I've spent the morning at a friend's, watching The Royal Wedding, and searching my rather weary brain for a connection with the NYUS blog. And ... failing. So, if you'll excuse a rather scribbled moment after a jug of Pimms - here's some mystery fiction instead!
I crossed the darkened room on bare feet and leaned against the closed door, listening with fierce concentration, my sharp hearing on alert. There were no sounds from the corridor outside. I blinked in the darkness, but nothing was out of place: no movement, no answering breath, no cry of alarm. Excellent. I was alone in the room, just as I had been when I slid the window open and climbed in from the garden.
A special day, they’d said. Yes, indeed. The happy couple would get what they deserved today, and I’d be the one to deliver it.
Who was there to stop me?
I bent on supple knees, the dark fabric of my clothing stretching over my muscles, then moved across the room in a crouch. My gloved hands moved swiftly across the furniture, feeling my way. The geography of the room was just as I’d anticipated. The package at my side hung awkwardly, pressing into my thigh. Slipping a hand down, I patted it back into place. There must be no noise; no warning given.
Just what they deserved.
Maybe just one more touch? My mouth went dry at the promise. After all, I couldn’t afford for anything to go wrong now. They would be back from the church any time now, and I … I wanted things to be ready for them. Preparation was everything.
I’d been waiting for this moment for a long time.
Pausing, balanced on my knees and heels, I grasped the thick, velvet cloth in my pocket and drew out my burden. My heartbeat quickened. Biting my lip to hold back a moan of satisfaction, I ran a tentative finger along the sharp edge inside.
And then the lights snapped on.
Blinking with shock, I jumped to my feet. The door had slammed open, a large, solid shape silhouetted in the frame. For a second’s flash, I couldn’t focus, yet knew it was a human shape. How many were there? Just one? A whole team? Three running steps would take me back to the window and escape.
“Stay there,” said a strong voice. “It’s all over now.” The shadow broke away from the doorway and started walking towards me. A man in uniform. A large man. The voice was low and harsh. “I told you to wait with the others, didn’t I?”
“You can’t stop me. This is for them.” I gripped my precious parcel.
The man shook his head slowly, almost sadly, still walking forward. There were mere feet between us now. “Now come along quietly. You know it’s for the best, don’t you?”
No. I shook my head too, but angrily: with frustration.
“Give that to me,” the man said. His voice was kinder now.
With a sob in my throat, I held out the parcel. I watched the other man take hold of it. For one brief moment, I wouldn’t let go. “It’s what I planned for. What I must do.”
The man nodded, almost sympathetically. “Of course.” The parcel had changed hands. I was bereft. I stood in the room, disarmed, thwarted.
“Look around,” the man said. “You see?”
I looked around slowly, expecting a trick, dreading the truth. The room was opulently furnished, every surface covered with greetings cards of all shapes and sizes. Over the fireplace was a large banner proclaiming “Congratulations to the happy couple”. And on a large dining table at the far side of the room was a pile of sumptuously wrapped gifts.
“I’ve checked them all in,” the man said. “It’s my job, as steward of the Royal Household.” He shook his head again and gestured with my parcel. “And there are twenty five of these already.”
“Twenty five?” Surely not. Surely my dreams were unique, my promises treasured…
The man took my arm, guiding me firmly but carefully towards the exit. “Send them a gift voucher instead, why don’t you?”
“Yes,” he said, with a sigh that spoke of a very long day, and the aftermath of a stream of challenging well-wishers at the doors of Clarence House. “Because you can have too many kitchen knife sets.”