by Gary R. Hoffman
Mystery writer Gary Hoffman shares with KRL another never before published mystery short story!
“Now, you’re sure you want to go through with this?”
“Because once this is put into motion, it cannot be stopped. You will have no way of getting in contact with me.”
“Ok. You bring the money and pictures?”
“Yes. Right here.” Jeff Pinkly handed Brad Barnett an envelope. “There’s ten thousand in there, plus six different pictures, and the tickets for the cruise aboard the Ocean Breeze, as well as for the flight to Miami.”
Brad slipped the envelope in the inside pocket of his sports coat. “Thanks.”
“Aren’t you even going to look in it?”
Brad smiled. “Not now and especially not here. I’ll have plenty of time to do that later. Now, go over your plan again for me.”
“Leslie will be going on the cruise by herself. We are supposed to go together, but at the last minute, a business deal is going to come up for me. She’s used to that sort of thing by now. She may find someone to take her, but that won’t matter to you, will it?”
“The rest is up to you. Just make sure she doesn’t come back from that cruise alive. According to our pre-nup, I’ll get nothing if we simply divorce. This way, I’ll get it all.” Jeff took a sip of his Scotch.
“She inherited a pretty good chunk of change when her daddy passed away.” Jeff snickered. “No sense letting all her daddy’s hard work be squandered giving that money to charities.”
Leslie Wall and Jeff Pinkly had only been married for six years. Two years into their nuptials, Leslie’s mother and father were killed in a car wreck. Jeff knew when he proposed to Leslie he would get his hands on her father’s money sometime, but her father had insisted on the pre-nup to protect his daughter. Her father had just never figured on how much Jeff wanted all the money.
A year after her parents died, Leslie considered herself to be happily married, but Jeff didn’t. After he came to a decision about ending his marriage, he spent two years finding the right person for the job. Brad Barnett was a pro, even though Jeff wasn’t even sure that was his correct name. That part didn’t matter. Brad had come highly recommended through a business contact.
When their meeting was over, Jeff left the hotel bar first, secure in the knowledge his troubles were going to be over in three weeks. The cruise was two weeks away and the ship would return to Miami in three weeks, minus his wife.
Brad stayed at the bar for a half hour after Jeff left. He was in no hurry to return to his motel room. Granted, he lived in motel rooms for a good part of his life because of his job, but they weren’t his favorite place. His favorite place was a cabin he owned in the Missouri Ozarks. The cabin was set on twenty acres of land just thirty miles west of Branson, Missouri. He had complete solitude there when he wanted it, but it was close enough to Branson that he could go there for a social life if he desired.
He also stayed a little longer in the bar because a man he was looking for was reputed to hang out there once in a while. Brad liked the idea of “double-dipping,” as he called it. Getting paid for two jobs at one time could only be topped by getting paid for three. He didn’t have to wait long for the other man to show. Jim Alton made contact with the woman who had been waiting there for him. After downing one quick drink, Jim and his lady friend headed for the elevator to take them up to a room. Brad followed.
When they were on the elevator, Brad was standing in front of the pair. They weren’t paying any attention to him, but were more interested in making “goo-goo” eyes at each other. Brad unbuttoned his suit coat and slipped out a small .22 pistol. He quickly screwed on a silencer. He turned and fired one shot into Jim’s head. The woman screamed, but was silenced with a shot to her head. He hadn’t intended on killing the woman, too, but she was in the way when the time presented itself for him to take out Jim Alton. The army had taught him that was called “collateral damage.” Wasn’t planned, just needed to be done.
Brad got off on the fourth floor and walked across the hall to a set of stairs. He walked down one flight and took another elevator to the main floor. He walked through the hotel lobby, out the front doors, and got in a cab. Two blocks down the street, the cab passed a police car screaming towards the hotel.
The cab driver dropped him off at a nice restaurant. He ate a leisurely supper and caught another cab back to his motel room by the airport. Once there, he called the airline to see if he could fly out tomorrow morning, rather than waiting until Saturday. He hated to waste three more days in a motel room. The operator confirmed it would be fine, and he turned on the television to watch “Law and Order.” It was one of his favorite comedy shows. He got lots of chuckles at how crimes were solved there.
