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“You could afford a really classy house now that you have Marianne’s share of the inheritance,” Donna said.  “Unless she comes back.”  Then she stopped.  Her hand hovered over the fireplace mantle before setting her glass of scotch on it.  “Ralph, what happened?  Your fireplace is gone.”


He shrugged.  “Before your sister left I told her I was going to brick up the damn hole.  Neither of us liked the soot, the heat loss, the smoke.  Guy down the street — Jason — did the work while we were away last weekend.”


“Why didn’t you get rid of that crappy piece of art while you were at it?”  She pointed at an assemblage of gears and industrial brackets on the wall.


“No way.  Marianne bitched too, but that artist is famous.  And I’m not giving up my technology — the remotes, wireless programming, the whole lot.”


“Ralph, it’s been a week.  Haven’t the police said anything about where my sister went?”  Donna brushed the brunette hair back from her face and frowned.


“I filed the missing person report.  Gave them her credit card numbers, cell phone number, the family’s address in Ohio.  Ohio’s the only place I could think, now that her — your — folks are gone.  The cops’ only clue was a gas station fill-up in Ohio where she used her card.”


“She wouldn’t go there.  We both loathed Daddy, the way he abused Marianne and ogled me.”


“Dammit, Ohio was all I could think of.  You always worried about your sister discovering our affair, whether I’d locked the doors, had I closed the curtains.  Now, you’re complaining your late father was a voyeur.”


“Dammit yourself.  He put the moves on both of us!”


“Inheriting half a million from his electronics patents should have made you secure as a nun in church.”


“I just worry.”  Donna punched his shoulder to make her point.  “Like when we’re alone.   I still expect Marianne to burst in any minute.”


He took Donna in his arms, more to shut her up than console her.  “I’d almost welcome it, even admit I’m loving you because she walked out on me.  You take good care of me, darling.  I’m sorry to be distracted.”


“Come to bed then.  I can help you forget.”


They were both startled when the doorbell chimed.  “Mr. Cunningham,” a voice shouted. “Police.  Open up.”


Two officers stood on the porch.  The bigger one reached forward, spun Ralph around and slapped handcuffs on his wrists.  “You’re coming down to the station while we talk about the murder of your wife.  Don’t look surprised.  It was only a matter of time.”


His partner said, “Gas station security camera caught you with your ponytail and beard when you used your wife’s credit card to send us on a goose chase.”


“But I never…  I’ve been here all the time.  Donna, tell them!”


She shrugged in bewilderment.  Her whiskey glass left a puddle on the mantle, which she wiped with a distracted hand.


“We got a tip we may find your wife somewhere on your property,” the beefy cop said.  “Meantime, we have a place for you till you’re arraigned.”  The pair ushered him out.


“Donna,” he shouted, “Help me!”


A worried look crossed her face as she stood at the door, watching her lover hustled to the squad car.  “Ralph, I’ll call a lawyer!”


Heaving a deep sigh, she picked up her drink, extracted her phone from her waistband and sat down.  “Jason, I think we’re okay.  He’s gone.  I’ll be over later.  Oh, and you’re sure you left a few extra bricks by the back door when the cops come back to search?  I hope you tossed out that Halloween wig and hippie ponytail.”


Ending the call, she walked over to Ralph’s bar.  “Marianne, honey, you always were a pain in the ass,” she said.  “Now you’re gone.  Ralphie’s going bye-bye and guess who’ll collect the rest of Daddy Dear’s inheritance.  Nothing personal.  Happens in the best of families.”


She raised her middle finger to salute the artwork on the wall, never noticing the small camera lens and microphone embedded among the metal objects.


# # #

Bio:  Walt bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance with a little historical non-fiction thrown in for good measure.  His work has appeared in print and online in over two dozen publications, including Short-Story.Me.  Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, were available until his publisher ceased operations in 2016.  He's also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries.  He now lives in New Jersey, a nice place to visit, but he doesn't want to die there.


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