Short Story Award WinnersShort, Story, Award, Winners
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Announcing the Winner of the 2018 ServiceScape Short Story Award

ServiceScape is pleased to announce the winner of the 2018 Short Story Award: Connor Sassmannshausen. Connor is an American author based in Australia. She writes everything from drama to sci-fi and fantasy. Along with short stories and novels, she also writes screenplays and works on film sets.

Connor Sassmannshausen
Connor Sassmannshausen is the winner of the 2018 ServiceScape Short Story Award.

You can find her winning submission below. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did and we look forward to reading more of your short stories for our 2019 Short Story Award.

Of Damsels and Mobsters

By Connor Sassmannshausen

Orion sat at the bar in his favorite club, waiting for his girl to take the stage. Well, "his" was a bit of a stretch, or a lot of a stretch. Ruby was one of the many performers in The Grimm, the hottest jazz club on this side of town. And she had no idea he existed. Didn't stop him from dreaming, though.

She wasn't like the other girls. She kept her sleeves long, but her skirt was just as short as the rest. And her voice was like an angel, and god, there she was. Her blood-red hair was all done up in finger waves, he thought they were called, with a headband that may as well have been a halo. Her dress sparkled in the stage lights, as she began to sing.

He ordered another drink but quickly returned his gaze to his girl.

As the night wore on, he drank a number of drinks, waiting for Ruby to finish her set. Finally, she stepped down from the stage and cut through the crowd to the bar. Orion threw back what remained of his whiskey and made his way over to her.

He stopped beside her, as she took the drink the bartender gave her. He made himself lean against the bar, trying to be suave. His hand missed the bar, and he stumbled, catching both himself and her gaze. He could feel his cheeks flame with embarrassment, and she laughed at his expense.

"Well, now that I've made a complete fool of myself," he said, straightening his jacket, "I guess I can't do any worse."

"I bet you still could." Ruby smiled into her drink. "But you have my attention, so, I guess that's what you were going for."

He rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm Orion, and I…um…I really liked you singing."

"Most people who vie for my attention like my singing, or my voice, or my hair, or my eyes, or my legs."

"Your legs?"

"You would be surprised what men say when they've had too much to drink. Especially when they think they deserve my attention, or that my attention means I'll fall into bed with them. So, what do you want from me?"

Orion opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He willed words to flow.


"I…um…I hadn't thought this far. Honestly didn't think you'd give me the time of day."

Her laugh rang in his ears, a more beautiful sound than he'd ever heard. He expected her to walk away, but she slid onto the stool beside him, keeping her eyes on him. "I guess you might be worth a bit of my time."

He laughed, nervously, and he knew he sounded ridiculous. How was she going to take him seriously unless he pulled himself together? He flagged down the bartender and ordered another whiskey. He drank half before turning back to Ruby and her amused smile.

"I have to say, you're a first for me." She finished off her own drink and set the glass aside. "And the nerves are adorable."

He bristled at her words. He wasn't adorable. What kind of man wanted a woman to think he's adorable? He should be strong, confident, sure of himself… but, hadn't she said others had been like that, and she'd never given them a glance. He looked her over, realizing he'd been standing there, silent for longer than he should have, and his cheeks burned once again. "I'll just go." He turned away, only to stop when her hand grasped his arm.

"Aren't you even going to ask a girl to dance?" She picked up his whiskey, throwing it back. God, that was beautiful.

She slid her hand down his arm to take his hand. The world seemed to fall away, as she led him onto the dance floor. He tried to steady his shaking hands as he pulled her against him. She either didn't notice or pitied him enough to keep quiet.

A new song began, a much slower melody floating through the air. Ruby led more than he did, but he couldn't bring himself to care. The woman of his dreams danced in his arms when countless other fellas had tried and failed.

"Are you going to ask me on a date?" Ruby asked him, lifting her gaze to meet his.

"Huh?" was his intelligent response, and again, he felt his cheeks flush.

She laughed, stepping closer. "Alright, then, I'll take the lead, again." So, she had noticed. "Take me out to dinner. Monday night I'm free. Pick me up outside the club. I'll wear something nice."

