Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge this week was to choose a random cocktail from a list of 20 cocktails and use that as the title of a 1500 word story. I chose White Lady.
Oh no, I thought.
First clue that something was up was the blue and red flashes of light that made the block into a strobe light show at a rave. Second was my neighbours gathered around the foyer of my apartment building.
The sick feeling in my stomach that everyone gets when confronted by a scene such as this had already taken hold, but I still did not really expect whatever had happened to pertain to me personally. I led a dull, boring life after all; no one knew who I was or what I did. I had taken great pains to make it that way.
Those neighbours with whom I had a nodding acquaintance turned their faces in my direction—eyes wide, brows furrowed but otherwise carefully devoid of expression—and began shifting their feet, uncomfortable at my sudden arrival.
A police officer met me in the foyer.
“Excuse me sir, are you … David Smith, of apartment 312?” The cop, polite and professional, checked his notebook, face and tone of voice as bland as tapioca, as neutral as the Swiss. His nametag said “Jones”.
Appropriate, I thought, Smith and Jones.
“Well, sorry to say sir, your apartment has been robbed. I wonder if you could come with me and have a look, answer some questions?”
Was that all? Just a robbery?
I followed him to the elevator, experiencing an odd combination of claustrophobia and the feeling of falling into a wide chasm. My ears began to ring, and I became increasingly light-headed as we ascended.
“Are you all right, sir?” Constable Jones asked; his tone worried.
I nodded again.
“This won’t take long, I promise.”
Jones led me to my undamaged door. Another cop was standing guard. He opened my door for me. Taking in the state of my home, I understood why Jones could promise that this wasn’t going to take long.
There was nothing there.
Literally, there was nothing—not a stick of furniture, not an appliance, not a phone, not a book, not even a roll of toilet paper—left in my apartment.
“Looks like they took everything,” offered the guard cop.
“Oh, hey,” said Jones, “with the small exception of that.” He pointed to the middle of the living room floor, where there had once been an expensive hand-woven Persian rug. Instead there stood a small yellow cone, with the number ‘1’ black-lettered on it. Beside the yellow cone was something tiny, glinting silver in the light—now shining in unfettered by curtains—from the streetlamp.
I moved closer to the object.
“Please don’t touch it, Mr. Smith.” Jones said hastily. “We’re waiting for the Ident unit to come in. It’s the only visible clue we have right now.”
I wasn’t going to touch it. I just needed to see what it was. I drew a little closer, and stopped.
I stared at it.
It was a plain silver paper clip.
But not just a paperclip.
They had found me.
It was a message from the White Lady.
I had been so careful. Followed all the protocols. Kept a low profile.
Smith is as low as it gets, for Christ sake!
But … when the White Lady wants you back, she finds you.
And you go back.
Well, where else could I go? They had stripped me bare. My bank account would be similarly stripped, if I could take the time to check. The White Lady can do that.
“Sir?” Constable Jones.
Here comes the tedium.
“Yes,” I said without looking at him.
“There is no sign of forced entry, um … have you given anyone your apartment key?”
“Just the landlord … I imagine you already talked to Mr. Cartwright?”
“He’s the one who called us when he saw your apartment door ajar.”
Sure he did. I bet he was hoping for a chance to snoop around. Too bad for him.
“Nice of him to call you.”
“Not in time, unfortunately for you, Mr. Smith. Whoever they were, they certainly were neat, weren’t they?”
Now I did look at Jones. He suspects me.
I nodded. “Yes … it appears I’ve been hit by ‘The Clean Floor Gang’. Look, I don’t know what you’re inferring, but I have nothing to do with this. I don’t even have content insurance, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
A hint of a smile twitched at Jones lips. “At this juncture I am not thinking anything, Mr. Smith, I am simply the preliminary investigator. My job is to gather facts and take statements, collect evidence, yada yada—you’ve seen the movies—you know the drill.”
Oh, I knew the drill, alright … too bad he doesn’t. Not really.
“Of course, Officer, gather and take, collect and yada to your hearts content.” I threw up my hands and started for the door.
Jones ignored my tone and grabbed my shoulder before I could get away. “Do you have any idea who would do this? Anyone you know hold a grudge?”
“OK, well … seeing as how you are pretty bare here, have you got any family or friends in town, someone who can take care of you—put you up?
“You offering? Never mind. Yes.”
I didn’t—have any family or friends, that is—but I was very certain someone would be taking care of me.
“What is with the paper clip? It’s a joke, right? This is some kind of stag prank or something …” Jones trailed off, I must have let my expression slip when he jumped back to the paper clip.
Damn, I’m rusty. I’ve got to get away from here.
“Let me know if you find out.” I said, and tried for the door again. This time he let me go.
The paper clip was a symbol, of course. God knows why the White Lady chose it. I had once thought it had something to do with holding loose bits of things together. Things that would normally fly away wherever the wind pushed them. I honestly didn’t know for sure; it could have meant we were all just a small part of her organization, as trivial as a paper clip.
For one second I debated whether to actually go back. Couldn’t I just vanish again, sink into the underbelly of some city somewhere? Would I ever fly free again if I went back? After that second was up I had to admit that my latest period of freedom had only been an illusion, kept alive solely at the whim of the White Lady, just as I was. Just as we all were.
I followed my training. I headed into a random convenience store, bought a burner phone with my last twenty bucks, sent the validation text—Rock Clip. Scissor Clip—ground the phone under my heel and walked to the nearest pick-up point.
Sat down on a nearby stoop to watch the city life. Twiddled my thumbs. Scratched my ass.
Precisely twenty minutes later by the digital readout on the rolling banner of a bank across the street, a long black limousine rolled to a stop in front of me. Passenger side rear door opened. A white-gloved finger appeared and beckoned to me. I got in, somewhat shocked and more than a little concerned.
I had not expected it would be the White Lady herself picking me up.
I examined her examining me as we sat across from each other.
No one called her the White Lady to her face, although she obviously courted the moniker by always wearing white. Clothes and accessories—fashionable, expensive white clothes and accessories—all white. Today she topped it off with a scarf-and-skull-cap combination headpiece, as a silent movie star might have worn. Her skin—alabaster, naturally—looked like it would be cold to the touch, like a statue. She had penciled in thin, black high-arched eyebrows above her translucent blue eyes, creating a fixed expression of mild amusement.
I had only seen her a few times before this; in strategy meetings—the strategy being how best to eliminate one threat or another—and each time I had come away with mixed impressions of Antarctic icebergs, prairie blizzards, and the dark side of the moon.
“Good afternoon, Mr. … aah … Smith, is it currently?” Her voice was low—deep and rich with pear-shaped tones. In another life, she could have been in radio.
“Smith, yes Ma’am.”
“I will call you Jeremiah, you may call me Claire … for now. Suits?”
“May I assume from your expression that you are already suspecting that this is not the usual protocol. That there must be an element of something … oooh … beyond the pale?” She gave a little shiver as if thrilled by the prospect.
“Frankly, Claire, I haven’t a clue. I know you don’t do your own dirty work, so …”
She bared her teeth.
“Jeremiah, I find myself at a most distressing point of calling on an individual whom I don’t really trust. Namely … you. You left us. Left me. No warning. Didn’t call. Didn’t write. In short, you are a bad boy.”
My left knee began to tremble. I couldn’t help it.
“So send me to my room.”
The smile did not waiver.
“Yes. I would like to. Very much. Unfortunately, as I said, I need you. And you alone must accomplish the task I am setting you.”
“Why? You’ve got hundreds of little boys ready and eager to do your bidding. Why me?”
“It is simple. As simple as silk. Everyone else … is dead.”