Slipping Away

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When the front door opened the suitcases were prominent – sitting there – mocking him. Bright red, shiny, defiant.

The happenings over the last few weeks had caused Dr Doug to lose track of some events, but a trip to anywhere was not on any of his mental lists. The penny dropped – my wife is leaving me.

It was the final kick in the guts.

Every sentence needs a full stop.

It was worth a try, “Are you spending a few days with your mother. Do you want me to drive you?” Dr Doug was projecting his voice into his cavernous mansion. He didn’t remember ever wanting a mansion, but now he had one and a mortgage that could flatten a small city.

“No Doug, I’m leaving you. You can have the house. I’ll take the beach shack and the Merc. You’re a disappointment, Doug. I had a plan for my life and I thought you were a part of that, but apparently not. We are getting a divorce and don’t think about contesting it; my family will eat you alive.”

“Do I get a turn?”

“What’s the point. What could you possibly say? It’s over Doug.”

Dr Doug’s wife picked up her shiny red suitcases as though they were feather pillows.

That gym membership is working, thought Dr Doug.

The bags went into the Merc and she was gone.

Dr Doug was still standing in the hallway –- moving seemed like a waste of time.

It got dark and an indeterminant amount of time had elapsed. By now he had made it as far as the three seater leather lounge. He stopped along the way to collect the bottle of scotch from the sideboard — no need for glasses, drink out of the bottle. Glenmorangie goes down smoothly. Half a bottle and he no longer cared about his fatuous wife or the mortgage, or he’s dwindling business. Sleep was close at hand, but before then there was a feeling like despair.

When he woke it was daylight and his head hurt – a lot. There was something strange about the light. A clock would come in handy – small problem, Dr Doug’s eyes refused to focus. There was a magnifying glass in the top drawer of the sideboard, just below the drinks tray. Doug sat up – big mistake. His headache went from a lot to galactic.

“Fucking lightweight, wifeless, jobless, loser.”

Each word hurt worse than the previous one, but he still had the energy for emphasis when he got to loser.

Dr Doug fell off the couch and as he hit the floor he realised what it was about the light – it was afternoon light – late afternoon light. He had visions of a waiting room full of impatient patients. Then it dawned on him, “I don’t have any fucking patients,” which wasn’t entirely true – Mrs Norris was due at 3 pm – his only appointment for the day.

“I wonder if she did her homework?” She hadn’t, but she made a special effort before her next appointment.

Dr Doug’s secretary liked her job. She liked Dr Doug and she liked being in the one place. She longed to remove the word temporary from her job title.

“Good morning Dr Doug. Can I get you a coffee? There are a lot of phone messages; I put them on your desk. Your first appointment cancelled.” Dr Doug winced every time he heard the word cancelled. “Your next appointment is at 1 pm. Is there anything you would like me to do till then? I really like this job and if you decide to stay on and fight through this, I would say yes if you offered me a permanent position.” She held her breath.

“Why would you want to be here? This ship is sinking. If you stay with your temp agency, you will land on your feet when the lights finally go out.”

“I don’t care about landing on my feet. I want to work for someone I respect.”

Dr Doug was hung over and very close to tears. “I’m going to go into my office and sit in the dark and wait for my headache to subside; hopefully. While I’m sitting there, I’ll think about your words. You don’t have to sit at your desk. Please take the morning off and come back after lunch.”

“I’ll wait at my desk. It’s my job.”

“Okay.” Dr Doug walked slowly into his office, drew the blinds and turned off the lights. He lay down on his couch and fell asleep.

You Must Remember This

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“You look like you are a million miles away.”

“No, I’m here. On this tram; heading into the City. This tram is going into the city, isn’t it?” said Sam.

“Yes, it is.”

The two men were sitting opposite each other on a sparsely populated number 12 tram. Sam would get off this tram in about half an hour when it reached the top end of Collins Street — the Paris end. The man asking the questions would alight from the tram much sooner.

“What happened to you, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“How do you know that something happened to me?” said Sam

“Your hair is cut very short, and it doesn’t suit you. I’d say, head injury.”

The inquisitive man was about Sam’s build, and he was probably a few years younger. He looked familiar, but these days everyone looked like someone he should know, so he didn’t ask. Much later, Sam would regret that decision.

