Dear Marjorie: A Short Crime Story

Dear Marjorie a short crime story

Dear Marjorie,

I wonder if you’ve had much to do with law-enforcement. Twice now, I’ve had the experience of an official rat-a-tat-tat at my own abode. The first came early one Monday morning as I was rinsing out my bowl. If porridge is left to sit on the bench all day one ends up with an almighty mess to clean up after work. Nothing sets on crockery like oats, save mashed potato and egg, but I’m preaching on. I’m sure you know this already, dearest Marjorie.

When I opened my front door to find a policeman standing there my heart skipped a beat. I’ve always been a law-abiding citizen, yet something about that blue uniform makes me flinch. I always ensure my Morris Minor sits below the speed limit. Despite my law-abiding ways, I’m apt to slam on my brakes whenever I catch sight of a police vehicle. It’s sheer panic. One small blessing – I’ve never been issued a speeding fine. The only time I was ever pulled over happened on my way to work.

“I have to warn you, Sir,” the traffic officer said, “you’ll peeve people off, toddling along at that speed.” The young man advised me to check my mirrors for cars banking up behind, and to pull over at regular intervals. He kindly let me go with a warning.

I’ve never described myself as a confident driver. It was after that harrowing brush with the law that I decided to commute to work by train. The panic I suffer at being thrust against strangers inside a swaying carriage is of at least the same magnitude as the panic I suffer hurtling at speed along the highway, but still.

To find a police officer upon your own doorstep is something else again. I racked my brain. Perhaps the neighbours had complained about Brutus. He sits by the pond and worries the poor goldfish. Or perhaps I’d left my wheelie bin out. The council expects us to retrieve bins from the grass verge within twenty-four hours, lest they become vandalised. I waited for the policeman to announce the reason for his visit.

He was snapping gum. “Sorry to bother you.” He grinned. “Noticed any unusual neighbourhood activity in the past twenty-four hours?”

I’ve always been a heavy sleeper. On the up side, I can sometimes sleep through Curly’s raucous music thumping through the bedroom wall. On the down side, I’m unable to recall any strange noises which may have emanated from Mrs Valentine’s back yard, even though some inconsiderate cretin stripped her washing line naked of undergarments.

“I heard a cat fight at dusk,” I told him, “and some snuffling from the hedgehogs under my garden shed.”

“Never mind,” said the policeman. “Call the station if you think of anything else.” He took off down my pathway, clipboard in hand.

“I’m so sorry!” I called after him.

Indeed I was. If only someone had heard the pesky thief! I’ve always liked to help out. If I’d had the slightest inkling poor Mrs Valentine’s bloomers were about to disappear I would have kept close vigil. “Good luck with your investigations!” I was tempted to make something up in order to appease the officer, who hovered at my gate to smell the honeysuckle. I was touched by his delicate gesture, made all the more poignant due to the burglary crisis.

It was one week ago today that I heard a second rat-a-tat-tat upon my front door. This time there was no smiling. They had come to escort me away. Despite what you may have read in the tabloids, I accompanied them without a fight. I thought I’d be home again in a few hours, in time to pull the lemon chicken from the oven. I was wrong.

They say everyone looks like somebody famous. The lucky ones resemble Clint Eastwood or Rock Hudson. The unlucky ones, namely me, bear an uncanny similarity to a certain Identikit picture, released to the media precisely one fortnight ago in what police hope will lead to the capture of the infamous ‘Ned Grundy’, after his eighth botched murder attempt upon local elderly women.

Of all the rotten coincidences. To resemble such a character would, of course, be just my luck.

I’ve never been a looker. As my mother used to say, “Nigel was stood behind the door when the Looks were dished out, but God made it up to him in Smarts.” This is the reason why I held off sending you a photo. Ms Cashew from the agency assured me this was acceptable practice – that the women on her books tend to be less fussy. She said I might stand a chance of meeting a life partner if I were to charm a woman with my caring disposition before blinding her with my portrait.

Don’t get me wrong – I suffer no deformities. I’ve grown more grateful of this creaky old body, which has seen me through fifty-five years with little more than a case of the sniffles come winter. Taking my individual body parts and setting them upon someone else might leave him looking quite dashing – it’s more my ‘assemblage’ which unnerves people. My square jaw might look manly on another but, in my case, makes me look like the dimmer half of a comedic criminal duo. My hairy chest would be desirable in some, yet my particular growth does not know where to begin and end. A woman once told me my eyes looked ‘beady’. I was not, as she imagined, gazing at her; she drifted into my line of vision as I planned dinner. My beady eyes tend to look rather beadier due to thick multifocal lenses which, in turn, reflect the light and cause others to wonder what I’m peering at.

