Winner of the 2022 Derringer Award for Best Flash Fiction
“You smell anything funny?” Angelo asked.
Rosa, hard at work with her whetstone, said, “No. Hold it tighter, okay?”
He adjusted his grip on the sword. It was braced against the tabletop, gleaming in the yellow lamplight as his wife sharpened the blade. “Why not just strangle the guy?” he said. “It wouldn’t take a minute.”
“I told you, we want it to look like someone else did it,” Rosa said. “Folks around here have had trouble with the army up the coast. We’re just tourists—we chop his head off, everybody’ll figure a soldier killed him, and before they know different, we’re headed over the mountains with a potload of money.”
“I guess you’re right,” Angelo said.
“I know I’m right. Hold it steady, I’m almost done.”
He started to reply—then glanced at the open window. People were shouting in the cobblestoned street below the inn, and he heard the sound of running feet. Somewhere to the north, thunder rumbled, so loud the floor shook. The only thing that seemed normal was the surface of the bay, half a mile west of town. It sparkled in the August moonlight. “What’s happening out there?” he asked.
“Who knows. Maybe it’s one of those marathons.”
“In the middle of the night? Besides, I thought that was Greece.”
“I think they run ’em here too.” Finished, Rosa took the sword from him and slid it into its scabbard. “We better get some sleep. The courier walks the cash to the bank not long after sunrise, and we need to be hidden in the alley by then, waiting for him.”
Angelo wrinkled his nose. “There’s that smell again. The guy in the next room must be smoking.”
“So what? We’re about to be rich—stop complaining.”
Wearily he took off his sandals, crawled into bed, and looked again at the window. The night sky seemed to have grown cloudy, blotting out the stars, and had taken on an eerie, reddish tint. The cannon-like thunderclaps were even louder now. “Next trip, I get to pick the city,” he said. “And it sure won’t be Pompeii.”
“Fine.” She climbed under the sheet. “Go to sleep.”
The noise in the street was louder also. If it was a marathon, everybody in town seemed to be taking part. Angelo yawned and closed his eyes.
“Is it just me,” he said, “or is it hot in here?”
John M. Floyd’s short stories have recently appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, Mystery Weekly, The Saturday Evening Post, Pulp Modern, and The Best American Mystery Stories 2020. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, John is also an Edgar finalist, a four-time Derringer Award winner, the 2018 recipient of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for lifetime achievement, and the author of nine books.