Homepage / Flash Fiction / Write Now! Prompt 22 February 2013: Better Late
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Flash Fiction, Writing

Write Now! Prompt 22 February 2013: Better Late

Hey, guess what? It’s Friday! The great prompt-creators over at Today’s Author gave this as inspiration this fine day:

He was always late, but tonight he arrived early.

I was feeling a bit silly after reading this morning’s Calvin and Hobbes over at gocomics, and thought I’d incorporate it into my offering for today, which I call “Better Late:”

Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau

Bertram was not suited to this business; his poor eyesight and slight paunch made it difficult for him to be stealthy. At the times when he needed to be absolutely silent, he invariably sneezed; when cat-like precision was necessary, he tripped; when Bond-like poise was required, he ultimately spilled the hot tea into the lap of the debutante. He’d told his father that he hadn’t wanted to be a spy but rather would have preferred to study botany; Rubbish! the old man had bellowed, his voice echoing up and down the halls of the manor estate. The men in the McGowan family are all known for their work for the Agency and you shall be no different! And with that pronouncement, the tutors were forbidden to teach him anything related to biology, chemistry, or any other science, unless it dealt more with the development of the proper molecular sequence leading to the creation of a proper drink additive (such as one that would render its drinker unable to keep secrets). The tutors privately commiserated on how terribly Bertram was at his studies, having had minimal success at bomb-making, safe-cracking, or clandestine movement-making.

Nonetheless he found himself on his way to what was meant to be his third (and hopefully final) challenge. He’d done relatively poorly on the previous two, and secretly hoped that a failure on this one would finally convince his father that he did not have the stuff to continue the long line of family spies. After all, he reasoned, Monty is cut out for this sort of thing. Monty, the younger of the two most recent McGowan’s, had the mannerisms and physique for the spy’s life: he was ruggedly handsome, quick on his feet, and able to subdue even the most gorilla-sized opponent. Bertram bargained that since Monty had already garnered the admiration of his father, uncles, and the full constabulary down at the Agency, his own inability to live up to the McGowan history should come as no surprise. As he walked to the bus stop, he again sneezed against the cold winter drizzle and unfolded a small paper: he was to go to 72398 Mulberry Square and deliver a particularly unsavory experience upon the identified male resident therein. Lost in thought, he wrinkled his nose as he read the detail of what he was to do, not noticing that his bus had just pulled off from the stop just 300 feet away. Upon hearing the exhaust of its departure, Bertram broke into a terrible trot but was unable to signal the driver. With slumped shoulders he crumpled to the bench seat at the bus stop and from another pocket produced the bus route schedule; what sort of spy takes public transportation? he pondered angrily, noting that that next bus would be along in 12 minutes and would get him to his destination seven minutes later than planned. However, from what he’d read about his victim there would be no problem; the fellow was always late and Bertram was to rendezvous with the man at this address. He figured he had at least a 10-minute window of surprise. With that, Bertram pulled up the collar of his overcoat and tucked both papers away in his pockets to await the bus.

One short bus ride later and Bertram stepped out onto Mulberry Square. The drizzle was coming down harder here, causing him to squint to read the house numbers. As he counted down–72412, 72406, 72404, 7239…–he heard a resounding “Gotcha!” from the mist ahead; his victim had somehow learned of his approach and had used those seven extra minutes to the advantage; Bertram heard a whizzing sound and with a thud hit the ground, having been thoroughly whacked by something planted in the path ahead. As he passed out, he smiled wistfully, realizing that the surprise had instead been delivered to him by his victim: he was always late but tonight he arrived early! He saw a shadowy presence above him through the fog of his fading mind and the heavy mist still falling and prayed not for death from this unknown foe but merely for expulsion from the Agency.

Copyright: Watterson


  1. Rob Diaz February 23, 2013 12:20 am

    I love Calvin and Hobbes — and especially the ones with the snowmen in it.

    I love what you did with this prompt. All through it I expected that it would be Bertram who was arriving early. Nicely done!

    • AR Neal February 23, 2013 12:41 am

      Thank you, Rob! Oh, yes–Calvin’s snowmen are the best!! And yes, I was inspired to go for the twist with this one 🙂

  2. indytony February 24, 2013 10:13 pm

    Nicely done. I love the line – “what sort of spy takes public transportation?” Indeed!

    • AR Neal February 25, 2013 12:05 am

      Thank you sir! Sometimes such lines are funny to me when I write them and it is always good to know that someone else got it too 🙂

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