"So," he began, tapping manicured fingers on my freshly polished desk. "I hope I'm in the right place. I need some help."
I went through the motions and pulled out a pen and memo pad, keeping a close eye on him. I've been in this business over ten years and never yet made a bad judgment call. He looked genuine enough; the balding pate, tanned face and flashy tie, probably from his latest gal. All my business was word of mouth. He was referred by a satisfied former client.
I pointed to the sign, scripted in small brass letters, on the wall above my head: Discreet Services, Ltd. "That's what I'm here for."
"She does a lot of volunteer work. She plans charity balls and the like. The hospital benefit is coming up this weekend. I was thinking maybe a robbery when we get home. There's a struggle, I get hurt somewhat but she, uh..." His voice faltered for the first time, "She passes away."
“Passes away”! I resisted the urge to snicker--not good for client relations--but the way men reached for euphemisms in my office never ceased to amaze me. I shook my head. "Won't work."
His broad shoulders sagged slightly. “Why not?”
I sat straight in my leather chair, ticking off reasons on my fingers. "Husband's always the first suspect; you must know that. That's why you came to me. Besides, a robber isn’t going to brutally attack the weaker target and leave the stronger one alone. Any criminal in his right mind would go after you first and hardest. In any real robbery, the odds are you'd be the one to go. Cops would see through it in a minute."
"Oh, but I thought if I could describe the thief..."
"A Black man in his thirties wearing a knit cap?" I couldn't keep the sarcasm completely out of my voice.
"Something like that."
"That card's been played out," I said.
"So what's left?" he asked, a little hostile now. I probably pushed him far enough. I couldn't help it; it was one of the few non-monetary perks of the job.
"I'll take care of it. That's why you're here."
"How much?" He pulled out his checkbook.
I put up one hand like a stop sign. Some men were brain-dead when it came to murder. No wonder business was booming. "My bank account's on Grand Cayman. When I get confirmation of the wire, I get cracking."
He blanched when I named my price. I shrugged my shoulders.
"I never said altering your marital status would be cheap."
"I guess it's cheaper than divorce," he grumbled, tucking his checkbook back in his suit jacket. "What's next?"
"The day the money's wired, spend the night in the city. You have a corporate condo there, don't you?" He nodded. "Schedule an early breakfast meeting the next day. Go out that night to dinner, to a ballgame, something with a friend, not a girlfriend," I warned. His eyes flickered but he kept quiet. "Make yourself visible and then change your mind about staying overnight. Tell your friend, the bartender, whoever, and come home at midnight. Not a minute before and not a minute after."
"Aren't you going to tell me more?" He was the typical client: a man used to being in control.
"The less you know, the better. You don't want any details."
"You're the boss." It probably was the first time he ever uttered those words.
The money came through a few days later. At precisely midnight my client cautiously opened the front door of his house and stepped into the darkened marble foyer.
His wife shot him right through the heart.
I flicked on the chandelier with gloved fingers, and gave her an approving nod. "When the cops come, you tell them the story we went over. You were sleeping, your husband was spending the night in the city, you heard someone downstairs. You thought he was a burglar."
She dropped the gun and clasped my hands. "I can't thank you enough."
I gently freed myself. "Call the police. Don't waste any more time."
I slipped out through the solarium as she picked up the phone. She'd do fine; she was a smart woman. Smart enough to offer double my fee when I called her. They don't all do that. Most of them don't believe me. But that was their problem, not mine. This job would finance some serious R & R for a good, long while. I've heard the Dutch West Indies are lovely this time of year.
About the author:
Christine Eskilson received honorable mentions in the 2012 Al Blanchard Short Crime Fiction Contest and the 2012 Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Annual Writing Contest, third place in the 2017 WNBA Annual Writing Contest, and first place in the 2018 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Contest. Her stories have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies.