Oh, and Colors Like Memories is still free. (Yeah, I can't help the shameless plug...)
So, my writing group had a little fun with writing prompts this month, and I finally had a moment to write something up. I thought I'd post it here, just for fun. It's a little longer than I'd planned, but oh well. Also, I set out to write something kind of funny and upbeat, and well, that obviously didn't happen. Oops? ;)
· Write a story about a main character who is being blackmailed to try and ruin someone’s holiday. Why does this happen? Who is blackmailing him or her? Can he or she actually go through with the plan?
The first note arrived, words cut out in bright magazine fonts and pasted together, and she
But the question was, who? She gave it a few minutes thought in the shower, in between making her grocery list and planning how to introduce herself to her new boss. Later in the car, she had to repeat a whole chapter of her audiobook.
The threat, included in the letter in the miss-matched wording in bright purple and green, spelled out what would happen if she missed the first step: send a blank email to an email address. It seemed harmless enough. But while sitting at her desk, lining her pens up from tallest to shortest, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
It was just a prank.
Her curiosity was a living thing with the niggle of wonder at who went to that much effort to get her to do something so simple. And the cost? That was even more ridiculous. Nothing would happen to her car. The garage she’d parked in for ten years was secure. She knew Gus, the man hired to patrol. He’d never let anything happen.
But her self assurances didn’t get her car to start that evening. The garage felt like it had been constructed from ice, like the photos she’d seen of those places in Norway. Or was it Sweden? Not that it mattered. Her feet froze as she waited for the AAA guy to show up and give her a jump.
It took an hour. She took her frustration out on the treadmill.
Once home, she made a list. Everyone who might have ever been pissed off at her over the years. It wasn’t long. She worked mostly alone. Her clients never had any idea she’d put in the hours behind the reports they saw.
Tapping her nails on her kitchen counter, she stared down at the names. The one at the top was the only one she kept circling back to. That wouldn’t leave her alone.
But surely her sister had better things to do than put something together like this. She had that studio, now, didn’t she? And a child. There couldn’t be hours in her day to cut out all those words. To ruin her car battery.
A little Internet snooping left her certain her sister was hearty and whole. She had a billion Facebook posts to prove it. A niece she’d never met to tend to. And art shows in San Francisco, London, and New York.
How long she spent staring at her sister’s smiling face, at her niece cuddled in her arms, she didn’t know. It was long enough that she missed her normal bedtime.
But before she went to rest she opened her private email, carefully copied in the email address from the note, and sent it. Blank. Just like the letter said.
She didn’t need any more trouble. With the New Year approaching, things were too busy. Three reports due in less than a week. Any chance of a free moment in the near future wasn’t conceivable. Which was just how she liked it.
The next morning, her phone dinged with an email, waking her a full minute before her alarm.
She reached out from under the thick pile of blankets, her hand slapping blindly along the nightstand until she found the device, pulling it into her cave to read.
There was a response from the blank email.
She held the phone motionless, finger hovering over the message, until the alarm started and she screamed, tossing it away from her.
Sighing at her own stupidity, she picked it back up, and opened the message.
The email’s lettering was at least uniform and easy to read. But it took three read-throughs for the full meaning to come clear.
Swearing, she pushed back the blankets to sit up.
This had to be a mistake. Something stupid. Someone stupid.
Not a harmless prank. Those few words made that clear.
Her hands shook as she dialed into work. It didn’t take much effort to sound ill. Stomach heaving, head pounding, palms sweating—if she didn’t know better, she’d think the flu had found her.
Call the cops? Send another email? Call her parents? A million thoughts wound through her mind, creating a net that caught her firmly in its grasp. There was nowhere to turn.
It took three laps of her ground floor, a shower, and carefully chosen clothes, for her to pick up her phone again. This time it was to dial a number she hadn’t called in at least ten years. Not since The Fight. It was labeled in all caps in her mental filing cabinet.
Three rings and she almost hung up. She didn’t want to speak with her sister. Didn’t want anything to do with her life. The woman was trouble. Always had been. But she didn’t want any harm to come to her either.
The voice that answered was far too young to belong to anyone she knew. Her niece?
“Is your mother available?” She wasn’t able to put up any pleasantries with the girl.
“Let me get her!” So cheerful.
The phone clattered onto some flat surface and footsteps receded. She stared out her kitchen window to the house across the narrow divide. The owners had painted it a noxious shade of blue two years ago. Someone really ought to see if the HOA allowed that kind of thing.
Static filled her ear and she jerked away from her phone. Almost hung up. Then a series of clicks and a voice came through. Deep. Male. Definitely not her sister.
Had she found someone? The father of her child, perhaps?
“Don’t hang up. Listen to my instructions carefully. They will not be repeated.”
Her stomach heaved. “O-okay.”
The instructions were simple. The amount. The drop. The assurance that all would be forgotten once they received it.
She swore no cops would be brought it, crossing her fingers behind her back.
Notes filled a page of her neat stationary she only ever used for grocery lists. Her handwriting was almost illegible, she noted with a half-hysterical laugh once the man hung up.
