A Chance Meeting

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All Ped Up (Mystery & Cozy Mystery, Writing Award 2023)
Award Category
Logline or Premise
Sue meets Jack in a cafe. They strike up a conversation, then a wild night of passion. What happens next is even wilder: a Mr. Mosaic "wants his money" and a mystery man is hunting Jack. Can these two survive to see their relationship flourish, or are they doomed to die like all the rest?
First 10 Pages


They came once a year like clockwork, not always at the same time, not even the same month - but once a year the courier dropped off an envelope of cash and a name; plus a line or two of personal information. That’s it. After some research and a little following around the name on the paper was dispatched. There was never any instruction on how; it had become dealer’s choice.

The first year, the name and information had also come with the instructions “be creative”. Year two the card had the name, the personal info and the word “same” under the information. The following years it was just the name and personal info. Always on a file card, half of the payment now, half when the job was done; usually after the victim was in the ground. It was the easiest hundred thousand dollars one could make and it had an element of fun - depending on how creative one wanted to get. The only other stipulations were set on day one: it had to be done within a year and there was to be no collateral damage. Just the name on the card. That’s it. That’s all.

This year’s envelope showed up unannounced as always. The money was as green as ever and contained every advance dollar requested. It was only then the stranger would reveal the name written upon the card. No sense looking at the name if the money wasn’t right; counting came first. The money was all there, the card was flipped over.

This year’s name: Jack Carpenter.

Chapter 1

When you meet someone new, you never know what kind of trouble or adventure they hold within them; that’s the pleasure, and the risk of meeting new people, but it’s also what makes life worth living - the random mystery of it all.

“Coffee?” she offered the man sitting in the coffee shop.

She had been sitting at a table in the corner when she saw him walk in and take a seat, ordering nothing from the counter staff. Upon sitting, he immediately put his head in his hands, elbows on the table, looking tortured.

She watched him intently for another 5 minutes. In her head, she gave him a backstory, as she was apt to do with strangers she found interesting. She also admitted, few ever did. He was about 40, average weight, about 6 feet tall, dressed casually in blue jeans and a black T-shirt. From across the shop, she could not make out eye colour, but he had soft facial features and a kind face.

Travelling salesman who’s just had a fight with his wife over the phone, she thought. She was a regular at this hour and she’d never seen him before; maybe that’s what intrigued her. He was new.

She had continued to watch, but he did not move from his dejected, head-down state, and no one from the coffee shop approached him; he seemed to be in his own world. Not a salesman, she decided, something more exotic, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Curiousity got the better of her, she decided to walk over to him; start the day off by unraveling a mystery. Heck, she had nothing better to do.

“Coffee?” She said again.

He looked up, his brown eyes met hers. “Who me?”

“Yes silly,” she said, her smile widened.

“I don’t drink coffee,” he said.

“Tea, latte, steamer, hot chocolate?” She was running out of options to propose.

“No thanks,” he said, putting his head back down.

“Funny thing to be in a coffee shop and not drinking one of the above options,” she said, laughing.

“True, but I’m not much of a hot beverage guy,” he said, as he looked up once again. This time he did not lower his gaze. He stared intently at her.

“Then you’ve really walked into the wrong place.”

She was about 5’7, average weight for her age of 43, full breasts. She walked a lot for exercise, so her legs and hips stayed in decent shape, if she really wanted she could complain about her knees, but decided against it. She indulged a little too much on the sweets, that accounted for the lots of walking. She, too, had soft brown eyes; a past lover had called them “mocha”. She thought she looked good, and that’s all that mattered. But why was he looking at her that way?

“Do I know you?” He asked.

“No,” she said. “But you looked so sad sitting here. I thought you could use a friend.”

He smiled weakly. “Thanks. I probably could use one right about now.”

“Well, then, since you don’t drink, how’s ‘bout a walk?” She suggested. “It’s a beautiful day and fresh air never hurt anyone. I hope,” she added. “Might even help.”

He gave her a once over.

“You don’t look crazy or dangerous,” he said.

“I hope not.”

There was a silence between them. Had she overstepped his boundaries? Self-doubt crept in. Maybe she should have remained a far-off casual observer? Was he waiting for someone? Did she not look as good as she thought? Did she misread the signs? Her brain started ping-ponging with itself: signs, it said, what signs? She had seen this man across the proverbial crowded room. No one had given anyone a sign.

“Sure,” he said, rising from the table. Breaking her inner battle and setting her mind at ease.

When he reached his full height she smiled, she’d been right, six feet, give or take an inch.

