The phone was an old black candle-stick like you’d see in a movie from the twenties. It even had a rotary dial. Jean grimaced at it. It was sitting on the top of the registration desk, mocking her. The old woman behind the desk was sturdy in the way old ethnic women always seemed to be. She was thick from neck to knees and wearing a muumuu of red and orange that dropped straight from her shoulders with an offensively large ruffle. Her hair was pulled back into a braid of grey. Her eyes were dark and emotionless.
“Thanks,” Jean muttered. She picked up the earpiece that way she’d always seen it done and was surprised to hear the dial tone. She pushed at the numbers, but they didn’t beep.
The old woman rolled her eyes. She reached over and dialed a one. “There. Either hang up or call.”
Jean finished dialing her husband’s cell-phone. There was static when he picked up. “Who is this?” he yelled into the phone.
“It’s your wife!” she said clearly. “I’m at the old hotel up on Creek Street. My phone is dead.”
“You’re wearing red?”
“My. Phone. Is. Dead.” She nearly touched the mouthpiece. Her fingers grabbed around the stick part automatically.
“Creek Street. Right. I’ll come find you.” He hung up on her.
“That man,” she muttered.
The old woman snorted. “It only gets worse. Go sit down. I’ll get you some coffee. Cream?”
“Please. And sugar if you have any?”
“No worries. Go sit by the fire. Dry out.” The old woman puttered into the back room. Jean collapsed onto a dusty red leather chair. She’d have preferred the velvet, but she was soaked to the skin. Maybe her phone would work when it dried out. She ran a hand through her short hair. It clung to her fingers and neck. The sound of the storm echoed around the room. It battered at the skylights and the doors.
The old hotel was called the Rochester. She didn’t know why and didn’t really care. When she’d seen the flickering light of an oil lamp in the front window, she’d simply thanked whatever spirits were looking after her for antiques. The oil lamp was one of five that were scattered around the room. There was a roaring fire in the fireplace, even though it was spring. The room was dusty. There were leaves in the corners of the rooms. Jean mentally cursed whatever help had walked out on the old woman at the end of the season.
She shivered. “Here you are.” The old woman put down a tray. “I’m Helen. Call if you need me.” She went back to the desk and settled behind it with an old leather-bound book.
Jean sipped the coffee. It was warm and sweet and perfect. She moaned in appreciation. “Thank you, Helen,” she called over. The coffee warmed her from the inside. The fire warmed her from the outside. Her eyes slipped closed and she rested her head on the back of the chair for just a minute. She didn’t remember closing her eyes.
When she opened her eyes, the fire was gone and her husband was shaking her. “Come on. Before the water gets any higher. We need to get going.”
She looked around. There were no lights in the windows. There were no lights at all, except for the illumination from the lightening bolts. Sitting next to her chair, however, was the dregs of a cup of coffee in an old white mug.
“Thank you, Helen,” she murmured as she gathered up her coat. She followed her husband out into the lashing rain. When she looked back over her shoulder, there was a light in the front window.
“I’m looking for something a little more raspberry,” Diana said. She fingered the satin. “And maybe with a little stretch in it?” The clerk gave her a strained smile. Diana ignored her. “Oh, and a little bit of beige lace as well.”
The clerk gestured to the cutting desk. “Maybe you’ll have better luck if I get you the books.”
Diana considered. “Sounds good.” The clerk took quick steps to the desk. She hauled out three large books and set them on one side of the desk.
“I’ll just let you look through these while I get some of these cut. I’ll check back with you in a few minutes.”
Diana nodded, but didn’t bother to look up at her. She opened the first book. It thumped onto the table like an antique tome. She flipped through quickly. She knew what she wanted. It wasn’t knits or tweeds or cottons. No, she needed satin with lycra in it.
She cocked her head to the side when she found the section and squinted at the colors. There, that was raspberry. She fingered the sample and tugged on it with her thumb and forefinger. Yes, perfect. It stretched. Now to find the lace.
There was another book for trims. She flipped through the books until she found the trim. She found a four inch wide lace. She looked up to find the clerk. The clerk was working with some other customer. Wench. Diana coughed. The clerk gave her an absent smile, but continued cutting fabric for someone else.