Sam wasn’t looking directly at the man, but he had been looking at his shoes.

“Brown Oxfords. You don’t see quality shoes like those much these days,” said Sam. The rest of this man’s outfit was out of place — a bit scruffy, but again, Sam said nothing.

“They belonged to my brother. I wear them to remember him. So what happened to you?” said the man with the brown shoes.

“Some bozo T-boned me at an intersection and ran away and left me. The old me would have gone after him with a tyre iron, but the new me just sat there and bled robust, mildly honest blood. Quite a lot of it as it turned out. Of course, I don’t remember any of this, but the ambulance driver liked to talk so he told my wife all the gory details — kind of him to do that.”

“Did they catch the bloke?”

“Not yet”

“Would you know him again if you saw him?”

“Mate, I only recognise my wife because she has a tattoo with her name written across her arse.” Sam was suddenly aware of the little old lady who was sitting next to him. “Sorry lady, I didn’t mean to say arse.”

“That’s perfectly okay young man. You sound like you have been through a lot, and you did get hit on the head.”

“Thanks, lady. I don’t want to upset anyone. I want the world to be peaceful and calm. What do you think my chances are?”

“Not very likely, I’m afraid,” said the little old lady.

She wasn’t all that little, but she was old. Sam guessed at about seventy-five, but who can tell, especially with women? She was well dressed in that way that older people were. They dressed up when they went out. Pride in appearance. Sam wondered when her husband had died. She still wore her rings, but he could tell that she was alone, and he wondered how he knew. Sam wondered about a lot of things.

“Are you sure that you wouldn’t recognise the man driving the car that hit you?” The man in the brown shoes was still talking, but Sam had blanked him out momentarily. Brown Shoes sounded insistent.

“No mate, I wouldn’t recognise him. I was sleeping at the time. Large hole in the side of my head with a big chunk of my life leaking out.”

“It’s been nice talking to you Sam, but this is my stop.” Brown Shoes was on his feet and deftly jumped off the stationary tram as it waited for the traffic lights to turn green at Barkley Street.

“There used to be a shop that sold model cars just over there.” Sam pointed to the far street corner. “I’d get off the tram on the way home when I was a kid and spend ages in that shop. Why can I remember that so clearly and not be able to remember marrying my wife?”

“It won’t do to get yourself all worked up. People with head injuries need to be patient and calm.” The old lady put a hand on Sam’s arm. It felt nice to be touched by a caring stranger.

“You sound like you know a bit about this stuff?”

“I was a nurse in my younger days. Saw a lot of boys with head injuries during the War.”

“Did they get their memories back?” There was a touch of desperation in Sam’s question.

“Some did, but it took time. It helped if they had loved ones around them. Does your wife love you, Sam?”

“She says she does, and I want to believe her, but how did you know my name was Sam. Did I tell you?” There was that desperate tone again.

“No, the other man called you Sam. That is your name, isn’t it?”

Sam nodded.

“I didn’t like the look of that man, and I’m pretty sure that I could describe him to a police artist if I had to.”

“I believe you lady.”

Sam did believe her. He always believed little old ladies. Most people dismissed them as ‘biddies’ or ‘nuisances’, but Sam knew better. Old people notice things and people who notice things are like nuggets of gold to a private investigator. It was an old lady who gave him his big break in the Jameson case and it was an old professional boxer who told Sam where the Collingwood Strangler lived — not the exact house, but the right street. The rest was straightforward. These two cases helped to build his reputation and gave him excellent fodder for his two most successful novels — thinly disguised fiction based on these two instances. None of this would have happened if Sam had dismissed the observations of two elderly citizens.

“That probably won’t be necessary, but you never know. Do you have a card?” Sam was joking, but the little old lady opened her black patent leather handbag and drew out a pristine white card. The font was conservative and the content ‘to the point’.

Mrs Joanna Beed

03 97876313

“Thank you, Mrs Beed.” That was another thing that Sam had learned. Never call old ladies by their first name. They really don’t like that.

Dr. Doug had asked Sam to make a list of the things that he did remember and another list of the things that he would like to remember. He got the notebook out of his inside pocket and wrote, I remember not to call old ladies Joanna. At the back of the book he wrote, I want to remember my wedding day. One list was considerably longer than the other, but over the last few weeks, the other list was catching up — ever so slowly.

