Clean-Up Time

Clean Up Time‘Go outside and get your brother’s shoe,’ Marie insisted. She looked up from her laptop across the table to where ten-year-old Holly was doing her homework.
‘Why should I have to do it?’ Holly complained. ‘I’m not the one who left my shoe outside. Scott should pick up his own things.’
‘Scott’s only three and a half, Holly. You know that. Now go!’ Marie held up her right hand, palm towards her daughter, as Holly opened her mouth to protest again. Holly saw that her mother meant business and said nothing more. She sighed heavily, closed her book loudly and scraped her chair as she got up. Trudging towards the kitchen door, she muttered to herself as she left the room. Marie just caught the words ‘not fair’ as Holly headed outside.

The door slammed and Marie shook her head a little. If this was ten, what was thirteen going to be like? She turned her attention back to her laptop screen, her black bobbed hair swaying with her movement. Two minutes later, the door slammed again. Well, at least Holly had been quick about it. A second later she heard Holly running towards the kitchen.

‘Did you get it?’ Marie asked, not looking up. Silence. That got her attention. So did Holly’s facial expression when she saw it.
‘Holly, what happened? Are you OK?’
Holly nodded as she sat down at the table. Her deep brown eyes were wide, and her normally olive complexion had paled. ‘I’m OK,’ she finally said. ‘But I’m scared.’
Marie pushed her laptop aside and reached across the table for her daughter’s hand. The small fingers were ice-cold.
‘What happened? Take a breath and tell me.’

Holly did, and then began. ‘I went outside to get Scott’s shoe. It was over in the grass. I went over to pick it up and I saw this guy looking at me from over the fence. He was just – I don’t know, staring, you know? So I grabbed the shoe and came back. It scared me.’
‘Did he say anything?’ Marie was trying to stay calm. Holly wasn’t usually a drama queen, so she really must have seen something. And if she did, who knew what it might mean?
‘No. He just watched me. The whole time. It was weird and I didn’t like it.’
‘What did he look like?’
‘I don’t know. A guy. Taller than Dad. Big but not fat. You know. Normal.’
‘Did he have glasses? A beard? A hat?’
‘No, none of that stuff. He had brown hair, but I didn’t notice anything else.’
‘All right. You stay here. I’ll go see if he’s still there.’ Holly nodded and Marie got up. Her stomach started to churn as she went outside. She and Bennett liked this house because it was in such a good area. There were regular police patrols, good schools, and no gang-bangers hanging around. But you never knew what might happen. No place was entirely safe for them.

When she got to the fence, Marie looked up and down. There was no sign of anyone. Holly wasn’t a liar, so whoever it was might have just gotten the wrong house, or was an evangelist who decided to go somewhere else, or something like that. It couldn’t be Carl Logan’s people. Not after all these years. Besides, Logan was still in prison. Paranoia wouldn’t get her anywhere. Still, Marie determined she’d keep an eye out. She went back inside and reassured Holly as best she could. Then she went upstairs to check on Scott. He was peacefully asleep, thank God.

‘That’s what I’m telling you,’ Len said. He looked up and down the dingy bar. Nobody was paying attention to him.  ‘All I saw was a kid, about, I don’t know, eight, nine, ten, something like that. I didn’t see her.’
‘Doesn’t mean it’s not the place, though,’ Frank answered. He picked up his bottle of beer and took a long drink from it. ‘She had a little kid. Kids grow up, moron.’
Len hated it when Frank talked down to him like that. That was all right, though. Senator Logan had told Len that he’d take care of Frank. Who’d be the moron then? ‘Well, I’m going back tomorrow. Gonna watch the place and see if I see her.’
Frank shook his head. ‘No, I’ll go. We need to take care of things.’

The next morning, Marie watched from the front window as Holly went down their front walk and turned right to catch the bus at the corner of the street. They’d told her when they put her and the family in Witness Protection that nobody would know who Holly was, since she was only a year and a half old when the whole thing happened. In fact, Marie and Bennett had decided not to even tell Holly about it. Not yet. But what if Logan had found out? Even in prison, he had his ways. She wished she’d never been there that night when Logan ran over that guy. When it turned out he’d done it deliberately, she knew she was in trouble. Still, she’d hoped it was all behind her.

