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by Rose Blumgold
Marcia sat staring out of the window seemingly focused on an Elm Tree that cast a great shadow across her front lawn. This apparent desire to explore the multi layers of the trees branches and leaves was deceiving. Her true focus was the level of despair and emptiness she felt now and as far back as she could remember. The time of day passed and darkness from the setting sun caused a deeper level of introspection. So deep in fact that when the doorbell rang she was startled back into consciousness.
She said as walked to door and peered through the peephole, “Whose there?.”
She observed a young woman and heard her sweet voice say, “Are you Mrs. Page? I’m from the agency … you know … you called for a housekeeper.”
“Yes, yes of course, just a minute.” Straitening her her hair and clothing with her right hand she opened the door with her left. “Hello, come in, sorry I took so long but I guess I fell asleep, please come in.”
The two women walked into the living room, Marcia sat in a Queen Anne chair upholstered with a floral design that burst with magenta colored flowers. While the visitor sat at the edge of the cushion on a small love seat, sinking low and deep forcing her to look up at her prospective employer.
“Your agency works fast I only called this morning. What’s your name?”
“Oneida, Oneida Wilson, mam. I have a friend at the agency and she called me, she knew I needed a job right away. I hope you don’t mind?
“No, of course not. please tell me about yourself and if you have references I’d like to see them.”
“Of course, here, I have two letters from where I worked in Atlanta. You’ll see telephone numbers, you can call them up now if you like.”
The two moved into the office, Marcia sat down and reached for the phone with the letters. Hello, is this Ms. Walker … Mrs. Walker my name is Marcia Page, I live in New York and I have a young lady here who is applying for a job as a housekeeper, do you know her?”
The disembodied voice said, “Yes of course she was my housekeeper for two years, I was very sorry to lose her and she was wonderful with my little boy, she even took care of my new puppy.”
“When did she work for you and what were her responsibilities exactly?”
The voice continued, “She worked for me from 2000 until 2002, I let her go because my mother moved into the house and I had to give her the maid’s room.”
“Okay, thanks very much, I hope I didn’t disturb you.”
“Of course not.”
This was repeated with the other letter, the second call revealed similar information and Marcia was satisfied. “Everything seems in order, can you tell me a little about yourself?”
“I’m originally from Jackson, Mississippi, it’s a small town. My mother was a housekeeper, she worked for all the rich ladies in town and when I got old enough she would take me to work with her, she taught me to cook, and clean and serve and take care of children. I know I’m young but I started learning when I was real young.
Jackson is a small town and I always wanted to travel so I moved to Georgia and when Mrs. Kane let me go I went to Florida, Palm Beach, Florida. I left because Florida because Mrs. Morgan’s husband died and her kids put her in a nursing home. I figured it was a good time for me to see New York. I’ve always seen movies of the tall building and I promised myself one day I would come here and here I am.” As she spoke about herself her eyes became bright and she had the exuberance of a child with a broad smile with shining eyes she immediately entranced Marcia.
Smiling Marcia started telling her about the house and her responsibilities …” and you’ll straighten out daily including the daily scrubbing of all the bathrooms, vacuum every other day with a full cleaning each week. Also, I’ll want you to prepare meals in advance, I’ll give you a menu for the week and a small checking account so you can go to the supermarket on your own. You have your own car don’t you?
“Is that acceptable to you?
“Okay, I think we will get along fine, by the way, I’m alone in the house, so there’s not much ironing or laundry. The salary will be $300.00 dollars per week and room and board. Do we have an agreement?”
* * *
Oneida moved in and the relationship began. Within a week she showed herself to be more than capable. Her knowledge of the layout of the house and its bountiful treasure were committed to memory and the home, in her hands, ran as smoothly as a summer sea. Marcia was more than pleased, finally she was able to release one aspect of her controlling nature.
What a pleasure thought Marcia, a full refrigerator, a sparkling clean house, all repairs were attended to immediately. She became more social arranging tennis dates, lunch with her friends, dinner with her daughter and regular trips to the beauty salon, hairdo, manicure, and pedicure on a regular basis.
The mirror of the salon reflected the image of woman much younger than her forty-seven years, blond hair straight to her earlobe with a slight turn under. Makeup, after instruction from the professional, was perfection. Most of all she made regular trips to Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. Her life had improved a great deal but there was still a feeling of emptiness deep inside of her.
