“I love a good thrilling mystery, don’t you?”
I wrote this story in answer to the following prompts:
#Writephoto Challenge — Picture above by Image by KL Caley
Word of the Day — Culture
Ragtag Daily Prompt — Akimbo
Fandango’s One-Word Challenge – everything
Your Daily Word — Veiled
Pensitivity’s three things Challenge — Timid– Shy – Quiet
Letters to a Crime
Glancing from the rain-spattered window to his phone on the desk, Phil groaned. He hated the modern technology culture despite being a website analyst. He detested how it reprogrammes the mind into having to check for new notifications a gazillion times a day. It ruins sleep patterns and destroys the ability to focus. Worse he realised it was so damned impersonal. You never really know who you’re talking to or if they’re genuinely alright when veiled behind a screen do you?
Just now, he was hoping for a text from his girlfriend Jessica. It had been more than a day since they’d traded loving messages, which was unusual for them.
Taking out a sheet of paper, Phil began writing a love letter. His fingers complained through the abnormal task but he smiled when he was done. Finding an envelope he sealed the letter inside, addressed it to Jessica and left to post it.
The act of putting a stamp on his message and slipping it through the slot on the post box left him grinning. He found it surprisingly enjoyable to communicate the old-fashioned way. He’d gone for a first-class stamp which meant Jessica would receive a letter tomorrow morning.
The rest of the day and night passed without a text message from Jessica. By the time he’d finished breakfast, Phil was quite concerned. He tried to call her but received no answer. Panic rising, he made a scan of Jessica’s social media revealing she hadn’t shared, liked or commented on anything in the last two days.
Everything told Phil something was wrong. His decision was made for him, he emailed his boss to explain why nothing would be completed today, then left his home.
Jumping into his leaf-green Citroen C1, Phil pointed it toward her address.
Jessica lived on a lovely, quiet tree-lined lane. The foliage was awash with golds and browns as the year faded away into winter.
Phil indicated and pulled in behind Jessica’s yellow Mazda Roadster. The convertible being there told him she hadn’t gone to work today.
Alighting from his car, Phil heard the clunking of a wheelie bin. He smiled as he recognised the old lady from next door. “Hello, Mrs Fogarty, have you seen Jessica recently?”
The old lady glanced about her the whole time. “N-no sorry. I keep my nose to myself – s-sorry,” she said.
Phil frowned, he knew she was a little timid and shy. Today she was acting as if expecting to get attacked, “Is everything okay?”
“Yes, leave me alone!” Mrs Fogarty’s abandoned her wheelie bin near the curb and scurried around the back of her house as fast as she could.
Phil threw his arms akimbo and slapped them to his sides, “What on earth is going on?” he breathed as he stepped through Jessica’s front gate, passed her line of rose bushes, and climbed the four steps to her green front door.
He knocked the ‘shave and a haircut’ tune on the front door then fell quiet as he listened for signs of life from inside.
A motorbike rattled by. A lesser spotted woodpecker knocked back to him. Even a robin decided to sing as he waited. The house remained silent as if devoid of life.
Phil felt his heart be rising as a reel of bad things began playing in his mind. Where was Jessica and what was going on? Taking out his phone, he tried to call her again.
Almost at once, he flinched. He could hear, Jessica’s phone ringing just inside the door. Something which left him terrified. That phone lived its life either within her beautifully manicured hands or sticking out of her back pocket. Phil knew that as he loved to pinch it out of her pocket for a joke whenever he could.
“Damn it!” he cursed the situation as he ran around the house and down the side passage. The little gate was padlocked, so he vaulted over that continued into the back garden.
There was a white metal bench surrounded by four fruit trees here. Phil had shared the best times with Jessica sitting here.
Approaching the bench, he plucked a pottery squirrel from the pear tree. Removing the head, he took out a key. As he returned the squirrel, he remembered Jessica offering to give him a key to the house. He’d refused out of respect for her home and privacy. That’s when she told him, the squirrel would always let him in.
Grateful to that now, he unlocked the kitchen door and let himself into his girlfriend’s house.
He smiled through his fears, as he smelled her perfume lingering on the air. The white cabinetry and kitchen table were clean and showed no sign of problems within the house.
Moving into the hallway, he checked the bathroom and lounge. Seeing nothing and nobody, he arrived at the front door.
