This is the fourth week out of five that I’ve done Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge. I foresee doing as many of them as I can in the future. A week is just long enough to let me stew on an idea, particularly if the piece is a thousand words or less. I have time to think, but not time to dally. Cranking out a story every week is also making certain habits and weaknesses clearer to me. Now I just have to figure out how to fix them.
I was surprised by how many positive comments I got on last week’s piece. I seemed to have tapped into something I resonated with a lot of people. I don’t think my response to this week’s challenge will grab people the same way. Still, I had fun writing it, and I think my influences show through pretty clearly.
It doesn’t bother me that my accountant is a vampire. It bothers me that he drinks too much.
Mark is — quite frankly — the best tax accountant in the business. He should be, too. He’s been a bean counter since Augustus’ head was on the denarius. He’s saved me a bundle over the years. The problem is that every so often he gets melancholy over something and he crawls into the bottle for a month or two. In November, it’s not a problem. In March, it is.
It’s the middle of March when I drop by the small collection of business suites where Mark has his office with the shoebox full of receipts that make up my ledger. I know you’re thinking that’s no way to run a business. Here’s the thing: I’m good at what I do — finding people — and I’m not at counting pennies. If I was, I wouldn’t need Mark to work his magic. Anyway, the hallway door to his office is open just a crack, so I push my way in. That’s when I smell the whiskey.
I find him passed out under his desk, a trio of empty bottles nearby. I shake my head and put the shoebox down on the desk between the piles of paper that have accumulated there. I grab an empty coffee mug from the desk, walk down the hallway to where the bathrooms he shares with the rest of the office suites on this floor are, and fill the mug with water from the drinking fountain. Then I come back and pour it on his head.
He comes to in a squall of flailing limbs and curse words in a dozen languages. His gyrations are more comic than fearsome. He’s still on his back when his eyes finally focus on me.
“Guy,” he says. “That wasn’t very nice.”
“And it wasn’t very nice of you to be passed out on the floor when I showed up for my appointment. Don’t you have a coffin nearby for that?”
He pulls himself to his feet, using the desk for support.
“It’s… being cleaned,” he says.
“No, really, the velvet was getting a bit mildew-y. So I had Tony send it out to be cleaned.” He sits down in the swivel chair behind his desk. I walk over to the couch and sit, pushing aside the pillow and blankets piled there.
“You’re getting careless, Mark. The door was ajar. I could have been anyone. I could have been Crow.”
“Crow’s nobody. I’m not worried about him. He probably thinks we’re in New Mexico or something,” says Mark. He reaches down and slides open the bottom drawer on his desk.
“Oh, that’s a great idea,” I say as he pulls out another whiskey bottle, this one only half-empty.
“I don’t care what you think.” He picks up the once-again-empty coffee cup and pours himself a double.
“Did she leave you again?”
He stares at me. “She’s been gone for three years. She didn’t come back after the last time.”
“Oh,” I say. Have I really not been paying attention? Still it’s only three years. “Do you… want me to ask around?”
“No.” He knocks it back and starts pouring another.
“Then what it is?”
He stares at me again. This time he leans on the desk and uses one arm to keep his head steady. “What day is it?”
“What, today? It’s Tuesday.”
“What’s the date, Guy?”
“It’s the — oh.”
The room is quiet for a moment. Slowly, I stand up and walk over to Mark, reaching out to take mug from him. He refills it, then hands it to me.
I fling it across the room where it shatters against the wall, bits of ceramic spraying about the office, the whiskey streaking down the cheap wallpaper.
“Bona Dea, why did you do that?” Mark says, still holding the bottle.
“Because I’m tired of you moping around.” I poke his chest. “You need to cut it out. He’s been dead for more than two thousand years. It’s not even the same calendar anymore.”
“Get over it.” I poke him once more for emphasis. “I have.”
“He wasn’t your friend.”
“No, he wasn’t. He was a tyrant. ‘Sic semper tyrannis’, right?”
“I never said that.”
“No, but you could have.”
“No, seriously,” I say, calmer now. “That sort of dramatic flourish wouldn’t work without the gravitas you have. That’s why we needed you.”
He smiles a little. Flattery will get you everywhere.
“I understand,” I continue, “that you have regrets about how things turned out. I don’t feel great about it myself. Regardless, we did what we had to do.”
Mark is nodding a little now.
“We have to move on. Remember why you started this business up?”
“So that tax season would keep me busy,” he says. “So that I’d have so much work to do in March and April I wouldn’t think about it.”
“That’s right. Because you throw yourself into your work.” I’ve got him now, so I go in for the kill. “So you know there’s only one thing to do.” I nod at the shoebox and close my mouth.
He stands there for a moment, his eyes unfocused. Slowly, he puts the bottle back in the drawer and slides it closed. He sits down in the chair, clears away one of the piles of paper, pulls out a legal pad and a pen, and cracks the lid on my shoebox. He sighs and looks up at me, one hand on his chin.
“This could take a while,” he says.
“How about you take a pass through them while I go grab something to eat?”
“Sounds good,” he says without looking up as he pulls the first stack of receipts out and starts to sort them. “I’ll have a blonde.”
“I think I will, too,” I say.
I close the door to his office and head out to hunt. Crisis averted.