Friday, January 5, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: The 13th Keeper

Friday looming ahead of me, I pulled another title from Jemima Pett's flash fiction prompts late Thursday afternoon. That gave me "The Thirteenth Keeper," and I decided that a little romance might be in order. This one's about 950 words.

The 13th Keeper

"He's cute." Jill giggled, a sound disturbing incongruous with the evidence of decades past that marked her eyes, if not her skin.

Sandra nodded. "It's worth investigating. You never know."

"The last one didn't turn out so well."

"You won't know unless you try."

The two women leaned their determinedly dark heads together, whispering, before sitting back and taking long, thoughtful sips from the glasses they held. The gentleman in question, unaware of their scrutiny, continued to sip his own drink, apparently lost in thought.

"So how do you go about it?" Sandra wondered. “You’ve no one to introduce you.”

"It's an art," Jill said with a smirk. She was much better at this than her friend, who hadn't needed to practice for many years. "I'll show you." She touched up her hair, pulled out a compact and tidied her lipstick, then pushed back her chair and stood up. Her stumble as she passed the target's seat was completely convincing.

He leapt to his feet, putting out a hand to steady her, and Jill smiled at him with all the dazzling power her dentist and plastic surgeon could impart upon her.

"Oh, thank you!" Jill's eyelashes, the full unbelievable inch of them, flew up and down as she clutched the stabilizing arm. "I might have hurt myself if you hadn't been there, so strong and gallant!"

The gentleman made a small bow, smiled, and said, "Oh, not at all. I'm sure such a graceful lady could never stumble and fall."

Jill beamed at him. "You are too kind, my dear Mr., ah?" She let the question hang, the eyelashes hard at work.

Again the gentleman bowed. "Smith. James Smith." He patted her hand and made to let go, but Jill clutched the tighter.

"And I am Jillian Cartwright. You must let me buy you a drink to thank you for saving my life."

Mr. Smith allowed himself a slight smile at this exaggeration, but he also allowed Jill to buy the drink, gracefully ensconcing herself at his table.

When she left the restaurant an hour later, Jill picked up Sandra, who was reading a book in her own corner of the bar, and linked arms gaily as they went out, pausing only to give a flirtatious little wave in the direction of Mr. James Smith.

"So," Sandra asked, amused, "is he a keeper?"

"Oh, very definitely." Jill winked. "A most eligible gentleman. We will be dining on Tuesday, and I most certainly intend to keep him."

"What does that make?" Sandra inquired idly. "An even dozen?"

Jill paused to count on her fingers. "He's the thirteenth. The Thirteenth Keeper, and I've kept them all."

"For a little while," Sandra noted dryly.

"For a little while," Jill echoed, satisfied.

*
The flirtation developed nicely over the weeks that followed. Jill made sure that the dinner on Tuesday led to a sunset walk on Friday, and that to more time spent together over the weekend. Before the month was out, she was able to tell Sandra with confidence that “he’s in the net, dear. You see how it’s done? Just dangle the goods in front of a man and he’ll fall right in line.” The seductive smile wasn’t in use now; they were private, enjoying coffee at Jill’s apartment. Neither woman had put on her war paint, and the years were more obvious in the harsh light of morning than they needed to be.

“Do you ever worry you’re pushing your luck?” Sandra asked.

Jill shrugged. “Numbers one through twelve went quietly, and never a sniff of worry. I just need James Smith, and my retirement portfolio will be complete. I can quit, then.”

*
The wedding took place two months later. The previous twelve husbands had found that Jill’s attractions wore them out faster than expected, and each had died in a different manner, except two. Those two she had divorced without fanfare, claiming infidelity and accepting generous payments to keep the matter out of the courts and the press.

Mr. Smith seemed to be of a stronger fiber. Not only had he written the pre-nup himself, in a manner that made Jill vaguely uneasy in the moments she allowed herself to think of it, but he seemed to be disgustingly healthy.

Too healthy. Her best efforts had no effect, and she was beginning to worry.

The end came when she prepared his morning coffee, carefully stirring a spoonful of sugar into the cup, just as he liked it. She turned to get the second cup. She took her coffee black.

“What are you doing this morning, Darling?” Appearances had to be maintained until she was done with him, after all. “Will you be going to the office?”

“No, I believe I’ll be staying in. I have business here, my dear.”

It wasn’t until she had taken a hearty swig of the coffee that Jill realized it was sweet. Somehow, she had gotten hold of his cup? How could that have happened?! In a panic, she ran to the bathroom, willing herself to vomit, but nothing came up. Her new husband, the 13th, followed her, but he seemed to lack the concern she expected.

“You needn’t worry, my dear. You’ll be sick enough soon.”

Jill paled, and cursed. “How did--?”

“It really wasn’t hard. You should have made sure the cups didn’t match. In a little while, I’ll call the doctor, terribly worried over your illness. It will, of course, be too late.”

James Smith shut and locked the bathroom door, and walked away as Jill began to vomit.

Thirteen, he mused, had always been his lucky number.

***
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!


2 comments:

  1. Nice build of expectation there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wrote this one awfully fast, but the one thing I knew when I started was that #13 was going to get away :D I just didn't know if he was undercover police or was playing her own game :D

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