Flash Fiction

Business as Usual

An entry for Furious Fiction

Dr. Casey Lawrence
Promptly Written
Published in
3 min readJan 19, 2023

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Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Mary had made a business out of keeping people’s deepest, darkest secrets. She was the kind of person others had always liked to confess to, even as a child: sweet, unassuming, a good listener. At first, it was just friends and family who would unburden themselves to her. She heard about their every vice, bad choice, and misdemeanor without prejudice. It wasn’t blackmail; they came to her willingly and paid a small price for her silence.

“The baby isn’t my husband’s,” her cousin whispered. “I just needed to tell somebody.”

Mary slid an invoice across the table.

She had thought about becoming an advice columnist. One of those Dear Abby types. But she’d never been good at fixing people’s problems, and the service she offered was in high demand. She got a website and rented a small office downtown. She took clients by appointment.

On Tuesday morning, there was a knock at the door. Normally, Mary would hand walk-ins a business card and ask them to schedule an appointment, but this client was different. She recognized him instantly: the frantic father on the news a few months ago. His daughter’s face had been all over social media. Have You Seen This Girl?

They’d never found her.

Mary made an exception and opened the door for him. She expected to hear a confession of the usual kind. “I feel so guilty for not protecting her.” “My last words to her were ‘I hate you’ and I can’t forgive myself.”

He signed the usual contract stipulating confidentiality and prepaid in cash. He sat silently, his fingers steepled, for a long moment. Then, “I know where my daughter is.”

Mary was good at keeping her face impassive. Her job was to listen.

“I bought an old truck on marketplace. Cash,” he continued, gaining confidence. “I picked her up, walking home from school.”

The stoplight footage of Lily getting into a strange truck without hesitation. Speculation about an older boyfriend she met online.

“I did what I needed to do.”

She’d gotten crimes before. Theft. Plagiarism. Insurance fraud. But not kidnapping, not murder. Could she be considered an accomplice if she didn’t come forward?

“I did what I needed to do,” he repeated.

She’d never even considered going to the police before, but these were special circumstances.

“What did you do?” she asked, keeping her voice even and professional.

“I set her free.” Ambiguous. The police would want details.

“Where did you set her free?”

The father shook his head. “I can’t tell you. She wouldn’t be safe.”

“Safe?” Mary asked. “Safe from who?”

“Her stepfather,” he said. “He’s never going to touch my Lily again. Even if I never see my little girl again — I need to know she’s safe.”

Mary felt a flood of relief, then horror. “Her stepfather?” she asked.

He nodded. “I need you to get rid of him. Name your price.”

Mary began rifling through her papers for a different contract. “I offer a multiservice discount!”

This story was written for a Furious Fiction competition based on the following prompts:

  1. Your story must OPEN with a 12-word sentence.
  2. Your story must include the sale of a second-hand item. (For example, at a yard/garage/jumble sale, market, antique shop, online etc — it’s up to you!)
  3. Your story must include at least five (5) different words that end in the letters ICE. (e.g. “nICE”.)

Furious Fiction stories must also be under 500 words and have to be submitted within 55 hours of the prompts going live; it’s a speed-writing flash fiction contest with a great cash prize ($500). Check them out if you’re interested in getting a prompt every season!

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Dr. Casey Lawrence
Promptly Written

Canadian author of three LGBT YA novels. PhD from Trinity College Dublin. Check out my lists for stories by genre/type.