She glanced at the calendar. New Year’s Eve. She’d be lucky if her bank was open. It took a few minutes, and copious amounts of water splashed on her face, before she brought up her broker’s number. He made enough off her account every year that even if he wasn’t at work, she’d call him at home. She wouldn’t even feel bad about it—not today. Not with this situation.
Or at least that’s what she told herself.
A brief conversation, with clipped and careful directions, and she hung up. There were still a few hours before the half-day at the bank closed. She would make it, no problem.
Dressed in far more casual clothes than normal—a skirt and heels did not allow for her plans—and she settled into her leather seats. Driving was a blur, something she realized with a chagrined shake of her head. Today was not the day to dwell on poor driving.
The bank was empty with the exception of the teller who flipped through a magazine behind the counter. She strode through the elegant entry and toward the tall doors that led to the offices at the back.
Her broker waited for her there. He held out a hand, his Rolex winking on his wrist. How much of that watch had her money purchased?
Despite everything, she’d chosen him for his eyes. The honest way he looked at her. The openness he used in addressing her and her plans. He never condescended. Never for a moment didn’t realize she knew what she was doing.
The door closed to his office with a click. “What’s wrong?” he asked in a low voice, touching her shoulder to gain her attention.
She’d been focused on the new painting on the wall. It was bright—reds and yellows and a brilliant shock of orange. She liked it.
Shying away from his touch—giving him a little frown at the forwardness of his action. “Nothing. Do you have the requested funds?”
With a sigh that she only noticed because he did it when she insisted on a course of action he didn’t agree with, he slipped behind his desk. The glass top was just as organized as hers, another point in his favor.
“If you’re in trouble, you can tell me. I’ll do what I can to help.” Again with the honest eyes.
She wondered, not for the first time, if he’d mastered that look, using it against men and women like a secret weapon. “Nothing is the matter. Something’s come up.” She settled into the wingback and crossed her ankles.
His motions to pull the box from his cabinet were jerky. Barely controlled. She noticed this and tried to think it was because he didn’t agree with what she was doing. Not that he had a choice. It was her money. She could do as she pleased.
“You know I’d help with anything you asked, don’t you?”
It was the emotion in his tone that drew her eyes away from the painting this time. The way he emphasized the ‘you’. It caught at some part of her that she hardly recognized.
Looking up to meet his stare, blue and clear, she reminded herself that this was just another way he made his clients trust him with their money. It worked. And she wouldn’t fall for it.
“Thank you.” She opened the box, did a quick count, then signed the paperwork he shoved across the glass.
Without a word she settled the box, surprisingly heavier than she expected, into the bag she’d brought. She rose and went to the door without another word.
His hand on her shoulder—two touches in ten minutes? What had gotten into him?—and she paused.
The rest of his words were lost in the swirl of her thoughts. How could he ask her something like this? Now, of all times? Didn’t he see enough of her with her monthly money meetings?
With a polite smile and excuse, she bowed out of the office. In her car, she made a quick reminder on her phone to find another broker. The idea didn’t sit well with her, but she didn’t know why. It didn’t matter, either.
The drop wasn’t hard. It took her two hours to drive to the city where her sister lived. The roads were clear and she even found herself enjoying the snow on the hills, the crisp sunshine, the lack of buildings surrounding her. How many years had it been since she escaped the city? Three at least. Maybe more.
Her GPS gave her specific instructions to get to her location. She half-wondered if the woman in the system wondered what the hell she was doing, driving here.
She circled the block twice, ensuring everything was in place. Then she pulled into an abandoned driveway between two defunct factory buildings with windows like broken teeth. She settled the leather backpack into the ancient coal chute. It had been cleaned recently, with none of the paint or grime that coated the rest of the building. The bag slid inside with a satisfying thump and she turned and hurried back to her car.
There, she squealed the tires in her hurry to escape.
She didn’t go far.
A half an hour later, she waited in the building across the street. The owners were gone for the day. Breaking in hadn’t been difficult, despite the bars on the windows and the alarm system.
The curtains there provided the perfect cover and vantage point. She’d been followed all day, to her bank, to the drop site. But then the blackmailers got sloppy. They assumed she’d hurry home to cower.
Of course they did.
That was exactly what she spent years making them assume. Everyone assume.
The tall, broad-shouldered man in the dark coat who emerged with her backpack tucked under his arm did peek around the door, scanning up and down the empty street before he stepped outside. A younger man, too skinny in jeans that looked like they’d been painted on, followed him.
Neither of them knew what hit them.
The cops would later assume it was a robbery gone wrong. There was no money. Just two bodies. A single bullet. One was known as a loan shark, threatening everyone who borrowed money and couldn’t pay it back with his exorbitant interest.
No one would miss them.
As she settled into bed that night, the empty box stowed in her garage after a surreptitious trip to her sister’s place, she glanced at her phone. The to-do list reminded her of the things she’d forgotten today. The long hours ahead of her to get caught back up at work.
But the last item, the one added after her trip to the bank, that one she erased. For a minute, she thought about adding something new, something that might allow her to remove the caps on The Fight’s listing in her mind. Instead, she clicked off her phone and set it next to her bed. They would have a much happier New Year without her in their lives.