The Case of the Caterer's Error

Submitted into Contest #149 in response to: Start your story with the flickering of a light.... view prompt


Fiction Mystery

One night Ricardo Rivera's eyes snapped open out of a deep sleep. Sounds of snapping and cracking and breaking from downstairs pushed him out of bed. Numbed with fear, he forced himself to move. In the darkness, he almost called his wife’s name, then he remembered she’d left for her mother’s house. He stumbled to the bedroom door, went into the hallway, and clicked on the lights. The lights flickered, and almost simultaneously, there was a crash, and again, a sound of glass shattering. He gathered his courage, went back into the bedroom, opened the bedside drawer, and took out his gun. Slowly, he went back to the hallway, and descended the stairs. There was silence. Trembling, he walked slowly in his bare feet to the kitchen. He stopped, flabbergasted. Broken glass was everywhere. Splatters of blood dotted the floor, but the intruder was gone. He searched to see if anything was missing, but everything was where it should be. He shivered, despite the warm night. He sat down on the sofa, flickering lights matching his confusion. Finally, he got up and dialed the police, gave them his address, and he hung up. He waited and waited.


  Monday morning, Edgar Nikephoros Huntinger, private investigator prepared to meet a client, Ricardo Rivera, at restaurant in Miami Beach. He put on a lavender short sleeved dress shirt, and beige slacks. He donned his prosthetic foot, put on crew socks, and his white sneakers. He quickly oiled and combed this black hair. He shaved his smooth olive skin from the overnight bristles. He grabbed toast, and while he was still munching, grabbed his keys. He got into his Buick and drove to the restaurant.

He recognized him from the brief description he had given him. He had thin black hair that was neatly combed, a fair complexion, and brown eyes. His lips, not quite broad curved in a tentative half-smile, which gave a charming impression. He was husky and about five feet tall. He wore a white three-quarter length white sweatshirt, tan chino shorts, and brown leather sandals. He was sweating, although the morning was cooler than it usually was for September in Miami. As he approached, the tall investigator stood and extended his hand. “Mr. Ricardo Rivera?” he said in his deep well-modulated voice.

“Yes,” he responded as he shook Huntinger’s hand. “I know it is early, but I wanted to see you as soon as possible.”

“That’s okay, Mr. Rivera. Please be seated. The server will be here soon if you wish to order.”

“Thank you,” he said as he sat across from the investigator. “I am just having orange juice.”

The server arrived, and Huntinger ordered two glasses of orange juice.

“You mentioned over the phone that you have an unusual problem. Your wife hears footsteps downstairs at night, but there’s never been a sign that anyone had broken into the house, until recently.”

“Yes, Mr. Huntinger. You understand right. I heard something shattering. I went downstairs, checked every room, and when I got to the kitchen, I saw broken glass and spatters of blood everywhere. It was from him trying to get out the window. I checked everywhere; nothing was missing, which I thought was odd. I was very confused, and the lights were flickering off and on, and I had to sit down to think on what to do.”

“And you called the police,” Huntinger prompted.

“Yes, but they never got there.”

“That’s strange,” Huntinger said.

“Well, I understood why they didn’t. You see, I called the police each time my wife heard footsteps downstairs. They checked the house from top to bottom, but they never found any sign of break-in, or anything missing. The last time before the incident of the broken glass, they told me not to call again.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I want you to find out if there really is somebody breaking in my house, and if there is, who that person is. My wife has left me, and she won’t come back from her mother’s until she can rest in our house. She’s afraid.”

The investigator felt compassion for the man, even though he was experiencing irritating crampy stabs in his prosthesis right leg. He reminded himself to exercise when he got home, maybe a little jogging. “What do you do for a living, Mr. Rivera,”? he asked kindly.

“I own a catering business.”

“Would any one of your associates or employees have a grudge against you?”

Rivera hesitated. “I don’t think so.”

“Does anyone else live with you besides your wife?”


“Forgive me for asking this, but everything that you tell me is confidential. Are you engaging in anything illegal, or any unorthodox activities?”

“I play the lottery. What do you mean by unorthodox?”

“Well, spiritualism for example, or mysticism, or voodoo?”

“No, but my wife is superstitious. She thinks we could have a ghost or maybe somebody put a curse on us.” He was silent. “That’s all.” He sighed.

