NOVELLA

Illustration by Natasha Kline

Part V -- A Change of Plans
 
“Of course. I’ve seen how you look at this house and the things in it. I’m thinking you want money.” Paul smiled, letting her know this was okay with him. “Don’t worry, I can get you some cash. Just give me time to—”
 
“Paul.” The sudden coldness in Minnie’s voice brought him up short. “Before we go any further, I need to advise you of your rights.”  
 
This was unexpected.  Paul’s smile faded.  “What do you mean?”
 
“You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law—”
 
Minnie continued to speak slowly and clearly as Paul felt the room sway beneath him.
 
“What the hell are you talking about?” he cried, looking in shocked disbelief at the nubile young woman standing across from him, her cowboy boots planted in a classic shooter’s stance. He realized that she was not just pointing the gun at him, but aiming it. “What are you—a cop?”
 
“That’s the first thing you’ve gotten right tonight.”
 
He jerked his head in the direction of Marcus’ body. “But you can’t be a cop. What were you doing with him?”
 
“I was doing my job, Paul.” Minnie's expression did not change. “I’m an undercover narcotics detective and I’ve been waiting six months for this deal to go down. But a bunch of stuff went wrong tonight. The situation got out of control. Now I’ve got to clean up the mess.”
 
Paul sensed that something didn't gibe with her story, and after a moment he knew what it was. “Bullshit, honey. You tried to seduce me—what kind of cop does that?”
 
“It was no pleasure, believe me.” Minnie drew a hand across her lips as if trying to wipe away the taste of him. “I had to determine whether you were armed. When you wouldn’t let me check under your jacket, I liked you even less.”
 
Paul forced a laugh. “Less than what?”
 
“I suspected there was a problem the minute I got in the car with you. Your driving was erratic. You were frantic about something even before Marcus got there. You were a man with too much on his mind, none of it good.” Keeping the gun level, Minnie began edging towards the bedside table.
 
Paul saw that she was going for the other gun, the .45 that Marcus had been carrying. He couldn't let that happen! Paul got to the table first, but couldn’t quite grab the gun so he knocked it away onto the floor. Desperately he scrambled after it, expecting her to do the same. Broken shards of glass crunched beneath him, the razor-sharp pieces slicing into his hands and knees. A moment later he had the Ruger. Bruised and bleeding, Paul rolled clumsily onto his back, ready to shoot.
 
Minnie stood looking down at him. Keeping a firm grip on the Beretta, she took out her cell phone and hit speed dial. “This is Detective Amanda Cutler of the LAPD,” she said in a loud, authoritative voice to someone on the other end, “My lieutenant is John Doyle.”
 
Paul scrambled to his feet, got a bold grip on Marcus’ gun. “Hang up the phone,” he commanded.
 
She ignored him. “My location is 14595 Shadowcrest Lane. I am holding a murder suspect at gunpoint. I need immediate backup at this address.” She listened a moment, then, “Copy that.”
 
Minnie kept the Beretta aimed at Paul, while he in turn pointed Marcus’ gun at her. He reasoned that even if she was a quicker shot, he had the bigger gun and she would want to avoid a showdown. But she seemed fearless.
 
“Drop the gun, Paul.”
 
Paul attempted a cocky grin. “I’ll drop mine, if you drop yours.”
 
“That’s not going to happen.”
 
“Look, you don’t even have anything on me,” he said, trying to bluff her down. “A confession obtained at gunpoint. I got tax attorneys who could keep that one out of court.”
 
Minnie shrugged. “Even without your admission of guilt there’s plenty of evidence against you.”
 
Paul’s cut hands were dripping blood, leaving a pattern of droplets around his feet.  Yet he felt no pain. “Listen—Minnie or Amanda or whatever your name is—you have no proof.”
 
“We’ll see.” Minnie regarded him soberly. “Before you killed your wife, did it occur to you to ask Christine if she had told anyone about the embezzlement? Her accountant, maybe. Or a girlfriend. Either way, an audit should prove interesting.” She watched Paul’s face as she said this and what she saw apparently satisfied her. “And then there’s the discrepancy between times of death. At least four hours between your wife and Marcus. Your story about an intruder won’t make any sense.”
 
“But that’s what really happened,” Paul insisted, indicating the disordered room as if he could convince her to accept his explanation.
 
“Sure. You killed Marcus after a fierce struggle.” Minnie nudged one of the glass fragments with the toe of her boot. “What do you think will happen when the ME moves his body and there’s no glass underneath?”
 
Paul sank down on the bed and pushed back his sweaty hair, leaving a bloody streak across his forehead. Why hadn’t he thought of that? The girl was right. He looked thoughtfully at the gun in his hand, as if consulting it on what to do next.
 
“You’re not going to shoot,” she said.
 
Paul was surprised at the certainty in her voice. “Why the hell not?”
 
“Because,” she said, “I took all the rounds out of that gun before we even got in the car with you. The magazine is empty.”
 
She gave him a sweet smile in which he could almost see the face of the innocent young girl he had picked up by the side of the road. Paul let his gun hand droop so that the Ruger was pointed aimlessly at the floor. Defeated and yet somehow relieved, he looked up at her. “You wouldn’t lie to me about a thing like that, would you?”
 
She shook her head.
 
Paul glanced over at Marcus, cut down in his final act of aggression, and wondered who had been the greater fool.  “Let’s see,” he murmured, and pulled the trigger.
 
There was an empty click. Paul wondered why the room seemed so quiet, and after a moment realized that it had stopped raining.
 
THE END
Part I     Part II     Part III     Part IV     Part V