Flash Fiction: The Long Way Down

This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig involved perusing Flickr for interesting photos.  I picked this one.  I haven’t put it at the top of this post because the owner hasn’t given me the right to share it, but I strongly suggest that you go take a quick look.  It’s pretty, for one thing, and it’s also the image that inspired this story.

Funny note; though the character was originally nameless, in one of my attempts at writing this I quickly discovered that I was writing Carmen Sandiego.  The final result isn’t about Carmen Sandiego, but I kept the name because it’s the right image to have for her.  With that in mind, read on!

Her heels echoed across the third floor, short clicks punctuating the burble of the fountain in the lobby below.  I leaned back on the railing, looking up the hotel’s vertiginous atrium as I listened to her getting closer.  The staccato sound of her approach broke through snatches of conversation from the event downstairs, camouflaged by the drift of a slow jazz band.  She reached me and stopped, leaning out next to me but looking down instead of up.  It said so much about the two of us.

“Handsome,” Carmen’s voice was low, smooth like her heels were not, “you’ll get dizzy and fall to your death if you keep that up.”  She looked at me, and out of the corner of my eye I could see her curling smile, bright red lipstick that matched her hat.  “And that would be a damn shame.”

I smiled up at the glass canopy far above us.  “At least I’d have a good view.”

She punched me lightly in the shoulder.

“Alright, alright,” I turned around, looking down with her.  We mirrored each other, hands clasped in front of us, elbows on the railing.  Men in fine jackets and women in elegant dresses crossed the checkered tiles below.  “It’s good to see you too.  What did you want to talk about?”

She pursed her lips.  “It’s… complicated.”

I waited for her to continue.  Members of the crowd swirled below us.

“Do you remember the job that we took in Vienna, three years ago?”  She kept her eyes on the dancing figures.

My mouth felt dry and sour at the thought of that night.  “Yes,” I said quietly.  How could I forget it?  It hadn’t been pretty.

“Tomás called me two nights ago.  He said he wanted to ‘get back in touch, just like our old times’ and that he’d catch up with me soon.”

My stomach did a little flip, and for a moment I felt like I was slipping over the railing towards the checkered tiles beneath us.  “Fuck,” I whispered.

“Yeah.”

It was never a good sign when old contingency code phrases cropped up again in new circumstances.  Especially when they were used by the wrong people.  I took a deep breath in through my nose, blew it out through my lips.  “Right.”  I looked sideways at her.  “What can I do to help?”

She huffed, mouth opened slightly in a smile.  “Meeting here is a good start.”  She ran her tongue around the inside of her lips, staring down at the dancers, lost in thought.

I waited for a little while for her to continue.  When I finally started to speak, she cut me off.

“No, just wait for a moment.”  She slowly tapped her fingertips together.  “I told Tomás to meet me.  Might as well do it here.”  She looked up, eyes calculating.  “Can you be on the roof in, say, twenty minutes?”

I bit the inside of my lip, thinking hard.  “Yeah.  I didn’t bring anything special with me.”

She stood, straightening her fedora before pulling down the wide brim.  Her smile beneath it was as enchanting as ever.  I smiled in return, standing up next to her.  “I,” she said, pantomiming brushing a bit of something off the shoulder of my jacket before flicking my lapel and giving me a huge grin, “wouldn’t worry too much about that.  I’ve had an idea.”

***

The glass rose in a giant pyramid from the center of the graveled roof, lit gloriously from below.  It stood out against the night like a beacon, outlining two familiar figures, friend and foe.  Tomás stood next to Carmen, at the edge of the atrium’s glass canopy.  They stood at an awkward arm’s reach, looking down into the hotel below.  Her arms were crossed in front of her chest, while his rested in the pockets of his long coat, a quiet threat.  The sounds of the party had been replaced with the sounds of the city: cars, distant sirens, the bustle of a busy night.

I stood less than fifty feet from them, by the roof’s access stairs, hidden by the bulk of a fire hose housing.  From this distance I couldn’t hear what they were saying over the wind.  But if things went as planned, I wouldn’t need to hear in order to catch Carmen’s signal.

I waited, watching the two of them.  Her shoulders shifted as Tomás spoke, hunching, recoiling.  Wind picked up the tails of their coats, whipping them around their legs, and she brought her hand up to her hat.  I tensed.  Her hand stayed there, holding her hat firmly, and I could feel the stress knotting up my back.

Tomás drew his left hand from his pocket, the long sleek shape of a silenced pistol resting in his grip.  It rose, unwavering, and I watched in horrid fascination as he leveled it at her and spoke again.  She still hadn’t given the signal.

She stood straighter, drawing herself up to face Tomás, and said something in reply.  He shook his head, pistol steady.  Her shoulders drooped, defeated, and she took the hat off her head, holding it against her chest, hair streaming in the wind.  There.

I forced the housing open, pulling out the fire hose and draping it over my shoulders as I wrestled with the valve.  It squeaked, metal on metal, and then gave way and I could feel the hose begin to shudder.  The rushing of water filled my ears.  I quickstepped from my cover, pulling the hose along behind me as I leveled the nozzle towards Tomás.  The burst caught him by surprise, and he stumbled sideways, falling against the sloped glass.  It held, even as he yelled.

His shots went wild, aim spoiled by the spray.

Carmen took two steps forward, pulling out a tiny emergency hammer, and brought it down on the glass.

Spiderwebs spread.  Two more blows and the pane gave way under Tomás’ weight.

We both looked down to watch him fall.

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