That cheeky penmonkey, Chuck Wendig, sets regular flash fiction challenges, generally around 1,000 words to a prompt. If you'd like to have a much shorter piece of flash fiction published online and raved about, you might like this opportunity on my site
Chuck's challenge this week was to use a random number generator to pick one of 21 awful stock photos and write a story.
My number was 21 which was this beauty:
A crazy picture deserves a crazy story, and a dame with a gun can only lead to the mean streets of noir.
MC Productions Presents:
A Bad Day For Bernard
She was beautiful. Not like an oil painting is beautiful or a sunset or even a car. She was beautiful the way a sip of twenty-five year old whisky tastes at three in the morning on a long cold stakeout in January. The moment she walked into my office, a pulse of pure pleasure surged through me, and the warm glow in the pit of my stomach settled in and made itself right at home.
I remember the time exactly – four O’clock – because I’d just finished feeding my goldfish. “One of these days, Bernard” I muttered, “I’m going to have to get you an aquarium.” I told myself the same thing every day. And every day I figured he was happy just swimming around in the deep sea diving helmet. It was a gift from an old client. And when I say ‘gift’, I mean ‘bequest’. It had been easy to turn it upside down and use it as a fish bowl. The hardest part was getting the guy’s head out first.
I was just putting away the fish food when she knocked on the door. I tilted my head to one side. “A slim lady,” I said, “about five ten in her stockinged feet and six four in the Manolo’s she wears to the office, where she works in the Human Resources Department, and although her full name is Alison she likes people to call her ‘Ally’.” I raised my voice. “Come in.”
The door swung open and she stepped into the room, planting her six inch heels deeply into my heart strings. I’ll never forget her first words: “Why is your head tilted like that? Are you having a seizure?”
“Not as far as I know,” I drawled, “it’s just the only way I can see the CCTV screen.”
“So that’s how you knew my name,” she said, sliding herself onto the chair I thoughtfully provide for clients. “I heard you through the door.”
“People who eavesdrop,” I said, “rarely hear the guy sneaking up behind them with a sock full of sand and a lack of emotional intelligence.”
She raised her eyebrows. “I’ll bear that in mind. But why a sock full of-”
“It’s a homemade weapon lady. A poor man’s cosh.” I walked over to my desk and leaned against the edge, playing it cool. But when I looked into her dark eyes, my jaw dropped to the floor. I really should put it in the glass case with the rest of my bone collection. I kicked it under the desk.
“Listen,” I said, “I’m a busy guy. How about we cut to the chase.”
She looked thoughtful. “Okay,” she said, leaping to her feet.
I stopped her on her third lap of the office. “It’s a metaphor lady, it means we should get to the point.”
“Oh,” she said, “I wondered why you weren’t joining in.” She straightened her blouse, though I’d liked it a lot better crooked. She sat down, crossing her legs, and the rustle of silk sent a shiver up my spine and straight into my cerebellum. Suddenly dizzy, I sat down at my desk and steepled my fingers.
“My, what a lot of fingers,” she said.
“Yeah they were a gift from a client. And when I say ‘gift’ I mean, ‘payment in kind’.” I smiled to let her know I wasn’t joking, and figured it was time we moved onto the main course. I opened my desk drawer and took out my emergency rations. “Drink?” I asked, showing her the bottle. “They call it Scotch but they make it in China from recycled industrial waste, like everything else over there.”
“That’s a cheap shot,” she said.
I poured generously into a couple of mugs and handed her the smallest one. “Amen to that.”
She took a sip, and when she finished coughing, she told me the whole story. Now, at this point a lot of PI’s take notes, but I prefer to let the whole thing wash over me whilst I figure out how much I can charge and what my chances of catching them are if they don’t pay up. When she finished her tale with the traditional pitiful sob, I grabbed my gun and jumped to my feet. “Okay,” I yelled, “just tell me where those goddamned Nazis are and I’ll foil their plot to flee France and steal New Jersey.”
“What?” she cried. “The problem is my best friend Nancy – she’s stolen my fiancée, Neil Jeremy.”
I sat down. “That’s how the problem appears to you,” I said, making air quotes with my fingers, “but I’m a trained investigator.”
“I wish you’d put those fingers down,” she said. “I had sausages for lunch.”
I dropped the digits and stood up, toppling my chair. I walking slowly towards her until I could smell her deodorant, which wasn’t working as well as it should. “Listen,” I said, “what do you say we forget this case and get straight to the sexual harassment?”
She pursed her lips. “Fine,” she said, “you stupid bitch.”
I shook my head. “That’s not what I-”
“Oh dear,” she sneered, “can’t your poor little man-brain follow what I’m saying? Maybe you should stop worrying about it and make yourself pretty. I might take you out to have your nails done.”
I hesitated. To tell you the truth, my nails were a little shabby, and I knew a Korean manicurist who owed me a buff and a polish. But it was time to talk turkey. “Calm down sister,” I said, “I’m a feminist too.”
“Don’t patronise me,” she snapped. And before I could stop her, she’d grabbed my gun and she had Bernard by the tail. “Now are you going to help me or not?”
“Fine,” I said, “I’ll set up a honey trap for Nancy and make sure Neil gets the photos, okay?”
She nodded, replaced Bernard and shook my hand.
And that children, is why the goldfish hides when your Mother come home.