For the past few weeks, I’ve talked about short fiction – about writing it, about ideas for using it as part of series and marketing campaigns, and about all its different forms. Each Friday here at 8LW, our own Elizabeth provides word lists we can use for writing sprints, which are really short-fiction warm-ups. (We even have a serial story going in the comments, thanks to Penny H! Check out the comments sections here, here, and here to get caught up on the sad fate of Timothy James Bartleby.)
If you really love short fiction challenges, either writing or reading them, you might want to check out Chuck Wendig‘s Friday blog posts for his flash fiction Friday prompts. You can also pop by Writer Unboxed, where they run monthly short fiction (really short, like 250 words short!) contests. The WU December contest is their Grand Finale, and is limited to the previous winners of the monthly contests.
This year, the WU monthly finalists were asked to write one more story, this one based on the image I’ve re-posted at the top of this post. As soon as I saw that picture, a story started forming in my mind. The bad news: I can’t participate in the challenge, not having finaled (or participated) in previous contests. The good news: since I wasn’t competing, I could make up my own rules. Hence, my Red Rain-inspired short story is 1000 words long. The protagonist is the main character from a future mystery book or series set in Copenhagen, which I will write someday in the (possibly distant) future. If you’d like to write a story or vignette about this photo, feel free to post it in the comments! In the meantime, I give you …
Nick Olesen sat on the cold steps outside his apartment building in the Vesterbro neighborhood of Copenhagen, twirling an unlit cigarette between his fingers. He peered down the street through the gloomy glow of streetlights, picturing the girl…Lena something…walking away. She’d been dressed head to toe in black, but he’d been able to watch her for blocks, focusing on the red dot that was her oversized umbrella fading to a pinpoint as she left him. Why couldn’t he remember her last name? He scrubbed his hand over his face, knowing damn well why. He hadn’t bother to ask for it.
A dark car pulled to a stop on the street in front of him and two middle-aged men in overcoats climbed out of it. One swished his black trench coat to the side, showing the badge on his belt. It wasn’t necessary – everything about them telegraphed ‘cops’ – but Nick nodded his understanding.
“Mr. Olesen? I believe we spoke on the phone?” The badge flasher spoke to him in heavily accented English. Nick didn’t bother to tell them he could speak Danish, had been fluent in it since childhood. To these men, he was just another udedansker, not even an ex-pat, but the son of an ex-pat, with nothing to contribute to Danish society but his abundance of American dollars.
Nick nodded again.
The badge flasher grabbed Nick’s coat collar and hauled him to his feet while his partner pulled Nick’s wrists behind his back and snapped on handcuffs. “Nicholai Jens Olesen, you are under arrest, suspected of murder.”
As they shoved him into the backseat of their car, Nick reminded them he had an alibi. “Lena something. With a red umbrella. Someone from the bar has to know who she is.”
Badge flasher held up his hand to silence Nick. His partner, driving the car, just shook his head and muttered.
The roads were nearly deserted – on a Thursday night, the Copenhagen streets away from the bars and clubs cleared out early – and they made it to the station in minutes. By the time his new friends had dragged him out of the car and into the imposing, gothic structure that housed police headquarters, Nick had a plan.
“Can I make a call?” He stuck to English. Maybe they’d slip up and say something, anything in Danish that would give him a clue about what the hell was going on.
The arresting officers handed him over to a uniformed man who looked like he was probably younger than Nick, possibly no older than early twenties. The man hustled Nick into a bullpen full of men and women, some in uniforms, some in business casual outfits. Down to a person, they turned to look at him. For the first time since he’d learned about the misunderstanding, had heard the police wanted to question him about a murder that had happened last night, real fear crept up his spine and tightened around his throat.
“Please,” Nick said, “I don’t know the rules, but can I make a call?”
The young man unlocked the handcuffs and shoved Nick into a metal straight-back chair. While the rest of the cops in the room got back to work, the officer pushed a desk phone toward him. “Two minutes.”
As the man stepped away from the desk to speak in a low tone to a woman in a crisp, black pant-suit, Nick dialed the only Danish phone number he knew by heart. Pernilla picked up her cell phone on the first ring.
“This is Detective Nielsen,” she said in Danish.
“Pernilla, it’s Nick. Nicholai.” He continued speaking in English in case any of the nearby cops were eavesdropping.
“I know your voice, Nicholai. Listen, I’m sorry I had to cancel last night, but Lars came back early from his business trip. And I’m working tonight.”
Nick rubbed his temple with his free hand. “This is about your work. About police business. You must know something about the murder that happened last night.”
“Of course I know about it. It’s my case.”
“Thank god!” Nick’s breath came out as a loud sigh of relief. He was right. This was all a mistake and Pernilla could fix it.
“We’ve got the killer in custody, so the streets of Vesterbro are safe again.”
Nick jumped to his feet. “The killer?” The young cop took a step toward him and Nick dropped back into the chair and lowered his voice. “But what if he’s not the one? I mean, he’s not— ”
“There’s no doubt about it. He’s our man. I told you once, I always get my man.”
“Not this time.” Nick licked his dry lips and wished for a glass of water. Or a good, stiff Scotch. “Pernilla, they think it’s me! They think I’m the killer, but I have an alibi. There was a woman…”
He closed his eyes for a minute. It was a testament to the knife’s edge on which his life balanced that he had to tell his lover that his alibi was the one-night stand he’d picked up after Pernilla had canceled their date to spend the night with her husband.
“Her name was Lena something. I’m sorry. We just…Someone at the bar had to know her. She had a big red umbrella.”
“Nick, hang up the phone and turn around.”
“What?” He turned to see Pernilla walking toward him, cell phone in one hand, a large, clear plastic bag in the other, her face pale as her white-blonde hair, her blue eyes shining.
“Don’t say another word, Nicholai. You need a lawyer.”
Pernilla held up the bag in front of her. Inside it was a big red umbrella, frayed and wet. There were thick red smears on the inside of the bag. “Her blood, and what I’m sure we’ll find out are your fingerprints.”
Nick blinked hard, trying to focus. The phone slipped out of his hand. He met Pernilla’s gaze. “And you always get your man.”