Ah, the first flash fiction challenge for the new year from Chuck. Our assignment: to pick a random pic from Flicker and use it as inspiration for a short story of 1,000 words. I have to admit I went slightly over the 1,000 but just a smidge:
I do it because I can
She looked almost alive, swathed in veils and satin in her simple coffin. Like a princess. Ironic, since her killer left her on the side of the road, naked, bruised and obscenely posed for all to see. With a note clutched in her hand that read; “I do it because I can.”
Her grandmother told me in broken English that it was a custom from her home country – to send the loved one dressed in their best, to Heaven. After what had happened, I wondered how the woman still believed in Heaven. Eyes closed, prayer beads rattling between nervous fingers, her lips moved in silent prayer. Her silver hair glistened in the flickering candlight making her as much of a spectre as her dead granddaughter.
I sat in the back row and watched as mourners came and went. Some cried at the coffin, others crossed themselves defensively, lest the same thing happen to their child. Still others sat in the chairs and stared straight ahead. I waited for the killer to arrive. I knew that he would. That he would want to see his handiwork and the devastating effect it had on the world.
My partner sat in our unmarked, just outside the church – smoking and watching. We exchanged texts throughout the afternoon. Mostly to amuse ourselves and in the end for nothing at all because the killer never came to pay his respects.
As the last vestige of sunlight refracted through the stain glassed windows I rose. Tomorrow was another day for catching killers. Awkwardly, I knelt in the aisle, crossed myself and went outside.
After pushing through the ancient door of the church, I stood on the stoop and looked around, trying to adjust to the gray light that shrouded my world. The engine on the unmarked turned over and I squinted at my partner, who cranked a hand to get me moving.
I plunked into the passenger seat and closed the door against the cold. “So?”
My partner, Joan waved a gloved hand. “So nothing.”
I sighed at the tired little church as we pulled away from the curb. Joan smacked my arm with the back of her hand. “Cheer up, it’s beer o’clock.”
I nodded and stared straight ahead, wondering what made the human race so cold and uncaring. But soon, I was perched comfortably on a bar stool and doing shots and beers with Joan and the hard edges of life were softened.
Joan nibbled on a pretzel thoughtfully. “He’ll probably show at the funeral.” She turned bright green eyes on me. “Where he can watch from a distance.”
I nodded, then drained the rest of my beer. “Probably.” I tossed a few bills on the bar and stood. “Let’s go.”
She dropped me at my house, where lights in the window told me Cassie was home. “You want me to come in?”
I frowned at her. “For what?”
“I could make dinner. You two could stand to eat something besides pizza.”
I smiled at her. She was a good woman, a good person. She cared. We both cared. But I had to pretend I didn’t see that extra caring in her eyes – since my wife left last year that look in Joan’s eyes was too much of an invitation. I couldn’t take advantage and I didn’t want to.
“Maybe another time.”
I stood on the sidewalk and watched as her brake lights disappeared into the fog, then turned slowly toward the house. It was probably the fog or the street light reflected in the wet pavement but I saw a flash. When I turned toward it, it disappeared. Could’ve been the beer and whiskey too.
Cassie opened the door and frowned at me – her golden curls backlit and crowned her head like a halo. I smiled – she was my angel. “You gonna stand in the rain all night?”
I hurried up the walk then gave her shoulders a squeeze before going inside. “Daddy’s home.”
The house smelled like coffee and spaghetti. And the table was set and waiting for me. Cassie pulled off my coat and nudged me into a chair. I sipped my coffee and the warmth spread through my body, taking the chill out of my tired bones. “Looks good.”
Cassie smiled proudly. “Made it myself.”
I stared at the plate of spaghetti and meatballs. “Oh-oh.”
She smacked me with a napkin and said, “Eat, you old bear.”
Afterwards, I helped her with the clean up and dishes. “How was your day?”
She told me about school and a boy she liked and wondered out loud if I’d pop for a pretty dress she wanted for an upcoming dance at school. “You think it’ll make him love you?”
She blushed. “Oh Dad, you’re such doof.” She frowned. “How was your day?”
I told her about my unsuccessful stake out and she nodded in sympathy. My daughter was an old soul who understood my need to seek justice in the world and sympathized. She snapped her fingers. “Oh, I almost forgot.” She pulled an envelope out of her pocket and handed it to me. “This came for you.”
I frowned at the unaddressed envelope then tore it open. Inside was a note: “I do it because I can.”
My heart dropped to my toes. “How did you get this?”
Cassie recoiled at my reaction. “It was taped to the door when I came home.”
I went to the window and looked out, then I went to the front door and threw it open. And I felt him out there in the fog, watching and waiting. I withdrew my gun, then said to her, “Lock the door behind me and call Joan. Tell her to get over her now!”
Then, I stepped into the fog, gun raised, flashlight poised. I stepped off the porch, scanning the yard, the bushes, then went around back. The gate was open and my breath caught in my throat.
I burst into the yard but it was empty. Hands trembling, I ran the flashlight beam across the yard and along the house. Then I saw them – footprints in the sodden grass, leading to the back of the house. Panting, I followed them to my patio door which was locked. I pounded on the door. “Cassie! Cassie!”
Then she screamed. “Daddy!”