A small pile of junk mail and two letters lay on the ‘Welcome’ doormat.
Phil scanned everything and realised it had all been delivered this morning. There was nothing with an older post stamp. His love letter was also missing.
Discarding the lot on the side table, Phil picked up Jessica’s phone and ran upstairs. The two bedrooms had freshly made beds. The little office looked as if Jessica had just stepped out to use the toilet. A half-drunk mug of coffee sat on the coaster. The first clue that something had disturbed Jessica before she vanished.
“Where are you, my sweet, Jessica?” Phil said aloud as he woke the computer and smiled at the photo of him and her together on Cromer Pier. That had been the weekend they met four years ago.
The computer required a password.
Phil smiled and typed Phillip8918 and hit enter. Windows accepted the password and let him in. He couldn’t explain it, but having seen the photo, he just knew that was the password.
With the feeling of snooping around pressing upon his shoulders, Phil scanned the emails searching for a clue. There was nothing probative there. It was within the open notepad app that he found it.
Jessica had written one word ‘Stamps’ it was dated two days ago – the last time she’d sent Phil a message.
Phil unlocked her phone using the same password. He quickly realised no further clues were to be found there and pocketed the Samsung smartphone.
Phil checked the drawers, there were no stamps to be found in the room. Leaving he dashed downstairs again. “Did she need stamps to send something? She uses the post office around the corner. I’ll go there and see if they saw her,” he decided.
Stepping into the kitchen, he gasped as a man seized him by the lapels and slammed him into the wall beside the door.
“Missing something?” he drawled through his teeth.
Phil struggled only to be lifted and slammed into the wall again. The man was insanely strong and going by his tiny pupils under the influence of something illegal to boot. “Let me go, and tell me where Jessica is now?” he panted through a surge of adrenaline.
“She’s a pretty lady. Pity the boss won’t let me have fun with her.” The man propelled Phil into one of the kitchen chairs. “Sit down and don’t move.”
“You’re lucky. If you do anything to her. You and your boss will require cremation services!” Phil seethed as he watched the man pace about the kitchen. “What the hell is going on?”
“Let’s just say, the boss lost a few letters. They came here. We got them back. The pretty lady stole what was inside and refused —”
“Ha! The only thing she stole was my heart. She doesn’t even steal the copper coin she finds on the street; they all go in the charity box.”
“So what?” The man opened the fridge and drank a carton of orange juice.
“Thieving arsehole!” Phil glared at him, “What I’m saying is, Jessica doesn’t have what you lost.”
The man withdrew a sheath of letters and banged them on the table. There was a mixture of red, yellow, and white envelopes. Many had Christmas stamps, some had the regular Queen Elizabeth stamps too. “These are the letters we found here. They prove the pretty lady stole from my boss. If you look, you’ll see they’ve been delivered to the wrong address. The road and number are correct but they should have gone to Northwich, not Norwich.”
“So, the sender screwed up and that gives you the right to abduct Jessica. I demand you let her go!” Phil banged the table.
The man banged harder upsetting a salt cellar onto the floor. “You find what she took, and we’ll let her live.”
Phil said nothing having spotted something suspicious about the letters before him. As an analyst, he was good at noticing things. Pretty quickly, he began rearranging the letters.
“What are you doing?” asked the man.
“There are seventeen letters here. Only two came with first-class stamps. If they came from the same source why not send them all the same way.” Phil separated the two as he lined the rest up according to the date stamps. What he saw left him nodding.
“What now?” The man sat opposite him. “Time is running out.”
“This is a deliberate pattern. The sender sent one letter a day. They posted one first-class after the first and second batches of five letters on the second-class stamps. That’s a pattern of five-one-five-one-five.
“You tell me?” Phil looked at the man. Why would they send letters with such a pattern? What’s missing from them anyway?”
“I don’t know why. I can’t tell you what’s missing either.”
“How am I supposed to find something if I don’t know what it is?” Phil picked up the letter with the earliest post stamp and examined it.
“Not my problem.” The man hunched over the table and watched him closely. “The boss will call in ten minutes. Pretty lady’s dead if you don’t have what we need.”
Phil ignored the threat as he took the letter from the envelope. The A4 page was empty. He held it and the envelope up to the sunlight and hid a smile. He repeated the move with the remaining letters. “Someone has fun sending precisely nothing didn’t they?” he quipped now he knew they had not been incorrectly addressed.
