Rick killed the engine outside the conference center. It rattled sickly, then silence. He took a deep breath and wished for a cigarette instead. Too bad he had quit last year.
The marquee said “Welcome Class of 1983.”
The car pinged. What made that sound? Dave would know. Rick smiled, remembering teenaged Dave driving through a corn field one night just for the hell of it. He wondered if grownup Dave would be at the reunion. Maybe Dave still worked on cars, like the old days.
The old days. He stared into the rearview. He looked tired.
Would they even recognize him? Was Angie in there? Maybe she would recognize him.
Angie. He sighed. She had been the first, and she had left a permanent scar. Had she gotten fat? She had always been worried about her looks. He straightened a little and pulled in his gut.
A bald guy went in. Rick flipped through his mental yearbook and stopped. Benny. Asshole. Rick remembered the short, sharp scuffle in a gravel parking lot. Shoving, a couple of clumsy punches, friends jumping in to break it up. Curses and dire promises, but nothing happened.
Rick still hadn’t unbuckled. Who would care if he went in? Why had he gotten dressed up just to be inspected by a bunch of barely recognizable old people?
Sure, he wanted to talk to Dave, and he wanted to see if Angie had stayed hot. And, a little, he wanted to stare down Benny the Asshole. It was agonizing, this unexpected attack of indecision.
He glanced into the rearview once more, catching a sudden glimpse of teenager Rick looking back. He liked that kid. That kid had powered through hundreds of unexpected attacks of indecision.
Man, he wanted a smoke. Maybe Angie still smoked.
(First published in Stripped Lit 500 on Aug 7 2016.)
The Orange King was short and bald, and Cedric, his assigned bodyguard, hated him.
“You. Taste this wine,” Orange slurred, waving a bejeweled hand dismissively toward the bejeweled goblet, his fifth of the hour. Cedric was counting.
Cedric took a small sip, hoping it was indeed poisoned. If the assassin was good, it would take a while for the venom to kick in. Cedric was younger, larger, and stronger than the pudgy specimen dressed in orange slumped in the seat of honor at the long table of guffawing sycophants. Maybe Cedric would live long enough to see the orange pig writhing in agony on the stone floor.
The minstrels stopped playing for a moment, and the dozen drunken members of Orange’s inner circle fell quiet as well, each looking down the laden table toward the new monarch.
“So, my dear,” Orange resumed his conversation with the pale Lady Atama sitting on his left, oblivious to the sudden quiet of the room, talking loudly around a mouthful of chicken, his thin lips greasy. “It’s a pity about your late husband.”
Lady Atama nodded, back straight, her hands folded in her lap, the elaborate meal untouched before her. Her eyes flitted to Cedric as he returned the goblet. The bodyguard smiled with only his lips.
“But we all must die sometime, they say.” Orange wiped oily fingers on his velvet tunic and took a long drink from the goblet. One of his henchmen snickered and elbowed his neighbor.
Lady Atama looked with longing at the jeweled glass, watching it closely, almost hopefully.
“My war council says that his army will be loyal to you now,” Orange said, swirling his glass and cutting a quick glance down the table.
She looked at him evenly, betraying all the emotion of a serpent. “You are the king.”
Orange looked puzzled, as if he didn’t quite understand the answer. His face reddened, and Cedric found Orange’s discomfort most satisfying
“I am. And I order…” he barked. Then he stopped, straightened, and smiled. He had a crooked, brown tooth. “I ask that you have your war captains meet with me tomorrow morning. I have a mission for them.”
The inner circle brayed like the uncouth rustics they were.
“Music!” Orange’s bellow echoed in the dark, empty hall that had once been peopled by poets and scientists, people with talent governed by reason. “Wine!”
The minstrels resumed as Orange drained his goblet.