For the next several hours, they walked the city streets and talked casually. He was a writer, blocked, trying to figure out his character’s “next move” so that he could “bring the story home”. She told him she was a marketing consultant who had some “forced weeks off” and had no idea what to do with herself; though she admitted to herself the story is a little more complicated than that. Although she was not going to work these past few days she’d continued with her familiar mornings at the coffee shop, afternoons were a drag and full of lost time.

“I’m always go, go, go,” she said. “So when your boss says “take time off and don’t email us anything”, you feel lost.

“Why would they say that?” He asked.

“I’ve been burning the candle at both ends and haven’t taken time off in 5 years. My boss thinks my work is suffering; I think it’s never been better.” She realizes how egotistical that sounds and softens her tone. “In my humble opinion, of course,” she says, laughing at herself.

“Of course,” he laughs along with her. She is drawn to the way he laughs, it’s with such a genuine gusto, she also loves his voice.

“You have a really good voice,” she blurts out. “Deep and rich, just a few octaves away from James Earl Jones.” She’s suddenly embarrassed; she blushes and looks away. “Sorry if that’s a little too forward.”

He sets her at ease. “Not at all. I’m going for more of a Nat King Cole vibe, but I’ll take James Earl any day.”

She laughs again. He loves her laugh too, though he does not say that aloud, he is also entranced by her smile. He wonders what it would be like to take her home. To run his hands the length of her long brown hair, he imagines it would be soft and warm to the touch; and her skin … he wonders what it would be like to see her naked.

“So, you go to the cafe often.” He hopes his tone does not betray his real thoughts. It has been a long time since he’s chatted up a woman, or wanted to see one naked. It was a rare and wonderful feeling.

“I’m there in the morning most days to get a coffee. I sit and plan my day. I also people watch, wonder what the plan is for their day. By nine, at the latest, I’m out and in the office. I work just over there.” She points to a tall building close by the cafe. “I can be there 12-14 hours, or more; but I do enjoy my quiet hour at the cafe.” She feels she is prattling on. She’s feeling nervous by the way he looks at her; but it’s not a scary or inappropriate nervous, it’s an electric nervous, one that makes her want to talk, so he’ll keep listening. She wants to hold his attention longer. Feel those eyes looking at her. Taking her in. She’s amazed by the attention she feels he is giving her, like he’s totally engrossed, but not lecherous. She had thought this kind of attention can only be bought and paid for from employees; not random strangers.

“It’s not really a quiet place for self-contemplation,” he says, snapping her out of her own head.

“No, it’s not,” she laughs. “It’s noisy and busy, especially at that hour; but it’s like a self-test for the day ahead: can I shut out the world and concentrate? It can be very Zen-like, if you let it. I sit. I sip. I shut out the world. I block out the talking. I hear the cacophony of voices and it sounds like a hum, the music of the cafe; better than anything they pump through the muzak. I’m sure it sounds completely daft now that I say it out loud.”

“No, it makes a load of sense to me,” he says. They walk a block or two in silence; both taking in the sounds of the city and the sounds of their footfalls, which have synced up.

“Dinner?” He asks, breaking their silence.

She hesitates, taken aback by his abruptness.

“I have plans already, sorry,” she says. “Rain check?” Although she has no plans at all, it was the first answer that came to her head.

“Sure, I’m in town a few more days, weeks, or so,” he shrugs. “Depending on this block I got.”

She is not really listening, she’s lost in her own thoughts. Should she have said yes? She wants to continue this day. Would love to have dinner with him. But, now it seems too late to change her mind.

Damn, girl, are you playing hard to get? She asks herself. Cheeky.

She hadn’t played hard to get since she was in College, in her twenties. Not that she’s ever played easy-to-get; maybe in her late teens, but that was due to her upbringing more than anything; she was a far cry from loose, even back then. Those were the days when every boy was an adventure of self-discovery; every fondled breast a new sensation; every boy’s belt a new challenge; and each unhooking of a bra felt like 30-minutes of excruciating anxiety. Nowadays she was out of the game and she hadn’t been “gotten” in quite a while. Work got in the way of relationships, and she didn’t have time to work on one. But you have a “few” weeks, she reminded herself. What are you going to do with yourself? This was day 6 and she was already going stir crazy all by herself, with nothing to do. Dinner with someone interesting would be great.

They walked a few more blocks, with just casual chit-chat between them. She could not tell you the topic, but she held up her end well enough. It was so easy talking with this man.

“Well, this is me,” he says, stopping in front of the Waldorf Hotel.

“You live in a hotel?”