No sooner had he nodded, then she disappeared into the crowd.

Well, that hadn't gone as planned.

Orion walked through the streets early the next morning, off to visit his mama for Saturday breakfast. The memory of last night was clouded by the many drinks he'd consumed, but he still remembered her.

Ruby had spoken to him, to him, had danced with him, had demanded a date when he'd been too shocked to get the words out. God, he hoped it wasn't the drink messing with him.

He saw a couple of men walking toward him, side by side, decked out in long coats and trilbies atop their heads. Normally, they wouldn't have caught his attention, but something about them set him on edge. He paused as they didn't shift to the side, but separated to allow him to move between them. He hurried his steps to pass between them, but hands like iron grasped his arms and pulled him down the alley. He stumbled over the garbage and uneven ground until his back hit brick.

"I don't know what you want, fellas," he said, straightening his jacket, "but you got the wrong guy."

One of the thugs pointed a finger in his face. "You're the one taking Ruby Blakesley out on Monday." How could they possibly know that? Then again, there had been dozens of people at The Grimm last night. Someone had to have overheard.

"And if I am?" He tried to sound confident when really he was terrified. "The Wolf requires your services."

His blood ran cold. The Wolf was the biggest, baddest mob boss in the city. No one who ever saw the man made it out alive, save those in his service. He was ruthless, bloodthirsty, and no one crossed him. His men were always around and appeared when they were needed, while he remained shrouded in mystery. Despite the horrible reputation, women and children were known to garner his good will, and abusers were likely to meet a poetic end.

So, what had Ruby done to anger The Wolf?

"I just want to take a girl on a date," Orion told them. "I don't want trouble."

"You stepped into trouble the moment you laid eyes on her." The gangster shoved a gun into his face, a Colt if his very limited view of the barrel was correct. "You can take her on your little date, you take her to Granny's Diner on Fifth. After, you tell her to wait outside, while you take a leak. We'll take it from there."

"What did a sweet girl like her do?"

The two gangsters laughed, and the second spoke for the first time. "Sweet? How do you think a girl like her ends up singing at the hottest club in the city? She's got debts she ain't paid up. And she ain't easy to find outside of being on that stage. We'd take her there, but the owner's in good with the boss. Can't hurt his business. 'Sides, the news of a singer going missing will be all the buzz, which means more business."

"We'll make this choice easy for you." The first gangster waved his gun in Orion's face. "You either hand her over and we'll let you live, or we kill you, then, get her anyway. We'll give you a couple days to think it over. But if she ain't outside Granny's on Monday, we'll have our answer."

And they left him there. What was he going to do?

He stayed in the alley for a few minutes, calming down, trying to figure out what to do. Best he could think of at the moment was getting to his mama's for breakfast, else she send half the neighborhood searching.

Before he knew it, his feet had taken him along the well-traversed path to his childhood home, without realizing he'd taken a single step. His mama barreled out the front door, with a shrill cry of joy. He forced a smile onto his face, as she kissed his cheeks. It had only been a week since they last saw one another, yet she always acted like he'd been gone for years.

Mama tugged him inside forcing him into a chair in the sitting room with Gran and Poppy. Orion sighed, tipping his head back and closing his eyes. Gran chuckled, and Orion looked over at her.

"I know that look," she said.

"What look?" Orion asked.

"You've got a look of a man in love." She dazed him with a smile. "Your Poppy had that same look with me. What sort of trouble is your girl in?"

Orion's back stiffened. "What makes you think she's in trouble?"

Poppy let out a sharp bark of laughter. "No young man looks so troubled and in love if the gal ain't in trouble, boy. Your gran, she was always in trouble, attracting the wrong sort of fellas. I got myself punched a few times standing up for her, but she was always the one I wanted." They shared a glance that held so much love and affection, Orion looked away.

