Across the Table
By Jade Brown
Copyright 2017 Jade Brown
Table of Contents
The sweltering summer beat down on the two of us as we sat outside of an unpopular local bistro. I fanned myself. The man in front of me shed his suit jacket and draped it over his chair.
“Have you thought about my offer any, Fritzi?” he asked.
I sipped bitter tea. “I have.”
He nodded. “And?”
“I just don’t know, Charles. Where would we even go?”
“Anywhere you want, just you name it. I’ve got connections all over the place.”
“I’ve hear Venus is lovely in the spring.”
Charles grimaced and leaned back in his seat. His dark eyes locked with mine.
I was the first to break eye contact. “I-it’s almost time for me to go to work. You said you made me a present.” I tried for a smile.
Charles sighed and reached inside the pocket of his suit. He pulled out a small black box slid it over to my side of the table. “This contains enough poison to kill forty elephants and at least eight giraffes. Just press the buttons on the side.”
I snapped it opened. A gold ban sat snug in the divot of the box.
“What an odd proposal, but I accept.” I slid the on my finger and admired it. “If only Mama were alive to see this.”
Charles snorted. “Just don’t get it on your skin or eyes.”
I rolled my eyes. “Please, Charlie. Like you need to tell me that.”
“Do you remember whom the target is?”
“Of course. Some run-of-the-mill, small town crime boss. I can spot them a mile away.”
“What is their name?”
I frowned. “His name is…” I muttered under my breath and took a long sip of my tea.
Charles shook his head, but smiled. “Her name is Delilah Sinclair. She’s a drug lord, at least, by this town’s standards.”
I laugh. “It almost doesn’t seem right, doing in some woman for selling dope.”
Charles shrugged. “Money is money. It’ll cover moving expenses.”
“Right.” I nodded and bit my lip.
He drummed his fingers on the table. “How’s France sound?”
“Like France France?”
Charles nodded with a smile. “I have a few connections there. I know you’re always going on about wanting to go to back to Paris.”
I twisted the ring around my finger. “It’s halfway ‘round the world…”
“France is just an option. We could go to Portugal. China.”
“I should go get ready for work. Where’s that waitress?”
Charles crossed his arms. “You don’t have to meet her for another two hours.”
I went to take another sip of tea but got nothing but ice cubes. Charles raised an eye brow and stared at me, a frown set on his face.
“Frieda…” he said reaching forward to take my hand.
Just then, our waitress came over and placed our check on the table. “Come pay up front whenever you’re ready.”
I nodded and snatched up the check as she went back inside. “I got it.” I stood and hurried to the door, only stopping when Charles spoke up.
“Will you at least think about it?”
I nodded without turning and went inside to pay, leaving him behind.
“They stopped the investigation today.”
Yazmin stopped stirring her drink and stared at the hollow-eyed girl across the dining table. “What? Why?”
The girl—Jen— fixed her eyes on the lukewarm tea in her hand. “It’s been almost six years. They think he’s dead.”
“Jenny…” Yazmin reached out to place her hand on Jen’s. “I’m so—”
Jen jolted back. Her knee bumped the table and made the tea splash out of the mug. Yazmin frowned as Jen redrew her hands and place them in her lap.
“I should finish cleaning out Ken’s stuff,” Jen said, wiping her watery eyes with the back of her hand.
“Can’t you wait until your parents come back from their trip?”
“I need to be out of here by the fifth. They won’t be back in time.” Jen stood, the chair scraping across the wood floors. “Can you help me, Yaz?”
“Yeah, okay.” Yazmin rose from her seat. “I’ll go get your gloves.”
“Oh, I ran out them the other day. I’ll be okay.”
Yazmin frowned. “Are you sure?”
Jen nodded, and headed down the hall. Yazmin downed her drink and the rest of Jen’s tea and followed her.
Ken’s room sat at the end of the hall, adjacent to Jen’s room. The smell of dust hit Yazmin as she entered. Movie posters and pinups from magazines were scattered all over the walls. Books and curios were littered across the shelves and floors. A corkboard full of family photos hung next to the door.
Jen robotically grabbed the nearest items and stuffed them into a box.
Yazmin rubbed the back of her neck. “Where do you plan on putting all of this stuff?”
“Is your place alright? I can’t afford a storage unit for the moment.”
“We can put it in the basement,” Jen said, flinching when she picked up a wooden elephant. “I know you think it’s a bunch of junk.”
Yazmin swallowed. “No, I don’t.”
Jen snorted and kept packing.
Grimacing, Yazmin looked around the room and left for the kitchen. She opened the pantry, went to grab a gallon bag, and paused. A container of latex gloves sat right on the shelf in plain sight.
She scowled and snatched the box up.
A crash came from Ken’s room, followed by Jen’s anguished cry.
Yazmin dropped the box and raced back to the room to find Jen doubled over, tears streaking down her face. Droplets of blood splattered the floor. Shards of glass and glittery water from a snow globe collected by her feet.
Yazmin ran to the bathroom and came back with a first aid kit. She tended to Jen’s wounded hand as Jen stopped crying.
After a moment, Yazmin asked, “Jen, why did you lie to me about the gloves?”
Jen stared at her blood on the floor. “I wanted to see if I could still, y’know.”
“You mean your visions?” Yazmin asked, wrapping a bandage around Jen’s hand.
Jen nodded. “I don’t think Ken’s dead. I thought maybe if I could touch his things, I might get a clue to where he went.”
“If he’s still alive.”
Jen glowered up at Yazmin. “He is still alive. I feel it. Don’t you believe me?”
Yazmin avoid Jen’s eyes as she cut the bandage.
