Two complete chapters today. They were originally combined into one, but there needed to be a time lapse between two of the sections, so splitting into separate chapters was the best way to accomplish this.
Only two more after this, and then we’re done…
Once again, to read all previous chapters, please click here.
Monday 18th November 1985: 11.50 – 12.30
‘Thanks, Joseph,’ Miss Evans said. She gave him a flicker of a smile; which, had she been Amita, would have lit up the room and probably stayed in situ for much longer than it did. As it was — it was brief and merely nice, and for her, quite a rare happening. He smiled back as he handed her the accumulation of post she’d asked him to pick up from the sorting office as soon as he’d walked through the door earlier on.
It had been an odd request, he’d thought. The postman, she’d explained, hadn’t delivered for nearly a fortnight now. And yet — she hadn’t been worried about it the previous Thursday and Friday, when he’d also been at work and she’d been struggling to find him something to do in Mr Proctor’s absence. Although he knew himself to be naive in many matters, it had seemed to him she was anxious to get him out of the office for a while; and given that the sorting office was a good hour-or-so’s walk to the other side of town, ‘a while’ took in all but the final few minutes of the morning.
Joseph knew that he was lucky to work for such undemanding people. They never worried about his timekeeping; or, seemingly, if he was there at all. They still paid him a full wage, were nice to him, treated him like a friend, even. Mr Proctor insisted that he call him ‘Kev’ (or ‘Kevin’, if he really struggled with the diminutive, which he did); and Miss Evans was ‘Sally’ (or ‘Sal’, if he wanted to receive a look of such freezing intensity it would take him a week to get rid of the icicles from his clothing; which he didn’t). Yes, it was a good life. And now that he’d decided to try to make Amita a part of it…
Butterflies the size of elephants were tap-dancing in his stomach at the thought of speaking to her. He glanced at the telephone on Miss Evans’s desk as he made to sit down at his own. He’d have to wait until she’d gone off to lunch before using it, and hope that Mr Proctor was either ensconced in his office behind a closed door (which didn’t happen often; the door was almost permanently open, except when Mr Proctor wanted to make a particular impression on visitors. Of which there were hardly ever any), or similarly out to lunch. (He’d remarked to Miss Evans one day that Mr Proctor rarely seemed to go out to lunch, to which her reply had been, ‘Kevin’s always out to lunch, Joseph.’ He’d suspected that this was a joke, but wasn’t entirely sure.)
Again, it wasn’t that there was any objection to him using the telephone. He just didn’t want either of them overhearing the conversation he wanted to have.
‘Oh, by the way, Joseph — the police will be calling in soon.’
There was a loud ‘clunk’ as he dropped the last couple of inches onto his chair. ‘The police?’ he gasped.
Miss Evans stared at him, frowning. ‘Is there something wrong?’
‘I — erm,’ he began.
An elderly chemistry teacher at school (who’d somehow managed to make the subject even less interesting than it already wasn’t) had once informed the class that the air they breathed consisted of seventy-eight percent nitrogen, twenty-one percent oxygen, and one percent other elements, none of which sounded as though they’d be particularly good for one’s body. At the moment, the oxygen component seemed to have vanished completely.
‘It is just that I thought that the police had solved the murders and the robbery at my church,’ he managed to say between intakes of what felt like one hundred percent not-good-for-the-body elements. ‘I do not wish them to question me again; especially the detective inspector who would not believe that I was innocent of those crimes.’
‘Oh.’ The frown on Miss Evans’s face was replaced by a look of sympathy. ‘Don’t worry, Joseph; they’re not coming about that. Kevin phoned them about a manuscript he’s been reading. There’s something odd about it, and he wants to discuss it with them. I’m sorry to have given you a shock.’
The oxygen part of the air returned; so much so, he felt giddy momentarily. ‘Thank the good Lord for that,’ he heard himself mutter; which was not a phrase he’d ever heard himself mutter before, his mother having informed him very emphatically that any mention of the Lord in a non-church context was blasphemous and, Don’t ever let me hear it from you!
But then, Mother was not here to hear it, was she, so there!
There was silence for a moment, and then Miss Evans said, sounding somewhat tentative, ‘Joseph — may I ask you a question?’
‘Of course, Miss — Sally,’ he amended.
An expression came over her which seemed full of uncertainty, unlike anything he’d seen on her face before in their brief acquaintanceship. ‘Did you — that is — a couple of weeks ago…’ She took a deep breath of her own, before continuing, ‘Did you tear up a newspaper into a tableau of you strangling a policeman?’
The butterfly-elephants took a leap into his throat, where they merrily continued their dancing, while blocking off the vital twenty-one percent air component again. ‘How — how did you know of that, Miss — Sally?’
