2016 Flash Fiction Challenge: Blood Money

Hey, I received an honorable mention in the 2016 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge! You can read it in its entirety right here:

Blood Money

It had been months since Edward French had set foot on the trading floor, and he was nervous. “Was,” in the strictest sense of the past tense; a quick bump in the cab ride over had put his nerves to rest. Now all he felt was exhilaration, a flashback to the time when he was just another ambitious trader eager to get his own set of triple-weight eggshell engraved business cards.

Much had changed in just a few short months – he’d gone with ecru instead of eggshell – but Edward was hungry as ever. His sights were simply higher now. He had a corner office, sure, but why settle for a corner office on the 17thfloor when Jim McConnell had his on the 18th? And how could he rest, period, knowing someone else’s name adorned the building?

No, Edward French knew what he wanted. Which explained the surge of frustration – he had long since set aside childish emotions like embarrassment and sadness – when he realized he would be picking up Frederick Mayhew’s slack.

The whole situation infuriated him. Edward wasn’t Freddy’s boss, sure, but Freddy was still a junior. Freddy had a plastic desk, not a mahogany one. Freddy’s business cards came from Kinko’s!

Yet here Edward was, waiting for the trading floor to open alongside twenty-somethings in cheap suits. He couldn’t believe that Freddy’s secretary had called him, specifically. As though he could just “fill in” like some junior broker in off-brand Brooks Brothers.

Had he not perfected his power stance? Was he signaling weakness? Perhaps one of his colleagues had suggested he might not be cut out for the executive track…?

He decided cocaine was making him paranoid.  Edward forced the matter out of his mind and busied himself, pretending to read the Wall Street Journal. He really just enjoyed dropping the pages to the floor and watching interns scurry to pick them up – it was one of the few joys to be had before the opening bell.

As he dropped another page, a pair of Chanel pumps caught his eye. He followed them up to shapely Wolford-clad calves, then to the hem of a tasteful scarlet Christian Dior skirt suit. If he had to hazard a guess, which his imagination was delightedly doing, he would expect nothing less than La Perla underneath. He forced his gaze upward to a pair of ruby lips, beguilingly parted, and bright blue eyes tastefully rimmed with kohl. Her blonde hair was upswept, but he pictured it down and flowing around her shoulders – preferably while she was wearing nothing but the La Perla.

“Frederick Mayhew?” she asked in a warm voice.

“No, I’m Edward French,” he said. He couldn’t resist adding, “Senior broker. He’s out sick today and I thought I’d see how our accounts are doing first-hand. Is there something I can do for you, Mrs…”

“Ms.” she said firmly. “Ms. Dawn Weiss. I was supposed to shadow Mr. Mayhew today to learn the floor, but…”

She was a broker? It’s the 1980s, Edward, he reminded himself. This is the world you live in now.

“I can’t stand seeing a beautiful woman upset. Why don’t I show you the ropes?”

“Oh, would you?” She beamed at him. “I’m a quick study – I did lots of research before coming here.”

“So you know about our pharmaceutical holdings.”

“The focus of your portfolio,” she said. “I found your past work with Bauer to be of particular interest.”

“The lawsuit,” he laughed. “Everyone thought I was crazy to buy during that disaster.”

“But you knew it was a good buy,” she said.

“I knew they would win their case, he said, winking conspiratorially. “I had a hunch.”

“A hunch that made you senior broker.” She smiled amiably and made a note in an embossed Smythson agenda.

“Great agenda,” he noted. “You’ve got killer taste.”

“It’s really more a scrapbook,” she said, snapping it shut. “Shall we go to where the real action is?” He nodded, and they made their way through the bustling crowd of traders on the floor.

“It’s a shame Freddy won’t see this again,” she sighed.

“Drop out of the rat race? Freddy?” Edward laughed at the thought. Even with his misguided use of a sick day, Freddy was no slouch.

“His illness is terminal,” she said.

“Did his secretary tell you that?” Edward was slightly alarmed at this development, but mainly irritated the secretary hadn’t told him.

“Oh, no. I just saw him this morning. He won’t be coming in again…ever.”

“But…”He faded off as she began unbuttoning her suit jacket, revealing not La Perla but a bloodied undershirt.

Edward recoiled in horror, but was prevented from moving. He thought it was the crowd until he felt a sharp pang in his arm, where Dawn Weiss had just withdrawn a syringe of…something.

“It took a long time, but I finally pieced it together. Would you like to know what I found?”

He was silent; he found he couldn’t form words.

“It just didn’t make sense that Bauer would win their case. So many people had died; my husband among them. The evidence was there. And yet the jury still voted to acquit. You know why?” She caught him as his legs faltered. “Because you paid them.”

“You’ll never get away with this,” he choked.

“I don’t intend to. Actions have consequences. Or at least they do now.”

He blinked hard, to keep darkness from clouding his sight.

“I will admit I had a morbid curiosity. I wanted to feel like you; to wear a fancy suit and kill people. But I’m afraid after all this I just don’t see the appeal.”

Blood and the raucous peal of the opening bell flooded his ears. Edward French slid to the ground, eyes unfocused. Dawn slid a manicured hand into his pocket, withdrawing a single engraved business card. The last thing Edward French saw was a perfectly lacquered finger pressing it into an impeccable Smythson, directly below that of one Frederick Mayhew.

2016 Flash Fiction Challenge: The Wicker Man

In a jet lag-inspired fever dream, I signed up for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge. The idea is to be given a random genre, setting, and object, and to write 1000 words of fiction – or less – within 48 hours. My round one assignment was to be a fantasy set in a furniture store, involving a dog’s leash, somehow. Here are the results of that challenge!

