#FridayFlash: See How They Fall, Part Two

<– Read Part One

Part Two of See How They Fall, by JC Rosen

Photo by Russell Trow

“What the hell does this mean?” Rich stabbed a finger toward the letter his lawyer held.

“They won’t pay the insurance claim until the investigations conclude. You must be cleared of implication in the fire. Of course it won’t come to that.” Molly peered over her reading glasses and inquired blandly, “Will it, Rich?”

“Of course not!”

“Good. It’s an annoying delay, but unavoidable. If it becomes protracted beyond a reasonable period, we’ll take action.”

Shifting slightly, Rich responded, “How long is reasonable?”

Molly closed the folder. “That depends upon the arson and insurance investigations. Charging someone requires deciding the fire was caused deliberately. You said there’s no possibility of arson, so it shouldn’t take long.” She touched a keypad. As her secretary entered, Molly shook Rich’s hand. “My door is always open to you.”

Some kid in a suit was in his secretary’s office when he got to work. “Hank Paulson with Premiere Royal.” The kid handed him a business card. Rich read it and frowned. His insurance company had some child playing investigator?

“I understand a friend was in the unit when the fire began?” the boy asked as he set up his laptop in Rich’s office.

“My girlfriend, Michelle Napier. She lives with me.”

“Oh? I’m sure you were going to call us with that update.” Hank’s voice dropped to a confiding stage whisper. “I’ll just correct that on the policy.”

“Look, let me save you some time. I gave out four keys.” Rich ticked off his fingers. “My girlfriend, my secretary, my housekeeper, and my maintenance company.” He dropped his hand to the desk. “I’m good at brokering mergers. That makes people angry sometimes, but our security says there are no credible threats against me. My secretary prepared a memory stick with all the information.” He handed it over.

“Were you expecting any deliveries?” The keys on the kid’s keyboard stopped clicking as he looked over the documents. “Wait, I see it here. All deliveries are routed through your assistant, Ms. Sybil Dunmar. Did Ms. Napier do the same?”

“I don’t know if she had any,” Rich responded with a shrug.

“That’s fine, I’ll contact her today.” Rich fiddled with Hank’s card as the kid typed. Hank glanced up and fixed him with an intent look. “Is there anything I should be made aware of? Something not directly asked as yet?”

As yet? Rich shook his head.

“That’s all I need. You’re off the hook for now!” Hank’s laugh made Rich want to punch him. “I’ll contact you directly as needed. Just easier that way.” With a shiny smile, Hank waved as he left.

Just easier that way. Nothing about this was easy. The email from his accountant did little to put him at ease. So much of his money tied up in the house, now a pile of rubble. More invested in futures and underperforming. No, not easy at all.

He tried to focus as he typed an email to his project managers. Time to demand a meeting for an update. After the fiasco with the last account, he wasn’t taking any chances with the Stemple project.

Over dinner, Michelle told him she met with the insurance kid. “Nothing I didn’t expect,” she added between bites of her prime rib. “A few questions, a couple signatures.”

Rich’s brows lowered. “What did he make you sign?”

“A waiver and a copy of my statement.” Michelle lifted a shoulder slightly. “Why?”

“I just want to stay on top of it all.” Putting his fork down, Rich realized he’d been on edge since that annoying kid’s visit. “What would you like to do after dinner?” When she gave him that delicious smile, his mind fogged and he forgot to be upset.

After the meeting with his project managers the next morning, Rich checked his voicemail. The arson investigator, Kitterick, wanted to ask some questions. He said it would be best if they got together at the police station with Sergeant McClean. Sounds simple enough, Rich told himself a few times. Keep everyone in the loop this way. That’s all.

When McClean and Kitterick finally stopped tag-teaming him, the sergeant sneered, “Don’t leave the city.” Too wiped out and jittery from coffee to bite her head off, he lurched down the hallway to the restroom. Hours had passed in that close room, hours of coffee and “let’s take it from the top,” not allowing him basic relief. After washing his hands, Rich dampened a paper towel and wiped down his face.

