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C.W. Harper: Sands of Time

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

Sands of Time

C.W. Harper

Sands of time, please stop,    
    Your ceaseless drop, drop, drop.

Sands of time, you are unkind.
    You come to steal his looks and mind.

Sands of time, you do not care.
    You have much more than your fair share.

Sands of time, you will not win.
    The Lord Himself will take him in.

Sands of time, when you one day claim,
    The man who gave me my last name,

A victory you may think you’ve won,
    But no, for my dad knows the Son.
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Please visit Chester on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/C-W-Harper-Author-101485477895994

WRITE THE STORY: March 2021 PROMPT

Welcome to Write the Story!

February proved to be another banner month for Write the Story as members came up with amazing stories set in a café, in Paris and beyond! If you haven’t joined in the fun yet, please do so!

A reminderWU! created this project with two goals: providing a writing exercise and promoting our author sites to increase reader traffic. We ask that you please include a link to the Writers Unite! blog when you post your story elsewhere. By doing so, you are also helping promote your fellow members and Writers Unite! We encourage all of you to share each other’s stories to help all of us grow. Thanks!

Write the Story! March 2021 Prompt

Here’s the plan:

You write a story of 3000 words or less (minimum 500 words) or poem (minimum 50 words) and post it on the author site you wish to promote. Don’t forget to give your story a title. (Note: You do not have to have a website/blog/FB author page to participate, your FB profile or WordPress link is fine.)

Please edit these stories. We will do minor editing, but WU! reserves the right to reject publishing the story if poorly written.

The story must have a title and author name and must include the link to the site you wish to promote.

Send the story and link to the site via Facebook Messenger to Deborah Ratliff or email to writersunite16@gmail.com. Put “Write the Story” in the first line of the message.

Please submit your story by the 25th day of the month.

WU! will post your story on our blog and share it across our platforms— FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The story will also be available in the archives on the WU! blog, along with the other WTS entries.

We ask that you share the link to the WU! blog so that your followers can also read your fellow writers’ works.

The idea is to generate increased traffic for all. It may take some time, but it will happen if you participate. The other perk of this exercise is that you will also have a blog publishing credit for your work.

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Calliope Njo: I’m a Believer

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

I’m a Believer

 Calliope Njo

Baxter wanted to meet in Paris Beaubourg. The food was not great, but it wasn’t bad either. I’d give it a three out of five stars if anybody asked.

I got here at ten. It turned eleven and yet no Baxter. I paid the bill and left the cafe to get to the airport.

Once there, I got the first available flight back home. I got on board and went to the premium economy class. The middle seat was not available, so it was an aisle seat all the way. It didn’t matter so much, because then nobody could nap on me.

The food wasn’t awful, and after that, a satisfying nap was what I needed. I woke to an announcement that we would be landing soon. After the necessities were taken care of, I got back to my seat and buckled in.

After baggage claim, I found my car. I was never so happy to see it again because it meant home. That also meant finding out what the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks happened.

That was the longest twenty-minute drive I ever had. I opened the front door, glad to be back, and I gasped. “What?”

“It’s about time you got back.” Baxter stood from the EZ-chair. “Ready to go to the cafe? Or did you indulge in the Parisian patisserie too much? Hmm? By the way, your mail is on the dining table. Bills.”

I dropped my bags. “Do you realize where I came from? Do you realize how much of an inconvenience to even go there and not have you show up?”

“Oh Zoey, darling. You didn’t get my message? I said the Paris hotel and casino. We can enjoy something there. When I found out you made an extra trip, I arranged for services to get you back. Now, we have some work to do.”

I oughta—I raised my fist. “There was no extra service to get me back. I did what everybody else did.”

He patted my fist. “Oh my. Certainly not lady like. We have some treasure hunting to do. I will return here at eight in the morning on the clock. All right?” He turned around and opened the door. “Toodle-loo.” He left.

Toodle-loo. Toodle—I screamed and kicked my bag all the way to the room. He didn’t even explain or offer an apology. I hoped he got run over by something.

My foot throbbed, and it kept me up all night.

I limped my way through the morning and then my doorbell rang. Baxter had my key so it wouldn’t be him. I looked through the window and my eyes opened wide.

I opened the door. “What are you doing here?”

She smiled. “Well. Nice to see you too. Long time no see.”

I slammed the door on her. “No matter the relationship, you must always show yourself as the best that you can.” I lost count of how many times I heard that from Baxter.

I opened the door again. “Yvonne De Santiago. Prime member of the community. She could do no wrong. The one who had a very large, shall we say, following. Yale, Harvard, and even Cambridge. Any of the prestigious Ivy League colleges vied for her attendance.”

She smiled. “Something I said?”

“Get on with it.” I realized how hard it was to talk through gritted teeth.

“Baxter MacAlister told me to team up with you to get the book written by Aphrodite. It happened to be one of the missing texts from the Archival Library.”

“Sure it is.”

“Why would I lie?”

“I don’t need to answer that.”

“I don’t even know why you’re mad at me. Nobody else slams the door in my face.”

I swallowed hard. “After the stunt you pulled in high school, I don’t need to answer that, Miss Thing.” I snapped my fingers.

She shrugged.

I squeezed my fist. “You know, somebody told me once, that if the only answer a person can give you is an uncertain answer, maybe they’re not worth talking to.”

“Things were different back then. Times moved on. Who cares what happened?”

I laughed. “I don’t even know why I’m wasting my time. The only reason you’re still standing is because Baxter was supposed to have sent you.”

“I have responsibilities you know.” She smiled. “As for hurting me, my lawyers could take you for everything you have. Of course, you don’t have the backing that I do.”

It was scream or laugh. Instead, I slammed the door on her again. My feet wouldn’t move. I closed my eyes and tried to think of a spot I could take myself to. Failing that, I called Baxter.

“Yes. MacAlister.”

“Baxter, I’m furious with you right now. Why in the hell would you send her to my door?” My jaw tensed.

“Easy now. Calm yourself. Don’t give her the satisfaction of knowing she hurt you. Let her believe you moved on. Besides that, she is the only one with the connections you need to retrieve that book. The love and romance section over here has a hole and that book will fill it. First, you must retrieve it. She has the necessary paperwork to get the book. What happens after that, is up to the both of you. Agreed?”

“Baxter…” I let out a long deep breath. “All right. I’ll go. You’re lucky I’m not doing anything since this thing with the pandemic started. Email me a copy of what you sent her so I can take a look before we get there.”

“Sugar Plum…”

“Sug—You’re up to something. Come on. You know how to use a computer.”

“Yes. I do. Very well. Maybe if both of you have the same information, the end result may come about that much quicker. It will take a bit. Toodle-loo.”

He hung up. While I waited for that email, I packed a few things to get me through. He was right as usual.

The laundry wasn’t even done yet. Good thing I had a lot of clothes.

When I finished packing, I checked my email. Sure enough, Baxter sent the information to me. Something about that book didn’t seem right. It didn’t seem right that they had books centuries ago. Even one that Aphrodite wrote. According to the note though, she did, and we had to find it.

I groaned because he contacted her again. I could go out and get the damned book if that’s what he wanted. The place was not hard to get to and getting it wouldn’t be a big deal. I wouldn’t even think about bringing her along. What would she be good for? Picking out the proper nail file?

Before those thoughts got any further maybe a blog entry would help. I wrote about my time in Paris and the places I visited. I included some pictures too. As soon as I turned off the computer, my doorbell rang. Here we go.

I opened the door. “Seems as though we’re supposed to work together. Any idea why?” I sure don’t.

“To be honest, I would rather be in Switzerland than be here chasing down a book that might not even exist.”

Pity, assault and battery were chargeable offenses. “So why are you even here?”

“None of your business.”

So predictable. “Uh huh. Translation. I’m only here to keep my parents happy. Baxter happens to be an old family friend, and if I don’t do what he says, I’m out of the family and all of that delicious precious money.”

She raised an eyebrow and smirked.

