|Thank you, Aileen Aroma|
Half a dozen people sat around a green, cloth covered table playing cards. Some were smoking, others drank light brown alcohol from short glasses tinkling with ice.
One of the women squinted past the smoke spiraling ceiling ward from the stub of a cigarette dangling from red painted lips.
"I'm thinking of killing her off," she tossed down a queen of hearts.
A bearded man picked it up, discarding a one eyed jack. "Why? Did she piss you off?"
The others chuckled lightly as the game progressed.
"No, it just has to happen for lives to move onward. She's an obstacle, a nuisance. No one likes her."
They nodded agreement, six heads bobbing in unison.
"So, how did you figure to do it?" A well dressed, handsome man next to her said quietly.
"Stabbing," the woman replied, grinding the cigarette out. "With and antique Scottish Dubh."
"Stabbing's messy," a younger woman with long red hair wrinkled her nose. She sat opposite the cigarette smoking woman.
"She's right," the well dressed man agreed.
"Is it premeditated or a crime of passion?" The bearded man wanted to know.
"Oh, it will be very well planned ahead of time."
"Knives are for crimes of passion," the well dressed man interjected. "I'd use something neater."
"Shoot her," the redhead contributed.
"Then I have to dispose of the weapon. And the powder residue is a dead giveaway."
"Do you want it to look like a murder?" A pretty blonde next to the redhead had been silent until now, waiting for her turn to play.
"What do you mean?" The smoking woman lit another cigarette with a blue lighter, inhaling deeply.
"Well, some contract killers use drugs to make it look like a heart attack. Much less messy. No one knows the difference. It's the same drug they give you when they work on you at the hospital, so it doesn't show up on a tox screen."
"Clever! I like that. What's the drug?"
The blonde looked puzzled. "You know, I don't quite remember. You can spray it on, though. I saw that on TV."
"Hmm, have to research that."
"Set her house on fire," the bearded man said calmly, resuming game play.
"That doesn't look accidental."
"It does if she smokes in bed."
"She quit twenty years ago."
"Drunk driver killed in fatal crash," a dark haired man said enthusiastically, holding up his hands as if announcing a newspaper headline. Everyone groaned.
"Dammit, Barry! I just saw your hand," the bearded man complained.
They tossed in the cards. The redhead shuffled and dealt as the well dressed man refreshed their drinks.
"You never answered me," Barry reminded the smoker as she lit another from the stub of the one dangling from her lips.
"Quit smoking and drinking when her dad died."
"Does she have any vices?" The redhead looked alarmed.
"The woman's a saint," the bearded man objected. "Why kill her off?"
"That's what bugs people. She's too damn nice!" the smoking woman complained.
"An old lover returns, stabs her in the back for jilting him." Barry said, taking a sip from his drink.
"It's not a crime of passion," the redhead reminded him.
"Well, yes and no. It's metaphorical. She stabbed him, so to speak, so he's returning the favor."
"No, I don't think that would work, but it's an idea," the smoker conceded.
"So," the well dressed man laid down his cards, ticking off points on his fingers. "We've ruled out stabbing, shooting, poisoning, fires and car wrecks. That leaves us strangling, bludgeoning, drowning and what? Fatal fall? Does she frequent tall buildings?"
The smoker shook her head, wrinkling her nose. "Afraid of heights."
"Earthquake, cave in?" Barry added, tossing down a card.
"Oh, you control Mother Nature now?" The blonde asked sarcastically.
"She told us last week the woman is a caver. You know, a spelunker thingy. Lots of unstable caves around. Lure her in, trap her in a landslide."
"What if it backfired, killing the killer?"
"Tragic irony," he shrugged, spreading his hands.
Everyone groaned again.
"Dammit, Barry!" The blonde fussed, tossing her cards at him.
"He always does that when he's losing," the bearded man grunted as he leaned across the table for cards.
Barry took the cards, shuffling rapidly. "I still like the cave in idea."
"Awfully hard to orchestrate," the smoker countered. "But I haven't ruled it out. I'm still liking the poison heart attack."
"Lots of research involved," the bearded man shook his head. "How soon did you want to do it?"
"Sometime this week. I've got to put an end to it. It's been keeping me up at night. Over three hundred pages and no resolution."
"Once she's dead, won't you have to solve it?"
"I hadn't thought of that."
"Tragic suicide," Barry said, nibbling a pretzel. "Nice, succinct, everyone knows she did it, leaves a pathetic note about how unhappy she's been. Coroner's inquest to determine cause of death. Badabing, wrapped up nice and neat."
The cigarette smoking woman stared at him in wonder. "You know, that just might work! She isn't happy and she has some tragedy in her life."
"Old lover returns and threatens blackmail," the redhead said excitedly.
"All her ugly secrets will be revealed. Maybe she has a child no one knows about!" The blonde's eyes sparkled.
"Oh, better yet, a secret child and a husband. Her marriage to this guy was a fake."
"A string of fake husbands, phony divorces and a secret child," the cigarette smoker giggled. "That's exactly what I need! Thanks, all of you! I knew I could count on you."
The table and people faded as the woman set down her drink. She was alone in her office, computer screen flickering gently in the half light. With renewed vigor, she hammered at the keys, putting her new ideas down while they were fresh. She finished the chapter with a smile, patting the screen fondly.
"Thank you," she said to her characters. Thanks to all of you."
With a smile, she shut down her computer and went to bed.
The Ninja Tattoo
Under the Western Sky
Shakazhan – Lone Wolf series book 2