The tram was slowing down and ready to stop at the Edinburgh Gardens, not far from Sam’s beloved Fitzroy Football Ground. Joanna Beed gathered her things.

“You take care of yourself Sam. A fine young man like you has lots of important things to achieve. I hope you remember your wedding day soon. I’m sure it was a special day. Don’t forget, if you need me to identify that man for you, I’m only a phone call away.”

“Thank you, Mrs Beed. I’ll be fine. I promise. Enjoy your day. You brightened up mine.” Joanna Beed smiled and stepped down from the tram after looking carefully to see if some impatient motorist was trying to sneak past the stationary tram. Every Melbournian knows that getting off a tram on St Georges Road is an adventure in dodging death.

She made it safely to the footpath and as she did she looked back at the tram and gave a dignified wave. Despite himself, Sam waved back.

Sam’s world had changed drastically. From dodging bullets and signing books to sitting on trams talking to old ladies while trying to piece his life back together.

~oOo~

The rest of the journey was uneventful. The tram was thinly populated and no more conversations broke out. Sam’s half of the tram contained a young married woman, probably on a shopping expedition. Confirmation arrived when she got off at the same stop as Sam. Shopping in the expensive end of town, says her husband was ‘well healed’. Probably in RealEstate, Sam surmised.

The only other inhabitant was a man who was wearing a good suit that was poorly maintained. His expensive shoes were scuffed and dusty. The man had the air of someone who had recently lost his job. There was a caring woman in his life, but she was absent at that moment.

Writers do that — they can’t help themselves. They see interesting people, and they begin to build a backstory.

The dusty shoed gentleman stayed on the tram, and Sam wondered if he rode the tram all day for something to do — a memory of his previous daily routine.

The number 12 tram snakes its way at the top of Collins Street, so even though you may be lost in thought, you know that you have entered the City proper. As a child, this meant that the magic of a day ‘in the City’ was about to begin.

 Sam stood in the doorway of the tram and looked back at his seat. So began a routine that he’d learned as a child, “Always take a look back at your place after a long journey. You may have put something down and forgotten it or something may have fallen out of your pocket.” These words rang in his ears on the frequent journies to Dr Doug’s office.

If only it were that simple: if only he could look back and see all the things that he had forgotten, lying on the seat next to him.

‘If onlys’ were a waste of time. What was needed was hard work and patience, something that he had in spades. Or, at least, that is what he had been told.

~oOo~

Crossing the road from the tram stop is always an adventure. City traffic has little regard for pedestrians and people getting off trams are considered fair game. Motorists hate trams. They see them as huge green and gold obstacles sent to earth merely to annoy and make them late for wherever it was that they so desperately need to be.

Having arrived alive and in one piece, Joe, the doorman swung the large glass door open and greeted Sam.

“How are you this morning Mr. Bennett?”

“I’m as fine as can be expected, Joe. How’s the wife and kids?” Because Joe’s appearance in Sam’s life had come ‘post-accident’, Sam found it easy to remember him.

“The kids are fine God bless em, but the missus is worried.” 

A severe man in a dark suit brushed past them both and grunted.

“Why worried Joe?”

“The word is that the building owner is planning to put in an automatic door, so no more Joe.”

“Don’t you worry Joe. I’ll buy the bloody building if I have to, but you are not going anywhere until you want to.”

Joe smiled, and thought that Sam was trying to be supportive, but he had heard rumours about Sam’s wife’s spectacular wealth — maybe he meant it.

Sam was serious, and he put it in his notebook on the way up to Dr Doug’s floor. Scarlett knew everyone, so she would know who to contact. Sam needed stability in his life, and Joe was always there. Sam needed that — someone who was always there — always where he was supposed to be.

The elevator doors opened, and Sam walked into Dr Doug’s office. He smiled at Dr Doug’s secretary and felt his pocket ensuring that he still had the three typed pages. Dreams are hard to capture, but Sam had managed it, and soon he would share them, yet again, with the man who was helping him to piece his life back together.

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illustration credit: http://www.gerasimon.com.au/collins_street_melbourne_oil_painting.htm

Not Much Else To Do.

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It’s not that easy to lose a secretary, but Dr Doug managed it.