“Yeah. Let’s get a move on.” Stupid is as stupid does after all. “Let me get my things and I’ll be right outside.” I left her there and closed the door behind me. Bag and backpack in hand, I met her outside.

She got into her Jaguar and I got into my Toyota. The clouds got dark but no rain came. That was a bummer. We could use it to disintegrate the proud and the mighty De Santiago.

The map led to an area in South Africa. The only way to get there was by plane. About the time I thought about looking behind me to see if she was there, a blue Jaguar sped up and cut in front of me. It didn’t take much for me to figure out who it was.

She wants to play. Fine. They were doing road work up ahead, which meant that area would be rerouted. I laughed as I got into the left turning lane and made a U-turn.

I pulled into Chick-Fil-A on the corner to grab some food. I forgot to eat something before leaving. I sat and studied the map. That was about the time I realized Baxter never did show up. I started to wonder what this game was all about.

Baxter thought that the book was bought by a collector in the local area. That made things easy. He couldn’t verify it but it was the best lead he had. However, the lead in South Africa was the best bet. That’s why Yvonne was necessary.

I fluttered my lips, said a few choice words, and started up my car again. I called the local number and a man answered.

“Yes? Caruther’s Books.”

“Hi. My name is Zoey. You were supposed to have a book written by Aphrodite. Do you have it?”

“Aphrodite. Aphrodite. One moment.”

One thing about telephones, was the wide variety of hold music. This one was Mozart. Lucky for me, Baxter taught me the classics.

“Yes. I have it. You will need to bring some sort of proof with you so I can be sure I’m not being taken.”

Huh? I looked through the papers, and sure enough, a letter with a note on top saying to give it to the holder of the book.

“Will a letter from Baxter MacAlister do?” It was all I had.

“If you know Baxter, then you could answer this question. What is his favorite coffee?”

It had to be a test. That would be the only explanation for it. “He hates coffee. He hates water just as much. That’s why he drinks tea every chance he gets. Sometimes lemonade but that’s on rare occasions.”

“I look forward to seeing you. Bye.”

He hung up. I hung up too and kept looking at my phone, half expecting Baxter to call me to tell me it was a huge joke on his part.

Since that didn’t happen, it was a trip to that bookstore. It turned out to be a little shop downtown next to a car-repair garage. It took five trips up and down the same street to find it. A quick look of the parking lot, and no Yvonne.

I grabbed the note and left my car. I locked it of course. This area was known for car thefts.

I gave the letter to the man at the counter, he nodded and left, but he came back a few minutes later with the book. He nodded and opened the door.

Strange how all of that worked out without saying a thing. Made me wonder if he had psychic powers or something. Still no Yvonne. I hoped she got lost.

Happy to see my car was still there, I got in and left. I needed to get that book back to Baxter. Since I had the car, it would be easy to drop it off. However, he never stayed in one place for very long so it was always easier to call him.

I got back home, with that precious book in hand, and I should’ve known. “Baxter, you know, why do you even bother? I mean, here you are, in my house to do what exactly?”

He took off that hat, the one with the round top. He told me once what that type of hat was called but I forgot. Anyway, he turned towards me. “The purpose of the book was to put the both of you together. To work side-by-side. Instead, I get a screaming woman on my telephone because you were being unreasonable.”

Unreasonable? “Look, Baxter, I was not being unreasonable. Being unreasonable would mean her mouth being wired shut.” While spreading rumors that she caught on to a new diet. The wired-mouth diet.

“I put the both of you together for a reason, my little Sugar Plum Fairy. Huh?” He stood from the chair. “I had hoped that you would learn forgiveness.”

“Is that what this stuff is all about? I have nothing to be sorry, you—”

“Yes. Yes. Vile creature. How can you love without first learning how to forgive? Everybody deserves love, my dear. That was the point of all of this.”

“You want me to forgive her? I could never. Not in a million years.” My body got very warm at that point. I turned around and went into the kitchen to grab a beer. I opened the fridge and discovered it was empty. I slammed it shut.

He put his hands on my shoulders and turned me around. “You have to start somewhere. The starting point for you would be to learn to put the past behind you. From there, learn how to open your heart again.”

Dammit. I hated tears. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Did you read the book?”

“No.” You wanted me to read a book?

“I had hoped you would. So you can learn something. She may be the most disgusting bitch and getting the nerve to actually say I forgive you is the furthest thing on your mind. If you can work past that feeling, then you can learn to find love. Make this old crotchety man happy and find someone to hold forever.” He put his hand over his heart. “Where it counts.” He lowered his hand.

I looked up at him. “So all of this was for nothing?”

“No. It was in the hopes to teach you to find peace. Find forgiveness. Find love.”

I shook my head. None of this made sense. “You’re not going to die right now are you?”

“Someday. Right now, this old man is hungry. What do you say we get something to eat. Something not in the fast food category.”

“All right.” I nodded and reached for the book. “This is the book you were looking for.”

“Splendid. While we’re eating, I’ll tell the history of this book.” He smiled. “After that, you can help me re-sort the books.”

I looked up at him. “Re-sort. Every. Damn. Little. Book. I ain’t doin’ it. I don’t care if it’s burning down.”

“Oh, come now. It won’t be that bad. Besides, they love you.”

“Yeah. Uh huh.” Sure they do. Little dolls come alive at night too.

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Please visit Calliope on her blog: https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog/

D. A. Ratliff: The Beaubourg

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

The Beaubourg

D. A. Ratliff

Gabriela swung her legs from the taxi and stood for a moment on the corner, taking in the activity swirling around her. It was spring, sunny, warm, and the world was alive once more. Walking across the plaza toward the Paris Beaubourg café, her stiletto heels clicked as she crossed the dark cobblestones.

Her contact had not arrived. Contact. She chuckled—Bruce Layton, junior Foreign Service Officer, was hardly the kind of contact she expected on an assignment. Brash and jovial, he attracted a great deal of attention in the embassy. She would love to avoid him, but she was in Paris for a reason, and while an annoyance, he was part of the situation. When he clumsily asked her to a late lunch using the code phrase, all she could think of was there was no accounting for who the agency was hiring these days.

Only a couple of tables just outside the restaurant were vacant, and she wanted space around them. She chose a table under the pavilion across the walkway from the restaurant and facing Centre Pompidou. She could see the plaza fountain filled with colorful artwork and a few strolling musicians entertaining the tourists from the table. No one would notice them, she hoped.

A loud voice told her he had arrived. “Serveur, deux grands espressos, s’il vous plait.” He called out to a server in less than stellar French as he strode toward her. Cocky, he was.

“Gabriela.” Bruce sat, leaning on his elbows on the table, and smiled. “Been wanting to get you alone since you arrived at the embassy.”

She took a deep breath and counted to five for control. “You know the drill.”

“Ah… yes. I’ve heard about you—beautiful, but all business.” He cleared his throat. “Lovely weather, I was afraid it would rain.”

She responded, “I brought an umbrella just in case.”

He laughed. “Good, now that nonsense is out of the way. Let’s order lunch.”

“I am going to assume that your foolish behavior is a cover?”

“My behavior? What do you mean, sugar?” This time he spoke in a heavy Southern US accent. She must have had a disgusted look on her face because he burst out laughing.

“Ms. Gabriela Jones, may I introduce myself, Bruce Layton, spy.” He spoke in a quieter, more resonant voice. “And yes, the Bruce you see at the embassy is a cover.”

The glee on his face as he admitted his embassy persona was fake turned her stomach. In a profession that often required her to be someone she was not, she still cringed at what she and others at times became. She thought she might like Bruce less than any of the covers they assumed.

The server returned with the coffees, and before she could speak, Bruce ordered the café’s famous pizza for them and waved the server away. He sipped his coffee and, with a serious look on his face, spoke.

“Gabi, you know the target. What can you tell me about him?”

She sipped her coffee and then responded. “I am the senior agent here. I believe you need to report what you know about the target to me.”

Bruce’s eyes narrowed for a fleeting second. He was not happy that she pulled rank. That not only told her he was disgusted but the accompanying tightly drawn lips told her he was angry. She kept her face impassive.

