For this week, the Flash Fiction challenge was to select at random 3 out of 9 quirky phrases, and use them in a 1000 word story. I got creepy train, sympathetic mobster, and absent-minded surgeon. I was almost done last night, but happy hour at my local, Grey's Anatomy re-runs, and a physio appointment all got in the way. I like the way this story unfolded, though. Just under the 1000 word limit.
Vinnie stared out the train window at dreary, wet, boring Romania. He’d forgotten to book in time, so was stuck on the last run of the year for the Orient Express. The almost empty train was more creepy than glamorous, with decrepit, drafty cars, and flickering lights. At least the food was gourmet level and the service excellent.
He’d boarded in Vienna, and had almost left at Budapest. After a long career as an orthopaedic surgeon, the expense wasn’t an issue, but something made him stay on. This trip was supposed to be in celebration of his retirement. He still had privileges at his clinic back in Italy to do the occasional surgery, but now also got to travel and consult around the world. However, he was just now realizing how much his staff had kept him organized. Bills were not getting paid, birthdays forgotten, contracts lapsing, and now this messed up trip. He felt adrift in life.
He pushed away his plate and waved to the waiter, hovering at the end of the dining car.
"Cognac please, Pierre, and a cigar."
The only other customer, a tall blond gentleman, maybe his age, smiled from several tables down.
"An excellent idea, sir. Do you mind if I join you?"
Vinnie nodded."Please do." He nodded to the waiter. "More of the same."
The stranger took the opposite chair and held out a hand. "A great choice for an ending. I’m Stewart."
"Vinnie. I haven’t seen you before, did you just get on?"
"Yes," said Stewart. "At Budapest."
"Well, you missed the nicer scenery," said Vinnie.
Stewart shrugged. "More of a business trip for me."
"On here? What sort of trip, if you don’t mind me asking."
"No, that’s fine. I used to freelance, in HR. Personnel management—motivation, reward and punishment strategies. Very hands-on. I’m retired now, just travelling around. With one last contract. And you?"
"Orthopaedic surgeon. You know, broken bones, knees, elbows, stuff like that."
Stewart smiled as the waiter set down brandy snifters and a cigar box. He lifted his glass. "To broken bones then. And rich customers."
"Patients," said Vinnie. "But, yes. Would you like a cigar? I know as a doctor I shouldn’t but, well, why not?"
Vinnie relaxed as he chatted with his new friend, savouring the cognac, cigar, and conversation. They both appreciated the finer points of life, and had enjoyed competing and succeeding in their respective fields.
"Forgetting things really bothers me, though," he said. "Not on the operating table, I’m fine there. No, just in life. How about you?"
"Not at all," said Stewart. "I’ve always been one for detail, for organization, almost OCD. But I can sympathize with you, it must be frustrating. You need to get an app."
Vinnie laughed. "Tried that, but I kept forgetting to use it."
Stewart paused. "Vinnie, you seem like a nice guy. But I haven’t been completely honest with you about my job."
"You’d said you were in HR."
"Sort of," said Stewart. "Our jobs are similar, in terms of the human skeletal system. I am, was, an enforcer. I persuaded people, physically, to see the error of their ways."
"But that’s terrible," said Vinnie. "You . . . break bones for a living?"
"I did," said Stewart. "But to be fair, the vast majority deserved their consequences. Still, I was careful to consider the degree of pain needed and if possible also aim for a short-term disability. I wasn’t just a thug with a piece of pipe."
"But still . . ." Vinnie shook his head. "Yes, it’s likely a job, and somebody has to do it. But aren’t you worried about telling me this?" He paused. "Oh, you said you were here for one last contract. Me?"
"One of your former patients hired me. The double ankle fusion?"
Vinnie nodded. "Yes, a tricky case, given his age. I haven’t heard from him lately, but initial recovery seemed fine."
"It was," said Stewart. "He started walking everywhere, and even bought a bike. Obviously too much, too soon. Knees went and he’s now in a wheelchair."
Vinnie raised his hands. "But he should have contacted me first, even called!"
"He did," said Stewart. "But I assume you forgot about him. And now he wants revenge, so he called a friend of a friend and bought a contract on you. Your hands, specifically." He sipped his cognac. "I’m sorry, you are a nice guy, and meant well, but a deal is a deal."
He started to lean forward, then twitched. "Ow. Shit, something bit me." He reached down to his ankle.
"Probably a spider," said Vinnie. "I’ve seen a few. Dab some cognac on it."
Stewart sat back and waved a hand. "Give me a sec." Within a minute, his face had reddened, and his breathing was laboured.
"Not looking good," said Vinnie. "Any allergies?"
Stewart gasped. "Do you think?" He gestured toward his jacket pocket.
Vinnie was familiar with anaphylaxis, and there was likely an Epipen in that jacket. He watched as Stewart struggled for air. Hmm. He did sound like he had reformed. And there was that Hippocratic Oath.
He nodded. "Okay, Stewart, I got this." He reached into the jacket, grabbed the pen, and jabbed it into the enforcer’s thigh. He carefully eased him onto his back and loosened his collar.
"Monsieur?" It was Pierre with a wet cloth and folded blanket.
"Just the thing, thank you."
Within ten minutes, Stewart had recovered enough to sit up.
He nodded. "I guess I owe you."
"No contract?" said Vinnie.
"Well, I can’t just do nothing," said Stewart. "And I feel bad for that fool, stuck in a wheel chair."
"He’s likely still fixable," said Vinnie. "But he seems focused on revenge."
Stewart took a sip of water. "What you need is a personal secretary, to travel with you and keep you organized. Like me. My first job would be a settlement with this patient. You repair the damage he caused, as best you can. No fee. And I keep his money. Deal?"
Vinnie nodded. "No more enforcer contracts, okay? And please get us off this dismal train."