Diana was there first. Damn it. She frowned deeply. The clerk called for back up. Two more clerks joined her at the cutting table. “Sarah, can you take care of the special order?” the original clerk asked.
“Of course. Hi, I’m Sarah. Did you find what you need?” Sarah offered a genuine smile.
“Yes, I need twelve yards of this raspberry satin with lycra and three yards of the beige lace here.” Diana was just a few days away from actually creating her superhero costume.
Sarah nodded and filled out the forms. “Okay, that’s going to be about two weeks.”
“Two weeks? I need this project started by the weekend.”
“I could call the other shop, but I don’t think we got any of this in at all.”
Diana rubbed at her forehead. Princess Raspberry couldn’t be in satin that wasn’t raspberry. “Okay. Fine. Just go with it. What about the lace?”
“I think we have some of that. I’ll get it.” She went after the lace. “Unfortunately, I only have one yard of it right now.”
“I’ll take the yard. Just get the rest of it as soon as possible.” Diana snatched the papers and headed for the front of the store. “God this is annoying,” she muttered. How was she supposed to be ready for her debut if she couldn’t get some damned fabric.
She twisted the wrist of a shoplifter as she passed by to get to the checkout. Really, what was she going to do without her dress? Maybe the mask would be enough. She paid for the lace. She tripped a purse-snatcher on the way out to her car. God damn it. There was a run in her nylon again.
The carjacker came to the window. “I am not in the mood.” She pressed her gun to his forehead. He wet himself and left her alone. “Damn special order bullshit.”
Lily pulled the down comforter over her head. She would not get up. No matter what sounds she thought she heard tonight. No matter when the alarm clock went off in the morning. No, this would be the best night of sleep she had ever gotten. The pillow was perfect. The comforter was freshly cleaned and smelled of lavender.
She had valerian under the pillow. She had her meditation tape set to go on in three hours. The crashing waves of the white noise machine were on. She took deep breaths and tried to sink into the mattress.
The little whimper that escaped as her back loosened reminded her how much tension she’d been carrying. She had the day off tomorrow. She didn’t have to do anything.
She drifted towards sleep.
The whining moans didn’t puncture the bubble of sound and safety she’d created for herself. She couldn’t smell the coppery tang from the other room. She couldn’t even hear the sounds of chains. She smiled.
Finally, a good night’s sleep.
The other side of the bed dipped. “Sweetie?” a soft voice said. “Are you asleep?”
Yes, she thought. I am asleep, go away.
He sighed. “I added gags. They should be quiet tonight.” He patted her hip. “Sleep well.” Then, he laid down.
She took deep breaths. Focus. Sleep, Lily, she told herself.
“Touch the Thin Mints and I’ll cut you,” JoAnna hissed. She was curled up on the couch with a heating pad, a blanket, three books and a box of Thin Mints. She’d eaten half of one column with her tea. Her hair was stringy, her nose was red, and her eyes were bleary.
Bobbi considered her chances. The blanket would slow her down and she wasn’t wearing her glasses so there was a chance that she’d miss any preparations. That was the last box of Thin Mints in the house and the little girls from downstairs said that they didn’t have anymore. It might be worth the risk of a bloody stump.
“My cookies,” JoAnna added with slow deliberation. “I paid for them. I found them when all the other booth sales were done. You ate all of yours.”
“Just one?” Bobbi pleaded. She needed chocolate. She needed it now. “I’m going into withdrawal. And I’ll be starting my period tomorrow.”
“No shit.” JoAnna snorted. It was disturbingly wet and she reached for a tissue to blow her nose. She’d caved and purchased the ones with Aloe because of this cold; plague really. That was a concern. The cookies that were open were already contaminated with germs. Bobbi zeroed in on the box. One column was pristine, just sitting in the box, mocking her. “Did you think that this cold thing was going to stop me from starting on the same day? We’ve been in sync for half a year, bimbo.”
“Hey, now,” Bobbi held up a warning finger. “We don’t hold with that sort of talk.” Bobbi ran a hand over her short-cropped platinum blonde hair. “It’s not like it’s natural.”