He nodded. “I have watched Thomas Quincy for two months since he transferred to the embassy. He served four years in the US Embassy in Russia, and we were able to ascertain that he turned and is now a Russian asset.”

“I’ve read the reports. What have you observed since he arrived?”

“Quincy keeps to himself but has begun to meet a woman, a Russian woman, Galina Ivanov, at this very café each morning before he leaves for work and sometimes for lunch. Why I thought it was smart to establish the café as our favorite.”

Her stomach flipped at his emphasis of ‘our.’ “What is the woman’s significance?”

“I followed her to Turgenev Mekhovshchiki, a Russian furrier. The owner is a known Russian agent. She arrives there about seven and leaves at ten p.m. We believe she is passing information that she receives from Quincy to Moscow.”

She sat back in her chair. “How do you know he turned?”

“Planted a report about troop movements in the Gulf on restricted access area of the computer. One that Quincy has access to so he could prepare reports for NATO. We later intercepted that data in a communique between the Russian military and the Russian ambassador to France. Oleg Turgenev and the ambassador are close friends and see each other often.”

“Do you have direct proof that he passed on the information to this woman, and she passed it on to Turgenev?”

Bruce pulled a small recording device from an inside jacket pocket and pressed a button.

A woman with a heavy Russian accent spoke. “Thomas, Oleg will be thrilled to get this information. He will be most pleased and reward us both.”

A voice she recognized as Quincy’s responded. “That’s what I am here for, Galina. If I make them happy, it makes you happy.”

He shut off the recording. “I think Galina is a honeypot, and Thomas fell for it.”

The server arrived with the pizza, and for a moment, they ate in silence. Gabi took a drink of her coffee before she spoke.

“I’ve been in this business, and nothing surprises me, but Thomas Quincy has an impeccable record of loyalty to our government and his service.”

Bruce scoffed. “Well, his wife died a few years ago. Man’s gotta have fun, and Galina is a looker, got a rack and a half on her.”

Gabi had enough and pushed away from the table. “I need more proof before I take this to my supervisor and order a larger operation. Continue surveillance and report back to me in the morning at the Embassy.” She rose. “Thank you for lunch.”

“I’ll return to the embassy with you.” He started to rise.

“No, I have a few errands to do and then a reception to attend. I will see you in the morning.”

She walked along the cobblestones, her heels clicking in a quick cadence. She was well aware his eyes were boring into her back as she walked away. Disgusted, she picked up her pace. Once out of sight of the café, she slipped her phone from her purse.

“It’s me. I made contact.”

“And was I right?”

“Yes, my instinct tells me that you are correct.”

“I always did like that gut of yours. Keep to the plan. If this is how the information is getting into foreign hands, we need to stop it now.”

“Yes, sir. I will call you with more as soon as I have more.”

She ended the call and hailed a cab. There were things to do.

***

Gabi walked into the embassy office she was using with a cup of Starbucks coffee in hand. The familiar aroma made her think of her home in the US. A home she hadn’t been to in a long time. She had just tossed her purse on the desk when the assistant assigned to her came to the door.

“The Ambassador wants to see you now.”

She sucked in a breath. “Thanks, on my way.”

Gabriela’s cover as a US State Department attaché for special projects allowed her to travel to US Embassies without creating undue notice from the host countries. Sixteen years of experience had taught her to lie low with the political appointees. Still, she discovered the current ambassador was no one’s fool and had suspected something was going on within his territory as soon as she arrived. Rumors were that he had been agency at one time himself.

She walked past the ambassador’s assistant’s desk and down the short hallway to his office. This time her heels quiet in the thick carpet. She chuckled silently. At least, she could sneak up on someone on oriental rugs. She rapped on the door to a quick “Come in.”

He rose as she entered, and walked around the desk, extending his hand. “Thanks for coming to see me on such short notice. Please sit.” He motioned to two chairs next to the large windows.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Ambassador?”

He smiled and adjusted the French cuffs of his shirt. She noted they were the precise distance from the sleeve of his suit coat as fashion dictated, yet she didn’t sense he was a vain man. He was, she thought, a true diplomat who played the part, including the costume.

“Gabriella, I have been in diplomatic service for forty years and ambassador to four countries. My stint here in France is something of a reward from the President for my service,” he paused, “and I suspect because we have been friends for years. Because of that friendship, I may be privy to more than meets the eye.” He grinned. “I also was a special attaché in my early career.”

Gabi smiled. “I am aware of your background, sir. It is quite impressive. Again, what can I do for you.”

“I have been briefed on the security problem that may exist within the embassy and that you are here to solve this problem. I want you to know you have my full cooperation. Whatever you need is at your disposal.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Are you certain that the target is who you suspect?”

“Without a doubt.”

“How quickly can you wrap this up?”

“Quite soon, Mr. Ambassador. We have put certain measures in place to forward planted data that will reveal our quarry.”

“I am glad to hear that. I look forward to this security issue going away quickly.”

“As do I, sir.”

He rose. “Good. Then you will report to me soon?”

She stood as well. “Yes, sir. Soon.”

As she walked toward her office, she stifled a laugh as she reduced in her head the formal conversation where they tap danced around the subject to three sentences.

“Gabi, do you know the traitor who’s selling US secrets?

“Yes, I do.”

“Then nail that bastard.”

Reaching her office, Gabi dropped into her chair, grabbed her coffee, and took a big swig of the lukewarm liquid.

“Ah, diplomats,” she whispered as she took her phone from her suit pocket. “Time to put this plan in motion.”

***

It was nearing ten a.m. when Bruce walked into her office unannounced. “Hey, beautiful, what’s happening this morning.”

“Mr. Layton, beautiful is not a proper way to address a co-worker.”

He laughed out loud. “Sorry. I’ll do better.” He sat down. “So, everything a go?”

“Yes. Information planted, and our target has accessed the data.” 

“Surveillance set up?”

Gabi nodded. “Yes. His phone tap tells us he is meeting with Galina for lunch at the café at two p.m.”

“Good. Then it’s a date. Let’s get this jerk.”

“Yes, let’s do that.”

***

Gabi told Bruce she would meet him at the café and arrived before he did by design. It took her a few seconds to spot Quincy and Ivanov at a table under the awning where she had been the day before. A glance around told her the surveillance team was in place. A quick conversation over their hidden mics told her nothing had happened yet. She took a table on the edge of the main outside seating area. Bruce arrived a moment later.

“Has he passed it yet?”

“No. Surveillance says they talked and ordered lunch. Almost finished.”

Bruce ordered lunch, and he and Gabi waited. Another half-hour passed before Quincy reached into his jacket and pulled out a flash drive. Ivanov smiled and kissed him. Quietly, Gabi ordered the team to move in.

Within seconds four men surrounded the small table. Quincy tried to protest, but an agent opened his jacket to show his badge hanging around his neck and the gun at his waist. Quincy stood with his head bowed, resigned to the situation. An agent pulled Ivanov to her feet, and the team escorted the pair to a black van parked nearby. Once seated, the van pulled away.

“Woohoo!” Bruce fist pumped and called a server over and ordered champagne. “This calls for some bubbly. Excellent job, beautiful.”

“Good work in spotting what Quincy was doing.”

“Only doing my job. Can’t let spies get Uncle Sam. Now let’s finish lunch and enjoy the champagne.”

Gabi began to relax. She decided to enjoy the champagne and the Paris afternoon. They dallied over lunch for forty minutes before she turned to her companion.

“Ready to go back to the embassy. I might even let you buy me dinner.”

Bruce grinned and responded in his fake Southern accent. “Why sugar, I would like nothing better. Dinner it is. But I’ll meet you back at the embassy. Have an appointment in a bit.”

Gabi nodded. “Okay, just don’t forget dinner.”

He leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. “I would never forget dinner with you.”

He walked away, oblivious to the man and woman who followed him or the white van that was rolling slowly behind them—two more people inside.

Gabi was watching as a voice sounded behind her.

“He doesn’t have a clue, does he?”

