“I’m not kidding, Ralph. I’m tired of being the other woman. I think it’s time to break the news to Alice.”
Ralph spewed his coffee across the counter. He’d met Crystal Manning when he stopped in at The Coral Café for a cup of coffee during one of his wife’s many out-of-town business trips. Over the past several months, their relationship had blossomed into more than just the casual cup of coffee. While he enjoyed the time he spent with Crystal, Ralph had no intention of eliminating his main source of financial support. His career as a mediocre private investigator was nothing compared to the income his wife contributed to their marriage.
“You know I can’t do that, Crystal,” he told her for the umpteenth time. “Alice has all the money. I’d be left with nothing.”
Crystal sighed and wiped the counter with a wet rag as a customer walked up to pay his bill.
Ralph’s heart thumped a hopeful tune when the man helped himself to one of Ralph’s business cards that Crystal allowed him to display near the cash register. He hadn’t had a new client in ages. When the man left, Ralph removed a black leather case from his shirt pocket and added another card to the plastic container.
Crystal shook her head. “Why don’t you just fill it up?”
“I already explained it to you,” Ralph answered. “If I keep it filled, it looks like no one is interested enough to take one. But if I keep only one or two in the holder, it makes me look popular, so more people will want my card.”
Crystal rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well, I don’t see anyone knocking down your door.” Sighing, she crossed the room and placed the “closed sign” in the window before turning the lock. “I’m tired of being the other woman,” she told Ralph again. “Alice has to be told now. And if you won’t do it, then I guess it’s up to me.”
Ralph gulped the remainder of his coffee. He knew he’d have to do something, or Crystal would do exactly as she said. Ralph had no doubt that his wife would leave in a flash, taking her five-figure income with her.
Following Crystal behind the counter, he watched with interest while she emptied the cash register, counted out the daily receipts, then deposited the daily total into the small safe beneath the counter. A smile curled his mouth as a plan to do away with his mistress formed in his mind.
The next night, Ralph phoned the diner to tell Crystal he’d be later than planned. “Alice is back in town,” he told her. “I’m going to tell her all about us tonight. I’ll pick you up after work.”
It was a lie, of course. Alice had left on another business trip earlier in the day. The only thing he’d be telling his wife tonight was how much he loved and missed her.
Four hours later, he arrived at the diner. Crystal was hanging the closed sign in the window. Her eyes brightened when she saw him.
“Come in and tell me how it went tonight,” she said, ushering him inside. She pulled the shade and locked the door. “You did tell her, didn’t you?”
“Of course I told her,” he lied again. Seating himself at the counter, he watched while Crystal counted out the day’s receipts. Realizing he may not set foot in the diner for awhile, he took his leather case from his shirt pocket and stuffed several more cards in the card holder, then slipped the case back in his pocket.
Removing the piece of rope he’d concealed around his waist, Ralph eased behind the counter.
“So how did she take it?” Crystal inquired. She stuffed the money into a bank bag, then reached down and opened the safe. Ralph was right beside her, planting butterfly kisses against her earlobe. In one swift movement, he wrapped the rope around her neck and pulled.
Mindful of fingerprints, Ralph carefully bent over Crystal’s lifeless body and retrieved the bag from the safe.
The next morning he was awakened to a knock on his door. “Are you Ralph Sims, the private investigator?”
“That’s right,” he responded warily.
“Mr. Sims, we’re detectives Williams and Donnelly.” Both men produced badges of confirmation. “We’re investigating the murder of a young woman named Crystal Manning from the Coral Cafe.”
Realizing they must have discovered his business cards on the counter at the diner, Ralph pasted on a look of professionalism and led the men inside. “I’m always happy to help out the police,” he said as if this sort of thing happened to him all the time.
He indicated the sofa in the living room, then occupied a rocker across from them, his hands laced together, his face pensive. “Do you have any leads?” he asked, taking charge of the investigation. “Murder weapon, fingerprints?”
The detectives exchanged puzzled glances. “There’s been some mistake,” Detective Donnelly said. “You’ve already provided all the help we need.”
Ralph raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“When you murdered Ms. Manning, you dropped your business card case with several of your business cards, beside the body.”
Ralph refused to be ambushed. “Gentleman, surely you noticed that the café displayed my business cards on their counter. Those cards you found were probably just extras Crystal kept around to refill the holder.”
A cynical grin appeared on detective Donnelly’s face. “If that were true, we would have found the victim’s fingerprints on the leather case,” he explained. “And we only found yours, Mr. Sims.”
Officer Williams produced an official document. “We have a warrant to search the premises. If we find the missing bank bag, we’ve also found our killer.”
Donnelly flashed Ralph a questioning gaze. “Why don’t you save us a lot of time, Mr. Sims. After all, we wouldn’t have come this far without your help.”