The Fourth Cookie

by Jack Curtin

        Virginia cracked open the fortune cookie and pulled out the white slip of paper inside. "What goes around comes around," it read. "No question about that," she muttered to herself.

        There were still three cookies left inside the nondescript box which had just been delivered to her penthouse apartment. Curious, she'd opened it standing right there in the hallway as soon as she'd closed the door and found the four cookies nestled in gold satin. Each was neatly numbered, suggesting the order in which she should choose them. She closed the top of the box and looked at it again. No return address, no indication at all where it had come from. Only her name, carefully printed on a small label.

        Virginia pulled out the second cookie. "As you sow, so shall you reap." She believe that too, but offered no muttered agreement this time. She was more interested in the pattern that seemed to be developing. The third cookie confirmed it. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

        She moved her hand toward the final cookie, then drew it back. Were these cookies meant to represent a threat? A warning? Lord knows, there were enough people out there to want to give her one, or either, or both. But why bother going to all this trouble?

        She again reached for the last cookie and again hesitated. Supposed there was no answer there, but only more questions? Virginia hated questions. Her whole life was based upon certainty and allowed no room for doubt. She knew what she wanted, she had always known what she wanted, and she'd gone out and gotten it. Taken it, most would say. No survivors, no excuses, no looking back. That was Virginia's world. It had made her enemies but it also had made her a very wealthy woman.

        After a minute, she picked up the box and walked into the living room. She carried it to the bar opposite the large window looking out over the city and poured herself a glass of wine. After a long sip, she took the cookie out of the box and placed it on the bar. She continued sipping her wine and stared at the small pastry, trying to work things out in her mind.

        She decided that what she had here was likely more threat than warning. The messages in the first three cookies indicated that, at the very least, someone was unhappy with something she'd done. And it was probably wise to assume that they also promised that some retaliation was forthcoming. It seemed logical that the unhappy person was also the sender of the cookies.

        A threat from whom? That was the real question. And was it aimed at her personally or at her far-flung business empire? Virginia couldn't imagine any of her corporate competitors would waste time and energy on being mysterious. In that part of her life, direct confrontation and action were paramount. One didn't succeed at the highest levels of finance by being coy or circumspect.

        A personal matter then. Virginia finished her glass of wine and moved around the bar to get another. In some ways, she felt almost comforted with her conclusion. While her business life was extensive and complex, filled with a wide range of powerful mean and women, her personal life was relatively simple. Her circle of acquaintances was small and few, if any, within that circle were as powerful as she.

        Odd that I think of those closest to me as acquaintances, she thought, and not one of them as a friend. It was the price she paid for being who she was. She ran down the list mentally. Two ex-husbands, a few old chums from college, the current young man she was sleeping with, entirely for her own purposes no matter what he might think, a few others on the periphery of daily life. Not many at all, and not a one of them clever enough, nor with the time and connections, to create four specific fortune cookies just for her.

        Fortune cookies. Perhaps that was a clue in itself. Why fortune cookies? Virginia didn't frequent Chinese restaurants, she had no Asian acquaintances, she… Wait. There was that maid she'd just fired last week. Was she Asian? Or was she Mexican? Virginia hardly paid enough attention to notice. She closed her eyes and concentrated, picturing the woman's face when she'd dismissed her for what she'd perceived as petty thievery. Asian, definitely Asian, with dark eyes burning with anger and humiliation as she denied the charge.

        Rightfully, as it turned out. The missing item, a small gold ring, had turned up this morning in one of Virginia's other purses. She'd even momentarily considered calling and hiring the woman back, but her anger had been so fierce, so intense, she quickly thought better of it. Now this woman was threatening her? What could she possibly do?

        Then she remembered. She'd never taken back the woman's key to the apartment. She could still get in whenever she wanted. Maybe she already had! Maybe she'd come in today and robbed the place. All of Virginia's beloved jewelry might be missing from the bedroom safe which she always, and carelessly, left open.

        Virginia turned to run and see before realizing that there might an answer more readily at hand. She snatched up the final cookie and snapped it open. She pulled the slip of paper free. It was blank.

        She blinked as the message finally came through.

        No fortune.

        No future.

        Behind her, she heard the door slowly opening.

Copyright © 2004 Jack Curtin

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