Flash Fiction Challenge Response: 3 Key Words

Posted: July 15, 2015 by J.A. Prentice in Uncategorized
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The challenge was to write a ~1000 word story using three key words from a list. The three I chose were suit, brightness, and contemporary. I also decided to write something not-fantasy, to show people that I do, in fact, have some variety.


Max Grey sat alone outside a café, sipping a cup of coffee.

He had to admit that it wasn’t particularly good coffee. It had been cheap and it tasted cheaper.

But it was coffee, so he drank it anyway.

Sitting there, he watched every detail, taking everything into account. Not a single person on that street, from the homeless people in rags who dwelt there to the businessmen in black suits just passing through, escaped his notice. He cataloged everything he saw, filing it away from future reference.

He never knew when it might become important.

He checked his phone for the thousandth time. It was an unconscious ritual he performed at least once a minute- reaching into the pocket of his black jacket, pulling out his phone, checking it, putting it back in his pocket. It came as naturally to him as breathing in and out.

He sipped at the coffee again, feeling the liquid pour through the black lid of his cup and into his mouth. The first sip had been scalding. Now it was merely very, very hot.

Looking up, he saw the woman he was looking for at last, just another face amidst the crowd- red lipstick, thin nose, blue eyes, short black hair that shone like oil. She wore a dark blue skirt and coat over a white, buttoned shirt. It was a very contemporary businesswoman look. Her shoes had heels like a Victorian stagecoach: elegant, but utterly impractical for travel in the city streets.

He made eye contact with her and she looked away, trying to lose herself in the crowd.

Grey thought back, remembering when he’d first laid eyes on her.

Her picture stares at me from a newspaper clipping. She’s beautiful, even reduced to a thumbnail.

Kidnapping Victim Returns. That’s what the headline says.

I look at the woman who’s brought me the newspaper clipping and the rest of the contents of this haphazard manila folder. She’s fidgeting, running fingers through her curly brown hair. Her eyes keep darting around.

She’s in trouble or she thinks she is. So either I have something real or I have a paranoid on my hands.

I’ve seen both.

I ask who the woman in the picture is.

“Melissa Suthers,” she tells me.

In the age of the Internet, when information flowed less like a trickling brook and more like a great flood, a name was all Grey needed. A simple search gave him result after result. Some were useful; others weren’t.

By now he had a system. He could usually tell what results would be helpful without even clicking on them. It saved a considerable amount of time.

The woman- her name had been Margaret, Margaret Bush, like the awful President and awful Prime Minister crashed into one, but that wasn’t her fault- had been right. There was something worth look into.

And he wasn’t letting Melissa get away now.

“Melissa Suthers!” he yelled.

She turned, looked at him. They made eye contact again, but this time she couldn’t just look away. Grey’s eyes bore into her like arrows, trapped her like nets.

“What is it?” she asked. “Who are you?”

“My name’s Grey,” he said. “And I think we should talk.”

He gestured to the empty chair beside him, the chair he’d had to prevent five people from taking in the hour he’d sat here, waiting for her.

“I don’t have time for-”

“So what did you spend the money on first?” Grey interrupted. “Nice car?” He glanced down at her feet. “Or maybe those shoes.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she insisted.

“Of course you do,” he replied. “Sit down.”

She hesitated, obviously wondering if she could make a run for it. Then, having weighed her options, she sat down opposite him.

“Well,” she said, letting the single syllable hang in the air, both question and statement.

“Well indeed,” Grey said. “You’ve been quite a naughty girl, Mel. Can I call you Mel?”

“No,” she replied curtly.

“I had a nice talk with a friend of yours, Mel,” he continued. “She’s called Maggie.”

Melissa looked at him, confused. “I don’t know any Maggie,” she said.

“How about a Margaret Bush?” Grey asked. “And in case that still doesn’t ring a bell, she works for your father’s company.”

Melissa paled. She needed no more explanation.

Grey gave more explanation anyway. He liked giving explanations.

“When you went missing a couple months ago, dear old daddy went almost crazy with grief, didn’t he? The cops, they all told him not to pay the ransom, that they were looking into it, but he caved and paid it anyway. One million dollars, wasn’t it? All the usual stuff about non-sequential bills and secret drop-off locations.”

Grey paused, taking a sip of his coffee. It was a long sip for added dramatic effect.

“And then the kidnappers let you go home,” he continued. “And you cry a lot and hug him and promise to be more careful, he says all that matters is that you’re home. You know, usual Lifetime movie touchy-feely stuff.” Grey smiled and shook his head. “But you must be a much better actor than all those Lifetime movie girls. You really sold it. Everyone bought the moving performance.”

“Except Miss Bush,” Melissa said. “But then, she never did like me.”

“And she came to me,” Grey said. “She told me about how the heiress wanted daddy’s cash a little sooner- and a lot of it. She told me about how she recognized the kidnapper’s voice over the phone- a school friend of yours. She told me that if someone did a little digging, the whole thing would fall apart.”

“You can’t prove it,” she replied. “Not a word of it.”

Grey smiled. “Here’s the thing about me. I really like digging.”

His phone buzzed in his pocket and his grin grew wider. It was right on cue. He couldn’t have timed it better if he’d tried.

He pulled it out, reading the text message.

“I have a friend at the police station,” Grey said. “A pretty high-up friend. They pulled in your buddy this morning. And he just started talking.”

Melissa stood up hurriedly, her eyes wide with fear, watching all her well-laid plans unravel.

“You can run if you want,” Grey said calmly. “But then you’ll just be arrested tired.”

Melissa sat back down, utterly defeated.

“You should try the coffee before my friends get here,” Grey suggested. “It’s much better than anything you’ll be getting for a long time.”


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