The Publisher Demands
                    
    Todd Butchers had a split personality, more than that he lived two lives; a shy,
retiring type most of the time but his other self was vindictive, volatile, aggressive – in
fact he possessed the makings of an unmitigated killer -
    John Bunting slammed his hand on the keyboard, slurped his fourth cup of coffee,
he’d reached a crucial part of his story when suddenly Mrs Doubleday his cleaner had
marched in muttering something about frogs and tadpoles.
    It didn’t fit in somehow and now crucially his chain of thought was broken, even
more so now she’d commenced the habitual nose blowing ceremony.
    And then the phone rang to compound his frustration, ‘John Bunting – yes – who’s
calling? You’ve found what? I’m sorry but that’s impossible, you see my wife’s in
Cornwall.
    ‘You’re certain –‘ Bunting slapped a hand across his face then glanced at the
clock, ‘okay,’ he sighed, ‘I’ll call and collect it.’
    It was enough to suffer Mrs Doubleday’s distractions, now he had to contend with
some numbskull who reckoned he’d found his wife’s handbag in a pub ten miles away.
Well, it was April 1st; if he found some prankster was wasting his time there’d be hell
to pay. His publisher was pressing him
hard to complete a collection of short stories, if he failed to deliver this week the deal
would be quashed.
    And who did he know who’d play a practical joke?
    Nobody.
    Fifteen minutes later Bunting pulled up at “The White Duck” in Micklewater and
hurried into a sparsely populated pub, the landlord of which greeted him with
reverence.
    ‘John Bunting the writer sir? I read your –‘
    ‘Yes, yes, Bunting waved impatiently, I find this very difficult to believe but you
claim to have found my wife’s handbag.’
    ‘I didn’t find it; she left it on the seat over there. One of my staff-’
    But Bunting wasn’t listening, his frenzied fingers were flicking through the contents
– it was her handbag alright, had to be – her credit cards, business cards – but she’d
phoned him from Cornwall only the previous evening, wasn’t due back for a week.
    ‘Did you see her, what did she look like?’
    ‘Oh, quite tall, long dark hair, wearing a white trouser suit.’
    ‘White trouser suit,’ Bunting repeated, it was one of her favourites.
    ‘A dimple in her left cheek,’ the landlord added. He’d certainly studied her well and
yeah – it was her to a tee. What the hell was going on?  
    ‘Did you see which way she went?’
    ‘I didn’t see her leave, Mr. Bunting,’ the landlord said, but by the look on his face
Bunting thought there was something else.
    ‘She wasn’t alone?’
    ‘No, there was a guy with her.’
    Bunting fingered his neck, it was becoming clammy, what was she up to? His
inclination was to go; although the pub’s customers seemed not to be listening he felt
part of a soap opera. Nonetheless he stayed and ordered a pint. Margie might just
show up for her handbag with the mystery companion.
    Resisting the urge to gulp his pint Bunting sat by the window concentrating on the
quiet village street, but Margie didn’t show. Surely she had to realise she’d left her
bag and retrace her steps? Well, if so, it was taking some time.
    More time than he was prepared to give; his nerves close to snapping, Bunting
downed the last of his pint and made for the door.
    He sat in his car, re-checking the contents of her bag, pulling out a scrap of paper
the size of a business card, “Orchard Cottage, Railway Approach, Micklewater.”
    What the hell was that about? But the notepaper bearing his wife’s bold
handwriting intrigued him. Railway Approach wouldn’t be hard to find – he wasn’t well
acquainted with Micklewater, but he knew the long disused station had been acquired
by a steam railway preservation society and lay off the main street.
    Sure enough, off a leafy lane lay Station Approach. The station lay at the end, an
impressive Edwardian building, but to its right surrounded by apple trees was Orchard
Cottage. He pulled up some distance from it, where the lane parted company with the
approach.
    Two four-by-fours were parked outside, one was clearly Margie’s and the other
was familiar although he couldn’t determine the owner. Not until the burly shape of his
publisher, Tim Harrison-Clarke emerged holding Margie’s hand. Now Bunting saw
what was going on, what might have been going on for years. He roared up, saw the
shocked look on the pair’s faces and then shaking with barely containable anger he
handed over her bag. ‘You might want this. You left it at the pub.’
    Tim Harrison-Clarke brushed the lapels of his well-pressed suit, ‘Er John, I was
just showing your wife around this lovely cottage; weren’t you supposed to be working
on your compilation? Time is short, you know.’
    ‘It sure is,’ Bunting growled, eyes on his wife, ‘weren’t you supposed to be in
Cornwall?’
    Margie sighed, looked him in the eye, full of defiance, ‘I was in Cornwall - if you
must know we both were. And you may as well know John, that Tim and I are an
item. We’ve had our eye on this place for some time. We came back from Cornwall
when we heard it was vacant.’
    ‘And that’s why you set me so tight a deadline, and not for the first time,’ Bunting
said to Harrison-Clarke through clenched teeth, ‘so the pair of you had space to-‘
    Tim raised a hand, ‘John wait-‘
    But Bunting wasn’t waiting, he felt like thumping the pair of them both there and
then, but that wouldn’t have been a painful enough ending.
    Back home Bunting’s cleaner had finished and gone. Only the ticking of the clock
disturbed Bunting as he worked on his piece -
    Todd Butchers had a split personality, more than that he lived two lives; a shy
retiring type most of the time
but his other self was vindictive, volatile, aggressive – as the stabbings in Orchard
Cottage were to testify…
    Bunting took the machete from his drawer, caressed the blade carefully with the
tip of his finger –
    So he’d need to find a new publisher, who gave a shit?


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