Gabi smiled at Thomas Quincy. “No, he doesn’t. Took you long enough to drive around the block.”

He plucked a tomato from her salad. “Took you long enough to finish lunch.”

Galina Ivanov sat down at the table. “On behalf of my government, I thank the United States. You helped us catch the spy who was not only trading your secrets but ours to the Chinese.”

“You are welcome, Ms. Ivanov, but it is Thomas who you should thank. Had he not spotted the information tampering at the Moscow embassy and traced it to Bruce Layton here in Paris, we wouldn’t have known any of this. At least, not this quickly.”

“Our collective hero.” Galina smiled and stood. “I am going to report to my government now. Do svidaniya.”

They said goodbye, and Thomas shook his head. “Been a long time since we worked together, Gabi.”

“That it has, Tom. I only heard about your wife’s death after I arrived in Paris. I am sorry.”

“Thanks. It’s been three years, Gabi. I have learned that life goes on.”

She smiled. “Good, and it’s also a good thing the agency assigned you to the embassy in Moscow. Great catch on those discrepancies in the programming.”

“I was lucky. The Russians are usually better at this than we are.”

“At least better at the sneaky part. Working with them might have helped warm up the relations a bit.”

He smiled. “At least for a moment, we have a common enemy—the Chinese.”

“That we do, and I…” She stopped as her comm activated. She listened then told Thomas the message, relief evident in her voice. “The agents have Bruce Layton in custody along with his Chinese contact and the flash drive with the planted data. Got the transfer on tape.”

“Well done by all. Thanks for stepping in to coordinate all of this. I just want to know who hired Bruce.”

“I think the better question is who turned him?”

“Ah yes.”

“We should go back to the embassy and debrief with our people, and I promised the ambassador a quick response.”

“The suit will be happy.”

Gabi laughed. “Oh, he will.”

They rose, and Thomas took her arm. “How about dinner after we get through with the paperwork?”

“You know, I had a dinner date, but I think my date might not be available. Dinner would be nice.”

“Then dinner it is.”

As they left, he slipped her arm in the crook of his. “Those heels have to be killer on these cobblestones. You could trip.”

Gabi felt her heart flutter just a bit. “Then good thing I have you to keep that from happening.”

