The Friday Fictioneer Challenge: Write a 100-word story based on the photo. And usually I do. But this time I had a lot more to say. I won’t be adding my link to the main Friday Fictioneer page, as I am a wee bit over the 100-word limit. There are many writers who did link to the page, so if you want to read other Friday Fictioneer stories based on this photo, select the smiley blue frog.
Money Well Spent
The tour bus was nearing its first destination, the old monastery ruins. Jim (not his real name) would be glad to get out into the fresh air. His seat mate, Sandra, had been talking a lot since they left the hotel. Mostly she talked about herself and only occasionally appeared to notice that someone else was there, asking a question or two as a courtesy, not from any true interest in anyone else.
“I’m retired,” Sandra said, “how about you?”
“I’m retired as well.”
“You are awfully young to be retired. What did you do?”
“Freelance consulting.” Jim looked out the window in an effort to discourage any more conversation. It didn’t work.
Sandra said, “Well, that sounds nice. I remember when people had real jobs, you know, and worked for one company for their whole career, like my late husband, Bill.” She continued sharing her ideas about employment, unemployment, retirement, education, and the lack of respect shown by the young kids these days who were obviously only one small step away from becoming hardened criminals and where would civilization be then?
The bus stopped and the tour guide waited for everyone to disembark. Sandra latched onto another unsuspecting tourist as they walked up the hill to the ruins. Jim could hear her ask a question, then start talking without waiting for an answer.
Sandra doesn’t know just how lucky she is, Jim thought. He never did any pro bono work, but thinking about having to sit next to her for the rest of the trip made him consider it. Maybe she brought some good into the world, but Jim wondered how many people would thank him if her yakking was silenced and a little peace and quiet took its place.
Jim was a retired assassin.
Jim had looked forward to this trip for a long time. He’d chosen somewhere he’d never been before. Someplace where there may have been ghosts, but it wasn’t his fault if there were. He’d never taken a vacation once he started his “freelance consulting” career and this was to be the first of many trips. He decided to use touring companies so he didn’t have to make any of the thousands of decisions that accompany long distance travel. He’d had enough of that while “employed.” It was expensive, but he considered it money well spent. He was quite well off and had all the time in the world to himself and no one else to answer to anymore.
With his camera strap around his neck, Jim approached the ruins with all the other tourists. The tour guide was explaining the history of the monastery in a monotone. He also sounded as if he had a cold. Jim decided to stay away from him, in case the man was contagious.
Jim went around back and found some steps leading up. He unlatched the chain, ignoring the “Danger” sign. Climbing to the top landing, he could see the surrounding countryside in all of its patchwork glory. Centuries of farming had created the system of interlocking fields and paths. He breathed in the fresh air and thought he could feel the continuity of time reaching out to him, through him. He took a few compulsory photos but knew they’d never compete with his memory of what he could see. Storm clouds were rolling in; he could hear the thunder, smell the rain. This is life, he thought.
He purposefully waited to start down until he could see the tour group loading back onto the bus. No reason to stand in line any longer than necessary, he thought. He relished the last few moments on top, as if he were a god.
As he turned to leave, he heard a small sound.
Sandra was there, at the top of the steps.
“I was wondering where you’d got to,” Sandra said. “Are you okay?”
Jim forced a smile, “Just waiting until the last moment. I wanted to take in the view. It’s very beautiful, isn’t it? Maybe I’ll move to a small village in the area. I quite like it.” He was surprised at how he felt, and just as surprised that he’d shared his thoughts with someone. Well, he could afford to be open now. Chatting with someone wouldn’t put him in any danger. All those years of anonymity, false identities, never settling down; that was behind him. The identity he used now wasn’t his real one, of course, but it would be his last one. “Maybe I’ll even have people over for tea,” Jim said, feeling quite friendly for the first time in years.
“That sounds lovely,” Sandra said. “But I don’t think it will work out for you.”
Now Jim was alert. He watched as she reached into her bag, taking out the handgun.
Without giving him a chance to react, Sandra shot Jim twice: once through the head, once through the heart. No one heard it due to the silencer, the wind, the thunder. She approached his crumpled body, removing his wallet and passport. It was raining heavily by the time she latched the chain at the bottom of the steps with the “Danger” sign that Jim had ignored much to Sandra’s delight.
She didn’t know how long it would be before someone found him. The rain was an unexpected bonus. She was counting on Jim’s professionalism to prevent his body from ever being identified. His fingerprints weren’t on file anywhere, as he had always cleaned up after himself before leaving a hotel room or kill site.
With her smartphone, Sandra photographed herself in front of the ruins and texted the photo to her partner, back in Paris. This set in motion several tasks: a cleaning crew went to Jim’s apartment in Riga and wiped down all surfaces, just to be sure there would be no fingerprints anywhere to match those of an unidentified dead man found in Ireland. Jim’s rent got paid for a year and his bank account contained just enough money to cover automatic utility payments for 12 months, as well.
By nightfall, the touring company records would no longer contain any mention of Jim as a passenger. Sandra ran back to the bus through the rain.
She smiled at the tour guide he passed her row, counting the people to ensure no one was left behind. He got to the back of the bus, announced that all were accounted for and the bus driver could continue on. If any of the other tourists asked about Jim, the story was that Jim had taken ill and made arrangements to return to the host hotel; he would not be joining them for the remainder of the tour. Returning to the front of the bus, the guide stopped for just a few seconds to squeeze Sandra’s hand in thanks. Her heart swelled knowing he could now afford to take his son to the US for cancer treatment; his chances of survival were looking up.
It had been a very long and expensive job, tracking down Jim, paying off everyone to cover her movements and Jim’s. The bulk of Jim’s money would be end up in her Swiss bank account. There was enough to take care of all her expenses and have plenty left over. Sandra (not her real name) considered it money well spent, especially as it hadn’t been hers in the first place.