Now, he expected me to find her.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but I reluctantly took the case and with the help of a little old lady I gained entry to the missing secretaries’ apartment and had a look around.

The little old lady noticed it first; an advertisement in the local newspaper. ‘Antique board-game for sale. Intact. Very rare.’

Someone had circled the advertisement with red ink.

Red ink; always dramatic.

The game is said to have predated ‘Cluedo’ by about thirty years, but the little printing company that made it could not compete.

The game worked best if there were, at least, eight participants, and even better if there were more.

Basically, you were supposed to slip various clues into the pockets of the other players. The clues would ultimately reveal the murderer.

I’m not sure how people got on when they played this game at a cocktail party. Where did the women hide their clues? My imagination dwelled on this point for a few moments.

“She seemed very eager to have a complete game. She told us that her game had a lot of clues missing. We told her who had purchased the game and gave her his address. We never heard from her again. We are sorry to hear that something has happened to her.”

“I don’t know that it has. She’s just missing at this stage, but thank you for all your help.” The couple selling the game seemed harmless enough.

They’d inherited it from an uncle who, as family legend had it, spent time in prison. His incarceration had something to do with the game. Someone died. They couldn’t pin the murder on him, but they got him for perjury, which in my experience is very unusual. The cops often threaten people with perjury, but they rarely ever follow through.

Someone really hated this bloke.

While he was in gaol his house was broken into. There was damage, but nothing appeared to have been taken.

The uncle died in a hit-and-run accident not long after getting out of prison and the nephew got the job of winding up his estate.

Most of the uncle’s stuff went to charity.

“They were not very grateful either. They acted like it was a nuisance. They left a lot of stuff behind. ‘Too much trouble for us’. Even charities are lazy these days.”

The nephew kept the ‘Who Dunnit’ game and a few bits and pieces.

“I almost missed the game when I was cleaning out the house. There were a few loose floorboards in my uncle’s bedroom, and I didn’t notice them until we moved the bed. The game was wrapped in waterproof paper and stored under the floorboards. We thought it must be valuable, so we decided to sell it. I put a ridiculous price on it and I had a series of phone calls not long after the paper came out. I should have asked for more I guess.”

“Never mind dear, you weren’t to know.” This blokes wife was quiet, still attractive, and probably cooked excellent scones, but I didn’t have time to find out.

I was tired, so I headed for home. The hunt for the missing secretary could wait until tomorrow.

Scarlett had dinner in the oven when I got home and I told her about my adventure. She’s difficult to impress, but even she was intrigued by the mystery of the missing secretary.

I had a couple of calls to make the next morning but once they were taken care of I drove over to the address I had been given.

The place was deserted.

Little cream brick houses are bad enough when people are living in them, but they are positively depressing when they are deserted.

This one hadn’t been deserted for long.

“A bloody great truck turned up yesterday afternoon, and a couple of bozos filled it up and they were gone by dinner time. Made it bloody near impossible for me to get in and out of my driveway. I asked them to move and they told me to get stuffed. I considered getting in a little golf practice with my nine iron, but I’m getting on a bit and there were three of them.”

“Probably a wise decision.”

This whole thing was getting weirder by the minute.

“Did you know the bloke who lived there?” I asked.

“I knew the people who owned it before he moved in. They retired somewhere up north and had the house rented out. The bloke you’re interested in was quiet, always wore a brown suit and never had any visitors, at least not that I noticed. He also had a lot of stuff delivered to his house. He asked me to sign for stuff from time to time. Mowed my lawn occasionally by way of thanks. He had a cat too if I remember rightly.”

“You didn’t miss much.”

“When you get old there isn’t much to do except spy on your neighbours.”

I drank the old blokes cup of tea and I ate his biscuits but eventually I had to go.

“Don’t you want to know where the truck was going?” He was stalling, but he had a point.

“How do you know where it was going?” This old bloke was full of surprises.

“I’m a nosey old bastard, but you’ve probably figured that out by now.”

“The thought had crossed my mind.” I smiled and he smiled back.

“I looked in the truck’s cabin and the clipboard had the load’s destination typed on it.”

“And you remember it?”

“Like I said, not much else to do when you get old.”

The address the old bloke had gotten from the truck took me to the outer suburbs. Which was a break in itself because I had a horrible feeling that this bloke had gone interstate, and that would have made things very difficult.