“Temporarily, for the next unknown number of days,” he admits waving his hand in the air to indicate even he did not know for how long he would be here. “Room 707. My lucky number 707; get it everywhere I go. Then I’m either staying in the city for good, which is highly unlikely, or I hit the road on another adventure.”

“Interesting,” she says, “and why is that?”

“I like to write each book in a different city, a different part of the world. It brings realism to what I’d doing, and I can research the book in real time.”

“So cool,” she says, and means it. “Very bohemian.”

“Very lonely,” he says. “But I love the travel and I love to write. So I’ve made peace with myself and it works for me.”

“Sophie,” she says, extending her hand. “But my friends call me Sue.” In all the time they’ve been walking and talking they’d never formally introduced themselves.

“Jack,” he extends his hand. They shake.

Sue notices how lovely his hands are, big and soft; take charge in bed kind of hands. She blushes at the thought; she shakes it from her head. Where are all this pent up sexual thought coming from. She notices that Jack is now staring deep into her eyes. Can he read my mind? She wonders.

“One thing before you leave, Sue,” he says.

She looks at him.

“May I kiss you?”

How awkward he thinks. Did I just say that?

“Try … then see my response,” she said, flirtatiously.

Now she’s acting like she did in those late teen years. What has gotten into you? She thinks.

In truth, she was hoping he’d just do it. She thought she’d been giving off a kiss-me vibe since hour two, but she is so out of practise that she could have been giving a get-me-a-cab or read-me-Yeats vibe, even she was unsure. She’d been out of the dating pool so long … was this even considered a date these days? Her brain asked. Her mind is racing between so many thoughts, then suddenly …

He leans in and kisses her. Sue is brought back to reality and all she can focus on is what is happening to her lips, and she wishes it would never end. Her eyes close. The kiss is warm and tender, with just the right amount of passion for two people who had just met. Soft, gentle, almost … stop analyzing she tells herself, just go with it … concentrate on the moment.

They part. Sue feels feint, but just for a moment. She staggers slightly, Jack takes her hand. She steadies herself and her eyes open.

“Wow,” she said reflexively. “Nice.”

“Again?” He asks.

“Maybe, one more. Then I have to go. Honest.”

They did. And it was better than the first.

Jack busies himself in room 707. His chance encounter that afternoon has taken his writer’s block to a whole new level. Before, he couldn’t stop thinking about his character’s motives; now he could not stop thinking about Sue’s and his own. She is lodged in his head.

“From bad to worse,” he says to himself, wondering if he will ever see her again. He has paced the room like an expectant father. Taking a seat at the laptop, typing a few keys, then up again. He can’t keep a single thought, or string a line together, in his head. All he wants to do is think about her. He contemplates a hot shower, then a cold one. He sits on the toilet, which is one of his favourite thinking places; but even carrying pen and paper into the washroom does not make the ideas flow freely.

Dinner has come and gone. He ordered the usual from room service; he’d been here long enough, he had a standing order. It was getting late, maybe he should pack it in for the night and try fresh in the morning. His mind flashes to the following morning, he does not see himself sitting at the desk, fingers racing across the keyboard. It sees him back at the cafe. What had she said, “I’m here every morning before 9:00,” or something like that; Jack could be there too.

This is precisely why Jack liked a solo existence. Women had a way of becoming the earworms of his life and his writing. He’d sworn off the fairer sex years ago, promising himself, and his characters, to focus on them. He peeled off his pants and socks, readying to go brush his teeth and get ready for bed.

Before Jack can make his way across the living space to the washroom there’s a knock at his door. He looks at the clock on the bedside table, 9:56 p.m ... They’ve already picked up the cart and tray from dinner, maybe they forgot. He’s dressed in his boxers and black T, he’s not exactly ready for company. What the hell, he thinks to himself, opening the door without using the peephole to see who it was.

“Life’s an adventure,” he says out loud, as he pulls the door open.

Standing there in a long black raincoat, cinched with a belt at the waist, is Sue, a bottle of wine in one hand, two glasses in the other.

“Talking to anyone in particular,” she says as the door opens.

“Just myself,” he says, surprised, but happy, to see her.

“Need a nightcap?” She asks.

“Would love one,” he answers, without a pause to think.

“Then may I come in?”

“Absolutely! Can I take your coat?”

“Not yet,” she says. “Let’s see how the night progresses; I don’t want to get too comfortable in a strange man’s room; or overstay my welcome.” She laughs.

“Am I really that much of a stranger?” Jack asks. “We did spend the whole afternoon together.”