Monday, October 20, 2008

Flash Fiction Challenge

The challenge was to create a story using the line, "I have been faithful to you, Cynara in my fashion" or "Call no woman respectable until she's dead." Both lines come from a 1932 Kay Francis movie called Cynara. Here are the resulting stories: Rogers and John McAuley)

By Patricia Abbott

"I have been faithful to you, Cynara, in my fashion."

It was an arresting sentiment, but the note was printed in dull font on cheap paper.

I read the sentence a dozen times as I stood at the foot of the stairs. The elderly female lying dead on the marble floor was a scrub woman and the note had been found crumbled in her pocket. I looked around. The once-chic, single-family house with marble floors and walnut wainscoting had been turned into five mid-sized, middle-income apartments in the nineties. It had been this woman’s job to clean the common areas. A bucket lay overturned but the water had dried up.

“What do you think?” I asked the forensics guy. “Heart attack? Tripped and took a tumble?’

“Only if she fell after she was shot,” he said, lifting the body enough for me to spot the hole in her back.

“Who called it in?”

He nodded toward a young woman perched on the top step. “She runs every morning at seven, gets back by nine, then takes off for work. Today it was closer to ten because she ran some errands. Said the woman wasn’t here yet when she left. The floor was already dry when the girl returned.”

I looked at the note again. “Her name’s Cynara?”

He shook his head. “Runner says it’s Margaret. Doesn’t know much beyond that and that she cleans a couple times a week.”

The Super arrived ten minutes later. He thought Margaret’s last name was Parkins or Perkins. “Sorry. Everyone called her Margaret. Nice lady.”

“How long she been working here?”

“Since before I moved in— fifteen-twenty years maybe.”

“Anyone else likely to have seen Margaret today?”

“Probably not. They all take off pretty early.”

“Front door locked?”

He looked embarrassed. “Only at night. It’s inconvenient to have it locked with no doorman. You know, packages, mailman, deliveries. It’s a safe neighborhood.”

“Until today. Does she stow her stuff somewhere?”

He led us to the basement where her coat, handbag and umbrella were neatly stored in a battered locker.

“Margaret Parker,” I read the name on her voter registration card aloud.

There was nothing unusual in her handbag. Her apartment gave up no clues either. Small and modest digs. A ginger cat complained until someone found food in the fridge. Depressing as hell. Who’d murder a scrubwoman? Did some maniac come in and plug her? Was she known to someone as Cynara in the past? Had this elderly woman inspired such a note? After seeing her apartment, I hoped so.

“Ever clean the tenants’ apartments?” I asked the Super when I returned. “A side job?”

He shook his head. “But she used to clean for the Waverly family before the old man died and they split it into units. We inherited her.”

“Let’s look inside the apartments.” I didn’t know what I was looking for but there had to be something.

He didn’t ask for a warrant and I didn’t have one. Super opened all four doors although I tried Margaret’s keys first each time. No dice.

“I’m sure the locks were changed when they divided it,” he said.

The fifth apartment was on the third floor. The tarnished silver key on Margaret’s ring opened the door easily and I could see the body from the foyer. A man, about forty, lay on the living room Persian.

“Mr. Chesterfield. An actor when there’s work.” Super sighed. “Looks like someone shot him too. A woman scorned, I guess. Probably our Cynara.”

How did Margaret figure in to this? In the bedroom, the bed was rumpled but not unmade. The imprint of a short, squat body lingered on the spread.

“Looks like Margaret was taking a nap when they came in. Chesterfield and Cynara. She probably woke when Cynara fired the gun and then grabbed the note as she tried to escape.”

“She might have made a practice of it. Taking a little snooze before the next job.”

“Chesterfield printed other versions of that note,” I said, looking at the printer. “Guess he never got the wording right or he might still be alive.”

“I was kind of hoping our Margaret would turn out to be someone's Cynara,” the Super said.

“Margaret too, I think,” I said, pulling out my cell to call headquarters. "I guess that's why she took the note."

The End.

Thanks to the contributors.


Gerald So said...

Clever red herring. I had to read the story twice to piece everything together.

sandra seamans said...

Nicely done, Patti! Great story.

Glenn Harper said...

Great story and great challenge! Point of curiosity--did you know that your starter line (the first one) actually comes from an 1896 poem by Ernest Dowson that's also the source of the title for another 1932 movie, Gone With the Wind...

Ray said...

Nice one Patti.
Threw one together for you on my blog.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I did know about the poem. The TCM guy who introduced the film mentioned it and I looked it up. I'd never heard the GWTW connection though. have to look at the entire poem again.
Great, Ray. I'll add you on.

John McFetridge said...

Good one, Patti.

pattinase (abbott) said...

John. But probably too sentimental, right?

David Cranmer said...

This is the second great story from you in a week. When is your anthology collection coming out?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, David. I needed that boost today.

r2 said...

Once again, a winner. Good job.

r2 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Boland said...


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Joe.

Scott D. Parker said...

This is the first story I've read by you. Quite nice and inventive to have such a great puzzle in so few words. That is a talent. Now, I'm going to read some more of your work.

Cormac Brown said...

Sweet, good story.