The address was easy enough to find, but all it turned up was a house full of furniture, none of which had been unpacked. His stuff was here, but he was somewhere else, probably selling the game to a well-heeled collector. But, he had to come home at some stage, so I made plans to sit on this address until he showed up.

Experience told me that this bloke knew where Dr Doug’s missing secretary was, and now there was nothing to do but wait.

She Didn’t Turn Up.

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 This story is now part of my new short story anthology, PASSERBY.

You can purchase a copy HERE

If you like what I do, you can help me to keep on doing it by buying one of my books.

PASSERBY cover png

“She didn’t turn up.”

 

Sam hadn’t asked, but Dr Doug told him anyway.

 

“There was a cryptic message on the answering machine and that was it. She isn’t answering her phone and there’s no one at home; at least when I was there.”

 

“She’ll turn up.”

 

Sam knew that his comment was half-hearted, but his mind was elsewhere. This was ‘his time’ and he had stuff to talk about. He didn’t know Dr Doug’s secretary all that well, and he was sure that she would be alright. People quit their jobs all the time.

 

“People quit their jobs all the time.” Sam realised that he’d just said that out loud.

Dr Doug looked at him and Sam could tell that his indifference was showing.

 

He could say something else to lighten the mood, but he decided to leave it alone. 

Sam had never seen Dr Doug so distracted, and within a very short space of time it became obvious that they were not going to get much work done today. 

Sam was annoyed. 

Usually, he could take or leave it when it came to these sessions but lately he felt that he was making real progress. 

His memories were returning, and for the first time since the accident he had a sense that things were going to be okay. 

It was all too slow, but at least it was happening. 

Writing down his dreams and retelling them in these sessions was strangely cathartic. It seemed to be speeding up the process for both of them. Dr Doug found the ‘dream sessions’ to be revealing, and Sam enjoyed having the excuse to write. Dreams and detective novels weren’t exactly the same thing but writing was writing and it was good for his soul; and his memory, if it came to that.

 

It was becoming obvious that Dr Doug wanted help to find his wayward secretary; it seemed pointless to fight it.

 

“I know you have been out of the ‘finding people business’ for a while now but I’m really worried.”

 

“Look Doc, as I said, people quit their jobs all the time. She probably just found a better job, no offence, and was too embarrassed to tell you. People are weird Doc, trust me, I know.”

 

“She isn’t a dipsy teenager. She’s a mature young woman with her head securely attacked to her shoulders.”

 

“No offence Doc, but is there something I should know about you two.”

 

“No, nothing like that. I learned my lesson a long time ago.”

 

Sam made a mental note to get Dr Doug drunk and revisit that statement sometime.

 

“Okay, so no extra-curricular activities between you two but what about strange boyfriends, ex-husbands, protective brothers, cousins, uncles?”

 

“She’s my secretary not my kid sister, so I don’t know everything about her but one gets a feeling about people and she seems like a solid person with a quiet home-life. Oh, hell I don’t know. She works for me; I try not to pry. Her life is her life. I feel responsible for her, and before you ask again, there is no intimate reason for me to feel this way. I just do. I know something is wrong.”

 

During their sessions, Dr Doug usually didn’t show much of himself. Sure, he was friendly and caring but he also kept a professional distance. This tended to piss Sam off; just a bit. He understood why therapists did this but he wasn’t exactly going to fall in love with Dr Doug like some wounded soul might, so why the distance? As far as Sam was concerned Dr Doug was treading a very fine line. He found it difficult to trust a person who insisted on too much distance. But, up until now it had worked, and he would stay with the arrangement, at least in the short-term.

 

“Okay Doc, tell me what you do know about this girl.”

 

“To start with she’s a woman not a girl. You’ve met her often enough, you must have noticed?”

 

“Look Doc, when I come here, I’ve got ‘me’ on my mind. She could have two heads, and as long as she doesn’t mess up the appointment, I probably wouldn’t notice. There’s a fair bit of hyperbole in there, but you know what I mean.”

 

“Fair enough.”

