Summer, 2008
24-Hour Short Story Contest
3rd Place Winner!


The bells on the door were still echoing as she stepped further into the old toy store. The owner winked at her and turned back to his black and white television set. She reached under the rack on the back wall and pulled it out. It was just where she'd left it last week. She approached the counter and put the item down.

He turned to her, grabbed the item with surprise, and said, "This is NOT for sale..."

Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.

This Round's On Me
By Carol Scarr, Cincinnati, OH

The sun was just setting behind the mountains when Joe flipped the sign in his toy shop to "closed" and locked the door. He ambled across the street to the saloon and pushed through the dingy door.

Honky-tonk music blared from the jukebox in one corner, competing with the television over the bar. He climbed onto his usual barstool next to his friend Hank and rested his elbows on the bar.

Behind the bar, Dee sauntered over, and said in her low smoker's voice, "Draft?"

"Sure thing."

"Comin' up."

"What's new?" Hank asked.

Joe had been waiting for this question. His insides tickled with anticipation. "You'd never believe me in a thousand years," he said, hoping to sound unconcerned.

Hank turned his head in surprise. "No kiddin'? Somethin' actually happened today?"

"This woman came into the shop..."

Hank rolled his eyes.

"No, seriously. She pretended to look around, but she wasn't browsing like a normal shopper. She seemed all tense, and headed for the back."

"Where all them stuffed animals are?"

"Right. So she kept looking over her shoulder, like she's going to try shoplifting something, you know?"

Dee placed Joe's beer in front of him.

"What'd you do?" Hank asked.

"I got closer, and I realized I'd seen her before. She came in the store last week acting all strange, too."

"Really? What's her problem?"

"Last week she was a blonde, kinda good-lookin', but today, she was a brunette, all painted up and looked twenty, thirty pounds heavier!"

Hank shook his head in disgust. "You had me goin' up to that point, but now you're messin' with me."

Joe grasped Hank's forearm. "No, listen. She wasn't heavier, but she made it look that way. She had some kind of padding on under her clothes."

After a moment of silence, Hank said, "How do you know?"

"Like I said. I sneaked up on her. Up close you could see the bulges under her clothes weren't natural. She reached in under the rack of stuffed animals and pulled something out. It looked like one of the keychains we sell. She had this big shoulder bag, and just slipped it in there quick as you like. Only I grabbed her wrist and asked her what she thought she was doing, shoplifting right under my nose."

"Atta boy, Joe! You call the Sheriff?"

Joe sat back. "Nope. I thought she was gonna jump out of her skin, but when she saw it was me, she said I had to help her. She pulled out the keychain thing and said it was a flash drive with enough data on it to put several people up at EverBright in prison for a long time."

"Half the town works there."

"She broke down in sobs, poor thing; asked me to call Attorney General Chambers. She worked at EverBright until last week when she downloaded all that data and skedaddled. Only they found out, and sent Security after her. That's when she ran in my store to hide. She gave 'em the slip and hid out for a couple of days, waiting for a chance to grab the thing." Joe shook his head. "She was plumb wore out."

"Folks wouldn't be too happy around here if EverBright got shut down."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that."

"Why not? That AG feller is one tough bulldog."

"Maybe so, but he's got to have evidence first."

Hank frowned. "You said she had that flash thingie."

"Yeah. But last week after she left, the Security folks that were after her visited me, explained how bad it would be if anything turned up. We searched for anything she might have left, but didn't find it. They mentioned my nephew's up for promotion, and what with him just buying that new house, now would not be a good time to lose a job."

"No way!"

"Way. But it turns out they offer a reward for anyone that locates missing data like that, and--Hey! Dee! Turn the TV up!"

All eyes turned to the Special Report. An attractive female reporter stood on the steps of the state courthouse. "Moments ago, I met with Attorney General Neil Chambers, who announced that he is launching an investigation into EverBright's business dealings. Chambers cites an unnamed whistleblower who offered to come forward with data obtained while employed there. In our exclusive interview, Chambers said, quote 'That information could have proved damaging to the company. Unfortunately, the informant's body was discovered earlier today, and foul play is suspected. This sets our investigation back, but only redoubles our determination to bring justice to anyone involved.' end quote. As you know, EverBright employs approximately fifteen hundred workers in Ashmont. Stay tuned for more breaking news. This is Lisa Ledine for News Five."

Hank whistled. "So that was her?"

An elaborate shrug. "All I know is, I called my nephew, not the AG. I said Miss Downing was at my store, and could he send a limo and driver to pick her up? I assured her that everything was taken care of. And it was."

Joe raised his voice and called out, "Hey, Dee! A round of drinks on me!" He lowered his voice so Hank was the only one who could hear it. "And EverBright."

What Carol won:

$200 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)

Contest guidelines are HERE.

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