GENRE: Crime/Suspense. LENGTH: 1,479 words. SYNOPSIS: A newbie private investigator learns that he just might not be cut out for this line of work.
“I’m out of here,” said Sissy.
Paul looked up from his computer. “Where are you going dressed like that?”
She placed her hands on her hips and cocked her head to the side. “Where do you think? It’s Wednesday. Girl’s night out.”
“Oh, yeah.” His eyes went back to the computer. “Have fun.”
“What are you doing—playing a game?”
“No. I’m doing research.”
“Still think you’re gonna be a private eye?”
“I’m already a private investigator.” He pointed to the framed certificate on the wall.
“Is that thing even real?”
“Of course it’s real.”
“You paid a hundred bucks to some bogus online school. Don’t you have to be licensed by the state? Who’s gonna hire an amateur investigator?”
“I’m going to get the proper licensing.”
“Whatever. Just don’t quit your day job.”
Paul sneered at her.
“And don’t wait up.”
“Bye.” Maybe she was right. Even with the proper licensing, would anyone ever hire him? He made good money as a plumber. But that wasn’t the point. Paul craved adventure. Danger. There’s not much excitement in cleaning the hair out of bathroom drains.
He heard the front door open.
Good. She had come back to say she was sorry. He would apologize too. No matter how much they argued, he still loved his wife.
A woman poked her head into his office. She was very attractive, wearing an evening dress, a hat and white gloves. “Sir, are you the private detective? Or do I have the wrong address?” She reached into her purse and pulled out a folded newspaper.
Oh my God, he thought. His ad had worked. “No—I mean, yes, you have the right address.” He jumped up from his chair. “Paul Piper—at your service.”
“Good to meet you Mr. Piper. My name is Amy. Amy Good.”
“Please have a seat, Miss Good, and tell me what I can do for you.”
They sat down.
“It’s Mrs., but you can call me Amy.” She hesitated. “Is that your pickup in the driveway?”
“Yes, Ma’am, it is.”
“So you’re a hunter.”
He gave her an inquisitive look.
“I saw the gun rack in your truck.”
“I’ll bet you’re pretty good with a rifle.”
“He thinks so.” Paul nodded to the deer head that was mounted on the wall.
“Good—because this could be dangerous. I want to hire you to follow my husband. His name is Ben.”
“You think he’s cheating?”
“I understand. You want me to catch him in the act. Take pictures.”
“My husband is a wealthy man, Mr. Piper, and I deserve half of everything he’s got.”
“I agree, Mrs. Good—I mean, Amy.”
She reached into her purse, pulled out a photo and an envelope, and slid them across Paul’s desk. “Will you take the job?”
Paul studied the picture for a moment and then opened the envelope. It contained five one-hundred dollar bills. He nearly fell out of his chair.
“Will you take the job?”
He almost said, Hell, yes—but realized that would not sound professional. “Yes, Ma’am. When do I start?”
“Tonight. But be sure to take a gun. I don’t know what he might do if he catches you spying on him.”
Amy explained that she had overheard her husband talking to some woman on the phone. He was taking to her to dinner tonight at a popular, out-of-the-way seafood restaurant on the lake. It was same restaurant where he had taken Amy on their second date, so she knew his pattern: a great seafood dinner, followed by a long walk on the pier, a beautiful love poem, and passionate kisses under the moonlight. Then he would take her to a lovely cottage in the hills.
She told him there should be plenty of opportunities to take the pictures.
Paul began to wonder if he had taken a wrong turn when the long, winding paved road deteriorated into a bumpy dirt path. He was about to give up when he spotted lights in the distance.
The parking lot was empty, and the restaurant was dark, except for the two lights above the CLOSED sign. The windows were boarded up.
Was this some kind of a joke? Had Amy Good played him for a fool? No, that didn’t make sense—she had paid him five-hundred in cash.
Paul began a U-turn—but then he spotted a silver Acura. It appeared to be unoccupied. He flipped off his lights and killed the engine. Opening his door as quietly as possible, he got out of his pickup and walked over to the car with his flashlight. He compared the license plate number with the one Amy had given him. Yes, it was the husband’s car.
As he walked toward the restaurant, he heard voices, and stopped dead in his tracks. Holding his breath, he listened intently. Where were the voices coming from—the restaurant? No. To his left.
Paul saw a couple at the end of the pier. They were standing very close. But it was too dark to get a good picture from this distance. He would have to get much closer, and use a flash.
But how would they react when his flash went off? The husband might run after him. Paul was not a fast runner. He imagined getting tackled, his face being pummeled, and his camera being thrown into the lake. But how else could he get the picture he needed?
What the hell? He asked for danger, and he got it.
He crept along the back edge of the pier, near the trees, so as not to be seen. He prayed a creaky board wouldn’t give him away. Finally he was within flash range. He carefully took out his camera and aimed. He couldn’t see their faces, but that didn’t matter. He just needed to frame the shot and hold the camera steady.
He pushed the button and the end of the deck lit up momentarily and then went black. The couple turned his direction.
“Hey!” said the man.
Paul turned to run, but stopped. When the flash had illuminated the couple for that brief moment, he’d seen their faces clearly. “Sissy?”
After a two full seconds of silence, “Paul? Is that you? What the hell are you doing out here?”
Paul took a step toward them, no longer afraid. “What happened to Girls Night Out, Sissy?”
“Don’t you dare judge me.”
“You’re my wife, and you’re cheating on me. You’d better damn well believe I’m gonna judge you.”
There was a splash. The cheating husband had disappeared.
Paul hit the deck. He had heard the gunshot.
Sissy turned and looked over the edge of the pier. “Ben!”
Paul heard a second gunshot. Sissy flew off the pier.
Paul lay perfectly still on his stomach, shaking, until he heard a car driving away. Then he got up and went to the edge of the pier. He shined his flashlight into the water. Some lake—it was only three inches deep. Ben and Sissy lay face down in the mud, both of their heads oozing red liquid into the milky brown water.
The shooter must have been positioned somewhere in the parking lot, thought Paul. And only a trained sniper could have hit their heads at that distance. But who? And why? Had to have been Amy Good, or somebody she hired. His very first client was a crazy woman.
He was heartbroken about losing Sissy. She would have probably left him eventually anyway. But he certainly didn’t want to lose her this way.
But why had Amy hired him? Why did she get him involved?
Just as he reached his truck, two cop cars drove into the parking lot. He was about to call 911 anyway. He had nothing to hide.
The cops got out of their cars and one of them walked up to him, blinding him with his flashlight. “We got a tip about shots fired.”
Before Paul could respond, the other cop shined his flashlight into Paul’s truck. “Is this your rifle, Sir?”
“Uh, yes, Sir.”
“Fired it lately?”
“No.” He had brought it with him because Amy told him he should carry a gun in case her husband got violent.
The cop open the passenger door and took the gun off the rack. “It’s still warm.”
“What have you been shooting at, Sir?”
One cop began reading him his rights as the other one cuffed him.
His cheating wife and her boyfriend had been murdered with his rifle. There was nobody else within miles. Mrs. Good, or whoever she’d hired, had undoubtedly worn gloves while using his rifle. She had also worn gloves in his office—and paid him in cash. He had no proof that he’d ever even met her.
Paul Piper, Amateur Investigator. What was he thinking? Why couldn’t he have been happy as a plumber?
In one night, he had graduated from amateur investigator…to professional stooge.