“The bleach has eaten into your brain. Go get some cookies elsewhere.”
“But it’s not Thin Mints.”
“So go get some ducking ice cream or something. I think it’s Eddy’s that has the Thin Mint ice cream.”
“What? Seriously?” Bobbi sat up straight. “Thin Mints and ice cream? That’s better than Nutella from the jar.”
“Mmmmm. Nutella,” JoAnna murmured. “I have cash. Bring me my purse and go forth for Nutella and soft, squishy white bread to transport it to my mouth.”
Bobbi laughed. “And you’ll buy the ice cream too?”
JoAnna sighed. “Yes, just to protect my cookies. Not because I like you or anything.”
Right. Four years as friends. Two as roommates. They hated each other all right.
Joey turned over the shot glass and slammed it onto the counter. “Nineteen.” He picked up the next one, slammed back the tequila and slammed down the glass. The liquid didn’t burn anymore. It was hot and filled his stomach with bravado and sex-appeal. His little, fading voice of self-preservation begged him to stop and go to the bathroom to throw it all up, but he couldn’t. Not when he was surrounded by his entire frat.
“Twenty-one,” the crowd announced and cheered. “Happy Birthday, Joey!”
The bar broke into a jumbled, off-key rendition of Happy Birthday.
He waved to his new fans. He tried to stay very still on the barstool. He felt the liquid hate in his stomach trying to eat him from the inside out. He clenched his jaw in a pasted on smile as people took pictures of him with their phones. One smart-ass even had a digital camera to record his every move. Spidy was an asshole. He documented everything with that damned camera of his. Joey made sure to make rabbit ears behind his “big brother” Bobby and his “little sister” Tanya from their sister sorority. They had different meanings, of course, because he was totally going to get into Tanya’s pants one of these days.
She was a heavenly person – patience of a saint and the curves of a sinner. She was smart and funny and so out of his league that he shouldn’t even bother.
She was also his best friend.
He leaned on her shoulder. She laughed at him, musical and carefree. She was one-hundred percent sober. He pulled her into a loose hug and didn’t let go.
“Come on, birthday boy, let’s get you home.” She tugged on his arm. The other boys from the frat made kissy noises and cheered them on. She rolled her eyes and fished her keys out of the bowl at the end of the table. He followed her like she were his lodestone leading him north.
“You’re the best thing about this place,” he told her. At least he hoped that the words came out properly. She seems to flex and bend in his sight. “Tequila sucks.”
“Oh, sweetie, you have no idea.”
The car ride was nauseating. “Stop,” he managed. She pulled over instantly and reached across him to open the door. He emptied his stomach into the gutter. He spat once, then twice. She handed him a paper towel. They made two more stops before they made it to his house. She walked him to his room. She filled a glass of water.
“Drink,” she ordered.
“Bed,” Joey replied.
He pouted, but drank up the water. Then, he collapsed backwards. “You’re still the best thing in this place.”
“Love you too, jerkwad.” She pulled off his shoes. “And that is as much of you as I’m going to uncover. You want to be comfortable, you need to figure out how to do it yourself.”
“So, so mean.” He struggled with his jeans and then conceded victory to the belt. “Still love you.”
“Sleep well. There’s ibuprofen on the side table for when you wake up and I’ll leave more water.” She brushed a kiss across his forehead.
He didn’t think he’d imagined it. He gave her a sleepy smile. Maybe she wasn’t out of his league after all.
The rage builds up in my body, tingling down my palms into my fingers. They curl into claws. I fight to keep the heat from my face. I force my eyes to stay open and accepting. My breathing threatens to speed, but I deepen the breaths and count them into even spaces. I will not pant. I know my chest is heaving now, but I am not panting.
The bile churns in my stomach and I can almost taste it in the back of my throat. I stand, feet shoulder-width apart, hands curled at my side and don’t scream the words that want to leap from my throat and lash the woman with the shoulder-length hair.