It was an eerily familiar pair of beady eyes staring up at me as I unfolded the morning newspaper two weeks back. That was the morning after that poor Mrs Winters was attacked by a hirsute, stocky creature wielding a rusty bread knife, and the morning before he tried it again with old Mrs Watson, all the while dressed in nothing but a flimsy pair of underpants. How unnerving. For all of us! When I saw that front-page Identikit sketch – an oddly accurate pencil rendition of, perhaps, some long-lost twin brother – I felt like someone had taken a compromising photograph of me unawares, then sent it into the newspaper for a funny caption competition.

Except this was no joke. As I waited at the train station, surrounded by my usual nameless companions who board the seven fifty-four, I noticed fellow passengers shirking away. I caught their furtive glances, their eyes darting away in disgust. I heard uncomfortable coughs. I saw ill-disguised raisings of eyebrows. A suited man waiting on the opposite platform stood, face obscured, behind that full-page caricature. It was as if he held his newspaper up in a deliberate attempt to warn fellow commuters of my presence among them.

I arrived at the office prepared for a few jibes and a poke in the ribs. Instead, nothing. Perhaps no one had seen it. Perhaps no one else detected the uncanny similarities.

I unlocked my office door and switched on the computer. Then, as usual, I prepared myself a hot drink. I encountered Darren in the kitchen.

“How are you going with those reports?” I asked.

Darren is under my mentorship. I should check his progress now and then. But I’m never up to date with the latest sports matches and we therefore have no common bond.

“Fine thanks, Nigel. Fine.” He threw a soggy teabag expertly into the bin. “Seems they’ve been paying too much for years. Will hiff the figures your way this arvo.” With that, he hurried back to his desk, wielding his scalding teacup in front of him like a knight with a spear during battle. I was lucky to jump out of his path.

Once again, our meeting had been orchestrated entirely by my underling. Any onlooker would assume I was his protégé, not the other way around. I’m sure the boy avoids my office, preferring to chat with me about such-and-such whenever we cross paths in the hallway or the elevator – that way he can make out he’s in some desperate hurry. He therefore avoids being seen in my company.

Darren may or may not have read the newspaper when he avoided my gaze that fateful morning. I could not tell.

Then there is Maree, the girl at the front desk who answers the telephones. Maree knows the ins-and-outs of all the noisiest office equipment. If she’s not venting her frustrations on the stapler she’s slamming the drawers of overflowing filing cabinets, or banging the life out of a beeping fax machine. Or cursing from inside the bowels of that temperamental photocopier. That’s where she was, once again, when I approached her desk to collect my messages later that morning.

All I could see of her consisted of two red court shoes, two panty-hosed legs and a matching red rump. I didn’t know whether to clear my throat or to come back later.

“Get out you rotten bastard!” Her voice echoed. I hoped she wasn’t talking to me. I heard the unwelcome sound of paper ripping, then, “Bloody hell!” Maree’s head emerged from the dastardly machine. She looked fluffy-headed and red-faced. She saw me standing there then said, for all the staff to hear, “If I never see another sheet of white, A4 paper it’ll be TOO… BLOODY… SOON!”

I retreated hastily back to my own office, shut myself inside and stood breathing deeply against the door. I never did collect my messages.

I wasn’t sure if Maree’s outburst was because she’d seen the newspaper. Things have not been the same between Maree and myself after one unfortunate comment, which I can assure you was intended with genuine affection.

“I see you’re expecting a baby,” I’d said. “How exciting to know there’s a tiny little person growing inside you…”

Oh Marjorie, I put my head in my hands just recalling that thoughtless remark. I’d heard a lady say that to a young woman on a bus. I’d been looking forward to saying it myself, one day.

But Maree just glared at me with thunderous, steely eyes and said, “Nigel, you unobservant, TWIT of a man! The baby was born TEN MONTHS AGO!”

Apparently, that’s what you call ‘after baby belly’. All the time Maree was on maternity leave I’d assumed she was obscured from view down the side of the photocopier. No one thought to tell me she’d given birth to a baby girl. Anyone’s mistake.

Our secretary has always found me detestable. I’m tempted to conclude it was Maree who phoned the police to inform them cheerily of the full name and whereabouts of the Identikit man in the front page news.

Then again, it could have been Andrew Johnson. Andrew and I have worked together on various projects. I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s just say we’ve had a few stand-offs and unresolved disputes. We avoid each other wherever possible. Unfortunately for us both, we seem to have synchronised our bowel movements. Perhaps that’s what happens when two actuaries work together over long years. Whatever the case, it’s most unpleasant to arrive in the johns on level two only to find that somebody has already taken the best sitting toilet. There’s one good lavatory right at the end of the row: the one with the strong rush of water instead of the pathetic little trickle of the lesser cisterns. At precisely ten o’clock every morning, induced by the warmth of my second coffee, I pick up the latest copy of ‘Actuaries Actually in Action’ and toddle off. I’ll see Andrew glance up from his desk – always with a glint in his eye. I don’t know how he manages it, but as I’m waiting stiffly for the lift, he dashes down the fire-exit stairwell to nab the best loo before I do. I whip into the toilets just as the last flap of Andrew’s polyester suit disappears inside the cubicle. He brandishes the door shut, bolting it firmly behind him – grinning, no doubt.

