Six more minutes and it would be time to make the drop-off. Harris sipped his coffee. It was stone cold. Disgusted, he pushed the mug away. How long had he sat there – an hour – more? He stole a look at his watch and noted with satisfaction that another minute had passed. Animated voices made him look up just as a group of young men wearing matching football shirts entered the cafeteria.
By the time they had seated themselves he was already bored with trying to figure out which team they supported. Aside from the newcomers, there were surprisingly few customers considering this was a busy motorway service station, albeit late at night. There were three young girls dressed in business suits, two families, a couple of truckers and three guys sitting alone. One of the men looked up and caught him staring. Harris quickly looked away but not before noticing the man’s distinctive blue jacket.
Was he the one?
His thoughts were disturbed by raucous laughter coming from the football supporters who were now eyeing up the young girls and passing audible judgment on their looks. A screech of chairs told him that the girls had had enough and to a chorus of wolf-whistles, they made for the exit. Before leaving, one of the girls turned to face the lads and waggled her little finger in the air. The outburst of indignation demonstrated that the significance of her gesture had not been wasted. Smirking, she hurried after her friends.
Grinning at her audacity Harris accidentally made eye contact with the man in the blue jacket and swiftly looked away noticing as he did so that another of the men was also looking his way.
Get a grip, they’re just bored and looking around like you.
He glanced at his watch. Two minutes to go.
You can’t back out now – she’s already dead.
He nervously fondled the briefcase handle. Inside was supposed to be five thousand pounds, the balance of the transaction, but it was actually full of newspapers. If things went as planned the man would go to his grave never knowing he’d been duped.
Ten thousand pounds! Was that all she was worth? The thought bothered him.
Harris pushed his chair back, wincing at the screeching noise.
One of the men who had been sitting alone immediately stood up and strode purposefully out of the cafeteria.
Harris watched him go and a few seconds later, followed him out, heading towards the lockers near the service station entrance. After checking that no one was watching, Harris placed the briefcase in locker 17, before placing the key on top of the lockers out of sight to passers-by. He then retreated to a predetermined hiding place away from c.c.t.v. coverage. As he turned he caught a glimpse of the man in the blue jacket, disappearing into the toilets opposite. He was now positive that he was the hitman.
All he had to do now was wait. The guy in the blue jacket would come out of the toilets and retrieve the case. Then Harris would follow him outside and take care of business. Then he was home dry.
As he waited, he gently caressed the gun concealed in his pocket. He had been alarmed at how easy it had been to hire a killer and then to buy a gun. No wonder violent crime was so rife! All it had taken was a few careful words in the right ears down at a pub known for attracting the wrong kind of clientele, and a guy called ‘Sharkey’ had arranged it all. Harris had paid him £2000 for the gun and as an introductory fee. He had also handed over £5000 for the hitman, the remaining £5000 to be paid tonight upon completion of the assignment.
The murder of my adulterous wife.
Sharkey hadn’t asked him why he wanted a gun when he was already hiring a hitman. Instead he had told him when and where to pick up his gun and had made the arrangements for the final money drop-off. That way, neither the killer nor he would ever get to see each other. It was better that way Sharkey had assured him. All Harris had to do was make sure he had a cast iron alibi.
Even now he couldn’t believe that Cathy had been unfaithful - again - but there was no denying it – on several occasions he’d witnessed the man coming out of his house and always on days when she thought he was working away. It was obvious she was having another affair.
He’d stuck by her through her depression and her last affair and this was how she repaid him?
Harris had arranged an unnecessary meeting with a client close to where Sharkey had said to make the drop-off and had booked himself into a nearby hotel. His alibi. Then, under cover of darkness, he had left and driven down to this service station as arranged by Sharkey. He would do what was necessary and would then return to the hotel. He didn’t like loose ends and as far as he was concerned, this killer was a loose end. Sharkey too.
Lost in his thoughts, he hadn’t noticed the arrival of the man at the lockers. To his surprise, it wasn’t the man in the blue jacket. Harris watched as the man retrieved the key and opened the locker. He quickly withdrew the briefcase before putting something inside the locker. Then, after locking it again and putting the key back where he found it, he hurried out towards the car park.
Harris knew that he should follow the man before he lost sight of him, but was curious to see what he had placed in the locker. Perhaps it was proof his wife was dead. Harris dashed to the locker and unlocked it. Inside were two words cut out of a newspaper and stuck to a piece of paper. ‘Job done’. Harris smiled as he scrunched the paper up and after stuffing it in a pocket, he hurried after the killer to tie up the first of the loose ends.
Unnoticed, the man in the blue jacket followed Harris out.
The tall car park lights offered only limited visibility through the driving rain and Harris was just starting to panic when he finally saw his quarry some fifty yards to his right, heading to a sparsely populated corner of the car park.
The man stopped outside a blue Mondeo, put the briefcase down and seemed to fumble for his keys.
Harris withdrew his gun and shouted to the man to turn as he quickly closed the distance between them. Then all hell broke loose. From seemingly everywhere, car lights suddenly dazzled him, and he instinctively raised an arm to protect his eyes. Several voices barked instructions warning him they were armed police and that he needed to drop his weapon immediately.
Still blinded by the lights, Harris moved his right arm slightly, drawing a further barrage of instructions. Panic-stricken Harris half-turned and as he did so his gun hand lowered. The air suddenly filled with the noise of gunfire and Harris dropped to the ground.
Instantly people swarmed around him shouting instructions. Somebody requested an ambulance while another secured his gun. Harris found himself staring up at the man in the blue jacket and the one who had collected the briefcase.
“Police, yes,” replied blue jacket.
Another face swam into view – Sharkey.
“Also police,” said blue jacket upon seeing Harris’ look of confusion.
Harris closed his eyes. “A set up?”
“You set yourself up, Harris, the moment you made contact with DC Price here.” Blue jacket nodded towards Sharkey.
“Then… my wife...”
“Alive, yes. Now don’t talk – an ambulance is on its way.”
The sound of a siren drawing nearer could now be heard but Harris knew that it was too late. As his life ebbed away, he couldn’t help but wonder who it was his wife was seeing. Strangely, he was pleased she was still alive. He still loved her.
A hundred miles away, Cathy Harris sat reading the private investigator’s report. She had been wrong. According to the investigator, her husband wasn’t having an affair after all, but he had met some very dubious people in a pub, though so far, he’d been unable to ascertain why. When he’d said he was working late, he invariably had been.
Cathy knew that her depression had caused her to become paranoid, to overreact. She had been looking for problems where there were none. Her suspicions were totally unfounded. He probably even had a perfectly good excuse for withdrawing £12,000.00 from the bank, reasons that had nothing to do with his busty new secretary.
Cathy looked at the bag containing her new silk lingerie and smiled. She had been wrong about her husband and would more than make it up to him when he got back from his business trip the next day.
© Jeff Jones
Winning Story: Contest #11
The following stories are the Outright Winning Entries for the Monthly Short Story Contest
March 2020 onwards