My Brief Life and Tragic Death, Chapter 1

My Brief Life and Tragic Death is one of the urban fantasy novels that I’ll complete and publish before the end of 2020. Let me know what you think!

Chapter 1. Purple Pumpkins

I met Frank and survived an assassination attempt between lunch and teatime.

I suppose it started with the whistling. I had the palace library all to myself, as usual, and was reading at my favorite table. It was a beautiful June day in 1972. The hush was shattered when a boy walked in, whistling. He caught sight of me and approached. It’s hard to smirk and whistle at the same time, but he managed it. When he reached my table, he stopped whistling and stood smiling at me. It was a good smile; it invited me to smile back, which I didn’t, of course.

He was a handsome boy of about thirteen, which made him a year older than myself. He was tall for his age, with a haircut that said he was from the California side of the gateway. I liked him at once, which annoyed me. I don’t get along with my fellow children.

His smile and likability made me self-conscious, though I was wearing a particularly beautiful blue dress that day.

The boy was actually wandering the palace in shirtsleeves, having abandoned his blazer who knew where. He’d loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves. Somehow, this made him look at home, as if I were the intruder.

I gave him a cold stare. “This is a library, you know.”

He looked around in pretended astonishment.

I added, “You can tell from all the books? At least, I hope you can.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Hey, maybe you can help me. I’m looking for a sweet little girl named Flavia.”

I placed a bookmark and closed my book. “Are you being irritating on purpose?”

“Of course I am. How about you?”

I was taken aback. “Why?”

“Look, babe, do you know where Flavia is or not?”

“I’m Princess Flavia.”

“Then your portraits don’t do you justice. I like the freckles especially. A freckle is a beacon of honesty in a mendacious world. Allow me to introduce myself. Frank Barron, at your service.” He stuck out his hand.

If you ignored his actual words, he was wonderfully well-spoken, especially for his age. He had that command of language which only an intelligent person who reads a great many books develops, but without the stiff delivery of someone like me, for whom books are their only friends. I was a bit regretful when I said, “Princesses don’t shake hands.”

“Oh, that’s all right. I’m not a princess.”

I rolled my eyes. “But I am.”

“Anyway, you have it backwards. Privilege, you see. You can shake anyone’s hand. They aren’t supposed to make the offer. Privilege gives you more choices than other people. Or it should.”

Most people smile only with their mouths, at least when they smile at me. Frank’s eyes twinkled. This was a game and he was inviting me to play, but it didn’t look like any fun from where I was sitting.

Except for correcting his execrable logic, that is. “You just admitted your faux pas in offering your hand,” I said, feeling a bit triumphant.

“And then there’s the third category. Princesses, everyone else … and me.” He stuck out his hand again. “Frank Barron.”

I shook my head.

He said, “I dare you to shake my hand.”

“No.”

“I double-dare you.”

I hesitated. “Why?”

“I’ll tell you in a minute.”

“I’ve never shaken anyone’s hand.”

“It’s easy. I’ll teach you.”

He’d piqued my interest, so, in spite of many misgivings, I allowed this. As a girl, I could shake hands while seated, which was a mercy.

My misgivings were unfounded. Unlike his banter, Frank’s handshake was straightforward. Somehow, it communicated that he was a real person and he knew perfectly well that I was one, too. This had never happened to me before.

“One last time. Allow me to introduce myself.” He stuck out his hand. “Frank Barron. Call me Frank.”

I took his hand and said, “Princess Flavia Beaumont. Pleased to meet you, Frank. Call me … Flavia?”

“Perfect.”

“Wait, why are we on a first-name basis?”

“We’re friends.”

“We are not!”

“And you just now invited me to call you Flavia.”

“You tricked me!”

“I wonder. But my first answer was true.”

“We are not friends, Mr. Frank Barron.”

He became serious. “Humor me. It’s important.”

I felt myself tense. “Who sent you?” I’d been warned that, damaged goods though I was, I would still be a target for plots.

“No one knows I’m here but you.”

“What do you want?”

“I’ll start with my second-best reason. I’m surrounded by people with dull brains and no sparkle. I’m going to die of boredom unless I find someone smart and amusing.”

“I’m not noted for my sense of humor.”

“Sparkle is always entertaining. You’ve got lots.”

“You think you can convince a princess to become your court jester?”

And vice versa. Fair’s fair. After all, I grew up in a town that was too small to have a village idiot, so we all took turns.”

I giggled, then clapped a hand over my mouth. “That didn’t mean anything.”

“Of course not. Your turn.”

“My turn for what?”

“To tell a joke or amusing anecdote.”

Did I even know any? “Frank, are you always this annoying?”

He looked around theatrically, then confided, “Actually, I’m on my best behavior.”

I gaped at him. “You’re usually worse?”

“You’ll get used to it.”

I remembered that he’d called this his second-best reason. “Why are you really here, Frank?”

“I found this note next to my bed when I woke up.”

He handed it to me. It read,

Dear Frank,

I don’t know it yet, but I desperately need you to befriend me today. Meet me in the library at 2 PM sharp. Tell me “purple pumpkins” or show me this note.

Love,

Flavia

P.S. Frank, I won’t remember any of this, let alone the dream, so you must believe in and act upon that part of your dream which starts with the explosion in the courtyard.

It was a sheet of my personal notepaper. The note was in my handwriting and signed with my signature.

I stared at it, stunned.

Frank said, “How good a forgery is it?”

I considered this for a moment, then shook my head. “I think it’s genuine.”

“No one else knows that purple pumpkins mean something?”

“No. They were in a dream I had just last night.”

“I had a dream last night. The note was right about that.”

“Oh?”

“I was here, talking to you, when there was a tremendous racket in the courtyard.”

Just then, there was an explosion in the courtyard.

Continued in Chapter 2, “Behind the Arras.”

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