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Excerpt from 'Time to Die'

Chapter One

It’s not very often that you receive a letter as old as the one that I received that morning. The wall clock said that it was eight thirty-five. It was still pretty dark, but that was not unusual for this time of year, and that together with the fact that the Postman had actually climbed the stairs, made this delivery unusual. Eight thirty-five was a bit earlier than his normal delivery time which was strange enough, but to climb the stairs when our post box was at the bottom was even stranger. I started to really pay attention when he was met by Neil, and ascertaining that Neil was not me, refused to hand over the letter saying that it could only be delivered into my hands personally. He was lucky to find us in the office this early in the morning, as normally we are a lot more tardy, but we had a lot of paperwork on some wrapped up cases to complete, and had agreed to get in early to get it out of the way.

I walked over without comment, signed the form on his clipboard, and was handed a small package. I waited until he had gone, and then I carefully opened it, sincerely hoping that it wouldn’t go bang. Fortunately, it seemed that eight thirty-five was not my time to die after all, and it didn’t. There were two items in the package. The first of which was a note from the Postmaster, which explained that the accompanying letter had been found by a more alert than usual boiler man in amongst some rubbish destined for burning. Apparently he had been gathering up handfuls of old paper for the incinerator when the letter had fallen from his hands. Realising that it was still sealed and stamped, he passed it back to the sorting office with a note asking for clarification.

It seems that it took the post office some time to find out where I had moved to, but as soon as they did, the letter was passed to a postman for personal delivery. Again, I found this pretty strange, when a simple enquiry to the electoral roll would have found me in a couple of minutes. The note concluded with an admission of liability for the delayed delivery, and gave details of their legal team, should I wish to take any action for compensation. Personally I would have preferred a cheque included for any inconvenience that such a late delivery might cause me. But the post office was a mighty organisation and I was only one individual, so I was pretty sure that their defence would be vigorous enough to leave me seriously out of pocket if I went down that avenue. Fortunately I have a lot more sense than that and decided that it was much wiser to just say thank you and open the damn thing.

The postmark, even though it was pretty indistinct, showed enough to indicate that it had been posted first class just a little over twenty years ago. The letter looked to be intact, with the flap still sealed and apparently undamaged, but it was pretty filthy with some yellowing of the envelope showing through what were, obviously, boot marks.

Curiously I turned the envelope over several times in my hands, unsure of what I should do next. I did think that I recognised the writing on the envelope, but a lot of years had passed since it had been written, and I couldn’t be sure. There was no doubt that it was old, and I let my mind drift back twenty years in an effort to determine who was around at that time, and who it could possibly be from. I know I could have resolved the puzzle instantly by opening the letter, but I firmly believe that you should always approach unexpected things intellectually before you dive right in.

Penny didn’t say a word, but just watched my every move with interest and growing impatience. I knew that she was trying very hard not to make it obvious, but considering the fact that the office had fallen silent, and all eyes were on me expectantly, she was failing completely.

“What?” I asked, looking around at the five bemused faces.

“Well, a man who looks like a postman, carrying a package, asking for you personally and refusing to give it to us. Then you open it up and finding two letters, read one that looks official, while only playing with the other,” explained Neil, “should we not be inquisitive?”

My name is Larry Dexxman by the way, and at seventy-five, most people would think that I am too old to be a private detective. Most of the time, I enjoy it immensely, but sometimes, when things don’t go as smoothly as they should, then I have to agree with those other opinions. Neil is my second in command, and came to work for me, from being a freelance investigator, when my workload became too much for me to handle. Penny is my wife, and at twenty-five must be completely cracked wanting to be married to a man old enough to be her grandfather. The other three people in the office were Denise, who is the daughter of the Home Secretary and married to Detective Inspector Chuck Allen, Jean who only joined us recently but very soon became Neil’s significant other half, and Margaret French who had been the girlfriend of the deceased son of the Home Secretary.

We made a pretty good team, particularly since we had become good friends rather than just work colleagues. I have to admit that their concern for my age, demonstrated by their efforts to keep all the hard work away from me, while welcome at times, was really annoying at others.

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