I haven’t written a Steffie story all week! I’m surprised her fans haven’t sent Blind Pew to give me a black spot or something.
So, Julie of Story A Day suggests we try a story in which the character’s social or hierarchical superior does something contrary to your character’s morals. Sounds perfect for a Steffie story. So….
Steffie and the Hot Dog
by Marian Allen
“I don’t like it, either,” said Pete, Steffie’s handler. “But I don’t make the assignments up; I just pass them on to you.”
“It’s a stupid assignment,” Steffie repeated.
“I agree, it isn’t pleasant, but how is it stupid?”
“If a guy is committing treason, you take out the guy. That’s how it’s done. Nice and simple. A equals B. Treason — Out. You don’t take out somebody he loves. What’s that supposed to do? Teach him a lesson? Or what?”
“I did ask,” said Pete. “They said their informant told them it would disrupt his ability to function without drawing attention to our hand in it. If we killed him, it would be obvious we’re onto the scheme.”
They had reached Sardi’s. Steffie would go in alone, but she had another question before they parted.
“Who’s our informant?”
“No way. That’s his best friend!”
“Apparently, patriotism trumps friendship. That’s good, isn’t it?”
Steffie considered that. Would she kill Pete on orders? Would he kill her?
She avoided the thought. “This assignment stinks.”
“Like I said, I don’t like it, either.”
“No, I mean it’s fishy. Did they actually find his connection to the State Department or the DoD? Is it certain Frank Andrew Craig is writing state secrets into his books?”
“State and DoD haven’t found the leak, but his last three books had plots, subplots, or gear that are Top Secret at the highest level. LeBron swears under oath that Craig says he got them straight from the horse’s mouth.” Pete put a hand on Steffie’s shoulder. “Let’s do our job.”
Steffie wouldn’t look at him. She settled her clear-lensed spectacles a little lower down her nose and walked in.
Inside, she gawped around at the famous interior as if she’d never seen it before. When the hostess asked if she had a reservation, she said, “I’m joining Frank Andrew Craig,” in a voice that sounded as if she expected this to impress everyone within earshot of her own importance.
The hostess, obviously well-trained, said, “Of course,” and led her to an occupied table.
Steffie enjoyed reading espionage thrillers; they made her laugh. Her favorite writer was John LeCarre; he got the feelings pretty much right. The two men she joined at the table, Martin LeBron and Frank Andrew Craig, she read more for laughs, especially LeBron.
The men rose to greet her with handshakes, Craig introducing her to LeBron.
“And this young lady,” said Craig, as they sat, “is my daughter, Gwennie.”
“Hello,” said the child at Steffie’s left. “Do you write books, too?”
“I’m just beginning,” said Steffie. “Your father and his friend are letting me treat you all to lunch so I can soak up some of their genius.”
Gwennie laughed. “That’s not how you write books! Writing books is hard work!”
Steffie and the men laughed.
“Harder for some than for others,” said LeBron, leaning back and puffing out his chest.
Steffie, from what she had read about both men, knew that LeBron wrote three books to Craig’s one, yet he was always nipping at Craig’s heels on the Best Seller lists. Half of Craigs backlist were higher than LeBron’s latest.
And what would happen, if Craig suddenly died? Would he fade into obscurity, with LeBron taking his place? Or would he become a classic of the genre and never go out of print, never drop far below his current ranking?
But if his beloved daughter died, he’d probably never write again. He’d often said she was his heart and soul, the only reason he had to carry on after her mother’s long illness and death.
Steffie managed the conversation, guiding it through a discussion of sales rankings — “Over-rated,” said LeBron. “Silly,” said Craig — uncanny realism and prediction — “Suspicious, that,” said LeBron, with a laugh. “Deep imagination,” said Craig — and writing philosophy — “Knock ’em out; they’re mind candy,” said LeBron. “Whatever you write, respect the material and respect the reader,” said Craig.
Through it all, Gwennie alternately stared at the caricatures of famous people on the wall and appeared to be drinking in the discussion like a solemn little owlet. She only spoke once, when Steffie reached across the table, which she had established as a habit early in the meal. While the men were arguing a fine point about dialog, Gwennie leaned over to Steffie and whispered, “It’s not polite to reach across the table. You should ask people to pass you what you want. My Momma taught me that. She said I didn’t want people to think I was rude. Is it rude for me to tell you that, if nobody else hears me say it?”
“No,” said Steffie. “Thank you. I won’t do it anymore.” She didn’t need to; she had already poisoned her target’s food, under cover of all that reaching.
They finished their meal, dessert, and coffee (hot chocolate for Gwennie, cooled to a safe temperature by her father’s judicious addition of cold milk).
Steffie gushed thanks at the two men and waggled fingers at Gwennie, who waggled fingers back.
Pete was in Steffie’s room, eating a hot dog from paper wrapper, using a Carnegie Deli take-out menu as a placemat.
“How’d it go?”
“I eliminated the threat.”
Now it was Pete who wouldn’t meet Steffie’s eye. “We have our job to do,” he said. “We don’t make the orders, we take the orders.”
“So you’ve often told me.”
In the silence, she switched on the television.
A special news report showed the sidewalk in front of Sardi’s, a crowd gathering around a rectangle of yellow police tape.
An on-the-spot reporter said, “Thriller fans will wonder who-done-it, but it appears to be a simple case of silent heart attack in the death of popular author Martin LeBron. LeBron, friend and fellow writer Frank Andrew Craig, and Craig’s daughter, Gwendolyn, had dinner here at Sardi’s with a fan. LeBron collapsed as he left the restaurant.”
“LeBron?” said Pete. “LeBron wasn’t the target.”
“My bad,” said Steffie.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: A character’s superior violates the character’s morals. 3 authors, a hot dog, the dining room, and a Take out menu