She glanced around the Beaubourg café and the plaza. Paris was a beautiful city. Perhaps, she might stay for a while.

~~~

Author’s Note: Please forgive any incorrect French or Russian words or grammar. I am solely at the mercy of online translation for the phrases or names. 

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Riham El-Ashry: A Different Perspective

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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A Different Perspective 

Riham El-Ashry

Zara held her bag over her head and rushed through the narrow street trying to find a suitable shelter from the rain. Her sneakers were getting soaked and her hair stuck onto her eyes in long black streams. She wished she had picked her umbrella with her this afternoon too. But considering the nervous tantrum in which she left her room, that was not in her mind. 

She dashed into one of the common Parisian cafés that were scattered in many of these streets. 

“Faites attention,” a man demanded from behind her. 

Sounds that followed were not so pleasant, neither to Zara nor to the man. His sketches had collapsed on the wet floor and out in the rain. Some sharp words seemed to be clear swearing and damning came very loud and clear. She stood there staring for seconds at the mess she created. The artist, obviously he was an artist, crouched to collect his papers and paint tubes. His back was getting rain spots that his shirt turned to brown polka. Zara aimlessly tried to gather the brushes that flew away in the middle of the path. 

“Pardon! Ammm. I’m sorry.” She never trusted her French and hoped that he understood her. “Terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to spoil your work. What a shame!” 

He looked up at her, examined her face and appearance and went back to arrange his tubes and brushes. Zara was in her late twenties but looked younger especially in her sport outfit. 

“Do you understand me, sir. Je suis désolé.” Her last sentence came out shaky and slow. 

“If you’re afraid of the rain, why do you take a walk? Driving is safer for someone like you,” he exclaimed in a way that seemed hostile to Zara. Consequently, she straightened and changed her regret look with a defensive one. 

“Like me?” she began, but then considering the awful damage she did to his painting, gently said, “What a remarkable painting this is!” 

“It would have been if people looked where they were going,” he said hoarsely in a plain accent that would suggest he wasn’t from this place just like her, only hers in both was a Latino one. 

And though he dismissed her with a quick gesture from his hand, she raised her eyebrows and defyingly made her remark, “You got the wrong light on the left corner of the painting.” 

“Excuse me!” 

“Yes, I see you are drawing the building at the end of the path. You’re good, but the light?!!” She shook her head sideways in disapproval. 

He stared at her, astonished at her remark. He seemed to be annoyed so he looked carefully at her trying to decipher a part of her identity. She had sculpted features with dark skin, black hair. Her wet clothes, to some extent became transparent, showed off pleasant parts to the eye to linger upon. She realized that and tried to loosen her white sticky blouse off her body. 

In an attempt to distract from embarrassment, she talked about the painting. On a toned paper, a subtle, very delicate outline of the opposite ancient building. A commendable usage of black ink and watercolors. It was perfect except for a few splashes caused by the raindrops which washed the colors down on the paper. 

He held his precious sketch in front of his eyes figuring out how to handle the damage or maybe thinking of the positive aspects of a loose washed paint. A man in a cotton t-shirt and a brown blazer, deep lines on his brow witnessed that he had passed his fourth decade some years ago. 

When he didn’t answer her, she dragged a chair, placed it near to his table and sat there surveying him once and painting another. 

“I think you were not invited, madam,” he said politely and impatiently. 

“It is a café for everyone,” turning her lips into an upside-down ‘u’. 

Zara, sensing the artist almost boiling, shuffled her chair backward, causing a loud, ugly, squeaky noise that everyone in the café turned abruptly to her in silent discorn. Her chair stopped between his table and another one, there were no available tables. 

“Please, stop doing that,” he murmured. “Fine. You can join me. Quietly!” 

“I’m so sorry. I only want to apologize. I understand what a work of art means to the artist. It is amazing. I like how you capture the light and shadow on the facades. And the ambiguous figures in the street. As if the hero in the painting is the building itself. It controls the scene and manipulates its ruling magnificence…”

“Thank you. You are…” He examined her to figure out her profession or the reason she was in Paris. 

“A student” she replied after a while. “I passed a competition and won a scholarship for one year to study culinary art in a famous school.” 

“Cool. You must be good.” 

“Naa. Actually, I have decided today that I will leave by the end of this month.”

“Oh! Tough world, isn’t it?” 

“Sucks!” 

He felt curious or concerned to learn more, but as her face grew gloomy, he preferred to keep quiet. In the meantime, the rain had ceased and the sky began to clear slowly. They observed the grey clouds vanish, and the sun took over the sky once more.

“What was your destination, Ms….?” 

“Zara.” She smiled vaguely and shook hands with him. 

“Max. Let’s take a walk. The sun is warm now, and you need to get dry.” 

He collected his materials and handed them to the waiter who somehow knew what Max expected him to do without any discussion. Max was a regular at the café and visited it daily to pursue his current artistic project. 

“So, what put you off your dream?” he asked as they walked down the streets in accidentally sudden turns, following the sunlight. 

“Have I had one? How do you know?” 

Zara disclosed her story of an unsuccessful marriage back home. She was young, younger, and she thought it was love. Everything was magical, pleasant, and certain. She was certain it was the love of her life that would last forever. Alas, forever continued for two years. 

“And now?” Zara sighed. “I thought I’d get to something solid, something I loved to do all my life. However, I can’t get along. I am always placing the wrong ingredients or unsuitable colors on the plate, holding incorrect utensils. So many French words are confusing me. I felt so stupid today at the mess I caused in the kitchen spilling sauce on the table. Clumsy!

“Sorry, if I talk too much about my troubles. What do you do here?” 

“And you are lonely. Listen I can ask Louis to help you with some basics.” 

“Louis??”

“Yes, the waiter at the Beaubourg Café where we met.” 

“Please. Merci beaucoup. This will be great! 

“And,” he looked at her very carefully, “what a beautiful face you have and of course a splendid body. I… I mean I’d love to paint a portrait for you if you are interested.”

Zara looked to the other side and moved her fingers through her black hair, now dry, and gave a faint nod. Or at least Max imagined she nodded. 

“I have to think about that. But anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow in the Café. To see Louis, I mean.” 

“Yes!!” 

She took the lane on the right and walked away. Max lit up a cigarette, his eyes following her steps. She turned back and waved.

He thought she smiled too.

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Marian Wood: Night at the Paris Beaubourg Restaurant

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Night at the Paris Beaubourg Restaurant

Marian Wood

The Restaurant

Sitting at the quiet table, I watch the world go by. A busy restaurant now silenced in the cold of the evening. The overpowering scent of petrichor fills my senses as the rain dances on the pavement. Relaxing, I stretch my feet and toes, and then put my arms around my neck and yawn.

I jump as Miles creeps up behind me and puts his hand on my shoulder. Sitting opposite me, I watch as he sits and holds his head with his hands.

Miles has always wanted his own restaurant, a qualified chef, this was his dream. It was nights like tonight that could change that.

Things could have gone worse. Witnessing the repercussions, I’m glad that we are here to tell the tale.

Whitney

First dates are always awkward, Whitney knew nothing about the man she was supposed to meet. The Paris Beaubourg restaurant was exclusive, she had read that the food was exquisite. Pushing back her blonde hair, she pulled up her favourite red top wanting to give a good impression. Looking at her watch, her stomach was churning, he was now late.

Mark

He knew that he shouldn’t be walking to the restaurant, he had people he should be meeting with and deals he should be doing. With a need for a companion, he ignored the vibration in his right-hand pocket. Excited to be meeting Whitney, he had arranged for a table at the nicest restaurant he knew. Making a good impression was essential. She didn’t need to know all of him, just the best of him. He had good points. He was handsome, could be kind and knew how to treat a lady. His friends he hoped she wouldn’t ever meet.

Managing two lives was not going to be easy, but in his conversations with Whitney he knew she was special. He turned off his phone, he didn’t need the endless calls about tonight. Surely four of them could do the job alone, they didn’t need him.

Late

Watching the young woman alone at the table, I wondered about her evening. I do this with all of our customers trying to play out their lives in my head. She had been sitting alone for a while. From her booking, I could see the table was booked by a Mr. Hemming who was now ten minutes late. I hoped she had not been let down. It’s happened to me many times, but never in a top-class restaurant surrounded by other customers. Feeling concerned for her, I poured a glass of wine and took it to her table. Telling her it is on the house, I wished her a good evening. She smiled back at me pleasantly and nodded, thank you.

Continuing to serve tables, I was relieved when I saw a young man approach her table. Leaving them alone, I could see they had only just met. Then picking up the menus and wine list, I walked to the table. As I saw the man’s face, my stomach lurched. I recognised him; my heart went to the young woman.

The Gang

A few weeks ago, a gang of youths had been here, rough and ready for a fight. They had eaten dinner but got very drunk. Words had been seen and Miles had asked them to leave. This man had appeared to be the ring leader as he had spat at Miles as they left and had said they would never be back again. We were glad of this, as other customers were upset by their unruly behaviour. What had been really strange though was the money left on the table after they departed. Not many customers leave a £200.00 tip, especially after an already expensive meal. Something had been wrong but we decided not to report it. It happened and that was it.

Watching them, they seemed relaxed and happy, things were going well. The young woman was laughing at his jokes and kept playing with her hair. Nerves, I could see that she wasn’t relaxed, but I couldn’t hear what was being said.

