So this prompt comes from Terrible Minds. The task was to smash together two sub-genres (I picked steampunk and noir) and write a flash story of 1,000 words or less. What follows is the result. It’s silly and filled with clichés but maybe that’s part of the fun…
Mr. Polisher is Dead
by Brenda Stokes Barron
The dame walked into my office. Her gears twitched and throttled with each shake of her hips. I nearly blew a gasket.
I switched on my water-cooling mechanism fast and played it off like nothing happened.
“Hey, if that dress were any shorter, I’d see your compressed air chamber,” I said, leaning back in my chair.
“I bet you say that to all the big-cogged girls,” she said and winked.
Silence passed for an uncomfortable moment before she spoke again, “I need your help.”
I learned forward like I was interested. “Yeah?”
She nodded, the gears in her neck turning and turning. “It’s my husband. He’s ratcheting a human girl. But whenever I tell him I want a divorce, he threatens to take out my perpetual motion generator.” She sucked in a breath, bottom lip clanking and quivering. “I just don’t know what to do anymore. He’s gone insane and I’m afraid for my life.”
I nodded, taking it all in. “But what can I do about it?”
“I was hoping you’d take care of him for me,” she said. The quiver in her voice vanished, probably because she’d automatically adjusted the alignment of her speech brackets. But the grin that creaked across her face was unnerving.
“You want me to kill him?” I asked. I paced behind the desk. I couldn’t look at this dame. She was much too beautiful with too much going on behind that metallic smile. A man could get killed over a smile like that. I snorted back a laugh.
“If that’s what you want to call it.”
Keeping my eyes down, I handed her a contract. Business had been slow. Investigate, eliminate, it was all the same in this town. She cranked a lever at the inside of her elbow and a signature stamp squeaked out of her wrist. Signed. Sealed. Dead, soon enough.
I didn’t like to put a lot of fuss into my work. A paycheck was a paycheck and this dame, Gladia, let’s call her, came into my life and offered me one. I couldn’t rightly say no. But that didn’t mean I had to put my clanking heart and sputtering soul into it, either.
A few nights after our first meeting, Gladia slipped an address and a check for $500 under my office door. I could see her outline through the frosted glass pane—her waist small and constricted by cooling coils and her hair piled on top of her head in a sheath of sparks. I waited for her to leave to retrieve the note. I checked myself:
I was ready.
The address she’d given me was for a bar on the edge of town. I hid the wooden stick in my coat sleeve and walked in like I owned the joint.
“I’m looking for a Mr. Polisher. Mr. Polisher here?”
In this town, there’s no need to be discreet. The cops, the crooks, they’re all in it together.
The patrons looked up at me through sleepy eyes and mumbled something unintelligible.
“Thanks, you’re a help,” I said, and ordered a drink. Water, of course. But I asked the barkeep to add a little vodka to it. It’ll jam my gears, I know. You only live once.
A man sat next to me. “You the one looking for Mr. Polisher?” he asked, his voice high and befitting his lanky frame.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“You’re looking at him,” he said and grinned. His smiled was stiff and unnatural. He’d probably ground his gears a few times too many.
I took a sip of my drink and let it fully settle into my reservoir. “Would you step outside with me?” I asked, “I have something I want to discuss with you.”
Mr. Polisher—I never got his first name—followed me out to the alley around back of the bar. He opened his mouth like he was going to ask me a question as I slid the stick from my sleeve, passed it to my right hand and jammed it into the large gear that turned on his back.
His mouth stayed open, sputtering like he just couldn’t find the right words as I hefted him into the garbage.
I cashed my check on the way home.
I held Gladia after we knocked compressors and I don’t know what came over me. I asked her to marry me. I’d never heard such a loud exhaust whistle.
We married at the Robotics Chapel down the street. A human couple wished us well. Call me a sap, but I thought that was nice. Especially in this day and age.
Gladia is the perfect wife. She cooks and cleans and looks after me. And when we kiss, sparks shoot out of my ears. That tells you something right there.
We got married over a year ago. But sometimes she gets a faraway look in her eyes at the dinner table. At first I thought she was malfunctioning but when I called her on it, she just apologized and told me that she’s distracted and busy at work. “I never knew the typing pool was so stressful,” I said, and she laughed though her eyes stayed three miles away over in the next county somewhere.
Today, Gladia was up and ready for work before me. She paused at the door before she left and told me she loved me. A smile clung to her metallic lips.
The door shut behind her and all I could think was how a man could get killed over a smile like that.
But this time, I didn’t laugh.
Thanks for reading!