I’ve resisted short fiction for a long time. I told myself I don’t need it; I only have long, complicated novel ideas anyway and why force something I’ve no inspiration for? The fact is that when inspiration runs short for my long, complicated ideas, I need to get myself on another track to refresh my brain. Genius novelist/other things Chuck Wendig has a great site chock-full of jumpoffs. Let’s see if I can’t squeeze something out of one of his flash fiction challenges. The prompt I used is here and the random title I got is Lovestruck Palace, which sucks, but that’s sort of the point. The challenge is to basically get a random title and write a story that works for it. With no further ado, ladies and gents…
Jimmy “Fingers” Sartori smiled coyly at his companion as he rolled a silver dollar over the knuckles in his right hand. The fat old man across from him shifted his weight but kept a calm, expressionless face. “So what you’re telling me, Jack, is that you think my house is haunted? I got this right?”
“Something like that,” Jack Reed mumbled, looking around Jimmy’s garish office. He’d refused to meet at the home. “Not exactly haunted. Echanted.”
Jimmy Fingers took a sip of his martini and furrowed his brow. “What’s the difference?”
“Haunted implies that spirits are inhabiting your home, willfully or otherwise. I think there’s been a spell placed on your property,” Jack answered, but he was distracted by the familiar décor. It was a replica of something, a movie set, maybe.
Jimmy Fingers smiled, revealing a golden molar. He thought he’d indulge the fat, sweaty mess across from him, but if he were being honest, he was disgusted. “What kind of a spell, Jack?” Why couldn’t people just take care of themselves? Especially men; it’s easier for men.
“A…uh, a love spell,” said the red-faced man, very aware of how ridiculous it sounded. But it was true.
“So what’s wrong with that?” Jimmy Fingers asked lightly. He particularly enjoyed this little song and dance; he didn’t get to do it often.
“I can’t tell you,” Jack said, looking around the office again. Everything was black trimmed in gold, from the walls to the furniture to the linens.
Jimmy Fingers stood and pivoted to look out the doorway behind his desk, fingering the rim of his glass. The greenbelt had just been watered, and the droplets on the grass sparkled in the moonlight. Obviously, Jimmy Fingers knew about his house. It was his job to protect it, keep it in the family.
Jack didn’t wasn’t playing anymore; he just stared silently at the man gazing wistfully out the door’s glass until he turned around again.
Jimmy Fingers smiled again and said, “okay, so you want to—what? Exorcise it or somethin? Unspell it?”
“Ah, no,” Jack said, refocusing. “That’s not exactly protocol. I want to find out who enchanted it, and when. A warlock’s magic can only be undone by his own bloodline.”
“Oh, so warlocks have a protocol, do they? Interesting,” Jimmy said, then casually threw back the rest of his martini.
Jack was fed up with Jimmy’s attitude. “Look, Mr. Sartori, I’m not here to waste your time. I just need to find out who lived here before you. I have reason to believe the county records have been tampered with and—“
Jimmy sighed and rolled his eyes, then popped the vodka-soaked olive into his mouth. “Do you know who else follows a protocol, Mr. Reed?”
Jack looked at him impatiently. He could tell Jimmy Fingers needed to run the show. Needed to think he was running the show, anyway.
“The mafia follows a protocol; gangs follow a protocol,” Jimmy Fingers continued. “You owe loyalty to the family and if you betray the family, protocol is you die. Someone threatens the family, they die. Someone hurts the family, their family dies and then they die. Catch my drift?”
“No one is threatening any family, Mr. Sartori. I’m not going to hurt anybody, except maybe a witch or two. You’re not one, are you?”
“Of course not,” Jimmy Fingers said with a warm chuckle. He wasn’t going to start teasing the man about his claims. He was tired, and wanted to go home. “Are you a warlock?”
“No, I’m a witch hunter,” Jack said, which wasn’t exactly a lie. “We have protocols, too, and your house is well-known among us. We call it Lovestruck Palace.”
“Such a whimsical name. I like it, but I’m tired and it’s nearly dinnertime. I’m sorry, Mr. Reed, I’ve no information to give you. I’m not allowed to disclose the seller of my home. I suppose he must have known someone would come asking. It’s all in writing; I can email you a copy of the agreement if you’d like to show the uh, witch hunters’ guild, or whatever,” Jimmy Fingers sighed and began packing up his briefcase.
“That would be much appreciated,” Jack said with a big, fake smile. “At least then I can get my boss off my case, you know?”
“Sure, sure. Been there,” Jimmy Fingers said and pushed a button on his desk. “Marta, escort Mr. Reed to the door and call me a car, will you?”
“Yes, Mr. Sartori,” said a woman’s voice, and a few seconds later the office door opened to the young, attractive woman.
“Just one more question, on a personal note,” Jack said, gathering his jacket.
“This office. I’ve seen it before somewhere.”
Jimmy Fingers smiled and nodded. “Scarface,” he said.
“That’s right. Very well done,” he said, keeping the bumbling, submissive smile on his face.
“Thank you. I’ve got your contact information. Have a good evening, Mr. Reed,” Jimmy Fingers said. He was in a hurry to get back to his palace; the women would be waiting, probably agonizing over his whereabouts. Owning the house was not just a privilege—it was a huge responsibility. Truth be told, he’d get rid of it if he could, trade it all for the love of one good woman, but like he told Jack: there’s a protocol to follow.
Jack hurried to his ten-year-old Camry and peeled away from the office as fast as he could. When he was far enough away, he called his boss.
“Yes?” the Grandmaster Warlock answered.
“Good news and bad news,” Jack said as his flabby, red skin evaporated, revealing a handsome, younger man with black hair and crystal blue eyes. He cracked his neck side to side and checked to make sure he was left with just the one, chiseled chin.
“Bad news first,” said the Grandmaster.
“Bad news is he knows. Good news is I got the bug in,” Jack answered, speeding back to headquarters.
“Well then, everything else will fall into place. Lovestruck Palace will be ours again, Jack. Never fear.”