10:00 pm

Serving other customers, racing between restaurant and kitchen, I had a good view of everything. As two youths walked in, I stopped them and asked if they had a reservation. As the short blond man pushed me hard into the wall, I knew he meant business. Hearing the shouted profanities, I reached for the phone behind me and dialled the police. Things were going downhill fast. I willed Miles to not get involved, but he usually did.

Hearing his deep voice, my stomach started to churn. The three men were now fighting and the young woman was crying. From my position, I could see everything, and there was now a sound like an explosion. Other customers were now crying, and fear could be heard. I couldn’t see the shooter but one of the youths was lying on the floor and the fight had stopped.

Disaster

As the police and ambulance services walked in, I felt relief wash over me. A female officer went to speak with the young woman. The police found their shooter who appeared to know the three gang members. As a hand tapped my shoulder, I looked around. There was Miles to check I was alright. Hugging him with relief, our next task would be giving statements and tidying up.

The young woman passed by me with the policewoman. She nodded a thank you as she walked out.

I have had quite a few first dates but never one that’s ended with someone shot. I looked up at Miles’s calm brown eyes. We are both single but I can’t tell him my thoughts. Exhaustion taking over now, I knew we were both in for a long night.

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Enzo Stephens: Food

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Food

Enzo Stephens

The wolf spider was content to hang out on the right shoulder blade of the man’s houndstooth tweed jacket, and, well, pretty much watch the world for potential prey.

It was a large specimen; larger than most of its mates, and, despite its fearsome appearance, the big female was as skittish as the rest of its breed.

But for now, it was content to relax, six of its eight legs sunk into the tweed like Velcro, and watch the air for its next unsuspecting meal, which would not be the owner of the tweed jacket, who, like the resting spider, was content to hang out, sipping coffee at a cast iron table just outside of a quaint little bistro in Nice, France

Nice was nice.

“Ahhh, spring,” breathed the man into the steam from his coffee, and indeed the scene was pastoral; bumpy cobblestones that comprised the street glistening wet; folk up and about on bicycles and their feet, off to do their business in the slow, easy way of life in southern France.

The man tore off a corner of a richly buttered croissant and flicked it toward the street, a meter or so beyond his table-for-one, then leaned back and waited, steaming brew held close to his nose. The French knew their butter, that was for sure.

One sizable pigeon fluttered to the street and began walking in that head-bobbing, chicken-ish way, making a beeline for the bread. It was soon joined by several others, and the man was tempted to flip more chunks of bread out to the incessantly hungry flying rats but decided against it.

The stuff was just too tasty to waste on vermin.

But if streetwise pigeons are anything, they are cagy and bold, and it didn’t take long for one of them to spy the croissant resting on a plate. It hopped to the table, watching, waiting; sensing danger, but testing the waters with boldness nonetheless, because to the bold go the fortunes, so to speak.

The man held motionless and the spider continued its immobility on his back. The pigeon took one step, then another, and when nothing happened, well the allure of that bread overwhelmed the poor bird.

It trotted quickly toward the plate and the man lunged forward and brought his fist down on its head while sliding the plate away from any potential splatter to protect that luscious croissant.

The hitching spider was jostled, but unmoved by the festivities.

The sudden crash was jarring but fleeting. A woman stepped out from the bistro fumbling about with her phone and her coffee, just in time to see the fresh carnage, gore dripping through the table to the pavement beneath. “What the hell?”

The man used a napkin to push the corpse off the table; it plopped to the pavement, and snared the croissant. “It was going for my food, so I stopped it.”

The corners of her thin lips turned down. “Fucking psycho.”

“Well, maybe I am and maybe I am not. But let me ask you; what would you have done?”

She turned to face him. “What the hell are you talking about? You killed an innocent bird.”

The man leaned forward to replace what was left of his croissant. He pulled a kerchief from his tweed pocket and dabbed his thin lips and clean-shaven, cleft chin. His eyes seemed to glitter in the sparkling morning sun.

“Innocent, you say?”

“Yeah, nut-bag.”

“It wanted my food.”

“So? Let the poor thing have it and go buy yourself another.”

“Well, I believe you have missed the point of this discussion madam, and so I ask you again, what would you have done?”

She stood there a moment; small, feminine fist planted on cocked hip clad in skin-tight jeans, complete with a flowing tee shirt that read ‘Girl Power! Hear Me Purr,’ expressionlessly staring at the man in the houndstooth tweed jacket that murdered a bird in cold blood mere moments ago.

“Fuck it,” and she stepped forward, pulling a chair out across from the man to have herself a seat, and the man smirked.

“You find this interesting, no?”

“I find psychos interesting.”

“Regardless, it is my honor to share your morning coffee with you today.”

“You’re damned polite for a lunatic.”

“You’ll find that lunatics often have the best manners.”

Slurp. “All right, to answer your earlier question; I would have given my bread to the birds and gone to get myself another. I can afford it.”

“And yet you still miss my point.”

“Really, Nostradamus, or whoever the hell you are?”

“Ha! Nostradamus is quite famous, and I am anything but. My name is Martin, and you are…?”

“Bored and annoyed. No idea why I sat down with you, dude. I thought you might be interesting in this entire city of el-bland-o dudes.”

“Well then I’d best make my point before you take your leave. You see, it’s all about food…” He said it as if the word should be capitalized. 

“Yeah, I get it. You were having some food, something else wanted your food. Bim bam boom, you killed it.”

“Look at the carcass now.”

She didn’t want to, but her eyes drifted down to peek beneath the table to see the mashed remains of the bird with flies getting jiggy with it. “Ugh. A corpse right underneath you, and you sit there as if there’s nothing there. You’re pretty fucked up, man.”

The man grinned, and it was not a pleasant grin. There seemed to be a lot of teeth, and they were yellowed, snaggly, and looked sharp as hell. “See? Food. The flies are beginning to feast.”

She stared at the man; the spider resting on his back sensed that something was up, maybe a touch of electricity in the air, and it skittered its way from a vertical resting place to a horizontal resting place on the man’s shoulder.

The man saw it and smiled again.

The woman saw the spider sitting there, saw the man’s smile and just knew that something was decidedly wrong with this guy. She stood up quickly, reaching for her purse when the spider made its move, and it jumped and skittered right into the bowels of the purse.

She let out a yip. “It’s in there! It’s in my purse! Get it out, please, get it out!”

Slurp. “Damned coffee’s cold, which sucks pretty badly.”

She kept reaching for the purse, snaring one of its straps and then letting it go as if it were aflame. “Please, mister, get it out of my purse.

“My point is this; everything that breathes, whether it’s oxygen or carbon dioxide, is food. Everything. Now, is this table food? Well of course not, because it’s a metal table. It can only be eaten by rust, which really isn’t eating per se. But that pigeon I just crushed? Hells ya.”

He paused, and then whispered, “You’re food.”

“Holy shit! What the hell is wrong with you?”

He sat back, crossed arms over chest, concern over disturbing his little eight-legged passenger no longer an issue, and smiled. His mouth yawned open and an impossibly long tongue snaked out, and the woman was transfixed in shock and horror.

She couldn’t pull her eyes away from the monstrosity sitting right across from her, and as she watched, a bulge formed in the middle of the tongue and rolled toward the very tip, and the bright, red flesh of the tongue split and peeled back. An eye opened, staring at her, unblinking.

“Enjoy your spider. They don’t eat much.” He tore off another piece of his croissant and flicked it to the pavement.

“Now either sit down or get lost. No need to disturb the pigeons.”

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Lisa Criss Griffin: Sunset Café

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Sunset Café

Lisa Criss Griffin

He blazed into her life unannounced, and completely unexpected. Even though she was barely twenty-one, Michelle had just washed her hands of men. Twice, she had given her whole heart to a couple of the despicable creatures, only to have it completely and brutally broken by emotional abuse and outright betrayal. Enough was enough. Even though she enjoyed the company of men, she had a bright future without one. And so it was, until she met Louis.

The first time she saw him, Louis was singing and playing his guitar at the little café where her friend Mimi insisted she meet her. She knew Mimi was worried about her, since she had buried herself in her studies after her last breakup. They ordered a couple of specialty coffees, enjoying the fresh air of the evening as they chatted about Mimi’s newest male admirer. 

Michelle gazed across the cobblestone street as her friend babbled on and on, drinking in the beauty of the burgeoning lavender clouds reflecting gold and scarlet rays of the setting sun across the horizon. The air held a hint of rain and the subtle fragrance of the heirloom climbing roses caressing the wall behind her, tantalizing her senses. It was a wonderful outing, and Michelle could not imagine how it could possibly become any better.

The gentle strum of a classical guitar surprised Michelle out of her personal thoughts. Mimi stopped her prattling in mid-sentence as they both turned towards the lovely music. A slim, yet muscular man bent over the instrument, his thick, auburn hair covering his face. As he lifted his head, his striking emerald green eyes pinned Michelle to her chair. He began to sing. The husky timbre of his voice took her breath away. She was helplessly drawn in, overwhelmed by the seductive sound of his voice and the lilting guitar accompaniment. It seemed as though he was singing only for her, and just to her. Their eyes remained locked as he sang of searching for his only love, of a love that eluded him, but he knew was out there…somewhere.

Michelle’s breath caught in her throat as the song ended, the last chord of the guitar fading gently into the atmosphere. She tore her eyes away from the musician in a desperate attempt of self-preservation. Mimi was sitting with her coffee cup forgotten in her hand, her mouth hanging open.