“You know,” he heard a familiar voice growl, “we’re going to find the asshole who set the fire, Brandt. When we do, heaven help him.” Halfway to the door, the arson investigator paused. “You smoke, Brandt?”

Rich shook his head. “No. Quit last year.”

Kitterick barked a short laugh. “Go figure.” The door slammed behind him. Rich leaned against the sink and tried to settle his thoughts. The first clear one to emerge was his need to get out of the building to the safety of his office.

“Oh, Mr. Brandt, here you are,” Sybil’s voice quavered. “Mr. Barbrooke’s assistant called. Mr. Barbrooke wants to see you immediately. I know it’s late, but his assistant said he would be waiting.” The white showed in Sybil’s eyes as she gripped a tissue.  Rich checked his watch. What the hell was a VP doing here at 8:15 on a Friday?

“Thank you, Sybil. You can go home.” He handed her his briefcase and straightened his tie.

On the way back down in the executive elevator, Rich was oddly calm despite the ringing in his ears. Disjointed thoughts flit through his mind. His last time riding this elevator. Sybil would pack up his office. Would the Stemple account survive this? He didn’t care right now. He wondered if he’d care later. Perhaps when he woke up from the drunk he planned to pull on tonight.

#FridayFlash: See How They Fall, Part One

Flash Fiction by JC Rosen

Photo by “Cooperweb”

The Golden Boy, Rich had it all. Vice presidency assured, spacious brownstone in Georgetown secured, and the Jag was a gift in anticipation of the new account. When a mysterious bidder slipped in ahead of the bell, he watched in horror as the keys to the corner office were pulled out of reach. Sure, the board kept him on, but it was clear he’d never advance. At least he had the Jag free and clear. Cold comfort.

Michelle surprised him with a meal fit for a … well, a vice president. Her cheery acceptance of the sucker punch to his future elicited a few smiles from him. The bubble bath together in the cavernous bathtub after plastered one on. Loving after was a sweet intoxication. He sighed, wrapped in cool sheets and Michelle’s limbs. Maybe it wasn’t the end of his world.

“Mr. Brandt, you have a call.” Sybil’s shaky voice jarred him out of a fog. He shook it away. “It’s the police. Mr. Brandt, she says it’s an emergency at your home.”

“Brandt here.”

“Mr. Brandt, I’m Sergeant McClean. I’m afraid there’s been a fire at your residence. It’s serious. Please meet me there.” Her clipped tones set off a strange ringing in his ears.

“Of course, sergeant. I’ll leave immediately.” He hung up as he rose from his chair. “Sybil, emergency at home. Reschedule meetings and all that.” He heard her call out something generic as he left the office suite.

Pulling up in the Jag, he felt his shoulders slump. Black smoke choked out the view of his precious townhouse, writing its fate in the sky above. “You’re insured,” he whispered. “Calm down. You’re insured.” He blew out a breath, closing his eyes against the sight of loss. Michelle! He pushed past some yahoo with a badge. “I live here!” A sturdy blonde with a badge on a chain around her neck stepped forward and waved off the yahoo.

“Mr. Brandt, you need to stay back of the barriers.” Her gaze was hard and held him fast.

“Okay, okay, I get it. What happened here? My girlfriend – was she in there? Do you know anything?” His words rode roughshod over her useless police talk. Calm down? How the hell did she expect him to calm down, damn it? Stumbling, he suddenly realized she was herding him toward an ambulance. “I don’t need…” he protested as he rounded the open rear of the vehicle. Michelle sat in it, a blanket wrapping her safely, soot smudging her pretty face behind the oxygen mask. When she tried to pull the mask away, reaching for him, the paramedic pressed her back, replacing it.

“Don’t worry,” she rasped before her voice was swallowed. Yeah, that was going to happen. He’d just stop with the worrying.

“Stay here,” he pointed at her. He told the paramedic to take care of her as if she were his own girl and walked back to Sergeant McClean. “What happened?” he demanded, snapping his fingers.

