Written for Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash Fiction Challenge “A Terrible Lie“. This week, Chuck challenged us to write a short story where the conflict revolves around a terrible lie.
Here’s my humble submission:
“Red five to black six.” The stranger’s blue eyes twinkled as she slid into the empty seat across from Emma.
The train tilted softly around a corner as Emma looked down at the cards in front of her. Of course. There it was. She moved the cards around swiftly, pleased with herself.
“Thanks.” She told the stranger, who smiled secretively and tucked a stray lock of dark hair behind one ear. Her hands were beautifully manicured, Emma noticed, and she wore a single thick metal ring on her right hand. “I’m Emma.”
“Paulette.” Paulette’s hand was as soft as it looked, Emma realized as they shook. “Are you traveling alone?”
With hardly a pause, Emma nodded. “Just for a few hours. I’m heading back home for Easter.” The practiced words tumbled easily from her lips. There was no home for her anymore. Not really.
“I kind of figured that. The cards, after all.”
Emma looked down at her game and smiled. “Years ago, my mother told me that a game of solitaire was a surefire way to meet strangers. Everyone has an opinion.”
“So they do.”
Silence fell between the seats as the train rocked again. “How about you?” Emma asked. “Are you traveling with anyone?”
“No, I’m traveling on business.”
“What do you do?” Emma admired Paulette’s crisp shirt and tailored pantsuit.
“That sounds exciting.”
“It’s not really. Honestly, it’s boring. I thought I would be able to see the world and meet exciting new people, but for the most part all I see is the inside of trains and planes and hotel rooms.”
“Well, maybe this trip will offer you some excitement.”
Paulette smiled. “I hope so.”
When Emma collected her things as the train slowed to a stop, it was with a strange feeling of reluctance.
“Well, it was nice meeting you.” Paulette said softly, holding out one hand. Without really thinking about it, Emma shook it, realizing that this was goodbye.
“Good luck with the job. I hope things pick up.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure they will.”
Before Emma could reply, Paulette had turned to leave, pulling a black, wheeled suitcase behind her. Emma shook her head as she picked up her heavy duffel bag and carried it towards the exit.
A swift cab ride followed – not to her family home, but to a mid-range hotel not far from the train station. As the car zipped along the dark streets, Emma silently berated herself. She knew better than to get too chummy with strangers, even if the trip was boring.
What if she’d given herself away?
Her boss wouldn’t stand for that, she knew. Moreover, she wouldn’t last long if she kept chatting away with strangers, spilling the beans. Not when there were others like her out there, with similar agendas who wouldn’t mind one bit if some of the competition mysteriously disappeared.
At least the cover story about Easter had gone over well. Besides, ignoring the risk, it had been a useful conversation: she knew where her target was staying. She flipped open a small leather book she’d stashed in her purse, to reveal a small photograph of a dark haired woman with blue eyes.
When Emma arrived at her hotel room door, she felt strangely like she was being watched. There was nobody around, though, and she slid the key card into the electronic lock carefully, trying to appear as though her heart wasn’t about to jump out of her chest.
She’d been jumpy like this ever since her boss had warned her that there might be a hit out on her. Of course, that was ridiculous. She was still new to the agency, out on her first solo assignment. She wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar yet.
But when Emma pushed the door open the first thing that she saw was Paulette, harshly lit by a single lamp by the bed, standing in the middle of the hotel room.
Emma gasped. “You…?”
Paulette’s hand raised until the gun was pointed squarely at Emma. “I told you my work was about to become more exciting.”