Bill Todd -- Melissa and Jethro: A Quirky Little Novel
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 Chapter 9

A Contract

The Honorable Charles Whitby supposed that he might be the last remittance man in the world. After numerous disgraceful episodes in London, the family solicitors had explained to him that, if he emigrated to America, and remained there, a lawyer's office in San Francisco would give him a stipend every month. And so it had come to pass.

When the war broke out, Charles joined the American marines, where his career was somewhat uneven. He liked to kill Japanese, and had received, not only medals, but two battlefield promotions. Then, in the periods between combat, he did things that got him demoted. So he ended the war as a sergeant.

Civilian life, with the occasional spot of jail, was all right until the pound was devalued from five dollars to two eighty. Since his remittance was in pounds, he had been chronically short of cash ever since.

The special delivery packet was post-marked Cincinnati. Charles supposed that it was from Jethro Turner, his best friend from the marines. It had, indeed, been only a month since his last visit there. He and Jethro, neither of them so young these days, had fun. The girl friend, quite a beauty, obviously disapproved. But she was polite, and even rather amusing.

The packet, to Charles' surprise and delight, was full of money. Most of it consisted of bills that had been sliced in half, but some of it, some five hundred dollars, was intact. It could hardly be from Jethro.

The accompanying letter was anonymous, and consisted in words and letters cut out from a magazine and pasted on paper, probably by someone wearing gloves. It wanted him to kill a man to get the other halves of the bills amounting to five thousand. Since he would have to come to Cincinnati to do the job, the intact five hundred was to cover expenses. The prospective victim's name was Al Markowitz, and he would be taking a lady home from the opera to a particular house on the following Saturday night. Charles went immediately to the airline office to book his flight.

When he arrived in Cincinnati, it would have been natural for Charles to stop in on Jethro. However, he suspected that his commission came from the girl friend, Melissa, probably without the knowledge of Jethro. This Mr. Markowitz would be someone who was causing either or both of them trouble. Jethro could have eliminated him, but he, Charles, was much neater in his methods. He was also an even better shot than Jethro.

Charles rented a car to survey the scene, and found the house. It was a large one on a ridge overlooking the Ohio river, and there were trees and shrubs surrounding the semi- circular drive. There were plenty of places to hide, but there would be servants. It wouldn't do to be seen by them. The best thing would be a rifle shot from the bushes some fifty yards away, and he had brought a sporting rifle concealed in his set of golf clubs. Since there was a golf club nearby, nothing would be more natural than for a golfer, having stopped for drinks and dinner at the club, to be finally making his way home with his clubs.

Spending the next day picking up girls in the hotel lounge, Charles eventually lured a blonde strumpet up to his room. She did there protest the removal of her knickers, but he was able to persuade her that she'd feel much better without them. And so it came to pass.

Afterwards, while he was lying on the bed, she saw the golf clubs and unzipped the top. Without seeing the rifle, she pulled out a five iron and demanded a ball. Humoring her, he produced one and watched while she placed the ball on the carpet. Bare breasts bouncing, she hit quite a decent shot out of the window. As far as they could see, it hit the building opposite and bounced off down the street. After congratualing her with a pat on her bottom, he got her dressed and downstairs for a drink before she had a chance to further inspect the golf bag.

On Saturday evening, just after dusk, Charles drove to the golf club and, unobserved by the doorman, parked in a dark corner of the lot. Then, with the clubs swung over his shoulder, he set off down the road with a happy face and a jaunty gait. Anyone would have thought that he had topped off an excellent round with a little celebration afterwards.

The house lay on a slight curve in the road, and, making sure that there was no one to see, Charles reverted from golfer to infantryman. As he crawled through the shrubs, disturbing them as little as possible, the whole thing reminded him pleasantly of Guadalcanal.

There was, of course, a long wait. Charles had found a comfortable position, and, with his head propped on the golf bag, he spent the next hour looking under a bush at the house. As nearly as he could make out, there was a maid who sat down and put her feet on the coffee table when the lady was out. There was also a man, perhaps a chauffeur, who watched what Charles took to be a wrestling match on the television in a room towards the back. In the unlikely event that he came charging out when he heard the shot, Charles could drop him easily.

At about ten a car came in the drive. Charles rolled to his rifle and was lined up for his shot when the car stopped and a man got out. He more or less fitted the rather vague description of Mr. Markowitz, but there was no woman in the car with him. As Charles waited patiently, the maid came running out and embraced the man. They remained in fairly intimate positions for a half hour before the maid looked at her watch and sent her friend off.

In the next hour, Charles shifted position slightly, at one point getting tangled up in the thorns of a rose bush. It struck him that, in the light of the behavior of the maid and chauffeur, there was hardly any need to hide at all. But, still, infantry training died hard. One had to do things the right way.

It was almost midnight when another car drove up. The gentleman who got out and held the door for the lady appeared to be about Charles' age. While Charles couldn't see his face in detail, his movements suggested confidence and aggression. He then embraced the lady, so successfully that she raised one foot off the ground.

Charles always tried to make people happy, and, in this instance, there was no reason why Mr. Markowitz shouldn't die happy. He was presenting his left side to Charles, and the bullet entered right at heart level. The lady screamed. Charles put his rifle back in his golf bag, crawled out of the bushes, and began to walk back. When the emergency vehicles later came tearing up the road, he stepped back behind some shrubbery.

Melissa was expecting a hysterical phone call from her mother late that night, and wasn't disappointed. When her mother screamed,

"The police said somebody shot him!",

Melissa made a point of asking who had been shot. Her mother told her, and added,

"I was standing right next to him. I might've been shot too!"

Melissa, knowing the Honorable Charles Whitby, thought this extremely unlikely. She asked,

"Do the police have any suspects?"

"I think they suspect Jethro."

"Jethro and I had a party here that just broke up. Dozens of people saw him."

Melissa gradually calmed her mother, but, of course, Jethro wanted to know what the call was about. That was when the fun began. Jethro was absolutely incredulous. Melissa replied,

"Mother may have made this up. She may be having hallucinations."

Jethro's face was an interesting picture. He didn't believe that Al had been shot, but he also didn't believe that Mrs. Medway had hallucinations on that scale. Melissa put in,

"I don't find it hard to believe that Al had enemies."

"But they wouldn't know he was taking your mother out. You knew that, and you wanted him dead so I wouldn't have to go through with the robbery."

"It is convenient, but I don't hang out with the sorts of people who might be Al's enemies. You're the one who might know them."

Having turned the tables neatly on Jethro, Melissa stuck to her previous decision not to enlighten him further. She was perfectly safe as long as she told no one at all.

Five days later, after Melissa had dispatched another anonymous package, a letter arrived from Charles Whitby. It thanked them for their hospitality a month previously, and was full of little news. The import wasn't lost on Melissa. He had guessed who had commissioned him, and he wanted her to know that he had gotten away cleanly with no complications. Melissa decided that she had misjudged Charles. He really was a gentleman after all.

Bill Todd -- Melissa and Jethro: A Quirky Little Novel
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