Flash Fiction Friday: Tuxedo No. 2

The day started out like any other day. The sun rose in the east, and Rupert’s clammy nose snuffled in my ear.

“I’m up, I’m up,” I told him, pushing him away and pulling the blanket over my head.

He took this as an invitation to pounce on my head as if he were a ninja Labradoodle.

“For Christ’s sake!”  I sprang out of bed and glared at his goofy grin and lolling tongue.

Adjusting the boys in the basement, I set out for breakfast in the kitchen. Ice crystals were growing on the tile floor of my backwoods cabin. I thought my skin would adhere to the surface if I took one more step. So, I took off my shirt, dropped it, and used it to scoot my feet across the floor.

Royal Blue must have left the backdoor open when she snuck out this morning. No way I was that drunk last night, was I? I recalled the royal blue dress, obsidian hair, and limber legs. See not that drunk.

It had to be fifteen degrees below zero out there. I glanced around. Ninja dog was smart. He circled and arranged the blanket on the bed with his paw. I reached out and pushed the door closed. As I placed a kettle on the stove, bent to light it, a knock at the backdoor startled me.

“Who in their right mind…”

I shimmied over to the door again and pulled it open. A manila envelope lay on the step. I let out a long sigh.

“You see Rupert. This is what happens when you take a vacation and try to have a little fun.”

Assassins never get a day off.

I slipped the pages from inside the envelope. The kettle whistled. I glanced at the name as I poured the boiling water into the French press. Abigail Mitchel. The rich fullness of the Columbian beans cleared my head. A personalized invitation to a wedding reception was enclosed. Henrik Jackson, my new name, was emblazed in gold lettering.

I set the pages on the table and stared out the window. One set of tire tracks and one pair of footprints marred the surface of the morning’s snow. I knew they were Royal Blue’s prints and tire marks. The Shadow never left prints, just an envelope with a name or cash.

I sipped the black coffee. This should be quick and easy. I dressed in my black tuxedo and jumped into my SUV. Four hours later, I arrived at the reception, invitation in hand.

“Welcome Mr. Jackson. We are pleased you could join us,” said a wrinkled narrow eyed woman at the entrance.

“Wouldn’t miss this for the world,” I said giving her my most dashing smile, which she promptly forgot. I’m plain as far as appearances: five foot eight inches tall, medium build, mouse brown hair, and hazel eyes. Being unremarkable is an asset in my business.

Now, just to find Ms. Mitchell.

Weddings are wonderful. All the tables had name cards. I wove my way through the tables. The bride wouldn’t want clashing personalities next to one another, could lead to hours of vexing conversations.

“Abigail!” shrieked a young blond woman in a pink cotton candy bridesmaid dress as she dashed across the room. Bingo. She collided with the bride and embraced her.

“Abby, I’m so happy for you,” she said in a slurred southern drawl stumbling into the grooms arms.

Perfect, just freaking perfect. 

I tossed back a gin and tonic and sauntered up to the bride and groom.

“You’re a lucky man, I wish you and Abby nothing but happiness,” I said shaking the groom’s hand.  Reaching into my pocket, I took out five one hundred dollar bills, and handed them to him.

As I embraced the stunning blonde haired, emerald-eyed bride, I opened a small pocket in my gloves containing strychnine powder. I grabbed two glasses of champagne from a passing tray handed one to each of them.

Laughing and patting the groom on the back, I took my own glass of champagne, held it up and said, “Forever and always,” and tossed it back. They looked at each other and followed by lead. How could you not drink to that!

Now, I had fifteen minutes to get the hell out of there before the strychnine convulsions began to wreak havoc in the bride.  I ducked into a bedroom on the second floor.

“Who’s is its,” slurred a man. I could see him in the firelight trying to get up from the floor next to the bed. I looked him up and down, cocked my arm back, and let it rip. My fist connected with the side of his head, and he crumbled to the floor.

Who in their right mind chooses cotton candy pink and lime green as their wedding colors? I pulled his tuxedo off and chucked mine into the flames.

Once I was dressed in his tux, I went out on the balcony and peered over the edge.  Gripping the handrail and swinging my leg over, I dropped to the ground. Glancing both ways, I scuttled into the nearby woods. Once I was in the shadows, I began to run.

The dress shoes slipped in the mud. I clung to a tree to catch my breath and balance. Bounding from one foot to the other, I avoided puddles reflecting the moon’s glow. A rock rolled under my foot as I skipped across a creek. I fell to my knees and elbows.

O the main road where I had left SUV, three cars raced passed me. The wind whipped my hair and made my eyes water. I blinked. The world spun. Then I saw only darkness.

The world inched back into focus and my body flopped around on the side of the road like a fish out of water. Slimy mud was smeared on the knees and elbows of Tuxedo No. 2. How in the hell did the poison get into my champagne?

Run to Write, Write to Run

As novel is composed of individual words, running is composed of individual steps.

Writing and running are a beautiful young couple strolling along the beach as the moon glistens in the rolling waves. I’m a honey colored Labrador who comes romping up flipping briny water and sand in every direction.

Persistence and dedication are essential to both endeavors. They are long-term love relationships who don’t care so much if you’re cheating on one with the other. In fact, a threesome is not out of the question.

You cannot give up when you have a bad day, and you will have bad days, it is something you have to accept. Continuous learning is critical. Writers must be readers, and they must study the craft of writing. Creating better works means our words more accurately represent our ideas and imaginings. As runners, we strive to improve our speed, strength, and distance by learning the latest training technique, reading research as it comes out, and continuing to run.

Running and writing open doors, allowing us to explore new worlds and experience new adventures. We don’t always know where our trip will end or what type of obstacles we may encounter, but who cares that is part of the fascination and wonder.

There are beauty and freedom in the structure of a novel and the structure of a training program. When you know the basics, you are free to run, soar, or bob along with the waves. Knowing your goals, where to place plot points or speed work, building character arc and building your miles allows you the freedom to let loose on the journey.

Interesting characters abound in both worlds. You want an unfathomable backstory for a character? Ask an ultrarunner what fuels them at mile eighty. What inspires them to climb 2000 feet in one mile only to tromp through two feet of snow in an alpine meadow? What makes them crawl when they can no longer run or even walk? Why they joyfully subject themselves to the good possibility of dehydration, hallucinations, and trailside vomiting?

Characters are the reason we write. Without them screaming in our heads to get out and have their story told, would any of us sit down for hours and happily pressing buttons on a keyboard while staring at a screen when we could be socializing, enjoying the warmth of the sun on our skin, or chasing our kids, dogs, or turtles.

Both writers and runners love a good challenge. They enjoy pushing themselves to their limit, finding the boundary of their comfort zone and then dashing across to the dark side. It becomes a personal project to figuring out what makes us and others tick. We want to know what is worth living for? And what is worth dying for?

Running is the best time to think and come up with new ideas and workout problems. Running provides extra oxygen and energy, which floods your system while running and increases brain performance. I do my best thinking while I am running. I’ve been struggling with a plot issue in a fantasy book I’m writing and this morning around mile four, it hit me. I’m going to have to restructure, but now I know where my characters were going in the first place. Running is a tool in my writer’s tool chest.

Frankly, you see some strange things when you are out running, which can lead to story ideas.

And if your are going to sit around for hours at a time, worrying about your story, eating chocolate and ice cream, you should probably lace up your running shoes and let the sun melt some of the cushioning off.