Orion stood outside The Grimm Monday night, waiting on Ruby to make an appearance. When she stepped around the corner, he couldn't take his eyes off her. She was in a dress far different than any she'd worn before. The pale yellow made her hair seem all the brighter as it framed her face. Gone were the jazz star, the sparkles, and the finger waves. She'd always seemed so worldly inside the club, but out here, dressed like that, she was the picture of innocence. Had he not already made his decision regarding The Wolf, she would have done it for him.

She sent him a dazing smile, one he couldn't help but return, despite his nerves. "Where are we headed?" she asked, taking his arm.

"It's a surprise."

"Alright, lead on."

They walked down the street, and she told him all about the area, most of which he already knew, but he humored her. He led her away from Granny's Diner, away from the danger, to a place called The Woods. Upon seeing it, her face lit up with a smile. "I've always wanted to come here."

He opened the front door for her, letting her step inside first.

Dinner went well, in Orion's opinion. Ruby never stopped smiling, and he didn't make a complete fool of himself. They walked down the street, taking in the bustling evening. Even on a Monday, the jazz bars were abuzz with patrons, and music floated through the air.

Ruby stopped on the sidewalk, taking his hands as she smiled up at him. "I had fun, tonight. Would you want to do this again?"

He was about to answer when gunfire erupted. A car drove by, with two gunmen firing out the open windows. At them. Orion all but threw Ruby down behind a parked car, covering her as best he could.

Once everything was once again quiet, he peeked out, seeing no sign of the gangsters. He pulled Ruby to her feet, ignoring her terrified babble, as he dragged her through the streets. They made it to his apartment, which would get any number of rumors spread about them, but he didn't care so much as wanting her safe.

He pushed her gently into a chair, wracking his brain to recall what to do for someone in shock. He wrapped her in a blanket, before telling her he was going to the kitchen, but it fell on deaf ears. He dug through his cabinets, hoping for some tea, but he knew he never bought any, and he'd run out of coffee the other day. Hot water would have to do.

He returned with a cup of hot water for Ruby, forcing it into her hands. "I need you to drink this."

After a few sips of water, she blinked up at him. "What was that?"

"Why is The Wolf after you?"

She gulped another mouthful of hot water. "I don't know." Her gaze followed the mug.

"The two thugs that approached me seemed to think you owe him something." When she didn't answer, he continued. "For getting you the job at The Grimm." Again, no answer. "And they seemed pretty intent on having you, or killing you."

Her wide eyes lifted to his. "How do you know that?"

"They tried to get me to hand you over tonight."

She set the mug on the table and put her head in her hands. "When my father died, they told me I inherited his debt. And in order to pay it off, they got me the job at The Grimm. I never gave them anything. You know the stories, The Wolf never harms women and children. I thought I'd be alright, they'd just let it go."

"What kind of debt?"

"I don't know. I never asked."

Orion stood, extending his hand. "Let me get you something to change into." He dug through his drawers, pulling out the most comfortable sleepwear he owned. "I'll let you get changed." He turned to leave but stopped when she took his wrist.

She stepped toward him, kissing him hard. He'd dreamt of this more times than was decent, but he pushed her back gently. "This isn't a good idea."

She pulled away, a look of hurt on her face. "Do you want me now?"

He smiled, tugging her closer again. "I'm still here, aren't I? I just don't think it's smart to kiss you when you're not thinking straight. You're in shock. I don't want to take advantage of that." He kissed her forehead. "Get some sleep. I'll be on the couch if you need anything."

The next morning Orion woke to a crash in the kitchen. He hurried in to find Ruby picking up a pan lid from the floor. When she saw him, she jumped.

"I didn't mean to startle you," he said.

She laughed. "I didn't wake you, did I? I was trying to make breakfast before you got up."

He looked her over. She was still dressed for bed, but her hair looked as flawless as ever. Her giggle brought him out of his thoughts.

"You should do something with your hair."

He felt his face burn, and he hurried to the bathroom. Sure enough, one side was sticking out at all angles. He hurriedly tamed it and went through his morning routine.

When he made his way back into the kitchen, Ruby had scrambled eggs, fried potatoes and toast waiting for him. He sat down across from her.

