ALIBI FOR MURDER


By C. S. Challinor



The trouble with being married to a gorgeous woman was the threat of her being snatched away by someone younger or richer or better-looking. These thoughts floated through Jon's mind as he sat behind the wheel of his dove gray BMW convertible, waiting for the light to change. He felt sure Ruby was cheating on him: the new clothes and jewelry, and the fact that most of the time her mind was elsewhere. This weekend, he vowed, he would find out for certain, and kill his rival.

Pulling up outside the library where his wife regularly attended a book club, he made his way to the small conference room at the back of the red-brick building. The book discussion this week turned out to be well-attended, predominantly by women, most of them older than Ruby, who stood out like an exotic flower against a backdrop of greenery. She had both beauty and brains, and he had never fathomed why she had married him when she could have had any man she wanted.

"Jon," she said, leaping from her chair with the book of the week in her hand, Alibi For Murder. "That was our guest speaker. Peter Dunlop." She gestured toward a tousled man in reading glasses and a crew neck sweater busily signing copies at a desk.

Paying no attention, Jon blurted he had to fly to Cincinnati the next day to visit his mother, who had taken a turn for the worse. He would be gone the entire weekend. He thought Ruby looked secretly relieved.

That night he packed a small bag and left it in his car when he went in to the office the following morning, earlier than usual. In a jittery state, he rode the empty elevator. On his floor, he heard the VP of International Sales speaking in a low voice on the phone through the half-open door. Klaus had an accent like Schwarzenegger's, the same macho jaw, and was of similar build, availing himself daily of the corporate gym. The female employees all but swooned in his presence.

"So, Ruby," he was saying. "The coast is clear. A chilled bottle of Cristal, soft music, flames flickering in the fireplace. What do you say? Eight tonight, my place."

Jon felt as though he had been punched in the gut, the breath siphoned out of his body with a deafening rush in his ears. He staggered into his office, closed the door and slumped into his executive chair. A clammy sweat drenched the armpits of his shirt. In the year since Klaus arrived at head office, in effect robbing him of his promotion, Jon had not seen him in the company of a woman outside of work. Nor had he brought a guest to the Christmas party. He recalled how Ruby had flirted with Klaus on that occasion over a glass of champagne, declaring Cristal to be her favorite brand. How had he not seen it coming a mile off?

That big bonus Klaus had managed to swing for him, and which he'd used to buy his new BMW, had been a consolation prize. What a schmuck he'd been. He contemplated his shaking hands, clenched them tight. The only thing that afforded him any relief from the mental torture was the prospect of catching the two of them in the act that night.

He knew where Klaus lived, having picked him up one time for a round of company golf. The pretentious house, heavy on architectural accents, sat on a wide lot off a quiet, tree-lined street. The rain had started as he left his motel by the airport, but he was protected by a hooded waterproof jacket purchased in advance for the occasion. He thought now he should have brought his wife's .38, which he'd given her years ago for protection, since their home stood in a remote wooded location outside of town. It would have been nice to scare the cheating couple, but they would be surprised enough to see him, expecting him to be in Cincinnati visiting his mother at the mental institution.

He parked at the foot of the semi-circular driveway and scooted toward the back of the house where he remembered the sitting room was located, from when Klaus had invited him in after golf for a beer. He crept onto the covered patio as sheets of rain fell all around him. It was almost nine, enough time for the amorous pair to have gotten cozy on the white leather sofa.

Peeking in at the window, partially obscured by an indoor palm in an urn, he spotted a couple embracing by the glow of the fireplace. But it wasn't Ruby; it was that boy from the mail-room. Rudy, that was his name. In Klaus' thick accent, it had sounded like "Ruby" to Jon's susceptible brain. Just in time, he refrained from laughing aloud and divulging his presence.

He pulled away from the window and plunged into the torrent. Retrieving his BMW, he headed home, forgetting about the overnight bag in the trunk and his scheme to follow his wife that weekend. He teased himself for being so paranoid, at the same time deriving immense satisfaction from his little discovery, and plotting how he might use it to his advantage at work.