She had never enjoyed school, nor the brief stint as an editor she soon realized that she needed to find a husband that would take care of her knowing she could never get excited about things the way other people did. Like the song…’I get no kick from champagne…’ Travel was okay, still no sense of excitement or great pleasure. Friends would come and go and she had long since accepted the fact that she was a ‘loner’ who would never be like other people.
When her husband died early in their marriage leaving her a wealthy woman neither the loss or the new found solitary control of all that money still did not enjoy life’s gifts. Somehow, now with Oneida in the house she had felt an excitement. Oneida, despite her limited salary, gave the impression of someone who had means beyond her $300 dollars per week. She exuded a beauty, carriage and excitement that seemed unusual and contagious.
* * *
Marcia found herself looking forward to seeing Oneida. Waking first, she would prepare coffee and toast in order to have it ready for her employee. It seemed as if the roles were reversing. It was Oneida’s day off and she came down for breakfast dressed casually but befitting the lady of the house not the employee. Marcia had become curious about her life outside the home. Reluctant to question her she waited for Oneida to drive away for the day and feeling like a thief in her own home she went up the steps to her small room at end of the second floor. She turned the doorknob … locked. She tried again, maybe its jammed should I call a locksmith? After all it is my home. I need to know what’s going I am responsible if any illegal is going on.
The locksmith arrived within the hour and with little effort he popped it open. Marcia gave him a check, walked him to the door and ran up the stairs … she was in. The room was neat and clean as she expected. Her clothing hung in the closets contents of clothes, purses and shoes were organized by type and color. The suitcase placed high on the closet shelf felt light when Marcia started to pull it down, changing her mind she put it back believing there was nothing in it she . Her vanity table was pristine, make up lined up lip liners, eyebrow pencils, base, mascara all like soldiers laying in a row ready for action.
The bed was also almost military in its tightness with a perfectly smooth coverlet and shams. You could tell someone occupied the room, but someone who was perfectly organized. The only hint of emotion in the room was a white Teddy Bear leaning against the sham. She kept searching but found nothing unusual.
Her attention return to the stuffed animal, there was something odd about it. Marcia picked it up and examined it and suddenly noticed the bear had a two carat diamond in each earlobe. Diamonds of the highest color and quality. How on earth she afford such jewelry?
The hunt was on Marcia felt so strongly that there had to be more. Carefully so as not to make Oneida suspicious she felt between the mattress and box spring, she then turned to the clothing patting each garment as though she was a cop searching a felon. She knocked on the wood paneling in the closet and lifted the edges of the carpeting … nothing. Frustrated, she stopped and thought where would I hide jewelry? She slowly eyed the room, object by object. The Teddy Bear of course, hiden in plain site. Picking up the bear she noticed it felt heavy. Turning around and upside down she searched for an opening. Her attention focused on the eye she pulled it out and it slipped from her hand onto the coverlet. Her eyes returned to orb less hole she noticed a slit across the bridge of the nose between the two eyes. As she pulled the velcroed seam apart and out fell the treasures onto the bed. Ruby necklace, emerald and diamond bracelet, a diamond solitaire bracelet, a ring that must have been at least seven carats, and other small pieces of jewelry and cash.
With plenty of time before Oneida returned Marcia counted the money, there was a wad of about fifty $100 dollar bills, large packs of varying denominations, including tens, twenty’s, fifty’s, and even a paper clip with a few ten thousand dollar bills… there must have been about $200 thousand in cash alone. Where and how on earth did she get this money?
Marcia was puzzled, one thing she did know … she had never felt such excitement as when she searched Oneida’s room. She put everything back and made sure the room was in perfect order. Slamming the door to make sure the lock was intact the way Oneida left it.
* * *
Her mind raced as she sat in the living room waiting for Oneida to return. A few hours later she opened the door looking very tired and holding a shopping bag in her hand. Surprised to see Marcia sitting there in the darkening room she sensed something, excusing herself she ran upstairs. Minutes later she returned with an air of relief.
“Sorry I left in such a rush but I had to go to the bathroom>”
“You look tired, have you been shopping all day?”
“Yes, I’d love to show you what I bought but I’m so tired. Would it be okay if I show you everything tomorrow?”
“Of course, go rest we can talk tomorrow, I’d love to see your new things.”