Her hair curls at the ends and the curls bob as she laughs. It’s a vile, hateful sound that grates on my ears. She tosses her hair over her shoulder with a practiced move that leaves a tracer to my eyes. Her “perfect” grace makes me want to rend her fingers from her hands. She rests her hand on the top of her purse. It’s an expensive thing – Coach or Prada or some overly-charged piece of crap like that. Perfect, like her hair, the length of her wheat colored skirt and her charming chocolate jacket.
Her skin is flawless, just waiting for me to paint it with purple and green. Her fingernails are glossy with fresh enamel. Her shoes are just the right height for the current fashion. Brown croc-leather with little gold buckles on the front. As though she were a model in an office-wear catalog. She has a little hoop earrings in her ears. And there’s a silk scarf around her throat. That’s good. The silk won’t break when I wrap it around her wrists after I throw her to the ground and ruin her perfect suit.
I track her motion as she and her girlfriends part ways. She has her keys out and is heading for the car park. I make my feet move now. Slowly, carefully, don’t make any noise. I reach for the rag in its Ziploc bag. She’ll regret her stupid heels any minute now.
I hold the rag over her mouth, smearing her perfect lipstick. She struggles and manages to connect with my sternum, trying to steal my air. I press harder against her mouth and nose. She slumps into my arms.
That hit will leave a bruise!
God damn, I hate this bitch.
Belle shifted in her spot. Her jeans were well-worn. She picked at the fraying near her knee until her father glared at her. “This is very important, sweetie,” her father chided.
“I know.” She rolled her kohl-rimmed blue eyes. “Get to the good part already.” What thirteen year old can sit still for a full half-hour? Seriously.
“Good things come to those who wait.”
“And patience is a virtue,” she finished his favorite chide. Her father was a whippet of a man with a full head of brown hair that had the merest traces of grey. He was in his fifties, but still ran marathons. He ran his hands over his instrument. It was warm wood tones with silver inlays. He’d had it for years and his loving care kept it in perfect condition. He laid it against his chin.
He took one breath, then another. Belle quivered with excitement. She loved seeing him work. This was only the third time he’d shown her how to use his instrument when it was just the two of them. She’d be a full apprentice soon.
He tilted his head.
The report from the gun was muffled, but still loud. Belle put the binoculars up to her eyes.
The man in the shiny grey suit lay dead, blood seeping through the hole in his neck onto the pavement.
Her father slide his rifle into its instrument case. She tucked her binoculars into her totebag. They wandered out onto the street hand in hand. She tugged a little on his hand. “Come on, we’re going to be late,” she whined.
“Good things come to those who wait,” he reminded her.
“And patience is a virtue.” She sighed and fell into step. “I just can’t wait until I get to do it all by myself.”
ED: 8-4-2020: This is the seed which eventually became the book of the same name. (Avail. Amazon, B&N, and most other retailers. Or on Golden Fleece Press.)
This is part of the latest Terrible Minds Flash Fiction challenge. You should wander over and take a look at what else is hiding there.
The challenge was to take 2 sub-genres and smash them together. I ended up with a Dystopian Sci-Fi Cozy Mystery. Not sure how well that worked, but there’s new characters and I think I’ll find them another story or three.
Sugar and Spice
Spinner’s gas mask hung around her neck. Her goggles held back tousled blonde hair. “Someone nabbed the Hellion.”
Blagger opened one brown eye to peer at her through his goggles. “In a smog-storm? Idiot. There’s no escape.”
“If we don’t figure it, the Sugars will blame one of us.” Spinner tucked her gloves into her hip-pouch.
“Gov’ll take care of it. Lunch is on the table.”
“Thanks, Blagger.” She ate the bread and cheese with gusto.
“How’d you hear about this?” He rubbed at an itch behind his ear. He smacked into his radio and it jumped to life. “Damn it.” He pulled it off.
“If you listened to your radio, you’d hear the good gossip,” she said.
He gestured rudely at her. “So who do you figure for it? One of the new mechs?”
“No, I did their checks myself. It’s a Sugar.”
“Can’t be. They wouldn’t know how to find it.”
“Maybe one of them brought someone or maybe one of them isn’t actually a Sugar.” Her smog-grey eyes glittered under the yellow lights. “I’m going to change. Cover me?”
