The story so far: Joseph Makumbo is attending a prayer meeting at St Marmaduke’s church with five elderly ladies, the effigies of two saints looking on with interest. A seemingly disembodied voice has advised him which seat to take. Meanwhile…
Monday 4th November 1985: 08.00 – 08.35
In the sorting room at Camtown Post Office, Bill Johnson let out a whistle as he picked up the last envelope to go into his bag. Kevin Proctor, the name on it read. Proctorpress Publishing Company.
The envelope was A4-sized and backed with cardboard. Totally unsuitable to be bent and shoved through a letter-box. Perfect!
Spiky Simmonds, the youngest of the dozen postmen on the staff, was staring across at him. ‘Whassup, Johnno? You look like the cat that got the whatsit.’
Bill stiffened. He could feel the dirty great grin that had spread across his face; he hadn’t realised it was there till Spiky had addressed him. He wiped it off quickly, and made to stuff the envelope into his bag.
But Spiky was there, and grabbed it from his hand. ‘Oh, that’s it, is it?’ he said, giving his own form of appreciative whistle. ‘You gotta go see Sally Evans.’
‘Don’t know what you mean,’ Bill said gruffly, attempting to snatch the envelope back. But Spiky leapt out of his reach, and he was left grasping at air.
‘Give me that back!’
Spiky began a curious gavotte round the sorting room, waving the envelope aloft. ‘Too bad, Johnno. I got it now.’
The other postmen were looking on in amusement, coupled in some cases with slight revulsion. ‘Don’t be a tit, Spiky,’ Fred Harris, the senior man, grumbled.
But Spiky carried on prancing. ‘Guess I’ll ’ave to go and see ’er instead,’ he crowed. ‘’Ard luck, Johnno.’
He followed this up with a comment so filthy, Bill wondered that the others, who were generally so broad-minded they could hardly get their heads through the door in the morning, didn’t clap their hands over their ears in disgust.
‘Come on, Spiky,’ he reasoned, ignoring his own shock, ‘it’s miles off your round.’
‘Don’ matter. I can take a whatsit.’
That was the Sally Evans effect. Every man of them would willingly take a thousand whatsits – detours – for the pleasure of delivering a package into her hands. Many of them spent their sorting time boasting how large a package it would be.
Bill lurched to his feet. ‘Spiky, give it back!’
Spiky halted his dance. ‘Or what?’
The room fell into silence. Bill’s heart began a thump-thump-thump that could clearly be heard above it.
‘That’ll be a challenge, then?’ Fred Harris broke the silence in his usual pragmatic way. He stood, and reached over to one of the large post-bags hanging on the wall beside his station.
‘Let me just take ’im outside and punch ’is lights out.’
Fred tutted. ‘You know we don’t do that, Spiky.’
Fred withdrew two tubes from the bag. ‘Just so happens I’ve got these to deliver to that art company on Rembrandt Street. Should be about right; and I can explain away the dents on those pillocks in Hounslow.
‘Right, gentlemen.’ He tossed one each to Bill and Spiky. ‘En garde, then.’
Bill tried to control his breathing, which was struggling to bypass the lump that had formed in his throat. Spiky was so much younger than him; and since the last of the Star Wars films had come out two years before, he’d been constantly practising with rolled-up copies of the Radio Times that came in once a week for subscribers. He’d been particularly effective with the last year’s double-sized Christmas edition.
Indeed, Spiky was already sweeping his tube around in slow-motion figures of eight and making ‘zhumm, zhumm’ noises.
Bill raised his tube. The secret was to get in the first blow. No time like the present.
But then Spiky stepped backwards and raised a hand. ‘Just one thing, Johnno.’
‘What?’ Bill felt relief flooding through him. Maybe the young prat had reconsidered.
But the flood turned to ice as Spiky said, ‘No thumpin’ round the mush, right? After I done you, I wanna look me best for Sally when I go see ’er.’