He knows I cannot manage a thing with him heaving and ho-ing two cubicles along. I sit there hopefully, willing him to be on his way. Every now and then I hear pages turn as he reads the very same magazine. Andrew, unlike myself, is always proud of his lavatorial orchestra, and is sure to create one almighty stink before ostentatiously washing his hands, whistling all the while. If anyone else happens to enter the johns he’ll be sure to hold them up with a very longwinded chat. I’ve even heard him whisper, “Ooo, I know, rotten, isn’t it? Wasn’t me.”

I’m sure, dead certain in fact, that this declaration was accompanied by an eye-roll and an accusing glance in the direction of my own closed-door. I then had to wait for an opportune moment to dash out of the loos anonymously. The opportunity never arose, as there seemed to be some sort of meeting happening in the men’s toilets that day. Apart from the garlicky stench, I remember disapproving glares as I skulked out. I wanted to say something in my defence, but thought I’d only incriminate myself further. It was only seconds later, after pushing the elevator button, that I realised I hadn’t washed my hands. I’m usually very particular about that. Such was the extent of my shame.

In short, Marjorie, it could very well have been Andrew who dropped me in it that day. As explained above, he’d told tales before and he is quite capable of doing it again. Well, it could have been anyone in my office. They all regarded me with standoffish indifference that morning. Or perhaps I was beginning to notice what I had been blind to for years. I would never quite fit in.

I spent the rest of that morning locked inside my office and felt very glad to have scheduled the afternoon off.

We were due to meet, Marjorie, for the very first time that day. I’d inked it into my office calendar and looked forward to our rendezvous with an equal measure of delight and fear. After months of lengthy email correspondence you knew me better than anyone.

I agreed to meet you at that busy café on Church Street because Ms Cashew said that afternoon teas are far less stressful than candlelit dinners in fancy restaurants. Also, it’s their company policy to recommend a public place for first meetings – too dangerous otherwise, though she was keen to inform me they do not keep serial killers on their books. That sounds sadly ironic in hindsight, of course.

My blue checked shirt was purchased especially for the occasion. As promised, I did find a table for two near the window. I ordered two coffees and two jam tarts – one raspberry and one lemon. I took this liberty because you’ve told me that you’re never late. As I watched the steam rise from our coffee cups I wondered if something had gone horribly wrong. I thought I saw you at one point; at least, I did catch sight of an attractive woman fitting your description, dressed in the brown coat and a pink scarf. But by the time I thought to raise my hand by way of a greeting she was already scurrying away.

The police have asked me several times for an alibi, hoping my story might change. But I spent that entire afternoon sitting alone in the coffee shop, waiting for you. It’s amazing how lonely one can feel, all the while surrounded by hustle and bustle and by the cheery hellos and goodbyes of strangers. Loneliness pierced me more keenly this time, after waiting just a half hour longer, then another forty minutes. When the coffees had cooled I made my way home, stopping first at the park to feed the tartlets to the ducks.

The young woman who served me coffee has been interviewed by the police. She has not the faintest recollection of a man in a blue shirt sitting alone for two hours, gazing out of her front window. I visit that shop quite frequently, yet she has never once met my eye. I suppose she sees no end of sad, middle-aged men sipping cold coffee alone.

My boarder was out at another social gathering by the time I arrived home from the park. Curly thinks this whole debacle is a huge joke. The police have given him a grilling, which he thoroughly enjoyed. I was there for some of it.

“Nigel always watches Coronation Street on Thursdays,” he told them. “He sits in his brown chair and nods off towards the end. A line of drool drips onto his lapel.”

I must have glared.

“What?” he said, suddenly defensive. “I’m just adding authenticity!”

“A little less ‘authenticity’ and a little more ‘truth’,” cautioned the female officer.

Curly obliged her. “I am speaking in generalities,” he admitted. “I meant to say Nigel rarely misses an episode, yet last Thursday he was out. On a date! Just ask the woman.”

And so, dear Marjorie, I write from this small, white room in the vain hope that you did catch sight of me that afternoon, as I sat hunched over two cups of coffee in the window of Church Street café. I hope that you took one look at me, turned on your heel and left. Please, do not have any regrets; I bear you no ill will. I probably would have done the same.

Love always,

from a lonely man in need of an alibi.



On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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