Panic wouldn’t do her any good, though. Picking up the cup of coffee that sat on the windowsill beside her, Marie went outside and got the paper. It was part of her morning ritual to read the news before she got to work running her home-based web design company. At least she still had that; the Witness Protection people hadn’t had to give her a new job.

Around one o’clock, Marie stopped for a lunch break. She straightened up and went over to the refrigerator. Not that there was much in there that was inspiring; grocery shopping usually waited for the weekend. She closed the door. Maybe it’d be worth it to walk down the street to the Chinese place.

The Golden Wok had very good orange chicken, so Marie had no trouble deciding what to order. When the food was ready, she left the restaurant. She’d only gone a short distance when she heard the footsteps behind her.

‘Stacy! Hey, Stacy!’ Marie turned around almost by instinct. Even after so long, she still reacted to hearing her real name. Within an instant, she’d been grabbed by the arm. For a second she froze, not sure what she’d do.
‘Nice to see you again, Stacy,’ Frank said. ‘Senator Logan’ll be glad to know we ran into each other.’ That was what Marie had feared most. Then she remembered the food still in her left hand. She threw the container into Frank’s face. He stumbled back, yelping and cursing as the piping hot chicken and sauce scalded him.

Marie knew she only had seconds. Then she noticed an empty beer bottle lying on the ground just ahead. She rushed over and grabbed it, smashing the top of it on the curb. It would have to do. By now Frank had recovered and started running after her. This time, Marie wouldn’t be afraid. And neither would Holly.

That evening, Senator Carl Logan was sitting on one of the metal benches in the cell block’s dayroom. The news was on, but he had little interest in most of the stories. The one he was waiting for wasn’t mentioned, and he wondered what was going on. Frank and Len were supposed to take care of that woman. He’d have to talk to them.

Then the announcer said, ‘And finally, The Golden Wok, a local Chinese restaurant, became a murder scene today when 43-year-old Francis Delacroix was killed. Police aren’t saying much about the incident, but witnesses report that he was attacked with a broken bottle. Authorities say that they have a woman in custody, and that she was defending herself. More on this developing story as it becomes available.’

Logan licked his dry lips as the broadcast ended. It wouldn’t be long before people connected Frank with him. Not if the reporters were doing their jobs, and he’d been around long enough to know how good they could be. He’d have to deal with this soon.


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39 responses to “Clean-Up Time

  1. Another good one Margot – looks like Senator Logan will have to face some consequences! I did enjoy the way you slowly revealed the details causing the tension to mount.

  2. Love it! You are the queen of riveting short stories!

  3. I needed a short, interesting read Margot – and you delivered!

  4. You have the knack for flash fiction, Margot. A whole world in a few hundred words.

  5. Like it! And of course we’re left wondering, where will the ‘clean up’ end? 😉

  6. Nan

    oh, i want more!!!!!

  7. Good one, Margot! Loved the way you built up the tension right from the beginning. 😀

  8. Quite scary Margot. Esp the kid rushing back inside all frightened. Is this part of a series?

  9. Col

    Another cracker Margot! 🙂

  10. Great tension buildup, Margot. Don’t keep us in suspense long, what’s going to happen now. Is Holly the senator’s daughter? Can’t wait to read more. Thanks for sharing.

    • Glad you liked this, Mason. I may indeed develop this into a short story – we’ll see. In the meantime, no, Holly isn’t Logan’s daughter. But who knows what else may turn up in this story…

  11. Great stuff, Margot. There was no way I could stop reading before the end.

  12. What a good way to start my work day! Such an intriguing story. More please.

  13. As I was reading your story my phone rang, I answered it and told the person I’ll call you back in 5 minutes. That’s capturing your audience’s attention, Margot! 🙂

  14. A really good one Margot – surely there’s going to be more on this one?

  15. Good one Margot – more please .

  16. tracybham

    Wow, that was a chilling read. My stomach was in turmoil reading it. Very nice writing, Margot.

  17. margaret46

    just came across your website and found this “story” I was so disappointed to find that it was an exercise – I was hoping to find out the name of the no el! You really got me hooked! It was great.You must develop into a fuller story

  18. Oh I enjoyed that! It drew me in and raced me through it to the very end. Great pace and action, build up of tension and what an end! Thanks for sharing. Enjoyed it no end. 🙂

  19. Pingback: Oh, I Wanna Talk to You* | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

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