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The Delivery - the third part of our serial

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

We are taking turns writing a story from the prompt:

"Flowers came to my house every other Monday exactly at 1 o’clock"

We are each writing a piece, but we have no idea where it will end up, and can't wait to see where that will be.

This is Frank Offer's contribution.

Chapter Three

Gift horse

by Frank Offer

It’s two o’clock in the morning, dark, cold and I’m staring at the envelope. It stares back. The kind of hard stare you get from a stranger in a restaurant when you’ve been looking at them too long.

My mind’s in turmoil. It all seemed so exciting. A dead drop in my village. Nothing happens here. Yet, just for an afternoon, it felt like I was in one of my novels alongside Bertie. A dead drop – it had to be. It was just after Roberta had asked ‘who sent you’. I couldn’t resist and played along telling her, ‘I was here for the package’. My heart missed a beat when she reached down under the counter and presented me with an envelope. How my mind had raced, imagining secret liaisons, spies and sinister plots.

Yet here I am. Staring sleeplessly at an empty envelope. Did she dupe me or am I missing something? The singed edges show my attempts to warm it to reveal secret messages. The now discarded cut lemons and sliced onions yielded nothing but tears.

‘What would Bertie do?’ I ponder. Reflecting back to The killer’s imprint left no mark’, I reach for my sketching pencil and shade the front of the envelope. Nothing, but my fingers now leave ghostly smudges on the steel grey tablecloth. I flip it over and shade the back, forgetting I’m now transferring yet more pencil to my otherwise pristine cloth. This time letters emerge, slowly taking shape.

First a G, then a ‘1’, then a ‘0’. Maybe a bank code?

Then a ‘b’, followed by ‘a’ and ‘1’. Maybe some kind of location reference?

Then a ‘p’, followed by ‘e’ and ‘t’. Maybe a name of someone trying to contact me?

I write the letters out on a sheet. ‘G10ba1peta1.c0m’. It’s just the website, I slump back in disappointment.

I throw the envelope off the table in frustration and open my laptop. It’s my only lead so I look for My stomach turns as white lilies flash up on the screen. Why white lilies on their home page? There’s no address, no phone number, just endless photos of flowers and a chatbot function. Despite my sinking confidence, I phrase my best question for the chatbot.

‘Please could you tell me who sent the order of white calla lilies to Kristen Long, 11, The Avenue, Seacliff, Sussex?’

‘Would you like to order white calla lilies today?’

Bloody chatbots! How have thousands of years of human progress given us automated responses that answer questions we didn’t ask? Give me a human being any day! I nearly throw the laptop across the room but remember just in time that I’ve not backed up Bertie’s latest adventure…and my next paycheck.

My frustration escalates and I try to outwit the system, partly from boredom but also to seek an odd satisfaction from outwitting the programmer.

‘Who killed the doctor in The Swinging Glitter Ball?’

‘I’m sorry I can’t answer that question. Do you wish to order some flowers?’

I close the laptop and head to bed to try to get a few hours sleep.

Several days later, I am half expecting the delivery van but it doesn’t arrive. I’m caught between two anxieties – absence or arrival – there’s no peace either way now. I wonder if I should call the Police. Is sending flowers even a crime? Not sending flowers can’t possibly be a crime.

The next day, just as I’m settling into an afternoon nap after a sleepless night, I hear the van. Then the footsteps on the drive and the van pulling away. I want to sleep but I need to see what’s there. The white lilies and the black bow mock me on my own front doorstep. But this time beside the lilies there’s a small charcoal grey box shaped like a coffin with a black bow. Desperate for some further clues, I grab the box and examine it.

I’m careful – Bertie received a bomb on his doorstep inside a box of Milk Tray. Never take chances. I feel carefully for wires, listen for the gentle tick of a timer and smell the package for any hint of something sinister. Nothing, but the faint aroma of chocolate. I gently shake the package and there’s a slight rattle. Satisfied it’s not likely to explode, I carry it inside and place it on the table.

I make a pot of tea, turn to my laptop and try to write. My agent’s chasing me again for the next book so I need to focus. But my eyes drift to the package. Then the envelope. Then the package. I’m not going to get any writing done. The suspense is too great. I pull it across the table. I toy with the ribbon and the bow. Then I get my scissors, gently cut the ribbon and slowly slide the top off the box. There are six dark brown chocolates, each sitting on a crimson cushion of crumpled paper. I look for a card or a message but there’s nothing.

I turn back to my writing, but my eyes drift to the envelope, the chocolates and the lilies. My writing again loses the battle for my attention as I search for information on lilies on the internet, skim-read several sites, convinced the answer is there somewhere.

I reach for the chocolates and pick one up, feeling its weight and smell its rich scent. It starts to melt on my warm fingers. I pop it in my mouth, tempted by the promise of satisfaction and to relieve the stickiness. Then another and another.

My eye catches on an article about calla lilies being poisonous. Maybe I could use that in a future book - The Case of the Lily Killer. A shudder runs down my back. What do they say? Someone walked over your grave – wonder why they say that?

I eat another chocolate and one more. They really are very rich. I’m surprised to feel slightly nauseous just after five. Maybe I’m just not used to such rich chocolate. I pop the last one in my mouth, relishing the melting chocolate washing over my taste buds, but then feel more sick.

My eyes sting, doubtless from too much laptop and sleepless nights. My mouth feels like it’s burning – was the last chocolate spicey? Chillies maybe? No, this is hotter than any chilli, too hot. Far too hot.

Then through my blurred vision, I read the symptoms of calla lily poisoning: nausea; stinging eyes; burning mouth and throat; and swelling that can prevent speech and breathing even leading to death. Have I been poisoned or is it just in my fertile imagination?

In desperation, I pick up my phone and dial 999.

‘Emergency Services. Which service do you require?’

My words are stuck in my throat and I gasp for breath.

‘Hello. Are you still there?’

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