“We won’t know until the arson investigators finish their work, Mr. Brandt. They can’t get in until the fire’s completely dealt with and the structure is shored up. Can you think of anyone who might do this?” She raised an eyebrow at his fingers, which stopped snapping and fell numb to his side.

“I … who would do this? I…  no, I don’t know who … what happened. It’s arson?” More ringing in his ears. The sergeant seemed to narrow her eyes for a moment before nodding.

“I’m sure we’ll find out what happened, Mr. Brandt. Of course, it’s a process. We’ll take your statement down at the station. The arson investigators will require your cooperation as well.”

“Of course, of course, whatever you need.” Rich bobbled his head as he babbled. “Anything I can do. Now? Does it have to be now?” He flung a hand in the direction of the shambles of his home and then toward the ambulance.

“I’ll get the preliminary questions out of the way here, but you can stay with your home. And with your girlfriend, of course.” She eyed him.

“Yes, good, yes. With Michelle.” He glanced at the ambulance and back. Rifling his fingers through his hair, he blinked several times. The ringing was quieting, his brain slowly unjumbling. “Okay. Okay. What can I do to help?”

After leading Rich toward a car as sturdy as she, she gestured to the back seat. He shook his head and leaned against the side panel. With a shrug, she began the “preliminary questions.” Expected guests, deliveries, who had access, who knew his schedule, ad nauseum. He thought she asked a few questions twice. The view of his now-soaked house made him queasy, but he couldn’t help watching.

“That’ll do for now, Mr. Brandt. I have your office number of course. Where can I contact you otherwise?”

“I’ll… I guess I’ll stay at the Avenue Suites.” He gave her his card with the cell number.

Helping Michelle into the Jag the next morning, he winced slightly at how pale her caramel complexion was. “I have everything set up at the hotel. There’s a nice boutique nearby.” He smirked at her as they pulled away from the hospital. “I’m sure you know where all the good shops are downtown anyway.” Her laugh was hoarse but her eyes sparkled. He’d done his own shopping, having two new suits tailored before delivery last night. He bristled at not having his custom made suits, but they would do. “You have my credit card, so get what you need. Hell, get whatever you want. I’m insured.”

#FridayFlash FlashFic: Family Ring

Photo by Mauro Cateb

Photo by Mauro Cateb

Clean laundry mixed with dirty as Siobhan tossed clothing over her shoulder. No time to waste. How had she misplaced it today of all days?

“Looking for this?” Michael stormed in, holding out the ring. “I took it back when I learned your secret!” He sneered as he tucked the ring into his jacket pocket.

“What secret?” she asked with a far calmer voice than she expected.

“Old Lady Semple told me you know what that ring is worth now. You only want it because it’s valuable, not because of what it means to me!” Michael bristled.

“Aw honey,” cajoled Siobhan. “Mrs. Semple knew your grandmother. She told me how your grandma valued the ring, a gift from your grandfather’s mother.” Siobhan dared to brush a hand over Michael’s arm. When he didn’t jerk away, she smiled a little. “You gave a special family ring to me. You made me family. That’s valuable beyond measure.” She faked a gulp. “Does this mean you’re taking my family away?”

Michael wilted into a chair. Digging the ring out of his pocket, he held it up into the fading light. It glimmered, a silver band with a silver wire wrapped around it. Ancient symbols were inscribed inside. Michael thought it was Gaelic and full of romance. She knew better. Glancing at the window, she grit her teeth. She had to play this just right.

“Please, Michael, don’t do this. Let me be family again. It means so much to me to be part of you, to wear the symbol of your acceptance.” She eyed him. He nodded quietly in the dim room.

Swallowing a sigh, she held out her hand. As he reached out to her, proffering the coveted ring, she felt the too-familiar tingle in her belly, the strain on her cuticles. Siobhan snatched the ring from Michael’s palm and tried to jam it onto her finger, but it was too late.

She felt her dress shred as her spine lengthened and her body filled out. Her fingers grew with thick knuckles, claws at their tips. She retained enough humanity to catch a glance at Michael’s pale face, the whites of his eyes showing. His mouth was open. If he screamed, she couldn’t hear it above the Change.