 

“She seems efficient and friendly and attractive and she seems to be working a bit too hard to be friendly so I’d say that she is a bit on the shy side away from the office. She dresses conservatively, which makes sense if you work around crazy people…. just kidding…. she dresses appropriately but the subdued amount of jewellery is indicative of something. Maybe she knows how beautiful she is and doesn’t see the need for additional adornment, or maybe she doesn’t have the money to buy jewellery. How much do you pay this woman Doc?”

 

“I pay her very well. Way above the usual rate. I value my employees and I have found that paying them well is the best way to show them that they are appreciated.”

“You must be the first employer in history to work that one out Doc. Okay, so we can rule out lack of funds——— unless, maybe something is happening to her well stocked pay-packet after it leaves here. Blackmail? What the hell could she have done in her short life to warrant blackmail? We’ll put that to one side for the moment. Maybe a sick relative? No, that’s unlikely, unless she insists on private care. Something or someone is draining this woman of funds. When we find out what and who we will know where she is and why.”

 

“Does that mean that you will find her for me Sam?”

 

“Reluctantly yes, and I’ll take my fee in free visits, which is no idle threat, as I’m the only person I know who charges more than you do.”

 

~oOo~

 

The address that Dr Doug had given him was in a quiet little street in Deepdene. 

The two-story apartment-block looked like it had been built sometime in the 1930s. The building was solid brick and the gardens were old and established. The building obviously paid for a gardener to keep the grounds in good order.

 

The piece of paper said ‘Miss Wilson Flat 4/16 Michaels Way Deepdene.’

Flat 4 was on the ground floor and the corridor was neat and dust free. All the light fittings were original Deco, and intact. 

‘The vandals must be on holidays on this side of town.’ Sam enjoyed talking to himself, even if it did earn him the occasional strange look.

The door to number 4 was solid and ornate; most probably an original fixture as well. ‘This place has been well looked after, and I’ll bet the rents are high enough to keep out the riff-raff.’ Sam silently agreed with himself.

 

He knocked on the door and waited but there was no answer. No sound came from the apartment and the curtains were drawn. Sam tried an old trick of walking slowly away and turning suddenly to see if the curtains moved. He called this trick the ‘Crazy Ivan’, but it did not deliver any positive result.

Another of Sam’s tricks was to walk up and down until one of the other tenants got nervous and asked him what he was doing. In slightly rougher suburbs this tactic could result in a bit violence but this was a refined neighbourhood and the worst he could expect was an indignant old lady; and right on cue, an indignant old lady shouted at him.

“What are you up to young man?”

 

Sam gave her his biggest smile; the one he reserved for grandmothers and nuns. “I hope I didn’t alarm you, I’m looking for Miss Gene Wilson.”

 

“What do you want with her?”

 

So this lady knows who I’m looking for, thought Sam.

 

“She hasn’t been in to work for a couple of days and my brother was worried about her. She’s normally very reliable. Never takes a sick day.”

 

Referring to his brother made the whole thing sound like a family matter and this often smoothed the way, especially with little old ladies.

 

“I see her as she leaves early for work every morning. I don’t sleep much these days.

I like her.

She’s friendly and she always asks how I am. Most people don’t bother to ask. I wouldn’t like to think that anyone was trying to make trouble for her.

You aren’t trouble, are you young man?”

 

“My wife thinks I am, but generally I like to leave people alone. As I said, my brother was worried.”

 

There was a distinct chance that this ‘little old lady’ had been ‘someone’ at some stage in her life. She had money now but back in the day she had seen some stuff and probably done some stuff and she had observed a bit of life; and not always the good stuff either. 

Sam could always tell. 

It was something about the way they talked—— the way they carry themselves. 

It didn’t matter if they were male or female, it always showed up the same way. 

Something about the eyes and their speech patterns; knowing; wisdom; understanding; compassion even; but not easy, not a push over; just a desire to protect those who needed it. 

This little old lady was doing her bit——- trying to protect the person who showed her some respect.

Sam liked this ancient lady, and if he played his cards right she could become an ally. He was wise enough to realise that he was going to need one. 

There was something very wrong about all this. 

He didn’t have any hard evidence, but he knew that she had not simply changed jobs and been too shy to explain. 

The hair was standing up on the back of his neck and he’d felt that sensation before. 

There was a mystery to be solved and something told him that he had better be quick about it. 

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Artist Unknown..

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Enjoy my work. Then buy me a coffee?

Enjoy my work? Then buy me a coffee?