Thursday, May 26, 2016

Flash Fiction Friday, Week 39: Memory Lane

The prompt this week was to continue the story. It began as follows:

‘It’s Friday night, and you and your friends planned a fun evening. You all work together at the same factory, and a huge order came in on Monday morning that was due by 5:00pm today. It’s been a very stressful week, but the order was completed with time to spare. A celebration is definitely in order.

You all had a terrific time at the local bowling alley, and decided to finish the evening with cocktails and a late supper at the Chinese restaurant downtown. Dinner was superb, and everyone was looking forward to opening their fortune cookie. Each took a turn reading their fortune, but when it was your turn, you crumpled it up and put it in your pocket. You told your friends that it was one of those silly predictions that fame and fortune will find you soon. Everyone had a good laugh, paid the check, and headed home.

All except you. Sitting in your car, you pull your fortune from your pocket and read it again. It doesn’t promise you fortune and fame. Your message contains a threat. That would be upsetting enough, but what’s most troubling to you is that the message is addressed specifically to you. Your name, first and last, is typed right above the message.’

Please enjoy.

Memory Lane

This can’t be happening. My team got the big order done, so we went out to celebrate. As is our tradition, we bowled a few games, then went to Mr. Liu’s for supper. Everything was fine until I opened my fortune cookie. My message read ‘you will die soon’. A gag in poor taste? Maybe, except for the fact that my name, Michael Danvers, was typed right above the message. None of my friends reacted when I read mine, so I told them it promised me fame and fortune. So, now, sitting in my car and re-reading my fortune, I’m wondering who wants me dead.

I don’t know of anyone who would want to kill me. I have no relatives here, and my friends are my co-workers. We are all close, and I have no reason to mistrust any of them. I was recently promoted to Assistant Team Leader though, so maybe there’s some resentment about that. That doesn’t make sense, but let’s take a close look at my co-workers just the same.

My team consists of Richie Howard, Candice Bromley, Derrick Ganden, and Billy Vanderkreig. Richie’s already a Team Leader and Derrick’s close to retirement. Billy’s going to law school at night and once he graduates, he’ll leave to practice law. Candice moved here a few years ago, joined the company, and has been a dependable employee and a good friend since day one. Now what? Maybe someone at the restaurant?

Ridiculous. I’m not involved with anyone there. How could this happen? Wait. Our waiter, Tim, placed the fortune cookies in front of each of us on a small plate. It’s easy enough to pull the fortune out of those open-ended cookies and slide a new one in, but why would Tim deliver such a message to me? For someone else, obviously, but who? And why? I decided to go to Tim and ask him.

Tim lived in Mrs. Hopper’s Boarding House, but when I went to see him Saturday afternoon, she told me he hasn’t been seen since yesterday afternoon when he left for work. She’s worried since he always came back after work and locked the front door for the night. She told me his steady girlfriend’s worried too since she hasn’t been able to reach him. Now, I’m worried. I’m going to the police.

“A message in a cookie?” Detective Ralph Miller wasn’t exactly reassuring.

“I know it’s unusual, but it’s still a threat, and besides, the waiter that delivered it to me is missing. It’s only since last night, but his landlady and girlfriend are both concerned. He never just disappears.”

‘Mr. Danvers, if the young man is reported missing, we’ll look into it, but I don’t see what we can do for you. That note’s probably a bad joke, but if anything further happens, give me a call. Maybe the person who wrote it will reveal themselves to you in some way.”

Yeah. When he kills me.

I took the Detective’s card and went home. Tomorrow is Sunday, so I have one more day before going back to work. I wondered what that would be like. Would I be able to tell which one of my friends had murder in their heart?

Turns out I wouldn’t have to wait until Monday. I was finishing dinner when Candice called. She asked if I’d meet her tomorrow night by the picnic tables in the park. She had overheard someone talking about hurting me and couldn’t discuss it on the phone. If we met somewhere in town and that person saw her with me, she could be in danger. Poor kid’s scared.

