So. Chuck Wendig has issued a flash fiction challenge and I have answered the call. In (what I hope to be) spectacular fashion. Ahem. Full story after the jump …
The Amethyst Murders
The rain-soaked street is bathed in orange and red lights, blue and whites here and there. A cold lake wind carries a flurry of voices, all of them high pitched and frantic. Reporters crawl the block like ants.
“One person is dead after a shocking attack in Midtown early this morning—”
“Early reports indicate this is the latest in a string of brutal slayings—”
“—may be the work of the same killer—”
An officer lifts the tape for a slender woman—the detective—followed closely by the coroner.
He’s chatting her ear off; she’s mildly amused, but her smile disappears when she sees the body. This one’s a businessman, a suit from the Upper East Side, still dressed in his pinstripes and red silk tie disappearing into the bloodstained shirt that’s been split open right across his gut.
The coroner’s chatting abates only momentarily. He points his pen at the man’s stomach, gestures wildly at the ground around the body. The detective kneels. She picks something up and holds it to the light.
She squints a little but when the light hits it, it’s obvious, even smattered as it is in the man’s blood. The shimmering purple sparks are unmistakable.
Another one. She’s certain now.
Across the street, at a bench at the edge of the park, a slim figure in a long red coat stands, observing the chaos unnoticed for a moment before heading off toward the lake.
Nestled in Upper East Side is a grand hotel with a sweeping view of the lake. The higher floors are apartments, but most people wouldn’t know what they look like. Inside one of them dances a shapely woman with light brown skin, black hair and dark eyes. A radio churns out Ella Fitzgerald’s latest hit, and the woman’s deep voice croons along with the tune.
In one hand she cradles a lowball of scotch, the best in the city, certainly not made in some chump’s bathtub.
The track stops abruptly at her favorite part and she scoffs, annoyed at the inconvenience. A reporter comes over the waves, his voice equal parts shock and excitement.
“We interrupt this programming to inform you police have issued a statement regarding the body found in Midtown this morning. A department spokesman confirms this as the work of the serial killer that has terrorized the city for weeks. The victim, 31-year-old investment banker Eugene—”
She switches off the radio and turns to the windows. Her sitting room faces the lake, one wall covered in floor-to-ceiling windows. She watches street lights flicker on, checks the grandfather clock standing in the corner. Almost time to go.
It’s New Year’s Eve and anyone who is anyone will be at the Grays’ party. It’s absurd by any standards, more production than party, and she would be crazy to miss it.
She navigates the crowd with the ease of old money, parting the crowd as Moses parted the sea. A knotted strand of pearls cascades down her back, ending in tassels of amethysts and diamonds. Her earrings echo the detail.
“Miss Harper, you are a vision.” A man in all black appears before her.
“You look quite dapper yourself, Mr Gray,” she replies. “Just call me Adra.”
“As soon as you just call me John,” he smiles. “Cig?”
Adra accepts and they head for the balcony, drinks in hand. They talk for much longer than it takes to smoke one cigarette. They talk about business and politics and they talk about the murders. She doesn’t have much to say about those and is glad when someone starts a countdown.
It’s midnight and fireworks explode over the lake.
At home the next morning, Adra’s normally even-keeled voice is hurried, breaking here and there as she storms around the house waving a lit cigarette. The doorman stands nervously in front of her apartment door, unsure whether to leave or stay, sit or stand.
“Really, Mister Germain, I was very specific in my instructions. I cannot see what was so difficult to comprehend.”
“Miss Harper, I thought—”
“That is precisely the problem here, Mister Germain. I do not pay you to think. I pay you to do what I say and keep your mouth shut about it. I’ll be lucky if the police don’t break my door down before the night’s out.
“Just,” she huffs. She takes a drag and lets the smoke roll out and curl around her. “Just get the hell out.”
“Ma’am.” Germain bolts from the room before she can change her mind.
Earlier he’d meant to take her cleaning to the usual lady, a woman whose name had been on the Harpers’ books for decades. But she’d been out for the day, so Germain took it to someone else—a stranger—who easily identified the odd smattering of stains across the front of the dress, and had no incentive to keep quiet.
She notified the police, who alerted the detective now standing outside Adra’s building. In a few moments, a rattled Germain arrives back at Adra’s door, accompanied by the detective. He waits to hear her hand on the doorknob, then races down the hall, leaving the detective alone and entirely unprepared.
The face greeting the detective is her own. The last thing she sees is Adra’s smile before details blur and colors fade and she’s falling, falling,
The street is bathed in orange and red, blue and whites here and there. The lakefront hotel is surrounded by police and reporters and this time the Captain shows up. He’s wandering the crime scene, shouting for the lead detective.
Adra appears in the fray. She’s wearing a dead woman’s clothes and her makeup is sparse but it’s her. No one seems to know the difference. The Captain approaches, anxious and angry.
“Damn it, O’Banion, don’t disappear on me like that,” he scolds. “What’s the situation up there?”
A smile flashes on Adra’s face only for a second. “Looks like victim number four, sir,” she says. “Adra Harper.”