Huntinger picked up his orange juice, drank half, then put it down. His cool blue eyes regarded Rivera speculatively.

“Mr. Rivera, I’ll take your case. It interests me, and I understand your fears and the fears of your wife. I want to help you. But first you must understand that sometimes the rational can get confused with the irrational, although all possibilities exist. I am intrigued as well, and I want to discover the truth.”

“I understood from an associate of mine that if anything strange was going on, you would know. I think you can manage my problem,” he said, emphatically.

“I believe I can be invaluable to you. I will require a retainer of three hundred dollars plus any incurred expenses if you still are inclined for my services.”

Ricardo Rivera reached into his pocket and pulled out a white envelope. He handed it to the investigator. “I have five hundred for you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Rivera,” he said as he took the envelope. “I will have to spend a night in your home. Would that be inconvenient?”

“No. I’ll prepare our spare room. When can I expect you?”

“Saturday evening, around seven o’clock, if that’s all right?”

“That’s okay. I’ll have time to prepare your room, and it’s the end of my work schedule until Monday. Here’s my address.” He took out a business card and scribbled his home address on the back. He handed it to Huntinger, stood up, and extended his hand. “Thank you, Mr. Huntinger,” he said, with relief.

Huntinger stood and grasped his hand. “Thank me when I’ve solved your case,” Huntinger said, smiling. The good God has granted a most interesting case, the investigator thought.


Saturday evening, Huntinger arrived at Ricardo Rivera’s house situated in an isolated area. He shivered in the moist warm night. He walked up the steps and rang the bell.

The door squeaked as Rivera answered.

“You’re prompt, Huntinger. Come in. Your room is ready.” Rivera led Huntinger through the living room, then up a staircase. He opened the door of a bedroom to the left. “This is the spare room. Make yourself at home. Can I get you anything?”

“No, thank you, Ricardo. I’ve had dinner.”

“I’ll leave you then. Good night.”

“Good-night, Ricardo.”

There were squeaks during the night, flickering lights, and sounds like footsteps swishing along the floor,

Huntinger, fully dressed, got out his flashlight, and he clicked it on. He slowly opened the door, and he went downstairs.

He moved the flashlight from left to right in the living room; then, he went into the kitchen, where shuffling sounds grew intense. When he clicked the lights on and off, the flickering ceased. The soft shuffling sounds stopped. Nothing was there.

He went back into the living room and sat down on the sofa. Huntinger’s hunches were strong, that something was wrong. He thought:

The facts are obscure. Shuffling and swishing sounds mean soft soled shoes, maybe sneakers? Loose clothing would cause the swishing sounds, so it is a human being. But where is he or her? And what is the reason? Rivera has an enemy, using his wife’s fears and superstitions to upset, maybe even destroy his life. I will find out who’s causing Rivera and his wife such unhappiness.

Having arrived at his decision, he decided to sleep for a while in the living room.

At dawn, Rivera came downstairs. “I suppose you didn’t hear anything, and I know you didn’t see anything, did you?” he mumbled.

Huntinger, gazed at him, a reddish tint in his blue eyes. “I heard something, Rivera,” he said. “I’m going to check a theory and get back to you.” Huntinger left.

That evening as Huntinger sat at his desk, he thought about Rivera’s problem.

I’m inclined to believe that someone caused the disturbances because of the human element. Even the flickering lights could have been an electrical shortage. There’s no explanation for why no one is present during these disturbances, but it could have been staged while Rivera was not at home and activated when the lights were turned off. Where is he or she during these occurrences? It could be related to a problem stemming from his business. An offended client, perhaps. I’ll ask Rivera for a list of his clients and the services he rendered them.

He picked up the phone and dialed Rivera’s number. “Ricardo, this is Huntinger. I’d like a list of your clients, and the services they purchased for the past year. Would you fax it to me? It’s the same number as my phone number. I’ll switch it to fax when we hang up. Do you have a pencil handy? I’ll wait. Yes, I’m here. Thanks. I’ll get back to you.” Huntinger hung up.


Sunday, Huntinger sat in his office studying the list Rivera had faxed to him. He scrolled down the list until he came to Mr. John Nicastro. I gave Mr. Nicastro a credit of five-hundred dollars. Additional information showed the error involved a delivery of red roses.

