The NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Contest is my favorite writing contest. In fact, it is the only writing contest I consistently enter. You are given a genre, a location, and an object for your story, and 48 hours in which to write your piece. My 48 hours happened to coincide with a combination funeral and family reunion in Canada, and much of the following piece was written in a dark barn, with chickens clucking at me from a coop and a storm raging outside. This is actually true. It was the best place the hotel could find for me where I could use both my vape and my computer out of the wet. It was an atmosphere surprisingly conducive to writing.
This time, my assignment was as follows:
Genre: Crime Caper
Location: A hotel parking lot
Object: a sleeping pill
The Three-Way Split
When Mikey is hired to get blackmail material on a business executive, it looks like easy money. But then things go badly wrong.
It was easy money. Fontaine, a man with diverse business interests, wanted a certain merger to come off. One of the guys on the board, Preston, was planning to cast a swing vote against the merger. Fontaine had hired us to arrange a compromising photo shoot with Preston in the lead role. We’d hired Fernando, the most compromising person we knew. Now, Fernando was inside the hotel where Preston was staying, getting gussied up; Harman and I were in the hotel parking lot in Harman’s rusty old Chevy, waiting.
“You put it in the—“
“In the coffee, yeah. Guy drinks coffee before bed. To help him sleep.” Harman chuckled and shook his head.
“He’ll sleep good tonight,” I said.
“You think?” Harman opened his pill case and stirred the contents with a fat finger. “I think I’ll have some — oh shit.”
“The sleeping pill is still here.”
“Then.” I took a deep breath. “What did you slip Preston?”
“Gotta think. E—check. Acid—check. Klonopin—“ he broke off to swallow the klonopin. “Check. Amphetamine—check.“ He turned pale. “Mikey. It musta been the PCP.”
I was going to say something—lots of things—but I didn’t get the chance.
There was the noise of breaking glass, and a screaming figure hurtled out of a second-floor window of the hotel, landing an instant later in a rosebush. It unscrambled itself rapidly and sprinted wildly across the parking lot.
Harman and I ran after him. We were closing when Preston turned to face us. His eyes were full of a blank alarm; his body was in constant, twitching motion. It made me feel ill looking at him. Being him was probably worse.
Preston howled and pounced. A cascade of objects fell from his pockets as he flew towards Harman and sent him sprawling. Then he was off again, running into the darkness beyond the parking lot’s lights.
I trotted after him for a few steps, and then stopped. No point. The plan was a bust. I called Fernando.
“Mikey, darrrrling,” purred Fernando. “Sleeping Beauty ready for his photo op?”
“Sleeping Beauty isn’t sleeping. It’s off.”
“Stood up!” Fernando was High Tragedy. “Discarded! But you know honey,” and suddenly his voice was all business, “you still owe me for my time. Plus my cancellation fee.”
“I don’t make the rules, precious. Let’s see… no sex, so the discounted rate of one ten an hour; at two hours, that’s two twenty. Add the cancellation fee— three hundred. And two ten for the room. That’s…“ and I heard him pretending he couldn’t do math. “Five hundred and ten bucks, due upon receipt of bill.”
“Receipt of bill?”
“But Fontaine said he’d handle payment personally.”
“I doubt that still holds good, sweetness. Not if you’ve botched the job. Have you?”
“I guess you could say that.” Sweat was forming on my brow. “Yeah.”
“Oh dear,” clucked Fernando. “Then I must insist on immediate payment.”
“Things happen to people who disappoint Fontaine, darling. They disappear. And Preston’s sudden change of mind—totally out of the blue, and against the man’s own financial interests—has put Fontaine into quite a state. So you’ll pay me now.”
I had fifty bucks in my bank account and a twenty in my pocket. That was it.
“Try hard, darling. Ta-ta!”
I walked over to where Harman was slowly getting to his feet.
“How much money you got?” I asked.
“I mean in the bank.”
“Oh.” And I briefly outlined the position.
“Let’s get out of town,” Harman said, already clambering into the Chevy.
“No you don’t, my love,” said a voice like musical steel. We turned.
Fernando was standing in a shadowy spot about twenty yards off. His patent-leather get-up gleamed strangely in the dark. He held his Glock like he knew how to use it. When he saw us looking, he smiled, and walked slowly towards us. His hips undulated hypnotically as he moved, but the gun stayed steady. I don’t think he could have walked any other way. Fernando was class, and he was always on.
“I insist,” Fernando purred, “that you pay me first.”
“You won’t shoot us.” Sweat was running down my forehead and into my eyes. Fernando and I looked at each other for a silent moment, while the gun stayed steady. Then he laughed. The gun vanished, replaced in an instant by a cell phone.
“Shooting people in cold blood is déclassé anyway,” he said. “But I can call Fontaine and tell on you. And I will, unless you pay me.”
“I’m in deep debt to some very bad boys. I need that money.” He tapped at his phone.
“Wait!” I said. I’d been staring at the things that had fallen out of Preston’s pockets. Now I picked up his car keys. “I’ve been thinking. You said Preston suddenly decided to vote against Fontaine, even though Preston, too, would benefit financially from the merger?”
“That’s what I heard.”
Fernando sighed. “I have a thing—pleasure, not business–with one of Fontaine’s secretaries. He told me about it when we met for lunch.”
“Did he say why Preston changed his mind?”
Fernando shrugged. “No-one knows.”
“I know,” I said, hoping I was right. “He was bribed. And he must’ve been bribed in cash.”
“He’ll lose a bunch of money on paper by voting against Fontaine. I’m betting he’d only do that if he wanted to convert some of his legitimate money into unmarked bills. And if I’m right—“ I hit a button on the fob. Nearby, the trunk of an exquisite new Jag opened silently. Inside was a battered old suitcase. And inside that—
“Dear sweet mother of Jesus,” breathed Fernando. I think he crossed himself. He was pretty overwrought. We all were.
“Split three ways, I think. And then we three split.”
And that is exactly what we did.