NYC Midnight

THE WICKER MAN

Baldrick Arterton caught his reflection in the ornate scrying mirror next to his desk, and it did not paint a pretty picture. He sighed, turning back to the pile of past due notices in front of him.

He was officially Old. It had gotten to the point where Tony Pennuto, his strapping delivery man, thought his name was actually “Bald Rick.” A nickname he’d assumed, Tony had said, “on account of all the baldness.”

The fool! Didn’t he realize who he was dealing with?

Baldrick shuffled the unread notices, lost in thought. Of course he didn’t know who he was dealing with. Why would Tony Pennuto, whose primary accomplishment in life appeared to be chewing gum and walking at the same time, know or care about the metaphysical wonders of the universe, the sacred and profane arts of which Baldrick “Bald Rick” Arterton was a steadfast practitioner?

When Baldrick had first opened up shop, it was the 1970s. It seemed nearly a lifetime ago. Tony Pennuto hadn’t even been born yet. Magic was simply everywhere; even grandmothers knew their zodiac sign in those days. Not like 2016, where any belief in magic–even the more traditional stuff, like horoscopes and Christianity–was viewed with derision.

Back in the 1970s, Baldrick was on top of the world. He had used his well-honed magical ability to divine the best time and place to open The Wicker Man: Fine Outdoor Furnishings With A Magickal Twist. He’d settled on May 1973, in Salem, Massachussets, precisely 300 years from the last witch trial.

The store was an unprecedented hit. Wicker was just about as popular as magic in those days. It didn’t hurt that 1973-era Baldrick was exactly what a predominantly female customer base thought a magical outdoor furniture salesman should be; thin, polyester-clad, with flowing blonde hair past his shoulder blade and a golden talisman gleaming in a nest of chest hair.

Things were different in 2016. The demand for wicker was about on par with the demand for Baldrick. He still had the golden mane, though the top was conspicuously barren. The talisman had long been sold to pay for a moving truck – the very moving truck that Tony Pennuto now drove.

Who was taking another one of his 2-hour lunches at the moment, it seemed. So when the shop’s front door bell gave a melodic tinkle, Baldrick was the only one working.

He snapped into action, tugging his baby blue polyester jacket across his expanding paunch. He stepped onto the sales floor smiling, ready to greet the first customer in weeks.

His smile didn’t last long.

“Greetings, Voltaire,” said Baldrick sullenly.

“Baldrick, Olde Friend! How marvelous it is to see you!” exclaimed Voltaire, oblivious to Baldrick’s turn of mood.

“Why are you here?”

“Right to the point, eh? I like that!” Voltaire said, stroking his pointed beard. Baldrick made a gleeful mental note of the obvious dye job.

“Look, Voltaire, I’m very busy…”

“Clearly,” said Voltaire, eyeing the empty store through his monocle. “I’m actually here to help with that. You see, Fiona mentioned–”

He kept talking, but Baldrick had stopped listening after hearing her name Fiona. Of course she had said something to this prattling peacock. Were no things sacred anymore between husband and wife? Even if they were no longer married…?

“She is my wife now,” Voltaire said, as though reading his mind. Or perhaps he actually was; it was one of his specialties. Baldrick began envisioning the words VOLTAIRE IS A COCKMOUTH in bright neon letters, just in case.

“As I was saying…” Voltaire continued, before drifting off. “Very mature, Baldrick. Look, I’m here to help. I’m going to get you online.”

Baldrick scoffed. He didn’t even own a computer! It wasn’t very refined, a grand old wizard like him, checking the Facespace or whatever it was the youth were using nowadays.

“Baldrick, it works. You’ve seen how good DarkestDesires.biz has been for my business!”

“You sell sex toys to freaks, is my understanding. Not my demographic.”

“We marital aids to people who want to bring the magick back to their bedroom, thank you,” said Voltaire, though he didn’t seem bothered. He brought out an iPad with a flourish, screen flashing the Darkest Desires landing page. “Your customers aren’t so different from mine, really.”

“I’m don’t think the kind of people who…” Baldrick trailed off, squinting at the screen. “What is that? A dog leash, for people?”

“‘His Master’s Vise,'” nodded Voltaire.

“This isn’t going to work for me.”

“It works for Fiona.”

The words hit Baldrick like a punch to the gut. “What…?”

“It works for Fiona!” Voltaire repeated, pulling open a page devoted to love and luck charms. “She’s making a killing now that we’ve partnered up.”

Baldrick was relieved that Voltaire meant e-commerce, not sex toys. He looked around his dusty shop, with pieces that hadn’t moved in months, then back to Voltaire. There was something about the man’s jaunty top hat that rubbed him the wrong way, bubbling the rage inside him.

“I will never work with a preening idiot like you,” hissed Baldrick. Voltaire opened his mouth to respond but was silenced by the surprising event of being turned into a handsome rattan settee.

“Hey, nice work, boss!” came the voice of Tony Pennuto, striding from the back of the shop towards the furniture formerly known as Voltaire.

“You simply must stop taking these long lunches,” Baldrick said with twinkling eyes.

Tony ignored this mandate – he always did – and motioned to the attractive midnight black setee. “Want me to stick this out back?”

“No,” replied Baldrick. “Deliver it to Fiona Pendragon in Marblehead. Address is in my Grimoire.”

“Sure, boss,” said Tony, wheeling the Voltaire piece out of sight on a dolly.

Baldrick surveyed his dusty little shop again, this time with pride. It was a shame to simply give away such a fine piece of furniture, but so what? There was always the Internet.