There are problems that can occur in the catering business. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least once in his career, an unhappy client swore revenge. Most mistakes occur at weddings. The wedding party or relations would be so angry, a company would be lucky to survive.

He jotted down the telephone number and address, then picked up the phone to call Rivera. “Ricardo, how angry were the Nicastro couple when the error occurred in the flower delivery?”

“Oh, I remember that. The husband was furious. We delivered white roses instead of red roses, because we due to an emergency order for an important, we were low in stock. Rather than send the unwanted quantity, we sent the white roses. His wife was terribly upset because, to her, white flowers were a sign of her mother’s death. And she blamed the husband for allowing white roses to be at her wedding. I gave them a discount of five-hundred dollars to calm them. Despite that, Mr. Nicastro threatened me that if there was any unhappiness on their honeymoon, I would regret it. I’d forgotten it until you mentioned it.”

“Have you heard from them since?”


“I’m going to pay them a visit.”

“Huntinger, please be careful. I wouldn’t want them to remember that.”

“I know what I’m doing, don’t worry.”

The telephone clicked. Huntinger dialed John Nicastro. “Mr. Nicastro, my name is Edgar Huntinger. My client is Ricardo Rivera, owner of Rivera’s Catering. I’m investigating disturbances that occurred in his home at night that may have led to a home invasion recently. His wife was terrified, and has left, possibly for good, unless my client can find a solution.”

“That’s nothing compared to the nightmare I suffered on my honeymoon. My wife was so angry and upset she wouldn’t come near me. She’s never let me forget it. Well, he should pay for it.”

“Did he pay for it, Mr. Nicastro?”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“May I come over so that we can talk? It could prevent a criminal investigation.”

There was silence. “Come on over.”

Huntinger heard a loud click.


Huntinger sat across Mr. Nicastro, who was a tall raven-haired Latin with a bandage on his hand.

“What happened to your hand?” Huntinger said as accessed him.

“I cut myself on broken glass,” he said.

“You certainly did,” Huntinger chuckled. “Now, what would cause broken glass everywhere in a kitchen? What would cause the blood splatters? Perhaps because of a problem regarding white roses delivered in place of red ones?”

Mr. Nicastro sprang from his seat. He went over to Huntinger and glowered down at him. “My hand is hurt, otherwise, I’d hit you. You don’t have proof that I was the one that terrorized your client and broke into his house.”

“I’d say that your unhappiness with his services and your hurt hand were proof.”

Huntinger speculated the old client of Ricardo Rivera. He sat back, crossed his legs, and he smiled. “You should sit down, Mr. Nicastro. I’m not threatening you.”

Mr. Nicastro sat down; his dark eyes gleamed with distrust. He was silent.

“Mr. Nicastro, I want to stress that breaking and entering is a crime. You should curb your vengeful feelings, get on with your life, and let Rivera get on with his life. Rivera may not press charges, but if your terrorizing doesn’t stop, he will have to act.”

“You’ve made your point, Huntinger. I’m satisfied that he’s paid for his incompetence.” He shifted his eyes, and mumbled, “You’ve got what you want. Get out.”

“Thank you, Mr. Nicastro. I might see you again if there’s continued threats to my client.”

“Get out.”

Huntinger left.

Huntinger sat across Ricardo Rivera, smiling as he gazed at a grateful client. “He won’t bother you again. I surmised that he was the one who had broken into your home, but I can’t prove that he caused all the unexplained sounds your wife heard. All I can tell you is, that if there are any more disturbances, let me know.”

“Do I owe you anything, Huntinger?”

“No. What you gave me covered all my expenses and fees.” Huntinger got up and shook Rivera’s hand. Then, he left.


Ricardo Rivera slept, his wife softly snoring beside him. He bolted, as a loud boom resounded through the house; shattering glass accompanying it. His body like lead, he struggled to move. Then, his eyes opened. It was a dream. Nevertheless, he went downstairs. Everything was silent, just the clock ticking. Ricardo Rivera decided he may be living with nightmares for a long time. Comforted that he still had a wife, and that he’d made the right decision hiring the private investigator, he went back to bed.

June 10, 2022 21:08

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.