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Sky Heist: Flash Fiction

Updated on November 19, 2016
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Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

New York City


Sky Heist

Rance stood on the ship’s terrace after exiting the loading queue and observed the elliptical air-ferry. They called her The Drake, after Sir Francis Drake, second person to circumnavigate the globe.

Rance found his room and proceeded to the lounge for a presentation on the mid twenty-first century fleet of hydrogen airships. He sipped club soda at the bar.

“Excuse me, are these seats taken?”

“I don’t believe so.” Rance stood. Two attractive women sat down.

“Elizabeth Hampton.” The redhead extended her hand. “This is my mom, Francine.” The older woman nodded.

“Rance Fowler.” He shook hands with each woman. “Are you here for the presentation or refreshments?”

“Both. Mom’s obsessed with the air-ferries, but I need a drink before we dangle over the Atlantic for four days.”

After the presentation, Rance accompanied the women toward the passenger rooms. “Would you join me for dinner? I hear the blackened grouper is good.”

“I’d love to,” said Elizabeth. “Mom?”

“You go. I’ll order room service. I have things to attend to before bedtime.”

Airship-Ferry in the Story


Rance and Elizabeth met outside the lounge and walked around the ship. Golden shimmers laced the water as the sun dipped below the liquid horizon.

They turned from the vista, and Francine nearly ran into them when she rounded the corner.

“Mom, you decided to join us.”

“No, I was just checking on a few things.”

Rance stood back while the women spoke. A man turned the corner and stopped short. His eyes locked with Rance’s. He turned on his heel and fled.


Rance and Elizabeth looked over the dessert menu after the main course. Baked Hawaiian and Dates á la mode grappled for their attention.

“Let’s get both and share,” said Elizabeth.

“Agreed.” Rance saw Francine dash by. “Your mother seems to be staying busy?”

“Busy is Mom’s middle name. She decided an air-ferry was the best way to transport her jewelry to a London show. I reasoned a quick flight would be safer, but she insisted on a slow voyage.”

“I know a little about security. If I can help, let me know.”

“You don’t look like the type that works in malls.”

“Good one.” Rance swirled the ice in his drink. “Served in the Military Police, a short stint with NYPD, but I like working solo.”

“You’re a PI?

“Yes, but you don’t have to say it with such disdain.”

“Sorry. I’m sure you’re a successful private dick.” Elizabeth’s smile broadened, and she had trouble keeping ice cream from running out the corners of her mouth.

“Have breakfast with me, Elizabeth.”

“If you agree to call me Lizzy.”


The next morning they dined outside. Francine burst onto the terrace. “Lizzy, something terrible has happened.” She grabbed Elizabeth’s arm and pulled her to her feet.

“Mom, What’s wrong?”

“Someone stole my jewelry.

“Are you sure? Did you talk with security?”

“The chief said they could only search rooms of passengers who consent.

Elizabeth helped her mother to a chair and poured a glass of water.

“If your mother’s valuables were stolen,” said Rance, “they’re still on board.”

“Lizzy, there’s something I should tell you. There’s no show in London. I’ve made arrangements to sell my collection.”

“But why?”

“When your father passed last year, he left you, your brother and me a lot of money. You know that. He also left us a lot of debt.”

Rance saw the man from the night before watching from inside. He was holding night vision goggles. Then he was gone.

Rance returned to his cabin. He was grasping for something he had heard about since he got on the ferry. He snapped his fingers.

“Come with me,” he said, leaning in through Francine’s open door. They strolled the main deck and found a door marked Authorized Personnel. They slipped through and descended the stairs.

They stole among the cargo in the darkness. Rance recalled the man with the night vision goggles.

“This is pointless,” hissed Francine. “Let’s get out of here before someone sees us.”

“Mom,” Elizabeth whispered, “do you want to find the jewelry or not?”

“There.” Rance pointed at a large plastic tank. Their vision had adapted, and they could make out the round form with a cone shaped top and hatch.

“What’s that?” said Elizabeth.

“Garbage. It’ll be dropped in thirty minutes.”

“Who would throw my jewelry in there?” said Francine. “It’s ridiculous.

A figure emerged from the shadows with a large dry bag, dressed in a diving suit with an air tank. He climbed a ladder, opened the hatch and dropped inside.

“Bobby?” Elizabeth stepped forward. “What’s going on?”

“Lizzy? What are you doing here? Where’s Mom?”

“Here.” Francine joined her daughter.

“I don’t understand,” said Elizabeth.

“I think I do,” said Francine. “Should I tell my version, Bobby?”

Her son came down. Rance recognized him. Bobby was the man he had seen twice since the previous evening.

“It’s not complicated. I stole the jewelry. I was to be hidden in the container when it was dropped. I have a life raft and enough food and water to last until I was rescued.

“What were you going to do with Mom’s collection?”.

“Sell it. Mom would get the insurance money and I was going to pay off the debts anonymously.” Disbelief echoed in the awkward silence.

“May I speak?” Rance stepped up. Elizabeth’s hand slipped around his and squeezed her approval. “The only crime that’s been committed is theft by a family member. The insurance company won’t be defrauded. This is a family affair, and I’m sure you’ll find a way to rebuild your trust.”

