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Unlucky Looters: 2018 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

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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.

Cruise Liner


Author's Note

This is my submission to the 2018 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition. We begin with more than 3,000 writers from around the world. Every participant will write at least two stories in the competition. After the first two story challenges, the field will be cut to less than 500 writers for the semifinals. Last year I was fortunate enough to have made it into the semifinals. But this is a new year, new prompts, new stories. We'll see how this little story holds up.

My prompts were as follows:

1. Genre: Crime Caper

2. Location: A Tugboat (Most of the story must take place here)

3. Object: A Water Gun (This only needs to appear in the story. It does not need to play a major part).

Word count: 1,000 words or fewer.

We had 48 hours to write our stories

Here is NYC Midnight's definition of the Crime Caper genre.

A lighthearted crime story in which the main characters perpetrate one or more crimes--e.g. thefts, swindles, or kidnappings--in full view of the reader or filmgoer. The plot focuses on the criminals and their attempts at escape or atonement. Scenes often leverage offbeat humor and acts of unusual cleverness or audacity. Common elements: The criminals are the main characters (the investigative team may appear but is not the main focus), complicated plots, flawed protagonists. Crime caper books include Michael Crichton’s The Great Train Robbery and most books by Janet Evanovich. Crime caper films include Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and The Italian Job(2003).

Unlucky Looters

The cruise ship’s lights twinkled on the water while city lights formed a glittering crescent around the harbor. All was still except for the wake of a skiff powered by an electric motor.

“Ahoy,” said the pilot as his craft bumped the hull of a moored tugboat. No one responded. He and his partner needed the tug, and it would be easier to commandeer if no one was on board.

Dressed in black, they scrambled up the starboard side with a duffel bag of equipment and searched bow to stern, finding no one.


“Dexter, look in the bag for an electric cord. I’ll be in the engine room.”

A minute later, Dexter joined his boss. “You think you can get it started with this?” He held out the cord.

“It’s an old motor, built before parts were added to prevent hot-wiring. Yes, I can start it.”

“You’re a genius, Boss.”

“True,” said the man in charge. “Did you get the MP5 I told you to buy?”

Dexter handed Boss something small and black.

Boss looked into the end of the barrel. “This is a plastic water pistol.”

“You said water gun.”

“I said waterproof gun, you idiot. We’re working over water here and as clumsy as you are...Oh, never mind.”

“Sorry, Boss.”

“I called it an MP5. What did you think MP meant?”

“Mostly plastic?”

“Good thing I brought my Glock.” Boss connected one end of the cord to the starter and the other end to the battery. The engine fired and continued to run smoothly.

“Boss, You’re—”

“I know, Dexter. It’s a gift.”

Water Gun


With the skiff in tow, he pointed the tugboat’s bow toward the ship.

Boss had researched the vessel and discovered that the cabins did not have safes. If someone wanted to store valuables, they rented a safety deposit box in the purser’s office. That was their target.

They stopped about five hundred feet off the port side. Boss tried several radio channels. On the third try, the captain responded.

“We didn’t call for a tug.”

“I was told you would be turning 180 degrees at first light. I thought I’d beat the rush hour traffic.”

“We have no such plans.”

“I’m staying here until I hear from my company.”

YouTube Demonstration of Grappling Hook Gun


They climbed into the skiff with their duffel bag and headed for the stern of the cruise ship leaving the tugboat as a decoy. About seventy-five feet out, they let the skiff drift.

“Before we board that ship, Dexter, I’m going to tell you why you’re even along on this little caper. I promised your mother that I’d teach you a trade. Since this is the only trade I know, it’s what you get. So pay attention from here on out.”

Boss reached into the duffel and pulled out a grappling hook gun, shouldered it, and fired. The projectile flew toward the fourth floor and caught the railing.

They motored toward the stern and tied the skiff to the ship. The ascending device carried them straight up the back, and in thirty seconds they were climbing over the railing onto the deck.



The purser’s office was on the main deck. Boss and Dexter headed for midship and slipped into the stairwell. Before exiting, they stripped off their black clothing to reveal the apparel of two cruise ship partiers.

Boss wore a Hawaiian shirt and shorts with palm trees and an ocean sunset. Dexter had chosen a comic strip theme complete with long pants, jacket, and tie.

“Dexter.” Boss facepalmed. “The idea is to blend in.”

“I know, but the ladies are gonna love it.”

“No ladies, moron. We get the loot and leave. You got that?”

“They’re still gonna love it.”

People were dancing in the lobby to music coming from the lounge. Dexter finger-gunned the ladies along with a wink. Some posed for photos. A cute, inebriated blonde tried to pull him back to her cabin.

Party on the Cruise Ship


Inside the purser’s office, a young man watched the desk.

“You’ve got ten seconds to lock that door.” Boss pointed with the barrel of the Glock.

The youth scrambled out of his chair and ran to the door. When it was locked, he turned and volunteered his keys.

“Which is the master key for the safety deposit boxes?”

The kid showed them and led them to the next room. Within minutes, dozens of boxes lay on the floor and the duffel was bulging. They exited the office, leaving the young clerk tied up among the mess.

At the stern of the ship, Boss pulled the ascending device out of the duffel and secured it to his front.

“Sorry, moron, but this thing can’t hold you, me, and the bag.” With that, he grabbed Dexter by the armpits and heaved him over the railing backward.

Boss descended to the skiff and dragged Dexter out of the water. They motored away from the cruise ship into fog so thick they couldn’t see the tugboat.

“Where’d this damn fog come from?” said Boss. “I told you to check the forecast. Why didn’t you tell me about the fog?”

“You asked me about rain, not fog.”

For the second time that night, Boss threw his partner into the harbor. A lifejacket followed. “Ditch those clothes or the kid in the purser’s office will recognize you in a heartbeat.” Boss cupped his hands to his mouth, and shouted, “Man overboard.” The alarm was repeated by someone on the ship and searchlights came on. As he motored away, Boss called back to Dexter one more time. “I’ll be sure to let your mom know you’re a swimming success in the crime business.”

Boss crisscrossed the area several times before he found the tugboat. When he climbed on board, the harbor police were waiting and solved two crimes with a single arrest.

Meanwhile, Dexter woke up in bed with a cute blonde’s head resting on his chest. “I told him they’d love the suit.”

Comic Strip Party Suit