“I’ll say you need a keeper as you’re sick in the head.”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “You’ll look after me?”
“If the others don’t get back in here, they don’t deserve to look after you.” Blagger smirked.
She returned his previous gesture. “Are we hosting anyone the Sugars brought down here?”
“Nah. They’re in the Wings.”
“Get changed, if you’re coming.” She went off toward the showers. Blagger turned on the radio.
“You and Princess Spinner are going to be haunting the Wings?” The butler chuckled. “Find it or you’ll report to me for descaling detail.”
Blagger shuddered. “Yessir.” He changed into almost respectable pants and a sheer white shirt.
“You look like a whore,” Spinner said. “Perfect.” She wore a simple red dress that showed off her curves. Her hair was slicked back. Traces of oil clung to her nails. She looked like a nameless girl trying a little too hard. He offered his arm and escorted her up to the Wings — the main servants’ area. The guest’s Crusts roomed here. Spinner opened the first guest door. She gave it a quick look. “No.” Three more rooms were dismissed. The fourth room caught her attention.
Blagger leaned against the wall while she searched. He crossed his arms and one of the guest Crusts gave him an appreciative leer. He winked. “When I’m done with the Miss.”
The maid blushed and giggled. Nothing but a Sugar getting off with the hired help. Spinner clung to him with an overly bright smile that made her look like she was two cups of 120 proof in. “This is the servant. We just need to find the master,” she murmured into his ear.
“Hey, now, Miss here wants to know who’s Crust we just inconvenienced.”
Spinner hid her face when the passing maid gave her a knowing smirk. “Mr. Bennett. In from The Shapiro.”
“Can you find me a picture?”
“Don’t be insulting, woman.” Blagger logged into the servant’s system with Marsden’s password. He pulled up the visiting Sugars’ dossiers. Bennett was a slick looking man with dark hair and bright blue eyes. He wore a beard that had been out of fashion for at least five years.
Spinner hummed. “Very clever. He shaves that off who’ll know him? Where’s he set up?”
“Level fifteen. Yellow room.”
Another level up and they wandered into the party. Spinner grabbed glasses of 5 proof red for each of them. He sipped at the weak proof and they circulated through the party. It was small, only about 600 people. Mistress Long glanced at them. Her yellow eyes widened for only an instant, then her lips curled into a smile. Spinner relaxed against his side. “I knew there was a reason I still worked here.”
“Luck and lies.” They clinked glasses.
The Sugar-side tube sped them up to the 15th floor. Spinner frowned at the locked room. “Watch for me.” She rewired the lock and hid the evidence as the door slid open. “Start looking.” She pointed at the window. He understood immediately. The storm was lifting. They didn’t have much time. The Hellion Circuit was 100cm sqaure flame colored box with black leads. The circuit that would keep them alive if there was a house emergency.
“Thieves in my room?” Bennet’s sounded like a smug Felid. Blagger turned to see if he could see evidence of cat’s ears. Bennet held a stunner on Spinner.
“I just lost my earring,” Spinner said. “We were a little too enthusiastic.”
Bennet chuckled. “You’re no more Sugar than me. I’ll just report this.”
“Oh?” Spinner raised her brows. She leaned forward. “So they can find the Circuit sitting here in your drawer? That’s not going to happen. In fact, I’m just going to take this.”
“And you leave with your man.”
“Blackmail, little girl?”
Blagger didn’t hide his wince. Poor bastard. Spinner’s eyes narrowed, the sun glinted off of the implants that let her see. Bennet’s head jerked back. His aim slipped. Spinner moved in a quick arc of arms and legs that left her standing on his chest.
She kicked him in the chin. Her spin-kick was a thing of beauty. “Damn, I didn’t have anyone to bet with.” Blagger turned the in-room radio to the Crust channel. “Marsden, clean up in 15 Yellow.”
“I’ll contact the authorities. Don’t get blood on the carpets or you’ll clean it with your tongue.”
“Right, Boss.” Blagger offered his flask.
“You read my mind.” She took a slug.
“He’s wanted on Aramis, Marsden.” Spinner held up Bennet’s datapad. “Stole the Miranda Chip from The Royal Hotel.”