“I believe you, Bobby.” Francine went to her son followed by her daughter.



Rance and Elizabeth sat on the terrace. Cornwall and the Bristol Channel were visible to the northeast.

“I need a vacation from my family.” She smiled through the tears.

“I happen to be on a round the world vacation. You’re welcome to join me, if you don’t mind traveling with a private dick.”


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    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Shauna, I appreciate the kind words about this story. I'm glad it somehow retained some of what I had put into it when it was one third longer. I don't think it will do well in the competition, but it is more important that I learned a lot about writing mysteries, especially in short formats.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      Excellent story, Chris! Your scenic descriptions are very vivid. I look forward to reading the short story version.

      Good luck in the contest!

    • manatita44 profile image


      5 years ago from london

      LOL. Ha ha, for the records, you sometimes write amazing Flash! Masterpieces as far as I am concerned. I really like your work! I feel that you're a good man too. A bonus (smile)

      Now by nature, I'm a servant. It's really nice to hear others say nice things. But occasionally I feel that I can serve one best by inspiring them to improve. I'm essentially a spiritual writer, a servant, and I can seem harsh. I always mean well. Throw away the bruised ego. (chuckle) Have a great Sunday!

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      manatita and John, I'll work through my current crisis in writing and bruised ego. If I can ever offer a critical eye for either of you, you only need to ask. Thanks for putting up with my whining. I promise to get right back to writing. Have a great week, both of you.

    • manatita44 profile image


      5 years ago from london

      Great story. I think you improved on it. I believe I read the first version. Yes, nice twist. I agree it's not your best, but we can't always write top notch ones. The lesser word count works well. Buen Suerte!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 years ago from Gondwana Land

      Thanks, Chris. I look forward to reading that. Yes, I am familiar with steampunk and I love that style of items and genre. One of my favorite tv series was 'Firefly" and it was very much steampunk oriented. Apart from the airship - ferry and the mother's infatuation with them I didn't really get the feel of steampunk in the story (once again, the airship diagram fit the bill but not the others) , though it most certainly fit the film noir type genre..private dick etc.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      John, It wasn't until just before I submitted the story at a little before midnight last Sunday night that I realized how bad the story had gotten. The deadline was a few minutes away. There was nothing I could do but submit the story. Ruby was able to post and a few others read it.

      I have the original 1536 word story on my laptop. I'll forward it to you. It has its own issues, but it was a first draft, so of course it did. I'm going to start from scratch, but I will keep the same general plot as long as I feel it is working. For word count, I'd like it to be well under 2k.

      A couple of questions for you...Are you familiar with steampunk? Noir? Did you get any feeling of either of these as you read or did the photos ruin that?

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Faith, in your first post here you asked about the # sign. It refers to the passing of an undetermined amount of time between the end of the last paragraph and the beginning of the next one.

      You asked, "Well, what about dialogue it best to limit it in a flash and just stick to the action to paint the image in one's mind with your words?"

      Whenever possible, keep the dialogue and throw out the narrative. Dialogue gives the writer the opportunity to liven up the story. A change in voice, female rather than male. A child or teen rather than an adult. These kinds of changes can really help a story along. That's just my opinion though. Thats a good mailbag question for Bill. haha

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 years ago from Gondwana Land

      Chris, I too got notification a day or two back you had published a hub but it said it didn't exist when I clicked the link. I can see how this story suffered from the cuts Chris. I would like to read your original draft before you had to cut 1/3 from it. As you say it had the bare bones of a great story and needs to be a short story instead of flash fiction. I have the same problem writing poems for people...they say they want to only pay for say 100 words and what they want would often take 200 to be really good, however I have to cut it back to what they ask for. Difficult to be satisfied with that.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      I understand. As you stated, Chris, some stories are not meant to be flash fiction stories, and being you initially started out with a lot more words on both, seems you were wanting to write a short story.

      Well, what about dialogue it best to limit it in a flash and just stick to the action to paint the image in one's mind with your words?

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Faith, cutting one third of any story is going to have devastating effects on the integrity of the story. This one truly is a skeleton that can't stand on its own. My stories in both challenges so far in this competition have ended in exactly the same way. The first one had 1700 words in the first draft and this one had nearly 1600 words. I used to write about 1200 in a first draft which is easy to whittle down to a thousand. It seems that I am naturally writing longer now for first drafts. I don't know what that means, but maybe if I am conscious of it, I'll be able to get it back under control.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      Hi Chris,

      Oh, this may have been the hub that I had clicked on but it was no longer here, but so glad it is now. Glad you linked it to your hub on editing.

      This is interesting, Chris, and with the twist at the end ...of course, family! What would get to me in these types of challenges is the short amount of time one has to write the story. The prompts for this challenge are quite unique, but that is why they call it a challenge.

      I think you'll still do well despite having to edit most of your story down in such a short time period.

      Best of luck.

      Oh, what does # mean when included in a story? I know I should know, but ...

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      5 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Thanks Ruby, but I'm very disappointed. I think I'll move it from here and just post it on my Google Drive.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Quite a surprise ending. The story was interesting and believable. I liked it.


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