I just learned that I placed first in my group for a flash fiction challenge. We’re starting with around 60 groups and weeding down to one winner in December. Each group is given a random genre, location and prop to include in their story. A round begins at midnight Friday and ends at midnight Sunday.
My assignment: Ghost Story/Tuxedo Rental Store/Wrench
Early Morning Jazz
“Where’d I put that strap wrench?” Jazz didn’t take her head from beneath the sink.
“Sorry, I was sitting on it.”
Jazz gave the man the eye. She let her gaze linger on the wedge of hairy chest showing at his shirt collar. Damn, he was a looker.
She collected her wrench and got back to work. Mr. Hotness was paying her to fix his leaky sink, after all. She checked the time. 7:52. She’d only been twenty minutes on the job. Not going to pull in a huge paycheck, not even with the after-hours bonus. “Looks like you got a good clog under here. Just take a few more minutes to clear it.”
“I appreciate you coming out. Don’t want to close the washroom during business hours.”
She shot him a look. “Lot of men needing tuxedos lately?”
He grinned wryly. “Just don’t like putting up a ‘closed’ sign. Gives the customers the wrong idea.”
“Well, you got about ten years worth of coffee grounds in this trap.”
“Bob always puts too much in the filter.”
“Tell them to wipe out the grounds before they rinse the pot, then. Surprised you haven’t had to call before now.”
“You know how it is. Just a drip at first. Shove a bucket under it and make do.”
She knew. Nobody wanted to pay the plumber. “Then you’re ankle deep in water when the pipe breaks.”
He laughed again. “Didn’t figure I should wait quite that long. And I liked your ad.”
“Designed it myself.”
“I like the way you shopped that old Billy Holiday video. Looks like she’s really saying the line.” He put a hand on his hip, mimicking the singer’s pose. “‘Plumbing giving you the blues? You need Jazz.’ I’ll bet you could write for an advertisement company.”
“There’s an idea if the work slacks off.” She held up the pipe. “You can’t just dump everything down the sink without rinsing. Let the water run for two or three minutes.”
He crossed his arms across that brawny chest, eyed her up and down. “You really like doing this? Must be a filthy job sometimes.”
She fought the heat that gaze left behind. They always asked. “I like figuring out what’s wrong and fixing it. Can’t do that behind a desk in some office.”
She returned his look. “You like renting tuxedos?”
“It’s a business. I like finding the right suit for a man, seeing him look his best. And most men don’t really need a tux more than once or twice.”
“Proms and weddings.”
“Mostly. But folks aren’t going to quit having either one any time soon. You had both yet?”
She cut a glance at him. Was that a convoluted way of asking if she was available? He wasn’t wearing a ring either, though he had a pale strip on the right-hand finger, like he’d worn something recently. “Went to the prom. You?”
“Same.” He leaned toward her. “You about finished?”
She banged the pipe against the side of the bucket. The coffee grounds glopped into the bottom — and something clinked.
“Is this a college ring?” She fished it out, wiped the grounds away with her rag. “Somebody’s going to be happy to see this.”
His face lit up, a dimple seamed his cheek. “I never knew what happened to it.”
She set the ring on the counter. “You got time for coffee before you open up? I’ll be done in under five minutes.”
He stared at the ring without picking it up. “I’d really like that. I’m not sure I –”
“Tell you what: I’ll finish up, walk over to Starbucks and get my latte. If you show, great. If not, I’m a big girl. I can deal.”
“It’s not that. I –”
A key turned in the front door. The lights in the main room buzzed, then lit up. Jazz finished the job and rose. Mr. Hotness was nowhere to be seen. Who knew beefcake could move that silently?
A balding fellow shuffled along the hallway, a glass coffeepot in one hand. He took one look at Jazz and screamed. Literally. Like the proverbial girl. He dropped the pot, screamed again when it shattered on the tile floor.
Jazz hefted her tool bag. “I guess you didn’t know the boss called a plumber.”
His jaw dropped. “Somebody called you?”
Jazz put a hand on her hip. “No, I used my ouija board.”
The man stumbled backwards, caught himself on the edge of the washroom door. “That is in poor taste, young woman. You never met Mr. Kersting.”
“I most certainly did. And if you’re Bob, he’s got a few things to say about your coffee.”
His face paled. “You couldn’t know about the coffee. And how did you get in here?”
“I told you. Your boss let me in. And now we’re going out for Starbucks.”
She stepped gingerly around the broken glass, halted at the trembling hand that plucked her sleeve.
“Mr. Kersting,” the man said. “He died last year.”
Jazz glanced back at the washroom. The ring no longer sat on the counter. Didn’t it just figure? All the good ones were married or gay … or, it appeared, dead. She freed her arm from Bob’s grasp, patted his shoulder. “I don’t think you need to worry about it. He must have been looking for that ring.”
“His college ring? He never took it off, but we couldn’t find it anywhere.”
“He’s got it now.” She turned toward the front door. You never knew. Maybe a ghost could stop for a latte on the way back to the afterlife.