“Take the circuit and reinstall it. We’ve had recorders running since the loss was discovered.” Marsden gave them a small smile. “Good work. If you’re tired of the pit, there’s going to be an opening in security.”
Spinner just laughed and hugged the circuit to her chest.
Took Mom to the eye doctor today. It was unusual as an experience. We had to wait in the car until they called us. Then, we had to bang on the door because it was locked. Which, I understand, but still, it seems like something you should tell your patients when they come in. “We’re ready for you now. Just knock on the suite door and we’ll let you in.” See? Simple. Anyway, just set up and appointment on the way out for next year. Who knows what the procedure will be by then.
Stopped at Freddy’s for the first time ever. It’s in Fairfax and several other cities. I checked the website. Luckily for me they don’t deliver because *damn* it was delicious. I had the patty melt. I have immediately paid for eating the dreaded beef to which I am allergic, but I do not care. It tasted so good. So, I had to have a nap and itch a bit… Erm. Yeah, napping because your lungs aren’t getting air isn’t really fun, but it’s been that way since high school, so I’m used to it. I should have pre-loaded my inhaler before I ate. Next time. (They do have non-beef options, by the way — veggie and chicken.) Still, highly recommended.
EBay sales: Lemon squeezer, 2 books.
Crafts completed: zero, but we did put together a storage shelf in the basement which will allow us to unpack craft supply boxes. (Of which there are more than I realized. Maybe this will help us find things so we don’t need to rebuy things.) I only had to throw away 2 bottles of paint because they’d… gone off.
Julie lifted her head up so that the microphone would catch her words well. She didn’t know most of the people in the audience. Mostly she recognized family, and a few friends. “Most of you knew James as a lawyer, a gay rights proponent, and a rabble-rousing activist. For me, he was just Uncle Jamie. When I was adopted by my parents, I thought it was a trick. No one had kept me before, just sent me back to the orphanage. I was too quiet. Too strange. A mix-breed with issues. I hoarded food in my room. I didn’t speak English well.
“Mom and Dad though, they kept me. And then, they gifted me with the best present, my Uncle Jamie. Jamie was my own personal dragon. He breathed hellfire down on any bully that picked on my eyes. He sued the school when their dress code said I couldn’t wear my favorite shirt anymore because the sleeves were too short. I was eleven. I don’t think the principal of the school could look Uncle Jamie in the eye.
“I don’t know how Uncle Jamie was related to the family. Every time I asked, I got a different story. My mom said that he was her brother of course — look at how similar their eyes were. My dad said that Jamie was his brother. Will’m said that they’d found Jamie under a rock and brought him home from a beach trip. And Jamie? Jamie said he was a fairy, so of course he was my godfather and that’s all I needed to know.
“When I had screaming fights with my mother, Jamie stepped between us and just stared her down until she stopped yelling and started listening. He never once thought that wanting to be a house-spouse was a negative life-path. He never once tried to tell me that I should be a fighter, a crusader, an activist, or a lawyer. He didn’t try to make me into a math genius or a musical prodigy. He played chess with me when I wanted and helped me create dresses for my dolls when that passion grabbed me. .
“He wasn’t perfect. No one is. He drank too much and snuck cigarettes on the back porch when my mom wasn’t looking. He had screaming fights with Uncle Will’m and with Uncle Liam. He was vicious when cornered, but never to me.
“When my parents were killed, he stepped in as my parent and I resented it. No one could replace my Mom and Dad. How dare he try? Jamie didn’t have to replace them though it took me at least a year to figure that out. He’d been there from the beginning. And when things were darkest, he stood between me and the world — telling me that it was okay to be angry, to be sad, and to yearn to turn back time. It was okay to regret words said in anger. And it was okay to rage against a world that took my parents away. And I want to give that gift to you.
“It’s okay to be mad. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to regret the arguments that were never resolved or the love that wasn’t expressed. It’s okay to be nostalgic for conversations that will never happen or memories that you only shared with him. And it’s okay to cry or laugh or share stories with anyone who will listen. I’m going to miss my Uncle Jamie, but I’m not the only one. I’m not alone and neither are you.”