Flash Fiction: Cold Calculus

“No,” he stammered.  He even pointed his gun at her, though he knew full well that it wouldn’t do any good.  “No, I won’t do it!  You’re lying!”

“Saul, I know you’re scared,” she said, like a parent telling a child that he needed to be brave when going to the doctor.  “I know you’re confused.  And I’m sorry, I really-”

“Don’t you fucking tell me you’re sorry!  Don’t you fucking dare!”  Saul fought against the tears pushing irresistibly from behind his eyes as he glanced wildly around.  His hopes that nobody had noticed him were rewarded; everyone else at the park was too absorbed in their own perfect day to see what was happening in a random car in the parking lot.  Well, almost everyone.  One little girl gaped at him from the swing set, but nobody was going to believe her when she told them about the angry man in the car, yelling at a passenger who wasn’t there.  “How can you do this?  I’ve done everything you’ve asked, everything!”

Her wrinkles seemed to deepen as she frowned disapprovingly at him, giving her the appearance of a reproachful grandmother.  “And it’s all been for the better, hasn’t it, Saul?  What I’ve told you has helped you, helped your family.  You were about to lose your house when I came to you, remember?  My information got you the money that let you save it.  And your wife?  Do you really think the doctors would have found her cancer in time if I hadn’t told you it was there?  You’d be a single parent if it weren’t for me, Saul.  You trusted me then.  You need to trust me now.”

“Is that what all this has been?” he accused, sobbing freely now.  “Throw the wash-up a few bones, get him to trust you, believe he’s not going crazy?  That he really is getting tips from some woman from the goddamn future that nobody else can fucking see?!  Then when he’s on the hook say, ‘Oh, by the way, now you’ve gotta kill a guy or lots of people are gonna die,’ is that it?  Like it’s my goddamn responsibility?!”

A long moment passed before she replied, barely louder than a whisper, “Yes.”  Her stern demeanor cracked for the first time since she’d found him, and for just a moment Saul caught a glimpse of the old woman beneath, lost and tired and consumed with regret.

“But why?  Why me?  Why him?  Shit, look at him, he’s got kids right there!  You want me to shoot a guy, what looks like a decent guy, in broad daylight?  In front of his kids?  Why?!”

She snapped at that, eyes locked on Saul, ignoring where he was pointing.  “Because it has to happen!  Here!  Today!  Because it has to be you.  Because it has to be him.  Because his death will set events in motion which must occur, because others’ lives will go the wrong way if they don’t, and because millions of people will die without them!  Dammit, Saul, I don’t want this either.  I’m not a monster.  I didn’t think it would end up like this, that you’d be so… decent.  But you have to do it.  There’s no other way… believe me, I’ve tried everything.  Absolutely everything.”

They sat together in the car for a short time, companions in helplessness and despair, interrupted only by his fading sobs.  “They’ll catch me,” Saul said quietly after a few minutes.  “They’ll lock me up, I’ll never see my family again.”

“No, Saul,” she replied, her voice distant and numb, “you get away.  Fire three shots and run straight back to the car.  You’ll get away.”

“But all those people-”

“Will be panicked and confused.  It’ll be chaos, everyone will have a different story.  Everyone will see what happened, but nobody will know.  Do what I tell you and you’ll get away.”

He paused, coming to a decision.  After a moment, he began to reach for the door, then paused.  “You’ve never even told me your name.”

She smiled sadly.  “Isabel.”

“And his?”

Her mouth twitched, her smile turned to a rueful grimace.  “Daniel.”

Saul seemed to weigh the words in his mind a moment before nodding curtly and getting out of the car.  His legs seemed to move of their own volition as he walked into the park, his mind a fog.  He vaguely registered the girl from the swings run up to the man and his wife, tugging on the woman’s sleeves as he approached.  “Daniel?” he heard himself ask from a long way away.  The man hadn’t even finished turning when Saul raised his gun and pulled the trigger once, twice, thrice.  The park exploded in panic, but Saul didn’t hesitate.  He turned to dash back to the car, gun still in hand, but only made it six strides before the world dropped out from beneath him.

As his subconscious brain brought him to a stumbling halt, his conscious mind finally registered the two beat cops that had just come around the tree-lined path between him and escape.  For a moment, everything became still and clear.  The cops’ coffee cups hung in midair, dropped as they frantically drew their sidearms.  Saul whirled on his car’s ethereal passenger, who sat silently weeping in the front seat, screaming and pointing the gun despite himself.  “You lied to me!”  The first bullet struck him in the shoulder, spinning him around before the second sent him sprawling.  The last thing Saul saw was Daniel’s wife clutching the girl from the swings and another young boy, shielding their eyes from the carnage before them, as they all wailed in grief and horror.

“Why, Mom?!  Why did he shoot Daddy?!” the girl cried.

“I don’t know, Izzy.  Oh God, I don’t know…”

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