Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the seventy-eighth piece in this series. This week’s is a 668-worder by poet, critic, short story author, novelist and interviewee John Brantingham. This story will be podcasted in episode 27 (with two other stories) on Sunday 16th June.
The Little Guy Smiled
Edward set up the meet with the Hanson people at a McDonald’s at noon. It was a good place for that kind of thing. Plenty of people walking through. Lots of witnesses in case anyone wanted to try something. He’d come an hour early just to make sure. He always did that. Habit. A good one.
Some guys liked to roll up just on time or even a little late and make a big entrance, try to be the alpha male at a meeting where being an alpha could mean your life. Edward always figured that if someone had to pretend to be the alpha, then he wasn’t. No, it was better to be prepared, especially at a meeting where everyone was going to be carrying a weapon.
“You’re Edward Stevens, aren’t you?” Edward spun on his heel to see a little guy with a moustache looking up at him. Somehow, and Edward couldn’t think how, the little guy had snuck up on him. Despite himself, Edward jumped. Not exactly an alpha male move.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Kyle. Felicia Hanson told me to meet you here.”
Well, if that hadn’t been an alpha male move, it was all right. The little guy was twitchy. Bit his lip. He wasn’t coming down off drugs or anything like that. Edward had known enough junkies to know one when he saw him. This guy was just nervous.
Edward watched him for a moment just to show the guy that he wasn’t scared. He stared at him in the eyes until the little guy looked away. “So, what do you want?”
It didn’t make sense. He was here an hour early. Even if the Hanson people had come early too, they wouldn’t want to meet him until the scheduled time.
The little guy blinked. “They told me that you were going to be here sometime today, so I thought I’d show up and meet you.”
“They told you?” Something was wrong here. The little guy looked around too much. He was ashamed of what he was doing.
The little guy shrugged. “Well, they didn’t say. I heard. I’m a friend of the family.”
“A friend of who?”
“A friend of whom,” the little guy said. Before Edward had a chance to react to that, he said, “Felicia Hanson’s son. I’m a friend of his. I overheard him saying that you needed some work, and that you’d be here today.”
“You know, shooting people. Beating people up.”
Edward looked around the restaurant. The noon rush hadn’t started, but there were still eleven customers or so. No one seemed to be listening, but he still grabbed the little guy by the arm and walked him out the door. He took the idiot around the corner where no one would see them.
“Are you out of your mind, talking like that?”
The little guy opened his mouth and shut it. “I guess I wasn’t thinking. I’m sorry, but I need the work, and I’d be good at this.”
Edward shook his head. “Listen, the kind of work I do, I don’t need a little guy.” The man’s face crumpled. He looked like he was actually going to cry. Normally, he’d put a bullet in the little guy’s head, but he didn’t want the cops around right before the meeting. Anyway, it’d be like shooting a kid. The little guy’s shoulders had slumped.
“It’s the wrong kind of work for you,” Edward said. “You never know what kind of trouble you’ll run into, and you need to be tough in case everything goes wrong.”
“I can shoot.”
“Sure, but I’m not going to hire you. What if someone gets your piece? How are you going to fight back? Frankly, I don’t know anyone who would hire you.”
He looked around behind him to make sure no one had followed them out here. When he turned back, the little guy had a silenced pistol leveled at his stomach.
“Felicia Hanson would.” The little guy smiled.
I asked John what prompted this piece and he said…
This story was inspired by a friend of mine who was a sharp shooter for the Navy Seals. He’s one of the shortest people I’ve known and also by far the most dangerous person I have ever known. People underestimated him at their peril.
Love it! Thank you, John.
John Brantingham is the author of East of Los Angeles, and his work has appeared on Garrison Keillor’s daily show Writer’s Almanac. He has had hundreds of stories and poems published in the United States and England in magazines such as The Journal, Confrontation, Mobius, and Tears in the Fence. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for a poem in his chapbook Putting in a Window, which was published by Finishing Line Press, and his second chapbook, Heroes for Today, was published by Pudding House Press. He is a full-time professor at Mt. San Antonio College in Southern California and one of two fiction editors of The Chiron Review, a nationally distributed literary magazine.
His latest suspense novel is Mann of War, available at Oak Tree Press. You can check out the trailer for his book and many more of his humorous vlogs at johnbrantingham.blogspot.com.
John lives happily in the city of Walnut with his beautiful wife, Annie and their canine companion, Archie.
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