‘The game was afoot’. As Sherlock Holmes would have said.
* * *
Oneida could not get to sleep her mind raced, call it intuition, call it the instincts of a feral cat believing Marcia knew something. Should I tell her? I wonder if she knew would she call the police? I’ll sleep on it maybe something will come to me by the morning. It’s funny despite her career choice she never felt scared or allowed her activities as jewel thief to cause her to lose a minutes sleep. Always confident in her ability to fool others, she believed she was smarter than most people and always found a way out of sticky situations. She would do it again. With those thoughts she turned on her stomach, stretched her legs and clutching her teddy bear she fell into the sleep of the carefree.
* * *
Marcia woke up around the same time. Washed, put on a robe and went to the kitchen for coffee. Oneida poured two cups and handed her employer one smiling and asked. “Can I get you something to eat?”
“You know I’m really hungry this morning, I love a three and half minute egg, a slice of whole wheat toast, no butter, just a little raspberry jam… oh… and could you please hand me the newspaper?”
Oneida was taken aback, usually the cool one she didn’t know what to make of her boss? If Marcia knew, why wasn’t she upset or frightened? Turning to the stove to boil the water for egg, Oneida put two slices of bread in the toaster and turned her head slightly to watch her employer. She seems so calm. What’s up with her why is she acting so funny?
Placing the food before her she stared into her face looking for a clue. Nothing. The Mrs. ate quietly, slowly and calmly. The two women sat in the kitchen, one eyeing the other, one feeling fully in control waited for her chance to pounce.
The meal finished, Oneida took the dirty dishes away and asked if she could do anything else, “No honey but now would be a good time to show me what you bought yesterday.”
“Okay, I’ll be right back.” Running up the steps to her room she became concerned trying to reassure herself, I must be imaging things.
Returning quickly with her shopping bag from Sak’s Fifth Aven she felt comforted as they both went into the living room. Marcia sat in her Queen Anne chair, while Oneida nestled on the floor and took out one purchase after another.
“Your things are lovely, let me see that blouse, very nice…” turning it around her hand moved to the sleeve and to back of the neckline, … Honey where’s the tag, this looks expensive.”
Oneida gazed wide eyed searching for an answer. “There’s no tag? That’s impossible it must have fallen off when they were wrapping it.” Looking down, at the other clothing then back at Marcia, I guess something happened at the store, none of these things have tags.”
“Do you have a receipt?”
“I must’ve lost it.”
Marcia stared at the girl, “Come on how did you get these things, you could never afford them, what have you been up to?”
Oneida’s mind raced trying to think of an answer, unable to do so she began to sob. “Help me mam, I have a serious problem I can’t seem to control myself.”
“What do you mean you can’t control yourself? Come on tell me the truth or I’ll call the police and they will get the truth out of you.”
“No, please mam, don’t call the police. I’ll tell you but promise you won’t call the police.’
“Okay, tell me everything, if you lie I’ll know and then you’ll be in real trouble.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Everything, do you steal on your own or with some friends? Where do you sell this stuff, how long have you been doing thing, those references were they real?”
* * *
Wiping the tears from her eyes Oneida began. “What I told you about my mother and me, at the beginning, was the truth. But as I got older it was hard to see my mother work so hard and barely get by. So when I went to houses with her I would sneak up to the bedrooms and search for something to sell. In the beginning it was just small things. I would bring them to the local pawn shop and give the money to my mother. When she would ask me where I got the money I would say the lady gave me a tip. But soon I was starting to look for more expensive things. The pawn shop guy taught me the difference between the expensive stuff or junk. I became very good at it. Especially when I saw how stupid these rich ladies were. They were so rich they never noticed when something was missing.”
“How long did this go on?”
“About a year but after six months my friend, Violet, started to notice things, she kept pressing me about where I was getting the money for my car and clothes.”
“I knew I could make more if I had a partner or two so I told her. She was so excited she was in. We all did the same kind of work but she was always afraid to take anything but seeing me she got courage. She had a friend, Lizzy, and the three of us became partners. We had more money than we knew what to do with. The one of Violet’s ladies started to get suspicious, we knew it was time to get out of town.
One morning we met, we had packed out bags, designer bags of course, met for breakfast and left town.
“Where did you go?”