She nodded slowly, and this time her face was full of an again-not-seen-before worry. ‘So it is true,’ she said quietly.
‘I — I did not do anything,’ he found himself gabbling.
This time, she shook her head vigorously. ‘No, no — really, don’t worry, Joseph. The police really aren’t coming about anything like that. It’s just —’
She told him about the manuscript that she and Mr Proctor had been reading. As he listened, he felt his eyes growing wider and his jaw heading floorwards.
Which, she informed him, were — along with raised eyebrows — a few cliched expressions of surprise the writer of the manuscript seemed to delight in using far too often.
‘Thank you for coming, officers. I’ll just let Kevin know you’re here.’
Amita barely heard the PA — Miss Evans (Miss Evans!). Although her attention was definitely not on the other person in the office, of course, and her heart was most decidedly not going pitter-flutter-patter-flitter in her chest and stomach at the same time, and she most, most decidedly didn’t wish that Miss Evans (Miss Evans!) wasn’t so outrageously good looking and — curvy! — and she most, most decidedly didn’t wish that Joseph’s desk wasn’t so close to Miss Evans’s (Miss Evans’s!) desk as to be touching it at right angles, and she even more most decidedly did not wish that Miss Evans (Miss Evans!) wasn’t in the room, and that neither were DCI Meredith and Sergeant Bulstrode, and she even even more most decidedly didn’t wish —
The door to the inner office opened, cutting short her list of didn’t wishes. The man who emerged was familiar to her from the evening of Harriet Foster’s murder, and was handsome in a slightly-pasty-because-of-rarely-getting-out-into-the-open-air sort of way, and she most definitely decidedly didn’t wish that he and Miss Evans (Miss Evans!) were an item so there was no chance that Joseph —
‘Come on in, please,’ he said.
She’d been astonished when DCI Meredith had asked her to come with him and the sergeant to Proctorpress, and even more astonished when he’d explained what the reason for the visit was. And her mouth hadn’t at all dried up at the thought that that was the company Joseph worked for.
Her feet were moving her forwards to follow DCI Meredith and Sergeant Bulstrode into Kevin Proctor’s office, even though she didn’t wish that her two superiors would go in on their own but with the PA, and that she could be left in the outer office with Joseph, and —
‘Would you both come through as well, please, Sally, Joe?’
Oh! Joseph was going to be there as well! (But, ‘Joe’? Really?)
But so was Miss Evans (Miss…)! Which wasn’t a problem at all.
As she didn’t glance in Joseph’s direction as she moved, she didn’t see him hastily scribbling something into a notepad on his desk. And she didn’t see him tear the sheet of paper off the notepad as he stood to comply with Kevin Proctor’s request. And she didn’t slow down and stand to one side to let Miss Evans (Mi…) precede her into the inner office, nor did she see Joseph hurry to catch her up (which would have meant having her head twisted round almost a hundred and eighty degrees, which she definitely didn’t do), and she didn’t feel his hand slip the piece of paper into hers, and she didn’t tuck it into her coat pocket to read later on, and the flitter-patters didn’t multiply by a thousand million…
End of Chapter 50
Monday 18th November 1985: 13.22 – 13.24
‘So, Detective Constable,’ Sergeant Bulstrode said.
Amita, her two colleagues and Kevin Proctor were heading towards DCI Meredith’s car. The chief inspector hadn’t been keen on the publisher coming along to the author’s address; which, Mr Proctor had confessed himself astonished to find, was now inside the folder containing the manuscript he’d contacted them about (along, apparently, with another complete chapter that hadn’t been there this morning). ‘This is a police investigation, still,’ Mr Meredith had tried to argue; but really speaking, Mr Proctor had counter-argued, the crimes had all been solved, so surely it wasn’t? And DCI Meredith had had to reluctantly agree that, as damnably weird as the few pages of the book he’d just read had been, no, it wasn’t really.
Sergeant Bulstrode had that look of knowing-cum-amusement-cum-smugness about him that always appeared to be there; at least, always had been in the few times she’d had anything to do with him.
‘Sergeant?’ She kept her face as deliberately blank as she could. Her heart was beating a tattoo she was sure that the other three could all hear so clearly they must have thought the Salvation Army band had started their Christmas fundraising a month early.
She heard him give a chuckle; the kind that smart-arses gave when they knew something you didn’t know they knew, and they were just about to tell you what they knew, so that now you would know they knew. ‘Got your note safely tucked away, then?’ he said.
Her face erupted into flame at the thought that he’d noticed. And as she got into the back of the car beside Kevin Proctor, who was staring at her with a quizzical expression, the heat coming off her felt so fierce, she wondered if she should roll down the window in case they all caught fire.