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Monkey Of Con City - Excerpt Three

The old woman gave Lizzy a warm smile as she lifted the envelope to the counter. Her hand trembled like a leaf and she moved her hand with incredible slowness. Lizzy smiled back at her and waited.

`Can I get a first class stamp on this, please?' the question came as soon as the letter came to rest on the counter.

`Of course, Mrs. Selby,' Lizzy said, and took the envelope. The old woman pulled her hand back. It shook worse, as if the weight of the letter had kept it steady somehow.

Lizzy reached for the top sheet of stamps to her left and removed one at random.

`Is it a pretty stamp?' the old lady asked. Lizzy showed it to her.

`It's a Hawthorne Manor stamp, Mrs. Selby.'

`Oh, do you have one with the Lords and Ladies? It's for my granddaughter. She loves kitties.'

Lizzy put the stamp down and looked through the press sheets. The fourth one was the Lords and Ladies collection. She showed it to Mrs. Selby.

`Any one in particular?'

The old woman squinted behind her thick glasses and looked through the stamps. At least a half minute went by while she swept her eyes back and forth among them. At last, she pointed a trembling finger at the black and white cat in the top left corner.

`Lord Alfie, please,' she said. `He's so friendly.'

Lizzy nodded. She wet the stamp in question with the sponge and placed it on the envelope. She weighed it on the scales, then placed it into the tray of letters to be sent. `That will be fifteen pounds, Mrs. Selby.'

The old woman shook her head, and reached into her purse. `So pricey.'

`I'm sorry, Mrs. Selby. Premium stamps, you know.'

`I know, I know.' The old woman fished a twenty pound note out of her purse and deposited it on the counter. Lizzy took it, held it under the UV lamp, then put it into the register. She waited for the receipt to print, then handed it to the old lady along with a fiver.

`Here you are, Mrs. Selby.'

`Thank you so much. Bye!'

The old woman took the change, left the receipt on the counter, turned around, and started her walk to the exit, which was maybe four yards away. Two minutes later the door closed shut behind her.

Sarah turned to Lizzy, and asked the question. `Is it fake?'

`Of course it is,' Lizzy said, still staring at the door. `It's always fake.'

`Where does she get them?'

`Don't know. Don't care. Don't get paid enough to.'

Lizzy put the sheet of cat stamps back in the pile and rubbed the back of her neck. It had been a long and trying day. Having slept on the sofa on account of John having ruined their bed had left a mark on her mood. The Professor had offered to take the sofa so she could have the guest room, but she didn't want to be a bad host, so she settled for waking up with a sore neck. By now she wished she hadn't.

`Are you okay?' Sarah asked.

Lizzy lowered her hand and glanced at her. `I'll live. Why? Do I look like shite?'

`No, just pale. Is your blood pressure good?'

`How should I know? I've not seen a doctor in years.'

`Maybe you should.'

Lizzy snorted. `Why bother? It's just a bloody hangover, Sarah, I'll get over it,' she said. It had come out so convincing she almost believed it herself.

Sarah opened her lips to say more, but the door prompted her to hold her tongue. It swung open at least a hundred times as fast as Mrs. Selby had opened it on her way out, all but announcing the new arrival. Sure enough, a tall blond woman in a gray business dress stepped into the post office.

Her hair was held in a tight bun and by Lizzy's estimation at least fifteen layers of make-up shrouded her face. She stepped in and walked up to the counter with rapid strides, her heels knocking loud on the stone floor, like the legs of a mechanical spider. She fixed her eyes on Sarah.

`Where is he?!' Claire Andrews demanded.

Sarah pointed to the sorting room. `In there, ma'am.'

Andrews turned and moved with a quickness that shouldn't be possible in the shoes she wore. She raised the flap and walked behind the counter, then rushed up to the door. She pushed it open, and pointed inside.

`You! In my office! Now!'

As rapidly as she had arrived, Andrews turned and walked down the aisle to the door at the far end, which said `Manager' on a gold plaque. She pulled it open and stepped through. The sound of her heels died away as her feet made their way into the carpeted office.

In the silence, Lizzy and Sarah both turned their heads to the wide open door of the sorting room. It wasn't long before a timid figure emerged. He shook about as hard as Mrs. Selby had, except he didn't have the age to blame. Lizzy couldn't quite recall the new guy's name. She knew it wasn't Mark, but something along those lines. Maybe Marcus, or Marcel, or maybe even Maurice. For a guy who had been wearing the postman uniform for three weeks, he barely spoke to her, or to Sarah. Each day he would come in, pick up the mail, then leave and make the deliveries, then he'd come back with letters collected from post boxes around town, prepare them for next day's delivery in the sorting room, and then sit there until 5 PM. Lizzy couldn't recall ever having a half decent conversation with him. She wondered, after hearing the boss's tone, whether she ever would.

The young postman walked down the aisle towards Andrews's office without ever glancing at her or Sarah. To his credit, he never stumbled. When he made it into the dreaded office, he slowly shut the door behind him. Within seconds, Lizzy started to hear the words of Andrews from across the thick wood, as clearly as if the woman were standing beside her.

`Do you see this pile of forms, you useless excuse for dog food?! Each of these is a complaint. A complaint filed against you! Do you know why? I'd tell you to read the forms, but you clearly didn't pay attention in school when they were teaching the alphabet, so I'll just tell you. These are complaints from citizens about their mail being delayed because they were delivered to the wrong address!'

`Oh dear,' Sarah said. `She's going to fire the poor lad.'

`Yeah. Sounds about right,' Lizzy said.

Andrews went on with the angry tirade beyond the door. `My father, may he rest in piece, built this post office with his bare hands! He built for it a reputation. And you, you poster child for birth control, you are ruining, destroying that reputation by failing the simple task of reading the address on the envelope in your hand. Reading! What's so hard about that?! A lobotomized monkey could do that, so why can't you?!'

Silence followed for a long moment. Lizzy wondered if the kid was trying to compose an answer and she simply couldn't hear it because he didn't scream while he spoke, or if Andrews was just taking a deep enough breath to be able to continue.

`I'm not going to let this post office degenerate into a cesspool filled with inept employees,' Andrews said. `This is your last warning. If I get one more, just one more complaint about you, I'll fire you there and then! And don't even think about getting a recommendation letter for your next job. You won't have a next job! I will tell everyone that you're more useless than an umbrella at the bottom of the sea. Now go to the nearest bookstore, buy a children's book, and read it!'

Lizzy stared at the door, not willing to believe what she had heard.

`Wow, I thought for sure she'd fire him,' Sarah said, voicing Lizzy's very thoughts.

`Yeah. Bitch must be having a good day,' Lizzy said.

The door finally opened and the young postman scurried out of Andrews's office. He kept his eyes down and all but ran to the exit. Andrews emerged from the office and looked around. Her eyes stopped on Lizzy.

Andrews pointed at her. `You. In my office. Now.' Then she went back inside, leaving the door open.

`Oh dear,' Sarah said. `She must have heard us.'

Lizzy stood up. `I don't care. She can do her worst. At least I'll get to punch her in the face on my way out.'

`Lizzy!'

`Yeah, yeah, I'll try to be civil.' She walked up to the boss's office and stepped inside.


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For more, please proceed to the novel Monkey Of Con City.


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