Flash Fiction—A Day’s Work

I stopped at the penthouse window to watch the lava. It came down the mountain like God pouring molasses from the sky. A fast moving flow had erased the road. It had been there when I started up the stairs. The hotel was cut off from the highway. I stuffed a watch into my front pocket. “Time to roll,” I said to the empty room.

The lava came with the dawn. The tourists and businessmen left with the first alarm. They flooded the street in pajamas and robes. Without time to pack, the riches of a small city were left laying for someone to pick up. Today, that someone was me.

The duffel bag was heavy on my shoulder as I started down the stairs. This was a good haul. I stopped at the ground floor landing. On the way up I noticed the kitchen door was jammed open. It never hurt to grab a few canned goods to top off the loot. A food thief had a chance with the police. They felt sorry for the poor natives.

I edged around the door into the kitchen. The emergency lights still had some battery power. The yellow tint of the failing lights on the stainless steel counters gave the room a sickly glow. I searched for the pantry. It was near the back. Most of the cans were already on the floor. Peaches, pears, and pie filling topped off my bag. I started back towards the door.

“You! Stop!” The voice was hard. Mainland American. Maybe Mid-western. I stopped and turned. I half raised my hands and looked for the owner of the voice. He was half inside the swinging door to the dining room. He held an angry looking pistol. He was also wearing the colors of hotel security.

I forced a smile, “It’s all good. I just getta some food.”

My smile wasn’t returned. “Keep your hands up.” His words were uneven. “Walk over here.”

My steps were slow. The bag had doubled in weight. “Okay man. I movin’” I didn’t want to die from cherry pie filling.

He waved the gun, “Christ. Put the bag down. Slowly. And get your ass over here.”

I could see him now. His face was covered in small cuts. Pale skin showed through the smudged blood. His close-cropped red hair was matted down on one side. The hotel should have been empty. “You okay brutha? You look bad.”

He blinked. I doubt he expected concern. “Yeah. We’re the last ones. Jenkins is hurt. He needs help.”

“I ain’t helping no one holding a gun.” I motioned at the pistol.

He lowered his gun hand. “You’re looting. I could shoot you right here. No one would care.”

“How’s a dead me gonna help your buddy, brutha?” I was close enough to see the dilation of his left eye. Some of the blood was his.

He tucked the pistol in the back of his belt. “Better?”

“Yeah brutha.” I looked back at my bag. “I need the food. Hungry kids.”

“Whatever. Just get in here.”

He disappeared back into the dining room. I went back to the duffel and looked at the half-open stairwell door. I could be out and gone, but those fools needed help. Walking away from two bodies with a fat bag of loot would not end well.

Snatching up my bag with a grunt, I stepped into the dining room. Every table in the room was up-ended. Afternoon light streamed into the front half of the room. The broken glass cast spiderweb shadows on the walls. The chandelier had fallen. Near the edge of the broken ring of crystals I saw a man lying in blood. The redhead was holding a towel to his leg. I ran over to them.

The bag thunked down as I dropped it. The crunching sound it made was probably a laptop screen breaking. “This be Jenkins?”

The redhead forced a smile off of his face. “Yeah. I’m Scott. You?”

“Wai”

Scott raised an eyebrow, “Why what?”

His left eye started drifting to the side. It was the only reason I didn’t walk out right then. “No. W–A–I. Wai.” I watched him nod. “What happened?”

“Lava quake.” A memory of fear flickered over this face. “It fell just as the last guests were getting out.” He motioned at the broken crystals, “Jenkins is a big guy. Slow.”

I stood up looking for the bar.

“Don’t leave. I’ll never get him out by myself.”

“I’m going to get some towels.” I saw the tension in his neck relax. I found a fresh stack behind the bar and came around the end. Scott’s face was pale like the towels. He stood up swaying. The pistol was back in his hand.

“Looters! Stay back!”

“Brutha! It’s okay, I’m helping.” I held the towels out. He turned his head. The loose left eye was trying to focus on me. The gun followed his other eye.

“Stay back. I’ll kill you all!”

I dove behind the bar. He shot at the air where he thought I was. More shots. The mirror behind me rained glass. Then clicking. The pistol was empty.

I waited. Several minutes later I could hear Scott sobbing. Jenkins groaned. The shots still echoed in my ears. I started to stand, then froze.

A man’s voice shouted from outside the windows, “Hey! Stand down! We heard your shots. We’re with Rescue. We’re coming in.”

Another pause, more voices. They were calling for stretchers and ambulances. Static from a radio filled the room. I stayed behind the bar. Someone noticed my bag. “Looks like these two were cleaning up after the guests.” Low laughter filled the room.

A woman’s voice, “Take it. We can sort this out when there’s not a tourist trap falling down around us.”

I bit the inside of my cheek. This was a wasted day’s work. I almost died and didn’t even have cherry pie to show for it. With the noise of the rescue fading, I decided to wait another ten minutes. I could still get away clean. I pulled the watch from my front pocket and smiled.

The Rolex survived.

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