“You don’t believe me.” Jen said. “You just think I’m crazy.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy, Jenny,” Yazmin said, putting the supplies back into the box. “I think you’re grieving.”
“So, you think I’m lying?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time.”
Jen narrowed her eyes and stood. “I think you should go home, Yazmin.”
Jen went back to packing, wincing every now and then as if she were being stabbed.
Yazmin rose, watching Jen. A moment passed, and Yazmin retreated from the room.
The next time Chrissy needed to ditch town (which was a statistic inevitability at this point), she was going to make sure it wasn’t during the hottest day in human history.
The sun beat down on her as she hiked down the side of the road, keeping her head on a swivel, and trying to ignore the lovely feeling of being boiled alive. On her back was a cello case packed with valuables that she definitely didn’t steal from people who might be currently searching for her.
Cars flew past Chrissy, kicking up dust and dirt in her face. No one bothered to slow down for her, as if they could smell the loser on her. She was doing everything right. She could hear her older sister’s voice in her head: “Stick out your thumb, point your breast towards the road, and remember to always keep a hand close to your butterfly knife.”
Chrissy was on the verge of giving up when a white truck pulled to the side of the road and stopped next to her. She was elated…until she got a closer look at the passengers.
Clowns. About nine white-faced, bloody-mouthed, pointy-toothed circus performers piled in the front and back of the rusted, dented truck. They all waved at her with wide smiles.
Oh, yay, she thought drily. New friends.
In the span of three seconds, Chrissy debated the pros and cons of accepting a ride with presumably greasy, possibly cannibalistic clowns. Seeing no better alternatives, she hopped in the back of the truck.
Hay littered the floor of the truck bed. The smell of day old funnel cakes and cigarettes wafted through the air, filling Chrissy’s chest with feelings of nostalgia.
“Where to?” the head clown asked from the driver’s seat.
Chrissy flicked a cigarette butt off the edge of the moving vehicle. She shouted her destination, as to be heard over the wind.
Chrissy expected a slow, awkward drive filled with silence and uncomfortable, accidental eye contact, as was the norm in these types of situations. She was surprised to find that the clowns were actually a pretty lively bunch. They talked and laughed with each other, switching from English to another language she couldn’t recognized. It was almost… normal.
She took the time to observe the clowns, taking in their height, eye color, the way they spoke. The clowns all varied in age, from about six or seven to nearly seventy. Chrissy learned early on to be observant. Being able to tell if someone was about to kill you was a pretty good ability. She couldn’t afford to let her guard down even when she was excepting rides from seemingly affable, but otherwise creepy clowns.
During the bumpy ride, a male clown with a sad painted face pointed at her cello case. “You play?”
Chrissy shook her head. “It’s not a cello. But…” She laid the case on the floor (the truck being big enough for such actions) and popped it open, rummaging through her vast riches. She pulled out what looked like a flattened guitar shaped like a skewed rectangle. “I think the guy called it a kokle?”
The clown’s eye lit up. “May I?”
“Go nuts, man.” She handed him the instrument, smirking at the prospect of a possible sale.
The sad clown started to tune the instrument and began to play. It was a cherry little melody that, apparently, they all knew. The clowns started clapping and singing along in the foreign language, cheering when the song ended.
A small smile crept onto Chrissy’s lips as she watched them start another song.
A few songs later, one of the clowns—a little girl with two-toned pig tails—came up the Chrissy and started going through her stuff.
“Looking for something in particular?” she asked the girl playfully.
The child quirked and eyebrow. She held up a golden snow globe and looked at Chrissy through it as though it was binoculars. “Why ya got so much stuff?”
“I’m gonna sell it.”
“I need money.” The truth.
“Food.” True enough. She also needed a place to sleep that wasn’t a back alley she had to share with people who thought that stray cats could read their minds.
The little girl nodded and went to place the snow globe back.
“Keep it,” Chrissy said, surprising the girl and herself.
The girl smiled so wide you’d swear she was just given a sack of candy mixed with money. She dashed over and started chattering excitedly to an older female clown must’ve been her mother.
It had never occurred to her that clowns had families.
Chrissy’s destination appeared over the horizon. Some would rightfully describe the city as a dirty pit of debauchery and crime, but to her it shined like a lighthouse in the fog, offering her a chance to begin anew.
A hand patted Chrissy’s shoulder. The female clown, about the age her mother would’ve been, nodded towards her cello case with a smirk. “Stolen goods, huh?”
Chrissy nearly choked. “No! Well, kinda. Technically.”
“Just don’t let your customers know. They’ll try to haggle the price down.”
Chrissy blinked in surprise, letting out a confused laugh. “Uh, thanks.”
When they arrived at the city, every clown shook Chrissy’s hand or gave her a hug, wishing her luck in fortune in both English and their native tongue.
Chrissy, not one for long goodbyes, thanked them for the lift and hopped off the side of the truck, no instrument in tow. She waved as the truck continued down the dusty road, carrying her new friends towards… wherever clowns like to go.
Chrissy hiked the lighter case on her back and started towards the city.
Jade Brown is working to earn her BFA in Creative Writing at Full Sail University. She enjoys writing drama, realistic fiction, and comedy. In her free time, she enjoys reading and drawing and hopes to apply her abilities to working on an animated television show as a staff writer. Jade can be contacted through her .
“Engagement”— Charles and Frieda are trying to relax before Frieda is off to her next assignment, however Charles is more interested in talking about another kind of engagement. Frieda is not. “Intuition”— Jen is grieving for her missing brother, but refuses to believe he is dead. Yazmin wants to help, but thinks Jen may be slipping into her own delusions. “Hitchhiker”— Chrissy needs a ride out of town, but is it worth having to ride in the trunk with a bunch of clowns?