The night before the cruise, Brad was staying in a motel in Miami, Florida. The ship was to sail from there. The next afternoon, he boarded the ship around three. He could have been there earlier, but there was no rush. He knew which room Leslie Pinkly was staying in because her husband gave him that information from the tickets they purchased.
He went to his stateroom to wait for his luggage and to finally look over the pictures of the woman he was going eliminate. Of the six pictures, only one presented him with what he felt was a true picture of Leslie. The rest were taken at restaurant tables or some place where she had a huge grin on her face. The one rather sober picture of her was taken in what looked like some sort of meeting where everyone was sitting around a large oval table. He studied the picture closely. She looked sort of familiar, but the picture of her face was small. Besides, he saw lots of people in his line of work.
At six-thirty, the ship was out at sea, and he went to the dinning room for the evening meal. Jeff had set him up to be in the same dinning room and at the same time as Leslie. He did not join in the line waiting for the dinning room to open, but instead stood off to the side and watched other people going in. He thought he saw her once, but she had different colored hair than was in all of the pictures. Again, this was not an uncommon occurrence.
Later in the evening, Brad attended one of the Broadway type shows presented on the ship. After the show, he was sure he saw Leslie heading out the opposite door, so he hurried to follow her. She went into the “Crow’s Nest,” one of the many lounges on board. Brad stood by the door before entering, just to see where she was going to sit. Once she was seated at the bar, he went in. There was an empty bar stool beside her. “This taken?” he asked pointing to the stool.
“No. Help yourself,” Leslie said and turned around. She got a funny look on her face. “Are you Frank Middleton?”
Brad took a step back. He looked at the woman again. “Leslie Fowler?”
“The one and only. Holly shit! How long has it been?”
Brad slid onto the stool. He chuckled. “Too many years to count.”
“You know I’m still pissed off at you for breaking up with me in high school.”
“Well, we all make mistakes. So what are you doing now?”
“At the present time, I am on a cruise by myself because I have an asshole for a husband. He found a reason not to come with me, like he does most of the time now.”
Brad hung his head. “Sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah, me, too. He’s my mistake, I’m afraid. Guess I really didn’t realize it until the past week or so. If you remember, sometimes my little brain doesn’t compute things real well.”
“Oh, I always thought you were pretty sharp.”
“Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out something is going on when your husband is taking large amounts of money out the bank account and not telling you about it. And then two days before I left on this cruise, I found a receipt for a hotel parking garage. He’s probably seeing some bimbo on the side.”
Brad didn’t say anything, but he knew where that receipt came from. Now he wasn’t sure if he could go through with his plan. He had never been hired to take out someone he knew.
“I’m sorry to hear you’re having problems,” he managed to mutter out.
“You know, you might be just the guy to make me forget some of my problems. How about we go to your room and do some private partying? I’ll even buy a bottle of Scotch from room service when we get there.”
This was an offer Brad couldn’t refuse. He had never taken Leslie to bed in high school even though he always wanted to. “Let’s go.”
They walked into Brad’s room. Leslie walked to the furthest wall and turned around. Brad let the door close behind and took off his suit coat. He didn’t have to worry about his gun because he hadn’t taken it with him. He didn’t figure he would need it this early in the cruise. He was busy watching Leslie and failed to notice a picture fall from his inside pocket. Leslie looked down at the picture and then back up at him. She put her hand in her purse. “So you’re the one he hired!”
“I figured he had to hire someone to kill me. He couldn’t afford to divorce me. I just never figured it would be someone like you.”
Brad took a step forward. “Leslie….” That was the last word he ever spoke. Leslie pulled the trigger on the .38 she kept in her purse since she figured out Jeff would try and have her killed.
She stepped over Brad’s body on her way to the door. Before she opened the door, she turned and looked at Frank on the floor. “I guess the first one was for trying to kill me.” She fired another round into his lifeless body. “That one’s for jilting me in high school.” She took everything except the pistol out of her purse on the way to an outer deck. Once there, she threw the purse and pistol overboard. “Actually, turned out to be a better evening than I thought it was going to be. Now I can enjoy the rest of the cruise.” She went back to the “Crow’s Nest” for another drink.