“Yeah, they’ll have no head soon too!” The man looked at his watch. “Ninety seconds left!”
Phil remained quiet.
The phone rang with the sound of the bomb squad siren.
Phil flinched and shook his head at the racket. Yet another reason to hate technology.
“Hello boss,” said the man sneering as he answered it. “He came when his love letter went unanswered. No, he—”
Phil snatched the phone and held it to his ear. “I know where your drugs are. Bring Jessica to the Aylsham Road bakery now. If she’s unharmed, you’ll get your drugs. If you hurt her, you’ll get a coffin instead.” Phil hung up and stood up in one move.
“Where are you going?” said the man blocking the way. “He’ll break your face for hanging up on him, you know?”
“Not if I rearranged his first. Now, get out of my way!” Phil stepped out of the house with the letters and made a point of locking it behind the man.
Fifteen minutes later he was standing in the car park outside the busy bakery. It wasn’t long before a dishevelled but unharmed Jessica was marshalled from a battleship-grey Mercedes. She was held by two men wearing black suits. One a rich man going by his Rolex and designer sunglasses. The other a henchman like the man from the house.
Phil walked straight over to her with the letters in his hand. “Hi, sweetheart. This all be over soon. Don’t worry,” he said as he made to hug her.
“No love until I get what I want!” said the rich man.
Phil produced a zippo lighter and ignited it beneath the letters. “No love gets you a lot of flames and no drugs.”
“You’re bluffing, they were just empty letters.”
“Fair enough,” Phil caught the first letter ablaze.
“Alright, just make it quick.”
Phil doused the letter and hugged Jessica. “You okay, sweetheart?”
“I’m fine, he hasn’t hurt me yet. He does keep threatening me though.” She replied before they kissed.
“Okay. Let’s make them go away.” Phil raised the letters and tore off the stamps. Using the bonnet of the Mercedes, he laid them all out. Fifteen second-class stamps, punctuated by two first-class. Spaces between words.
“Bullshit!” said the man from the house.
Phil turned the stamps over, he produced a small torch he always carried with him. Switching it to its brightest setting he beamed it through a stamp revealing the letter ‘D’
“I don’t believe …”
“Shut up, man!” The rich man focused on Phil. “Smart man, where are my drugs?”
Phil led the way between the bakery and the launderette. He made a left turn behind the shops. Then made a right which brought him to an old iron gate. Pushing through that he entered an old junkyard.
“Why here?” Asked the man.
“Three words on the stamps are Drugs, Stash, Crane.” Phil pointed to a grey 1960s style crawling crane. “For the last thirty years, this crane has had a Christmas tree placed on the top of its boom. This is the only crane that never moves. Also, three words were capitalised for the code words – Denver’s Scrap Cars – which is where we are.”
“Impressive,” the rich man marched through the cars. Arriving at the crane, he climbed into the cab. Within moments he was out and walking towards Phil with a large duffel bag in hand. “My associate tried to screw me with his fun and games. Thanks to you he failed and he will pay dearly. Ordinarily, I would have to kill you for knowing too much. However, if you promise to say nothing, I will let you live in payment for finding my drugs.”
“We never saw a thing,” Phil said.
The man nodded and propelled Jessica into his arms. With that he indicated his henchmen to leave and disappeared from the old scrapyard.
“That was terrifying,” Jessica said as she held him close.
“No kidding.” Phil gave her a loving squeeze. “I’m just glad I was able to figure out the stamps. I’d die if I couldn’t hold you again.”
“Thank you for being clever enough to save my life.” Jessica freed herself and revealed Phil’s letter. “Thank you for my love letter to by the way. That rich git was quite upset by how much you loved me.”
“Had I not sent this message of true love on real paper. They wouldn’t have known to grab me when I came to find you. My one-fifty stamp became worth a fortune when it allowed me to rescue you.”
“Aww, that’s so sweet. I promise to send you real letters from now on,” Jessica kissed him.
“Me too. Come on, let’s post ourselves to a bar for a well-deserved glass of wine.” Phil put an arm around her. As he did he returned her phone to her back pocket.
Jessica chuckled. “That’s a first, Cheeky. You always steal my phone!”
Thanks for reading my friends.
Have a great day!