Flash Fiction: Held Up, or, Right On Time

She entered the house, poised for a tangle. She was quite sure she’d left the lights off, the door locked, her rooms neat. So why was there a lamp burning, the light soft against the window of her room on the upper floor? Was that a shadow she saw, flickering in the lamplight against the wall?

She stepped into the building as quietly as possible, the leather soles on her boots quiet against the shining hardwood floor. She had dressed for business tonight – breeches, collared shirt, hair up. More sensible than the elaborate dress she usually wore, and handy on nights like tonight, when intruders lurked in her apartments…

She could hear Esme snoring softly in the maid’s quarters as she reached the top of the stairs, the rustle of the quilt as it was tossed lightly from side to side. But nothing else. No footsteps, no shuffling, no scratching. Whoever was waiting for her, he or she was very good at keeping well hidden.

Her breath quickening in her chest, her skin prickling, she reached for the door handle of her room, grasping it with perspiring palms, and turned. Slowly, slowly, slowly, the door inched open. She ducked low, prepared for an attack to the chest or head, and shuffled silently and bent-kneed into the room.

There was no one there. No one stood before her, waiting to attack. No one sat upon her divan, mocking her readiness. No one stood by the window, waiting for her return. She stood up straight, still on her guard, and began to tiptoe towards the darkened study, feet light on the ground.

“Don’t take another step.”

A man.

She stopped, heart racing, knowing she was now in a great deal of trouble. If she could only reach the small side table in the corner, if she could just take one more step, she could grab the letter opener that lay there innocently, waiting to be vicious.

“Turn around. Slowly!”

She did as she was told , inching around at snail speed, while thinking frantically about her next move. Depending on his weapon, she might manage a knee to the groin, followed by a swift palm to the nose. That usually did the trick.

“May I inquire of your name?”

The person behind her chuckled.

She turned fully around and felt her eyes widen involuntarily. First of all, he had  a gun pointed at her abdomen. Secondly, she knew him.

“Gabriel?”

She felt a weight lift. It was not that she was no longer in trouble – quite the contrary, Gabriel always brought trouble with him. But Gabriel was a man she had dealt with before. She always came away unscathed.

“Did you miss me?”

She chuckled mirthlessly.

“Miss you? Well yes, actually, I was wondering when you’d show up. What’s the bother with the gun, Gabe? Can’t we talk like civilized adults?”

“You tell me, Eva. Last time I saw you you’d poisoned me with laudanum and left me half naked by a pauper’s tomb in the desert at Giza with only a canteen of water and a handkerchief with a lipstick print. What do you think? Do I have call to be civilized?” he smirked at me, enjoying the banter.

“Oho! As though you’re any better, Darling? What about the time you framed me as a thief and had me arrested in Beijing, then left for Turkey on the next train? I’d say we’re even, wouldn’t you, Old Boy?”

Gabriel eyed me warily, then finally nodded his head in consent, and put the gun away. One of my own small pistols was hidden behind the cushion of the armchair by the coffee table.

“Would you like some tea?” I asked, indicating the small table. I gestured for him on the small sofa, adjacent to my arm chair. I stoked the fire and placed a small pot of water to boil over the flames, then sat myself down in the chair. Gabriel eyed me suspiciously.

“Why don’t you explain your abrupt and inappropriate visit, Gabriel?” I said, returning his stare.

“I heard you’d returned to England,” he said, “And I’ve been looking into a case. I wanted to see if you had any information.”

“Why on earth would you believe I have information? I’m not a criminal, Gabriel.”

“Just tell me if you know a man named Earnest Bishop.”

I did know a man named Earnest Bishop – he could often be seen gambling his money away at the boxing ring.

“Never heard of him.”

“Oh come one, Eva, don’t be like that,” he whined.

“Gabriel, you entered my apartment illegally, you did not announce yourself upon my arrival, and you held me up a with a gun. Any information you’d like must be earned at this point.”

Gabriel sighed.

“Then I suppose I must start at the beginning.”

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