* * *

"What was that?" Ruby asked, springing upright in bed and pulling the sheet to her throat.

Her partner scrambled into his jeans. "I thought you said he was gone for the weekend."

"He is. I didn't set the house alarm — it might be a burglar. Peter, I'm scared!"

The sound of steps running up the stairs paralyzed them as they stared at the bedroom door. Breaking out of her trance, Ruby snatched her revolver from the bedside drawer. The door flew open and a hooded intruder stepped into the candlelight. The gun wavered in Ruby's hand. Peter grabbed it and shot.The intruder crumpled to the carpet.

Peter switched on the bedside light and walked over to the body. He drew back the hood. "I recognize this guy. He came to the book club yesterday. Is this your husband?"

Ruby stared in shock. "Oh, my God."

A thunderclap rattled the window pane. It had begun to rain as Peter followed her home from the restaurant in his rental car. "Call the police," he instructed.

"Is he dead?"

Blood seeped into the plush cream Berber forming a widening stain.

Peter examined the body. "The bullet went through his heart. There's no pulse. Tell the cops you shot him in self-defense. You thought your husband was out of town. Half a dozen people at the library heard him say he was flying to Cincinnati tonight. But it'll look bad if I'm here. It'd look like we had a motive to kill him." Peter pushed back the unruly locks from his forehead. "I just can't afford the scandal. My wife would kill me."

Ruby shot him a withering look as she slipped into a silk bathrobe.

"I can see the headlines now," he muttered. "'Best-selling Author Shoots Fan's Husband.' Nadine would divorce me and take me to the cleaner's." He glanced at his watch. "I can still make the last flight home."

"How can you be so calm?" Ruby demanded.

"You said you've been wanting to leave your husband for some time, before he did something really crazy. We've got to be practical. Tell the police you shot him from this spot where I was standing." He used his shirt sleeve to wipe his prints off the Smith & Wesson and handed the weapon to Ruby. "Make sure you remove the two wine glasses from the living room and wash them carefully. I'll pick up my stuff on the way out."

As he stepped around the dead man, Ruby lifted the phone to dial 9-1-1. An accident, she told herself; it was an accident. She had not recognized her husband in the hooded jacket. Taking a deep breath, she prepared to explain the emergency to the dispatcher. But why had Jon returned unexpectedly? There was no point in calling the home in Cincinnati to ask his mother why he had canceled his trip. She suffered from dementia on top of her bipolar disorder. What if Peter was wrong? What if he had overlooked something and the police discovered she hadn't fired the weapon? They'd find no gun powder residue on her hand. But why would they check if she was alone? Her story was plausible, after all.

Ruby was still standing by the bed deliberating, with the phone in one hand and the gun in the other, when Peter re-entered the room. She realized he must have been standing on the landing waiting to hear if she would comply with his plan.

"I'm sorry, Ruby, I just can't risk it." He grabbed her hand and turned the gun on her. "It will look like you committed suicide after you found out you had killed your husband by mistake. The rain will wash away my tire tracks. It'll be like I was never here. Hell, it's like something out of one of my novels."

Ruby thought quickly. "You can't kill me," she told him. "There's other incriminating evidence against you."

"Like what?"

"Alibi For Murder," she said.

"What about it?"

"You signed my copy at the library yesterday and dated it, remember? You wrote, 'Dinner tomorrow night?'"

"So," he said with faltering confidence, casting about the room for the book. "Where is it?"

"I lent it to my best friend who happens to be married to the local sheriff. The cops will check every restaurant in town and someone will recognize your picture. In this case, Peter, you have no alibi for murder." Snatching her wrist from his grasp, she leveled the revolver at him and pressed 9-1-1. "Don't look at me like that," she added glibly. "Just think of all the publicity for your books — while I collect on my own fifteen minutes of fame."


C. S. Challinor writes the Rex Graves Mystery series featuring a Scottish barrister-sleuth. The debut novel, Christmas Is Murder, received a starred review from Booklist. Raised and educated in Scotland and England, Challinor now lives in Southwest Florida. For more information about the author, visit www.rexgraves.com.


Copyright 2011 C. S. Challinor. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.


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