By Ed Gregory
Submitted to NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Contest 2017
Vasili folded Bob August like a beach chair and stuffed him an overhead storage compartment.
“Boss says don’t hurt you. I don’t think that’s hurting, is it?” Vasili said. He laughed with gusto, then sauntered toward the others gathered at the front of the private high-speed railway car.
If August had been taller than his five feet five and three-quarters inches, he wouldn’t have fit and it would have hurt a lot more than it did. Then again, if he had been much taller, or even 10 or 15 years younger, this encounter might have had a different conclusion.
A muffled voice from the storage compartment called out: “Faelirh ih’wort nnea mogain!”
“That’s Romulan. I’m Russian,” Vasili shouted back. “Damn Americans and their Google voice.”
August eased his way out of the storage compartment, dropped to the floor, then bounced up quickly and started pushing down the new wrinkles in his suit.
Despite the rough handling, August was beginning to warm to Vasili. That would make it harder to plan Vasili’s necessary, albeit unfortunate, demise. The game play grew thin and it was nearing time to get back to the business of killing and stealing and lying – of which all present were accomplished professionals.
Vasili grabbed a beer from the small fridge and sat on the floor after trying unsuccessfully to squeeze his bulk behind small dining table. Already seated there were his boss, Anatole Cernekov, and a substantial woman named Rosie who was anything but and whose accent and vocabulary were both guttural.
“The ugly little shite needs to die before we reach Amsterdam,” she said, resuming the conversation interrupted by the brief physical altercation between August and Vasili. “Let’s do it now so we have time enough to slice him and dice him and flush him.”
She tapped on the leather case open on the table in front of her, displaying all manner of blades handy for everything from torture to dismemberment. August continued down the narrow aisle until he could look up at Cernekov and trade stare for steaming stare.
“Can’t you keep your ugly hag in her place?” August asked. The woman spat at him from across the table, but missed.
The high-speed train from Paris to Amsterdam was nearing midpoint and peak speed, which made the end of August seem increasingly imminent. But Cernekov had not given his ruling yet.
August didn’t wait.
“Truth is,” he said, “that I was just shining them on at The Hague about having a vital last bit of evidence to hand over, a final debriefing that needed to be in person. I just wanted to see if they would get me posh travel arrangements like this just once before I reached mandatory retirement.”
Cernekov’s jaw tightened for just a moment, a tiny twitch, then relaxed.
“Ahh! So, I know they take you guys out of service before you get so old and addled that there’s a risk you might to start to speak injudiciously.”
August nodded in the affirmative. It was no trade secret.
“But what I want to know,” Cernekov said, “is which story is true. Does retirement mean a permanent trip of the ambien express, or do they send you to a private island where you can live out your life safe, comfortable, and out of contact with the rest of the world?”
August shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s like heaven. Nobody’s ever come back to talk about it, so it could be paradise or just the long cold night.”
He reached slowly into his jacket and pulled out a battered spiral bound pocket calendar. He thumbed through it, brow furrowed, and flipped back and forth through the pages before he stabbed a final page with his finger and announced: “Ah, yes, gentlemen and lady. It seems I’ve still got six months on my membership. I do believe this high-speed train will have us in Amsterdam long before then.”
Vasili shook his head slowly from side-to-side, snarled, and grabbed the calendar.
“Shit!” he said, licking the spot of blood from his thumb where it had been pricked by the spiral.
He tossed the calendar back at August, who ducked and then deftly picked it up from the floor and returned it to his inside pocket.
“So if we take him out now, he’ll never know the answer. Hey Vasili, now that is funny.”
Vasili wasn’t laughing. He was staring at his thumb, which was now black and swollen to the point of skin splitting. Cerenkov looked surprised, but it was because one of Rosie’s blades was buried deep in his left temple.
August stepped back quickly enough to avoid the blood spray.
“Thanks, mom,” he said. “Were you really trying to spit on me?”