“Atlanta, Lizzy got a job cleaning in an office building downtown and she could get into all the offices, one was a housekeeping agency well that was it. At night she cleaned and in the daytime we cleaned up, money and stuff you know.”
“When was was that?”
“About three years ago, we had all agreed that when we got a certain amount of money we would stop but it kind of got into our blood… it was too exciting and maybe we didn’t want to give up the money. As a matter of fact we expanded and stole from stores.”
“Where do you keep all the stolen goods?”
“The jewelry I keep here, the clothes and stuff I keep in a storage unit in the Bronx.”
* * *
“Hmm … I won’t turn you in, as a matter of fact I find what you’re doing very exciting, Are you doing this alone?
“No Mrs. I work with two friends from where I grew up.
You know this is really interesting, the thought of it is very exciting to me, you wouldn’t know of course but I’ve led a very boring life. Maybe this is what I’ve been looking for. “I have a crazy idea, what if you let me in on this and I’ll keep my mouth shut, but I want to be a full partner. I’m very smart and I know a lot of people, I can get you into places you would never dream of. Are we partners?”
Stunned, not sure of what to say, fearing she would be arrested, Oneida replied, “Yes maam.”
“One more thing … no one, and I mean no one, not your friends, fence or any boyfriends hanging around should know I exist … do I have your word?
I feel I need to make sure that you understand what I’m saying, if you betray me there will be serious consequences.”
Swallowing hard, “Yes maam, I understand, I promise no one will ever know your name.”
* * *
The next few months were exhilarating for Marcia. As promised she had introduced Oneida to her rich friends. In the summer she would ‘lend’ her out to her friends in the Hampton’s. While they were away from the city she would break into their Manhattan homes with copies of keys provided by Oneida and take whatever her little thieving heart desired. Business was great.
By Labor Day the rented storage space could barely hold the riches they had accumulated. At home while sorting through the jewelry Marcia noticed Oneida looked troubled. “What’s the matter?”
Hesitatingly, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while now.”
“What’s troubling you dear, you know you can always tell me what’s bothering you.”
With a sigh of relief she began, “I can’t do it anymore. I’m richer now than I ever expected to be, I’m tired and scared, I have to stop.”
Taken aback Marcia bluted, “But I need you, I don’t think I can do it alone.”
“I just can’t go on, please…..”
Marcia took a breath, thought, and then comforted Oneida, “Dear it’s okay, I guess I’ve become greedy, you’re right maybe its time to stop.”
In her relief and exuberance she reached over and hugged Marcia, “Oh Mrs. thank you so much, I was a little scared to tell you, thank you. I want to tell you what I’m planning.”
“Of course dear, tell me, I’m dying to know.”
“First, I’m going to sell off my share to the fence. When I get all the cash I’m going to buy my mother a little house. Then I’m moving to California and I’m going to buy a little boutique, you know one of a kind sportswear, some dressy tops, costume jewelry, jeans and start my life all over.”
Through her controlled seething rage Marcia said, “Sounds like you’ve been planning this for a long time?”
“Kind of, I can’t take the strain anymore, I think about the cops and everything, I’m worn out. I’m so glad you’re not mad at me.”
“Oh honey, never. We’ve been good partners now. I knew it had to come to an end someday, don’t worry I’m not angry.”
* * *
That night Marcia, in her paranoid, state began obsessing. She must have another partner, I bet she’s keeping more than her share, she knows I don’t like go to the storage unit without her. I wonder if she has any ideas about stealing it all from me? No, no she’s not that dumb. Life will be very boring, I’ll be alone, why is she doing this to me?
* * *
Screaming and crying, “Hello, police, please come right away, something terrible has happened, hurry, hurry!”
It seemed like just a few minutes had passed when she heard the sirens, a hysterical Marcia opened the door, “What’s wrong?” The detective asked.
Marcia, appearing excited and distraught said, “Thank you for coming so fast, please come upstairs.”
They ran up the steps and followed Marcia to Oneida’s room where she was lying across her bed staring into nothingness, lying in a pool of blood with a kitchen knife sticking out of her chest. Her eyes opened in what had to be the last look at her killer, the cops sensitive to the terror she would have known noticed the palms of her hands were cut and bloody trying desperately to protect herself from the attack.
Screaming, Marcia clutched herself, “Oh my god who could have done such a thing?” With a quizzical look the detectives turned their eyes to Marcia.