Fever dreams, full of heavy scents and thick, rich textures, chased the beast through the night. Wanton destruction and a hunger nearly sated drove her on toward dawn, when the beast finally lay down. She rose from the makeshift bed, wincing as she moved. The fetid scents of mud, blood and viscera attacked her. Painted in them, she couldn’t get away from it, and her gorge rose. Spasms racked her body until it emptied itself of things she’d rather not try to name.

The overcast dawn clothed her in shadows. She picked her way through the woods behind Michael’s house, their home, and bustled up the back stairs. Shaking her head, trying to clear it of the night’s after effects, all she could think was the word “shower.” Padding down the hallway toward their room, she skidded on a damp spot. A pool of dark stickiness. Her hand flew to her mouth. She turned toward their room. Already knowing, she made herself look through the open door. What was left of Michael still sat in the chair. His head lay at an odd angle to his carved out body. Bits and shreds of skin and what looked like part of his liver sat in his lap along with tufts of chair stuffing. His heart had been chewed out. Siobhan ran to the bathroom and vomited until she dry heaved.

Mrs. Semple picked up immediately. “I didn’t get the ring back in time, Mary.” Silence on the other end. The old lady was going to make her say it. “It’s Michael. I need a cleaning team.”

“We’ll be along shortly, girl. Get yourself cleaned up and for heaven’s sake, put that ring on.”

 

I May Have Been Premature

Reports of my returned health were greatly exaggerated. In fact the last two months or so have been ridiculously difficult. Seventeen days inpatient over the last month, in fact. More on the way, perhaps. Keeping a good but pragmatic thought.

I pulled out the manuscript to Book 1 and am back into the revisions as time and strength permit. An idea for a flash is brewing, so I hope to write it tomorrow and post on Friday. All in all, positive signs for getting into the swing of things once again. A relief.

By the grace of a good friend, I will have a new-to-me laptop soon! It means I’ll be able to write while inpatient, brain fogged by painkillers permitting. Hey, maybe the fogginess will bring about great stories, who knows? I’m definitely willing to find out.

Thank you for your support and encouragement. Makes this process much easier to bear. I hope you and yours are well and stay that way.

Take care,

JC

P.S. I’m considering once I’m well starting up a writing review blog. I’d be open to most forms of writing and interested in guest reviews. Are there already too many review blogs? What do you think about it? Thanks.

Thanks a Bunch

Dear Readers,

Thanks a bunch for being so supportive while I’ve been ill. One thing after another, dogpiling onto the ten white cells in my immune system. Those white cells are exhausted! Just out of the hospital, I’m trying to come back fighting. Please know I haven’t abandoned you, writing, or this blog.

I hope you and yours are well. I’d love it if you left a comment letting me know what’s up with you should you feel so moved.

Take care,

JC

#FridayFlash: Heaven’s Veil (#amwriting post)

This week’s #FridayFlash is an encore of my story “Heaven’s Veil” and is a guest post on the #amwriting site.

You can find it (and I hope you will) on this page. Thanks!

Take care,

JC

#FridayFlash: The Little Library

Flash Fiction for #FridayFlash by JC Rosen

Photo by Pete

July 4th was a week gone, but Travis still had fireworks. His mother was all, “You’re not setting those off here.” We laughed when Travis acted out his mom. He was a riot. Problem was no way could we go to any of our houses with the fireworks, either. Someone would call Sheriff O’Bannon. We didn’t need him up in our business.

Brian picked the Milford place. It was for sale, had been since last summer. This year they weren’t even taking care of the lawn. The place had that empty-a-long-time look now. “How do we get in?” quavered Polly.

Brian dug into his pocket and pulled out a couple thin metal sticks. “I have a key,” he grinned. Travis bumped knuckles with him and Clay laughed. Polly gave me a look, but I shrugged it off.

