Okay, it’s February 2018’s flash fiction challenge, as issued by fabulously talented Canadian author ’Nathan Burgoine. This month we had to write a crime caper that takes place in a soup kitchen, and includes a compass.
This was really out of my genre comfort zone. I like being challenged, though. And I made it at 1000 words on the dot. Please follow ’Nathan’s FB page to join us in March!
Now, without further ado, here’s my entry, An Immoral Compass.
Frank pressed his back against the wall of the alley, hoping the cop car wouldn’t come this way. His pulse soared. The blaring of fast-approaching sirens sparked a rapid-fire debate. Stay? Go? Stay? Go? Stay? Go? Cripe, I’m in a Clash song.
A door opened behind him. The smell of soup wafted through the fetid atmosphere. Frank’s mouth watered. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten. Now he wished he’d bought the cookies from the brat who’d tried hard-selling him outside the antique shop.
As he turned to face the road, Frank spotted the glow of red and blue lights. He whipped round to see the door closing in the alley, and bolted straight for it. Once inside, he found the source of the aroma. Stainless steel pots sat in a long row, filled to the brim with broth, veggies, and, was that a bit of meat? At this point he didn’t care if it was gluten-free tofu chowder. He was starving.
“Hey!” shouted a burly soul with thick black hair bursting from wherever his white t-shirt showed skin. “You Tony?”
Frank cleared his throat. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
“You’re late. Grab a ladle. Next time, be early. We know it’s a volunteer gig, but we can’t be tracking everyone down.”
“And wash up. You’re a mess. You been cleaning out crawlspaces or somethin’?”
“Yeah, somethin’ like that,” replied Frank dryly.
“There’s a fresh t-shirt and apron over there. Use ’em.”
Frank hated being barked at and resisted pulling out his gun. It’s taking a lot of effort to keep it in my pants. He snickered at that, then felt around in his front jacket pocket. His fingers traced the round object inside. Good. Still there.
He grabbed the garments from the wall and walked to the nook under the “We Eat Food, Not Germs” sign. Frank’s reflection startled him. Burly Guy wasn’t kidding. Dirt and cobwebs everywhere. He removed his black hat, jacket, and sweater, then scrubbed away. After drying himself with a clean towel, he put on the t-shirt and apron. Placing his filthy clothes on a cracked wooden chair, Frank unzipped his jacket pocket.
Checking to see if the coast was clear, he removed a makeshift plastic case. Inside lay the compass. Frank inspected the piece—solid gold casing with a steel pointer under a pristine glass insert, worth a fortune as it once belonged to that explorer Captain Whatshisname. Frank hadn’t been great with history. He specialized in the Clandestine Procurement of Property, and he was good at it. This little guy could fetch him a cool million.
“Tony! Front and centre, now!” bellowed Burly Guy.
As the patrons lined up, Frank wrinkled his nose, trying to focus on the smell of the soup instead of some of the clientele. He put on clear plastic gloves and ladled out portions into the bowls. He’d been surprised to see entire families needing sustenance. One woman, good-looking, wore a stylish suit dress: black with herringbone sleeves. Auburn hair, his favourite. He gawked at her.
As she approached, watching him with deep-brown eyes, Frank felt tremors in the pit of his stomach. Wait. Hang on. He casually touched the pocket where he’d hidden the stash. The compass itself vibrated!
“You seem a little overdressed for this party,” blurted Frank to the woman.
She sneered. “This is not my outfit. They finally chose me for the ‘Get to Work’ program. Had my first interview in an age. Not that it’s any of your business.”
The compass quivered again. Frank quickly covered his belly.
“Please don’t vomit in the pot, mister. There are a lot of hungry people here,” she added, taking her bowl and stepping away.
She turned around.
“What’s your story, anyway?”
“You’re kidding, right?” Auburn Beauty marched off in a huff.
Burly Guy leaned over and whispered, “How do you not recognize Tonya Brady? Her family practically owned this town before the bankruptcy.”
Frank looked around and found her at a table. She’d tucked her mane into her collar to keep it out of her soup. He found himself grinning stupidly at that. Then he jumped.
“Hey, she forgot her roll. I’d better give it to her.” Before Burly Guy could protest, Frank dashed around to Tonya’s table.
She looked up with alarm at his arrival.
Frank waved. Like an idiot. “Hi!” He felt the compass vibrate again.
“Um, okay,” the woman responded.
“You need a roll. We give out rolls with the soup.”
Tonya stared at the bread Frank nervously jostled in his hands. “So, is the suspense supposed to whet my appetite?”
“Hahaha!” Frank wanted to punch himself in the face. He put the roll on top of her napkin. And just stood there.
“Uh, sorry, lady, I’m not great at navigating a conversation.”
Tonya scowled. “Really funny. Oh, my sides.”
“Navigating, eh? Is that some jab at my great grandfather?”
“Oh, shut up. Everyone knows about Captain Homer Brady.”
The compass went berserk.
The double-doors of the soup kitchen opened with a loud bang. Frank bit his lip at the sight of regional police.
He turned back to Tonya. “Hey, there’s a hair in your soup. Let me get you another one.”
Without further explanation, Frank ran to the station and filled another bowl. He darted back to a confused Tonya and handed it to her.
“I think you’ll like this one better.” He winked.
Tonya watched Frank slink away into the kitchens.
“Whatever.” She took a spoonful and her eyes went wide as a small golden compass rested on her utensil.
A voice announced from the head of the room,“Hello, I’m Officer Warren. There’s been a robbery in the area. Please remain calm and in your seats while we search this facility.”
Tonya pocketed the compass in her borrowed suit dress. Her eyes scanned the room for Frank but there was no trace of him. She smirked and took another sip of her soup.
An Immoral Compass © 2018 Cait Gordon. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact Cait Gordon.
Cait Gordon is the author of Life in the ’Cosm, a story about a little green guy who’s crushing on the female half of his two-headed colleague. Cait is currently working on a prequel to ’Cosm called The Stealth Lovers, a rom-com military space opera. When she’s not writing, she’s editing manuscripts for indie authors and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors are writers with disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She also really likes cake.