“Mimi. Hey Mimi….”

“O my heavens, girl.” Mimi turned back towards Michelle. “Did you realize he was singing that beautiful song right to you?”

“Well, um, yes, kind of.”

“Yes, you did notice. You are blushing, my friend. He took your breath away. Nooo, no, don’t deny it. I for one, am glad you haven’t been able to totally kill the soft heart you have walled off over the past few months.”

“Maybe we should go, Mimi.”

“Maybe we should stay. You can’t run from the siren call of true love, my friend.”

“True love! There is no such thing, Mimi. There are only men who suck the life out of us and then discard us like withered flowers when they see a fresh conquest.”

“I know that has been your experience, Michelle. And I am sorry for that, because it is not absolutely true. Take my parents, for example. You know their incredible love story. I want to share a love like theirs with somebody, and I want you to have it too.”

“Ah yes. That would be heaven. But I have serious doubts about ever finding someone who will love me like that. Someone who would love me for me, want to share every moment possible with me and be faithful too. It is a tall order, from what I have seen. Do I dare even hope it is still possible?”

“I think you are about to find out. Excuse me while I go to the ladies room.”

Mimi rose and made her way to the entrance of the café, passing the handsome musician as he made his way to their table.

“If you hurt her, I will seriously kill you, Louis.”

Louis nodded, knowing his intentions were honorable. He had known Mimi for years, and she had confided her concerns over Michelle’s disastrous love life to him several times. He knew who she was, but Michelle didn’t know he existed. Louis ran with a different crowd, and was a little older than she was. He had grown weary of the superficial relationships he shared with women. He wanted someone intelligent, kind and fun to share his life with. Michelle was all those things and more. 

Mimi had neglected to mention how beautiful her friend was. He was surprised by the intensity of his instantaneous attraction to Michelle. He found himself unable to tear his eyes away from her as he sang…unexpectedly finding a fresh meaning to the lyrics he was singing. It seemed like the whole world faded away as their eyes locked during the song. He felt himself drawn into her shimmering light blue eyes, mesmerized by her expression of stunned acknowledgement of his soul. He was sure his eyes had revealed his fascination with her also. She had rocked his world in that moment. He suspected neither one of them would be the same if he could break through the infernal wall she had erected around her heart.

“Hi there. I am Louis. May I join you for a moment?”

“Um, sure. I guess.”

“And your name is?”

“Oh, my name is Michelle.”

“Ahhh, Michelle, ma belle. Ohhh, those are song lyrics. I just thought they fit you.”

“You do sing beautifully, Louis. How did you learn to sing and play the guitar so well?”

“I taught myself. My family enjoyed singing all during my childhood and I wanted to learn to play the guitar. And so, here I am. Making some music on a beautiful evening, surrounded by the sweet scent of roses and one of the most spectacular sunsets in my recent memory. And then I saw you. My world stopped for a moment. There was an undeniable connection between us during that song….”

Michelle shifted uncomfortably on her chair, knowing he was speaking the truth. She was mesmerized and terrified. She didn’t know this gorgeous man, but she wanted to. A lot. She mentally kicked herself for wanting to irresponsibly jump into the deep end of the pool with him. But, his eyes! Sincerity radiated from his eyes. And something else…a little fear too, perhaps? It had never occurred to her that any man would care whether she blew him off or not. She took a deep breath and jumped.

“I felt it too, but we don’t know each other, Louis. I am not interested in beginning a casual relationship. I will not be hurt if you get up and walk away right now. Really.”

“My interest in getting to know you better is entirely honorable. I have had my fill of shallow, fleeting relationships also. I want…more. Would you do me the honor of accompanying me to enjoy something fun?”

“Something fun? What?”

“Let me surprise you. And please bring your friend if you wish. It is all on the up and up. Dress casually and prepare to laugh. We all need more laughter in our lives, don’t you think?”

“Good heavens, yes!”

“Alright. It is a date. I will meet you and your friend here tomorrow evening about 6:00. Until then…Michelle, ma belle.”

Louis raised Michelle’s hand to his lips, placing a soft kiss on her fingers. The warmth of his gentle lips lingered on her hand. She covered the tingling caress on her fingers with her other hand, willing the sensation to remain as long as possible. 

He was sincere, but there was also a slightly dangerous undercurrent about Louis. It wasn’t that he had a bad boy past…although she was sure he did. He was dangerous because if she fell for him, he would have the power to crush her heart in a way she might never recover from. But he was charming, talented and frankly irresistible. She was half afraid she was like a hapless moth, compulsively drawn to a flame that could ultimately be her demise. 

“Sooooo…did you talk with Louis? I saw him leaving our table as I stepped out of the café. Come on, out with it. What did he say? What did you say?”

“He invited us to go do something fun tomorrow.”

“Us? The both of us?”

“Yes. He wanted me to know his intentions were honorable, so he invited you too.”

“Are you going?”

“I will, if you will go too.”

“Well of course I will accompany you. But you don’t need to worry about Louis. He is a good guy. And a lot of fun.”

“You KNOW Louis?”

“We grew up together. He went through a wild phase when he was younger, but he has outgrown that foolishness. I think he is looking for the same things out of life as you are. I hope you will give him a chance. Louis is a lot of fun.”

“So this whole thing was a setup?”

“Yes…and no. I only agreed to put you both in the same vicinity. Everything else was between you and Louis.”

“Hmmmm. I don’t like being set up. But…Mimi. He is gorgeous, talented, and seemed so sincere! I am afraid he could really hurt me if this goes anywhere.”

“Honey, living is about taking chances. You still have a lot of living to do. Take a chance on Louis. Besides, if he hurts you, I will most certainly have to kill him.”

The two friends laughed and made plans for their mysterious outing with Louis the following day.

Louis was awaiting them by the café, leaning nonchalantly on a lamppost close by the fragrant roses. He was more attractive than ever. He reached for Michelle’s hand and held it gently as the three of them walked several blocks to their unknown destination. Louis purchased three tickets from the front office of a beautifully refurbished antique theater. They splurged on popcorn and soft drinks, settling into comfortable velvet seats for the movie. The movie of the day was “Young Frankenstein.” Michelle laughed freely through most of the movie, along with Louis. She was disappointed when it was over. Michelle could not remember a time in recent history when she had enjoyed herself so much. 

The three of them went back to the café for a glass of wine afterwards. Neither Louis nor Michelle noticed when Mimi discreetly left them to their own devices. The two of them quickly became inseparable and were married seven months later.

***

The sun was setting. Rays of gold and scarlet light illuminated the undersides of the purple clouds dotting the darkening sky. The smell of roses and a hint of rain wafted through the air by the old café overlooking the lake across the cobblestone street. An acoustic guitar played softly in the background as two elderly patrons smiled into each other’s eyes. He held her small arthritic fingers gently within his large wrinkled hands. His thumb caressed her fingers lovingly.

“It is hard to believe we have already shared fifty wonderful, fun-filled years together, Louis. I am so glad we took a chance all those years ago, my love.”

Louis smiled, completely enamored by his wife.

“So am I. Michelle, ma belle. So am I.”

Copyright ©️ 2021 Lisa Criss Griffin
All rights reserved

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K. A. Bachus: On First Acquaintance

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On First Acquaintance 

K. A. Bachus 

It was a new thing at the time, the idea of contracting out wet operations. It really took off in the seventies with the Church Committee hearings, but we were ready before then. When I got back from Southeast Asia after my colleague Jello failed to get me killed despite his best efforts, our boss, Fred Dolnikov took the team away from him and gave them to me. 

“If they live, they’ll be the best,” he said. 

What he didn’t say was, ‘Here’s hoping you live to see it happen.’ 

I did live and I saw it happen. They were, are, the best. Back then, they were just kids. At least that’s what I thought when I saw them step out onto the platform at the Gare du Nord in Paris. Each differed from the others. The blond guy was the youngest, with remarkably blue eyes and a knack of not seeming to move even when he walked. The tallest was French, a trait he let you know right away, with curling dark hair, long legs, and a laughing countenance. The third, also still in his twenties, looked at me with old grey eyes that had seen too much and done too much. He brushed the sandy hair from a Slavic brow and seemed to decide just how he’d like to kill me. I noticed he was missing two fingers on his right hand. It didn’t seem like it would hold him back from his decision regarding me. 

I now know that old grey eyes was weirdly connected to my boss, whose wife had spirited him out of Russia at age four after she killed his father, who was her lover. Now that’s a story worth telling. I wish I knew all of it. I don’t, but I know this. Vasily Sobieski was every bit the killer his father had been. I could see it in all of them as their feet hit the platform, but especially in Sobieski. 

He was also the only one whose name I knew. They called their team Charlemagne, no doubt for some esoteric reason important only to themselves. The other two called the Frenchman Louis, but after I felt the blue-eyed stare of death freeze my blood when I called the blond one Misha as they did, I decided on simple direct address with eye contact and no names given. More polite than ‘hey you’ but not by much. I have always referred to the Frenchman as just that, and by the end of that op, dubbed the blond guy Mack for reasons you shall see. 

I led them to a less than luxurious Fiat I had rented. 

“This is unacceptable,” said Mack. We spoke German. I spoke the hoch Deutsch, he a clearly Austrian form with an accent I had never heard. 

“It is a good car,” I said. 

“It is not what was agreed.” 

“I could not find a Mercedes to rent.” 

“Then you should have bought one,” said Mack. 

Looking back, I confess he was right. It was a drop in the bucket compared to what we were paying them, even then. 