"So, what are we going to do about last night?"

"Which part, the kiss or being shot at by The Wolf's men?"

"Both, really."

She reached over and took his hand. "Thank you for stopping. Not many men would have. But I hope a second date is coming, despite all this."

His heart leaped. "I'd like that." But there were more pressing matters.

"As for The Wolf?" She picked up her fork, starting on breakfast.

"I don't know." He followed her lead, starting on the food she prepared. "You could go to the police."

She gave a humorless laugh. "Everyone knows half the city's police are in The Wolf's pocket. I'll either have to deal with The Wolf or get out of town."

Orion stepped into Ruby's apartment, looking around for any sign of intruders. She pushed past him. "I need to change and pack."

He sat on the couch, as she busied herself in her room. When she came out again, she was dressed in strange fashion, but not a hair out of place. She wore a black pantsuit, with a red belt around her waist and a white jacket. She sat her bag on the floor and tore through the kitchen, looking for something. She tugged out a ragged-looking book, with a smile. As she turned back to her bag, she knocked a glass off the counter, and it shattered on the floor.

Orion stood quickly. "I'll clean it up. You finish packing."

He found a hand broom, sweeping the shards of glass into the dustpan. He was about to stand when the sound of a gun being cocked right behind him froze him in place.

"Get up slowly." The voice belonged to a man.

Orion stood, keeping his hands out to the side. When he turned around, he found four gangsters in the apartment. One had an arm around Ruby's stomach, pinning her arms, while he covered her mouth with his other hand, keeping her quiet.

"We're gonna go for a little ride," said the man with the gun pointed at Orion. "No funny business, or we'll shoot you."

Orion did as he was told and was loaded into the back seat of a car, trapped between his captors, while Ruby was taken to another car. It was a long ride, but he knew the streets. They doubled back a couple times, likely to confuse them. Why, he didn't know. Everyone knew where to find The Wolf. Soon enough, they pulled through the gate of The Wolf's manor, with its sprawling yard and gardens. His escorts ordered him from the car, and they hustled him inside, where Ruby was shoved into his arms.

They were led through the giant house, and, in any other situation, Orion would have marveled at it. But his attention was locked on the woman he held against his side. They stepped into a study of sorts, with a desk of dark wood and an extravagant chair. The doors slammed shut, leaving them with a number of guards.

The door opened again, and another man entered. "Well, well, Miss Blakesley, it's wonderful that you decided to accept our invitation."

Orion tightened his grip on the woman beside him. "It wasn't so much an invitation as a kidnapping."

The man, The Wolf, settled his gaze on him. "Yes, the enamored suitor, who don't know what's good for him. You shoulda just handed her over to us, and you coulda gone on with your life. What will your mama think when you disappear? Or your precious Gran and Poppy?"

Orion bristled. "Leave them out of this."

The Wolf shook his head. "They ain't a part of this, but you are. I'll give you one last chance, kid. You can leave, now. I got no quarrel with you. You walk away and leave little Ruby to pay her debt to us."

Orion tugged Ruby farther behind him. The Wolf pulled out a gun and pointed it at his head. Orion gulped, taking a shaky breath. The Wolf pulled the trigger, and the gun clicked on an empty chamber. The Wolf grinned and put the gun down on the desk. He poured two glasses of what looked to be whiskey before he turned back to them.

He took a sip out of one. "I think he passed."

Ruby stepped around Orion, taking the glass The Wolf held out. "Better than I expected." She rounded the desk, straightening the papers. She glanced up at Orion's look of confusion. She shrugged off the jacket, to reveal her whole arms to him for the first time. Over her left shoulder and upper arm lay a tattoo of a wolf. She sat in the chair, leaning back. "Men like women with a pretty face. I needed someone who would stay when what's beneath isn't so pretty."

Orion finally found his voice. "So, everything was fake? It was all a show? A test?"

"And you passed beautifully." Blood-red lips pulled back into a smile with a flash of teeth, so different from the flirty ones he'd become accustomed to at The Grimm. The smile of The Wolf. "So, about that second date?"

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