My round one submission for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge.
Prompt: Mystery, art museum, butter knife
I’d looked forward to lunch all day. Toasted focaccia layered with Spanish ham, a crumbling of goat cheese and dots of chopped peaches. Lastly a sprinkle of rocket and then a drizzle of balsamic-honey glaze. I knew it would be perfect.
Alas, it was gone. A blue handled butter knife, a brown smear of glaze on the blade, the only clue that my glorious creation had ever been here. My stomach gave a mournful rumble.
I was late to lunch today. Tourists had caused a ruckus in the Religious Arts room while I was doing my rounds. I thought about who would have been for lunch, my suspects.
First, there was Susan. 5’5” of the pretty brunette. She specialized in art restoration, and I had been half in love with her for the last two years. She was sweet and always smelled of vanilla, but was she also a thief?
Next, there was Charlie. Nineteen and whip thin, he studied art history and lived with his mom. His summer job was answering questions for the tourists in the Baroque rooms. He was a nice kid, always ready with a joke for me.
Last, there was Norma. She was a plump and quiet woman in her early sixties. She said little but saw everything. She worked in the information booth, surrounded each day by marbled athletic perfection and blank aristocratic stares. Come to think of it, on my way past earlier I heard soft humming coming from the break room. Norma hummed all the time. I headed for the sculptures hall.
I could hear her humming before I rounded the corner. Her plump curves stretched the cotton of her uniform to the very limit, I leaned against her booth and tried to keep the tone light.
“Hi Norma, how’s it going?”
She turned to me with a cool glare. Lips pursed tight she hummed her response in the way only women of her age could “Mmmhmmmm?” Sweat prickled my scalp under her steady glare. The gurgling of my stomach filled the silence. “I didn’t eat your sandwich,” she said.
“I saw your little empty container.” She gave a rich chuckle, “Security Dan can’t even protect his own sandwich.” She guffawed, and it echoed around the hall, bouncing off the marble. Norma was not a woman who told even the whitest of lies. She was not my thief. “Saw Susan in there.” She offered.
“Thanks,” I muttered and headed out.
I spotted Susan as I passed Scottish Artists. She flitted around giving instructions in her melodious voice. Seeing me, she stopped and smiled. My heart melted.
“Hi Danny, you coming to guard me?” She turned the wattage up on her smile. My stomach grumbled its reply.
“I was just wondering, have you had a chance to get lunch?”
She pulled a face. “Yep. It was disgusting, but I’m pretty sure I’ve lost weight.”
I remembered, Susan was two weeks into a 30 day cleanse. She had been awful to everyone for the last week and a half. Yesterday she had miserably dipped her knife in hummus and slathered it over a cracker. Without a word of conversation for the whole half hour, she had angrily repeated dip, spread, and munch.
I couldn’t believe sweet Susan was a sandwich thief. “Did you see anyone in the break room?”
She thought for a moment. “Charlie was leaving when I went in.”
“Brilliant, thanks!” I left her with an awkward pat on the arm.
Hurrying along halls lined with pastoral scenes I thought about Charlie. Lunchtimes always made him miserable. His mother made him lunch but everything that woman made smelled like dog food or week old tuna, sometimes both. I imagined being him. Seeing the horror that waited in the fridge and then… my sandwich. Of course he would eat it. My stomach growled agreement.
Footfalls ringing against the hardwood, Charlie turned to see if there were any tidbits on Rubens or Rembrandt that were needed. He started to raise a hand in greeting and then faltered. He knew I was on to him. “Everything alright Mr. Newton?”
“How was lunch, Charlie?” Brow furrowing he struggled for an answer.
“It was fine?”
“Fine?” I crowded towards him. “Your Mom make you something good?”
A flush of red turned his ears scarlet. “Oh god Mr. Newton, please don’t tell her I threw her hotpot away. She’ll be so upset.” He waved his hands uselessly in the air. He had eaten my sandwich, and all he worried about was my telling his mother?
My stomach made the grumble of all grumblings. Then, I heard the answering roil from Charlie. A sad empty gurgle, not the happy rumblings of a digesting tummy. I took a step back. “It wasn’t you. You didn’t eat my sandwich?”
Charlie furrowed his brow even further. “Your sandwich? No, sir. I wouldn’t take another man’s sandwich. That’s just plain wrong!” I nodded my agreement and realisation dawned on Charlie. “You’re hangry Mr. Newton!” he exclaimed.
“You know, angry because you’re hungry.”
I laughed. I apologised for my accusations with a handshake and turned to leave. “If you don’t mind me saying, I saw your sandwich. You’d have to forgive a hungry person for eating it. It looked delicious.”
I gave a wave.
Out of suspects, I headed back into the break room with seven minutes left for lunch. Filling a cup with water, my eyes strayed to the knife that bore the traces of the crime committed against me. Charlie’s words came back to me. I saw your sandwich… couldn’t blame a hungry person….
I pulled the top from the bin, wanting to be wrong but knowing what I’d find. Her happy smile, so different to the previous day. Using that butter knife to smear hummus on crackers, the offending food now all heaped in the bin. Susan wasn’t hangry anymore.