I suppose the silence was better than the grumbling I was used to with other teams, but I was conscious of the animosity from the driver next to me, Mack, and the desire to kill me from Sobieski behind me. The Frenchman’s amusing chatter should have lightened the mood, but it’s hard to relax when you’re sitting in front of a killer. 

Mack’s lip curled when he saw the safehouse. The Frenchman became silent. Sobieski never said anything anyway, so no change there. I got the impression they were unhappy with me. It was an upper story flat above a cafe on a busy street in a fashionable area. I had rented a room in the apartment next door for myself. It was a sty. My landlady was a single mother with a twelve-year-old daughter and not big on housekeeping. 

Gear stowed, refrigerator declared inadequate, chairs scraping across a torn linoleum floor in the kitchen of Charlemagne’s safe house, we sat down for my briefing. I began with the name of the target. I even had his address. “He’s an American. One of ours. The counterintelligence division has determined he has been turned. Here is the verification.” I handed Mack the document. It was another stipulation in the contract. I hoped he would be happier with CI’s work than he was with the car. 

“What are you looking for?” he asked after passing the verification to the others. 

“We want any couriers you can spot, dead drops, his route past any possible live drops, alarms, and signals would be very nice. We would like him to go…accidentally. The French are interested in his case officer and we intend to share some of this information with them, so his handler should not suspect a termination.” 

“When is sunset today?” 

I didn’t know. The Frenchman helped me out. 

“18:36.” 

Mack addressed me again. “Bring the correct car by 19:30. We begin at 20:00.” 

“Also food,” said the Frenchman. “It should not be difficult to find.” He pointed down, meaning the cafe. 

I felt dismissed, which I was, and should have been a little putout, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, and a Mercedes was not going to fall in my lap without hustle, so I made tracks. By the time I entered my own rented accommodation, it was past nine o’clock and the landlady was out. I unlocked the door and turned on the light. The girl stood by the hallway entrance, big brown eyes staring wide, brown curls on her head quivering. 

“Are you okay?” I asked. 

She nodded very short nods very fast, like she wanted to cry. I closed and locked the door and she ran to a room at the back. I heard a television turn on. I was so discouraged and weary, I did not undress. I slipped off my shoes and hung up my coat and lay down on top of the bedclothes fully dressed. Had my bozos scared the girl? They seemed all business to me. Would they go in search of entertainment if time permitted? I later learned that indeed, they would, even if time did not permit, but never with children. 

I consoled myself that she was safe now. I was there and had locked the door. In a state of ignorant bliss, I fell asleep. 

Still dreaming about other things, my mind incorporated the noises into the dream so that I was completely disoriented when I reached full consciousness. Screams, a man’s shout, and the sound of blows came through the thin wall my room shared with the next so clearly that I thought the emergency had come to me. I leapt off the bed, drawing my Walther PPK, and searched for the light. My room was empty but my head had cleared. The noise did not stop so I manfully went to stop it. 

Barging into the next bedroom, I was in time to see a man backhand the girl. She fell on the bed, only partially dressed. 

“What the…?” I said. 

The man turned. He was a good six inches taller and considerably broader — I was a bit more trim back then. He clocked me immediately and I fell against the door frame. My gun was still in my hand so I stepped out of the room, used a two-handed stance, and sighted on his heart. He was only a few feet away and there was enough of him. I was bound to hit something. 

“Get out,” I said. 

To my disappointment, he raised his hands and scooted past me. He slammed the door shut on his way out. After I made sure the girl was okay, if anyone can be okay in such a situation, I showed her how to make it difficult for anybody to get in that door. It seemed the man had a key. 

I spent the rest of the night waiting in the team’s safe house next door. I never did figure out what their alarms were as I came in. I was only sure I had tripped them all and would probably wind upshot as a natural consequence. 

It was the smell of gun oil and bacon that woke me. I lifted my head from the cradle of my arms on the kitchen table. Sobieski was pushing a dry patch through the barrel of his Makarov and staring at me with those expressionless gray eyes. “He is awake,” he said quietly. 

The Frenchman turned from the two-burner stove, a spatula in his hand. “Misha,” he said, “our babysitter has had his eye decorated by a fist.” 

Mack inspected it and waited. They all waited, giving me the ultimate open-ended question. I could say anything I wanted, but I had the sense that silence was not an option. I suspected also that lying would be unwise. So I told them. 

“He had a key?” said Mack. 

“Yes. My French is not very good, but she said he had a key. She would not tell me who he was.” 

“Describe him again.” 

I did. 

“You must stay here. Do not go back.” 

“I should tell the mother.” 

“She will not thank you for reciting the words she already knows to be true but has chosen to ignore.” Even as a twenty-something youngster, Mack could pinpoint human character with uncanny nicety. 

Of course, he was right, the first example of many I have received from him over the years. My landlady sent me away with a flea in my ear. 

That night I could not be on hand to protect the girl but had to listen from next door as the alarm I taught her to make to stop an intruder came crashing down. I left it to other neighbors on the floor to intervene and quell the screams. They did not. The male voice ran down the cafe steps shouting invectives and the screams subsided into sobs. I heard the girl re-stack the plates and pans on the chair under the doorknob. At least I had taught her to fight. 

I woke to the sound of chairs scraping the linoleum around me, lifted my head, and beheld three very tired young men with red eyes and heavy stubble. It was dawn and they were hungry. I could tell by the pointed glances toward the empty refrigerator. The cafe downstairs would not open for another hour and a half. 

In slow, deliberate movements, Mack brought out from his pockets three film canisters, several handwritten notes, and an up-to-date cipher book. The Frenchman drew a notebook from his inside coat pocket in which were detailed directions to every post office location the target’s cell used and the signals for occupied drops. 

Sobieski said nothing and produced nothing, just regarded me with those light eyes of disapproval and calculation. 

He was the one I addressed. “Where is he?” 

The Frenchman answered. “Montmartre. Very unfortunate.” 

They were the last words I heard in that room. Charlemagne was gone before I could blink twice, payment in gold in the Frenchman’s pocket. I locked the door behind me and slipped the key through the letter slot of the cafe. I could hear the chefs behind the door beginning their day, firing the stoves and whisking omelets. 

At Montmartre, my counterpart from the French Secret Service, Guy, stared down at the dead American lying on a bottom step. 

“Very unfortunate to break one’s neck at the end of so many shallow steps,” he said. I agreed. 

We pondered the corpse. The cipher book was timely and of no use other than immediately, so I handed it to him. I also read to him the locations and signals of various dead drops around the city, but I kept the films to myself. My bosses would decide whether to share them. 

“The Sûreté has told me of another unfortunate, shall we say, accident,” said Guy. “Would you like to see it?” 

Did I have a choice? I am at least smart enough to know when I do not. He led me to a narrow street not far from the Tuileries. At the end of a cul de sac off the Rue de Archives a familiar, though pale, corpse lay in a large pool of blood, already heavily populated by flies, its carotid neatly nicked. 

“He appears to be the brother of a woman who lives above a nearby cafe,” said Guy. He regarded me calmly, letting me know how thoroughly his service had tracked us. 

“How unfortunate,” I said in bad French. “Would that be the woman who has a very young daughter at home with no one to protect her?” 

Vraiment,” he said. We have heard the same. My superiors are concerned only that Mackie Messer has not come to Paris to stay. 

I saw them again a few months later. I do not remember in which city. But I do remember the food. I made sure it was delicious and plentiful, and that the Mercedes was new. 

© 2021, K.A. Bachus

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Alfred Warren Smith: AMOUR INVOLUNTAIRE

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AMOUR INVOLUNTAIRE

Alfred Warren Smith

He thought he’d never see her again.

His life of indolence, unsupported by the finances needed to indulge it for prolonged periods of time, was new and exciting for her at first; she’d been a sheltered girl, and he’d taken full advantage.

Toward the end of things, as she realized living on the edge without money for a safety net, you landed on hard times, or wound up doing hard time, the excitement lost its novelty, and on a rainy night when he was passed out and dissipated, she decided she had enough of the stench of danger, and him.

Did he ever tell her he loved her….? Well, it didn’t matter now, did it?

Shuffling past the cafes now, in search of food as the cafe owners chased him and his new ragged entourage away from their doors and outside tables full of diners, he not only saw her, but she was with someone new.

The way the light hit the man’s hair, he wasn’t sure if he was gray or blond; he looked older, but not feebly so.

And there she was, sitting across from him, laughing and happy in the moment.

Had he ever given her a reason to smile? He couldn’t remember.

His stomach rumbled, and the cup he carried for spare change grew heavy in his hand.

He didn’t belong here. Not anymore.

Not even on the edge.

He struggled with whether or not to reveal himself, to let her know he was at least alive, if not well, but she was laughing, and he wasn’t the source of it. If she laughed at his shame, or took pity, it would be even worse.

And the man…the man…what would the man do?

The cafe owner on his side of the street saw him stop and stare, and went out to tell him to move along, a warning glare indicating things would go bad for him if he didn’t.

She was laughing.

His stomach growled again. He wasn’t the source of her laughter, just the source of his own sorrow, with no reason to destroy her happiness.

I guess I do love her, then. After all. He didn’t want to, but now it was amour involuntaire, and would remain quite unrequited.

He shuffled off, out of sight, out of range, into the shadows he once embraced so willingly, believing they’d never have the substance to return his embrace and keep him.

Now he knew better.

Involuntaire…

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