The story so far: At a Monday morning prayer meeting, Joseph Makumbo witnesses one elderly lady murder another. Shortly after, a villain’s son, Darren Chafford, robs the church, which has been left open. Meanwhile, two postmen have a duel to determine who will deliver an envelope to Proctorpress Publishing Company. Later that morning…
Monday 4th November 1985: 10.30 – 11.30
Spiky Simmonds whistled as he bounded up the steps of Cheaprate Building, on his way to the fourth floor and Proctorpress Publishing Company. He’d finished his own round in double-quick time in order to get to this moment. Most of what he’d delivered had probably gone through the wrong doors; but then, his round consisted almost entirely of wrinklies, and one old person’s post was very much like another’s, as far as he could see.
He’d given Bill Johnson a good pasting in their duel, as expected; Fred Harris had called the contest off after five minutes to stop old Johnno ‘taking too much punishment’. Two of the others had carried Johnno home, while two more had divided his round between them; apart from the prized Proctorpress envelope, of course.
Spiky chuckled at the thought of Bill Johnson standing preening himself in front of Sally Evans. The old fool would have looked ridiculous.
At the top of the stairs, he turned left into the Gents. Just as well to check the ol’ appearance.
He spent several minutes with the gel pot he routinely carried in his post bag, fashioning his hair into an even sharper version of its trademark punky style. Sweet, he thought, flashing himself a grin in the mirror.
He opened the door to leave. ‘Excuse me,’ a voice said. ‘I believe you have forgotten something.’
Bugger! The envelope.
Turning back, he snatched it from the washbasin. ‘Thanks, geezer,’ he said.
Halfway through the door, he stopped.
Very slowly, he turned round.
He scanned the washroom. Urinals – uninhabited.
Cubicles – doors all standing wide open – ditto.
‘You are welcome,’ the voice said, right beside his ear.
Sally Evans sat at her desk and braced herself for the coming ordeal.
She’d heard the cheerful whistle ascending the stairs, a sure sign that a package from the post office was about to come her way; nobody but the postman, thrilled with the thought of coming to see her, ever sounded that happy in the building. From the bouncing rhythm of the footsteps, she could tell it wasn’t Bill, whose plod – even when he was about to enter the office – was as unvarying as the cliched manuscripts her boss generally received.
No matter. That just meant there’d be a different grey-clad figure striding through the door any second, grinning like a maniac, making googly eyes at her and staring at her chest while pretending not to.
She’d heard the toilet door swing open and shut a few minutes before; now she heard it again.
Footsteps pounded across the hallway floor, and she shot backwards in her wheelie-chair as the office door detonated inwards. She only had time to register the expected uniform, topped by a headful of what appeared to be railing spikes, before something brown was hurled in her direction. Then the figure was gone, and she heard footsteps thundering down the stairs. The front door crashing into the wall sounded clearly, even as far up as she was. Then silence fell, all the deeper for the noisy entertainment that had preceded it.
Sally stared at the door, still vibrating from the force of its opening. The envelope had skidded with surprising accuracy onto her desk, through a small pile of paperwork, then off again and onto the floor beside her.
She picked it up, and wheeled her chair back to her desk. Then she got up and shut the door, checking for damage. A bit of plaster on the wall was dented where the handle had impacted it, but otherwise nothing was too badly amiss.
Next, she took off her overcoat, which she’d donned as protection against the expected leering.
Shrugging, she reseated herself. Whatever was going on, at least she’d been spared that for another day.
She opened the envelope and extracted a neatly-bound set of papers; another writer-in-hope’s manuscript. Surprisingly thin; her trained eye estimated that, given the normal double-spacing and adequate margins, the whole would come to around 6,000 words, enough for two or three chapters only.
Sensible. The last effort from a wannabe that had come thudding onto her desk had amounted to 800 pages of total gibberish; far better to send in a portion, so her boss could dictate the inevitable rejection a lot sooner.
She laid aside the covering letter, and glanced at the manuscript’s title. Ah, another murder mystery.
She busied herself with the paperwork that had been scattered by its odd arrival. She’d give the manuscript to Kevin later; he was currently doing battle with a love triangle between a Patagonian shepherdess, a prince of the Undongo tribe in East Venezuala and a merman from the planet Oolaxian, so there was no hurry.