of broken glass mixed in with the cheese plate. Jenna walked around to the other side of the counter.

She stood frozen. Her eyes widened as she gasped. Jacob was laying on the floor. His shirt was drenched in blood surrounding a knife sticking out of his chest. “Jacob!” she screamed. Without moving his head Jacob’s eyes lowered. He blinked several times. Jenna moved closer kneeling at his side, taking his hand, putting her other hand on his chest, feeling the warm blood. “Jacob,” she whispered. “My God, what happened?”

Jacob tried to speak but no words came out. Blood from his mouth was dripping down his chin.

Jenna’s heart was pounding. She held his hand tighter. Trying to think what she should do, she kept talking to him in whispers. “You’ll be all right. I’ll get help. Just hold on.”

With the hand that had been on his chest, she reached back for his cellphone in its charger on the counter. She couldn’t stretch her arm out to grab it without letting go of his hand. She stood up, still looking at him, and took the phone out of the charger. Her hand was trembling so badly she could hardly dial 911. Instead she dialed 011. Realizing her mistake, she pressed for a new dial tone and then hit 911.

She kept looking at Jacob reassuring him he would be all right. Help would come. The 911 operator answered the call. Trying to hold herself together, Jenna cried into the phone, “Please send an ambulance right away. He needs help.”

“Please identify yourself,” the operator asked.

“I’m Jenna Caulfield. I’m in Jacob Jackson’s home. He’s been stabbed. He’s bleeding very badly. Please send someone quickly.”

“Slow down,” the operator said. “Give me the address.”

“Holy Oak Farm,” then added, “Bernardsville. Off the main road.”

“Stay where you are. We’ll send an ambulance right away. Are you okay?”

“I just arrived. I… he’s in the kitchen. Please hurry.”

“I’ve already typed in the address for the ambulance. Is he conscious?”

“Yes, but he’s bleeding badly.”

“Just keep talking to him. You’ll hear the sound of the ambulance in a few minutes. Help is on the way. Just stay where you are.”

Jenna nodded, still staring at Jacob, and trying to give him a reassuring smile. The operator disconnected. Jenna bent down again. “Jacob, an ambulance is on the way. They’ll be here very soon. Okay?”

There was no response from Jacob. His eyes were still looking at where she had been standing while on the phone. She kept talking to him, but his eyes did not move. There were no more sounds from his mouth. “Jacob, Jacob, please don’t leave. Stay with me,” Jenna pleaded. She felt the side of his neck. There was no pulse. She fell back on her legs, still holding his hand. “Jacob,” she sobbed. Her eyes were so blurry she could hardly see his face.

She heard the sound of a siren in the distance, and louder as it approached the house. Help was on the way, but too late.

She did not hear people entering the house, but they found their way into the kitchen and Jenna still by his side. She was startled by someone touching her shoulder. A man in a white uniform said, “We’re here now, ma’am. You can step away.” Another man helped her to her feet. The attendant bending down touched Jacob’s neck, He looked up at his partner and shook his head. “He’s gone,” was all he said.

Two detectives entered the kitchen. One of them asked, “Are you the woman who called this in?” Jenna nodded. “Come with me,” one of them said, and led Jenna into the living room. He guided her toward the sofa and gently pushed her down. He pulled out his identification from his inside pocket to show it to Jenna. She didn’t look at it. She just stared straight ahead. “I’m Police Chief Montese.” Turning toward the other man in a suit, he asked him to bring her a glass of water. The detective returned to the kitchen and then brought out a glass of water. He held it in front of her, but she didn’t take it. Instead he put it down on the coffee table.

Four policemen entered the front door with their guns drawn. The police chief ordered, “Two check upstairs, two see if there’s a basement.”

Jenna was leaning forward with her hands tightly clenched in front of her. “Ma’am, are you alright for me to ask you some questions?” Jenna turned her head looking startled to see him sitting next to her.

“He’s dead, isn’t he?”

“I’m afraid so, ma’am. Were you here when this happened?”

Jenna shook her head. “No.” She wasn’t crying now. Shock has taken over. “The house was dark when I arrived. I called for him.” She put her hand to her forehead and when she pulled it away, she saw blood on it. Then she looked at her other hand which was also bloody. She held out both hands to show the police chief. Then she looked at them. “He was just lying there.”

“Was he alive when you arrived?”

“I talked with him. He just looked at me. He didn’t say anything, but he was alive. I didn’t know what to do. But he was alive, I know he was. He just looked at me.”

“Was anyone else here when you arrived?”

“No. The house was so dark. Even outside it was dark. He knew I was coming. He called me and asked me to come.”

“Do you come here a lot?”

“I’ve been here several times. I was here just a weekend ago.”

“Did you kill him, ma’am?”

Jenna looked stunned at this question. “Kill him? Me? Of course not. He was my friend. We were going to celebrate our nominations for an Academy Award. He was so happy when he called me,” Jenna said squinting her eyes and bowing her head.

“Where were you when he called?”