The Milford place was way out on the edge of town. Travis set off his bottle rockets and stuff. The boys jumped around. Polly and I clapped. In Elksville, this was an exciting day. Breaking into the house made it more exciting. Brian fiddled with the lock on the back door and a long minute later, turned the handle. We piled in, kicking up dust and coughing.

The place was deserted, but the old furniture was still there. I tried to ignore the scuttling in the walls. Chills shook me and my tummy flipped. I went to Polly, who stood in the middle of the living room with her arms wrapped tightly around her middle. Her eyes were big and blue, the whites showing around them. “When can we leave, Laurie?” I shook my head. We always did things as a group. She whispered, “I don’t like it here.”

“It’s gross,” I nodded. Polly gave me an odd look, kind of impatient, and she walked back to the door. The boys were off exploring upstairs. I was pretty sure I heard one of them treating a bed like a trampoline. This was going to take a while.

Bookcases lined the walls of the living room, making it a small library. My favorite place in town was the library, but this one had books I never saw before. I ran my hand over the spines of a bunch of leather bound books labeled Harvard Classics and sighed. One day I would own a library like this. I twirled, taking in the view of all the books, hundreds of them, and sighed again. A moaning sound undercut my sigh, joining in.

Cold wound around my belly before washing through me. I felt my long hair rustle as it passed by. Scared, I tried to shake the feeling off. I wanted to bolt from the room when a book fell off a shelf. It landed so hard, I jumped like a gunshot went off. Automatically, I bent to pick it up. As I did, the shelf emptied itself, books bouncing off the back of my head and shoulders, knocking me down to the floor.

“Are you okay?” Polly’s anxious voice came from the back of the house, nearly a shriek.

“I’m good, Polly. Ready to go?” My voice was strong, even confident. I had not opened my mouth to speak, though. My voice came from the bookcase. I looked up and stared, a silent scream in my throat.

“Yes, oh yes, Laurie, let’s go!” Polly cried. While I got up, I heard her calling for the boys. She yelled their names to be heard above the racket they made. As though I rushed through a long tunnel, I stepped toward the sinister bookcase, my friends’ voices dimming in the distance. I stood before it, resting a hand on the now-empty shelf, casually kicking the books away. Inwardly, I marveled at my calm, at my knowing what to do.

“Release me.” The whisper lingered on the air of the empty room, soaking into me until my insides trembled. “Release me.”

I reached out my hand. I pressed the palm against the wall. There was an answering pressure. As I took my hand away, I could see the imprint of a hand against the other side of the wall. I gulped and tried to turn away, to run away. My feet were rooted. Whipping back to stare at the impossible handprint, I saw it fade.

Unearthly cold filled me, slow and true, from my belly out. I was shut aside, somehow pushed away in my own mind. My vision hazed and another’s vision cleared. I watched as the other tested moving hands, then feet. Her glory flowed through me, spiking my fear.

“Polly,” I heardfelt myself say. “Send Clay to fetch Sheriff O’Bannon. Quickly now.” My voice was harsh, hurried and deep. Through a distorted lens, I saw Polly wring her hands and back away, then flee up the stairs. Clay came down, stared at me and was off like he had a butt full of birdshot.

“Laurie,” I feltheard this other speak to me. “I can’t sustain this. You must tell Sheriff O’Bannon I am Anita Milford. I did not run off with that carpenter. My husband killed me. My body is in that wall.” I felt the other weep and weaken. “Tell the sheriff… if he doesn’t believe say he was called Rooster and I never forgot his kiss under the bleachers.”

We collapsed.

Next I knew, Dr. Rooney was waving some hateful stink under my nose and I tried to scramble away. Sheriff O’Bannon’s face loomed close. “Okay now, Laurie?”

“She’s in the wall,” I forced out in a whisper. “Anita Milford. She’s in the wall.” His eyebrows frowned. “She said you’re Rooster and you kissed her under some bleachers. Mr. Milford killed her and put her in the wall.” The sheriff swallowed hard.

They all jumped when a big sigh came out and swirled around the room. I just lay there, tension seeping away at her relief.

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