A WARM RECEPTION - KELLY WHITLEY
Bart and Lana walked into the Four Seasons Hotel. In the Aspen Room, the reception for the new Mr. and Mrs. Blake Potowski was well underway. Guests packed the ballroom, laughing, talking, and dancing. A long table against one wall held a cornucopia of wedding gifts ranging from large boxes festooned with ribbons to demure envelopes containing monetary gifts.
Lana froze in the doorway and gripped Bart’s sleeve. “I think we might be underdressed. Everyone here is decked out for black tie. We look like we don’t belong.”
Bart clamped his hand around her arm and steered her through the doorway. “You look fine.”
“I can’t afford a new dress for every wedding,” she whispered. “What if somebody’s seen this dress before?”
“A little black dress doesn’t stand out. This is the last time, I swear.”
“That’s what you said last time.”
“Get in line for refreshments,” he growled.
The respective queues for cocktails and cake were short, and they zipped through the lines.
As they carried their food and drinks to one of the empty tables flanking the dance floor, the best man intercepted them. “Didn’t I see you guys at the Zucker wedding last fall?”
Bart spoke up. “No, I don’t think we’ve met.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Gus Sinclair, and this is my wife Greta.”
The best man narrowed his eyes as held Bart’s gaze and shook his hand. “Joe Potowski, brother of the groom. Which side of the family are you with?”
Lana swallowed and set her food and drink on the table. “The bride’s side. I went to college with Lucinda.”
The two men sized each other up as a waltz flowed from the DJ’s turntable. The happy couple cuddled and kissed on the dance floor behind them.
After an eternity of seconds, Joe broke the silence. “Enjoy yourselves. I’ll see you later.” With a nod, he ambled off toward the wedding party’s table.
Lana watched as Joe bent and spoke to another groomsman, and then both men stared across the room at Bart. “I think he knows, Bart. Let’s... let’s just go.”
“Sit down and eat.”
“We could get arrested—”
“Do what I say, and it’ll all be fine,” he said through his teeth.
Lana consumed her cake and punch with shaking hands. “They’re still watching us, Bart. I want to go.”
“Go check out the gift table,” Bart murmured.
Lana glanced across the room at the newlyweds, then at the best man. “This is so wrong. Every time your gambling gets you in trouble, you drag me off to a wedding. You can pay off your debts some other way.”
“No, I can’t. I’m out of time.”
“Check the table. Now.”
Lana recognized the implied threat in the words, and shuddered at the thought of Bart’s uncontrolled rage. Reluctantly she strolled along the gift table while he collected their coats and tipped the checker.
In the lobby, Bart pulled her aside. “Did you get ’em?”
She gave him a withering glance and handed him a fat envelope. “Yeah. Another gambling debt paid off courtesy of newlyweds. I’m going to the ladies’ room.”
“Be out here in ten minutes or I’ll leave without you.” Bart turned for the door.
Lana checked the ladies’ room, then the lounge area of the restroom. She pulled out her phone and made the call. Then she pulled out the tote bag she’d stowed behind the lounge’s couch earlier that day, and made her preparations. Fifteen minutes later, she peeked out of the ladies’ room. In the lobby, a police officer led Bart away in handcuffs as Joe Potowski and the other groomsman watched.
Lana smoothed her new slacks and trench coat, then tied a scarf over the blond wig and patted her purse. Enough to start a new life in Mexico, away from Bart and the loan sharks he still owed from the last ill-fated bet. As soon as she got situated, she’d start paying back all those newlyweds.
She’d already settled up with Bart.
BIO: Kelly has been writing for years, but is new to the art form of flash-- the shorter, the better.