I stayed in all day Sunday, and left for the park at 11:00pm. When I pulled up, I saw Candice sitting at one of the tables. I joined her.

“Candice, thank you for calling. You have no idea what I’ve been going through. What did you overhear? Wait. Why did you bring a gun?  Why are pointing it at me? I don’t understand. Was it you that made the threat? Why would you do such a thing?”

“You killed my fiancé. I’ve waited years to make you pay. Once I found out where you lived, I moved here, and got a job where you worked, so I could keep track of where your life was going. You just got a promotion, and life is looking up for you, so it’s time to bring your world crashing down just like you did to Jack. You remember Jack Porter, don’t you?”

“Of course, I remember Jack. We grew up together and…you’ve waited years to do what?”

“Destroy you. I paid the waiter to deliver a special message to you so you’d doubt your friends. After what you did to Jack, you have no right to feel safe. Because of you, Jack was expelled, lost all his grant and scholarship money, and no other decent college would even let him apply.”

“You’re leaving out that Jack brought that on himself. He hacked into the college’s records and got answers to that batch of exams. He cheated, Candice, but that wasn’t the worst thing he did. He used my logins and student codes to access all that information. They were ready to expel me.”

“So, you recorded him admitting that he cheated and turned it over to the Administrators.”

“What else could I do? I wasn’t going to take the rap for what he did. He told me all about it and said there was no way they’d find out. But they have a whole department that looks into that kind of thing and they called me to the Admissions Office the next day and threatened to expel me. I had no choice.”

“He told you why he cheated. You knew his mother was an emotional vampire. Every time Jack had an opportunity to better himself, she would mess with his head and derail his plans. He was under so much pressure because of her that he couldn’t get all his studying done in time. He had no choice but to get into the computer system to get the answers.”

“You’re saying I should have allowed my reputation to be ruined?”

“Your reputation? Jack could have made things right for you, but he never got the chance.”

“Look, Candice, I’m sorry Jack got expelled, but he shouldn’t have put me in the middle of it. There’s no way he could have made things right. But, that’s all in the past. I can’t believe you want to kill me. What would that accomplish?”

“You don’t understand how much damage you did. We had kept our relationship a secret so his mother wouldn’t try to split us up. We were going to be married, and I was going to work while he was in school. After he graduated, I would get my degree. After you sold him out, he applied everywhere, but was always turned away. That kind of stain on your record follows you everywhere.”

“There had to be somewhere he could get his degree. You’re acting like it was the end of the world.”

“It was, for him. He kissed me goodbye one evening, and drove through the guard rail on Samson’s Bluff. He was dead on impact.”

“I had no idea.”

“Of course not. You never stayed in touch with him after you betrayed him.”

“You’ve got this all twisted, Candice. I was the one betrayed. I’m sorry for what happened to Jack, but like I said before, I didn’t ruin his life. He ruined his own. You can’t blame me for his death.”

“I can and I do. You took away his chance for a good life, and now I’m going to make sure you have no life at all.”

I looked at her gun hand and saw her tense up. All I could do was wait for her to pull the trigger. Suddenly, Detective Miller stepped out from a group of trees behind Candice and placed his gun to her head. There were two uniformed officers with him.

“Drop the gun.”

She lowered the gun and he took it from her.

“I thought you didn’t believe there was anything to this,” I said.

“We found the waiter’s body; the one she paid to serve you that special cookie. We found out another server saw her with him out in back of the restaurant a couple of times, and again, after closing the night he disappeared. We put a tail on both of you, and since you both were headed to the park late at night, we thought this might be a setup.”

The reality of the situation hit me hard. This lady I thought I knew murdered one man and planned to kill me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this experience, it is that the next time there’s an occasion for a celebration, it’s first to Bobby’s Bowl-O-Rama, then on to Steve’s Steakhouse. From now on, if I want to know what my future holds, I’ll see the fortune teller at the carnival.

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