“At my mother’s house in Maine. I was planning to stay there for another couple of days, but then Jacob called me and asked me to come here. So I did.”

Chief Montese picked up the glass of water and handed it to Jenna. She took the glass but didn’t drink from it. The other detective returned to the living room. Chief Montese introduced him as Detective Connors. The chief had relayed what Jenna had said to him.

All four policemen returned to the living room. “Clear upstairs, sir,” said one. “No basement,” said another, and then added, “The back door was locked and it doesn’t appear that there was a break-in at the front door.”

“Miss Caulfield, did you see anything unusual when you arrived? Was the front door open?”

“The door wasn’t open, but it wasn’t locked.”

“What time did you arrive?”

“I guess it was about 8:30 or somewhere around that time.”

Just then another man in white overalls entered the house. He was carrying a black case. He nodded at the detectives. Detective Connors pointed toward the kitchen, and then followed the man in.

“That’s the medical examiner,” the chief said.

“Oh,” said Jenna.

“When did you speak with Mr. Jackson?”

“Yesterday morning.”

“Did he say anything to you about expecting a visitor?”

“No. We mostly talked about our nominations and my coming here.”

“Are you and Mr. Jackson… a couple?”

Jenna looked at the chief and said, “No. We see each other a lot in California. We live near each other. We occasionally go out to dinner. We’re not committed to each other if that’s what you mean.”

“I’m just trying to establish your relationship with him. So, you’re saying it wasn’t a romantic involvement, just friends.”

“We worked together on a film, and we were going to discuss the possibility of working on another film.” Jenna picked up the glass of water again. This time she took a sip.

“I will need to get a written statement from you, ma’am, while it’s still fresh in your mind. I’ll take you back to the station. One of the uniforms will bring your car.”

The chief stood up and reached for Jenna’s elbow to help her up. Jenna looked up at him and then stood up. “Do you have a coat or a purse?” the chief asked.

“No, I left them in the car.”

Once they were outside, Jenna looked at her car and then turned to the chief. “A car came out of the driveway.”

“What?”

“Just as I was turning in, a car came out of the driveway. He almost hit me. I’m sorry. I almost forgot about that.”

“Did you see what kind of car it was?”

“It was dark. It didn’t have any headlights on.”

“Color?”

“I couldn’t tell you. I was so surprised. It swerved to avoid hitting me and then went around me. That way,” she said pointing toward the north.

“Was it a light color, a dark color, a truck, an SUV?”

“It all happened so fast. I’m not sure what it was. I was so stunned that we almost collided.”

Chief Montese told one of the uniform cops to check for tire prints in the driveway. The outside lights were not on. He hoped for the best since the ambulance and police cars probably obliterated the unknown vehicle’s tracks in the wet mud.

“Okay, well, let’s get to the station. Maybe you’ll remember more when we get your statement.”

The chief opened the back door of a black sedan indicating to Jenna to get in. He followed her in. Detective Connors drove them to the station.

Once at the station, they escorted Jenna into a small interrogation room. Before entering Jenna asked if she could wash her hands. “Yes, of course,” the chief said and walked her to the restroom.

Looking at herself in the mirror, Jenna’s black eye makeup was streaming down her checks. She turned on the tap and put her hands under the cold water. She watched as Jacob’s blood was washed down the drain. Jenna stared at it, horrified knowing it was Jacob’s blood. She put some water on her face. She felt nauseous and dizzy. She thought she was going to throw up. She cupped her hands and sucked in the cold water. She dried her hands and face with a paper towel. When she came out of the restroom Chief Montese came out of his office and again escorted her to the interrogation room.

Jenna sat down in the chair that was pulled out for her by the chief. She sat down with the two detectives. Once again, she had to reiterate her story, occasionally interrupted by Detective Connors, who was writing it down, to clarify an item. When her statement was completed, Detective Connors read it back to her. Jenna nodded that it was correct. He passed the written statement to her asking her to sign it. He provided a pen.

“What will happen to him?”

“What do you mean?” Detective Connors asked.

“I mean, where will they take him?”

“To the morgue.”

“I mean after that?”

“Is his family in L.A.?”

“As far as I know, his father lives in Phoenix. He told me once that his mother left them when he was seven years old. He had no contact with her. I don’t know if there are any other family members.”

“No sisters or brothers?”

Jenna thought for a moment. “There was a sister once, but she died when she was very young. He told me his mother left shortly after that.”

“So, there’s just this old man in Arizona.”

“I guess so. Will you contact him? I mean, he has to be told. I don’t know what Jacob’s wishes were about his…death. I don’t even know if he had a will.” Suddenly Jenna remembered to tell them about Jacob’s agent, Kent Troiano. “He might know more about Jacob’s affairs.”

“We’ll check it out. I think we’re finished with you for now. We’d like you to come back here tomorrow in case we have any additional questions. The duty officer made arrangements with a local inn for you to stay there overnight. Detective Connors will drive you over there. You can leave your car here.”

“Thank you,” Jenna said.