EXCERPT from The Devil’s Hand: Crossing Guard by Mark Taylor:
“Good night, Miss Mitchell,” Peter slid his head around the door of the office. “Is there anything else you need before I go?”
Angela looked away from the rain to Peter and smiled, shaking her head. “I’ll see you in the morning.” Peter left, and she heard him close the door behind himself, latching it so that it was only accessible from the inside. She looked back out the window. Five days running it had been raining. Only on and off, but always in the early evening, and always when she was going home.
She picked up the North African Statesman’s Journals—her morning’s work—and carried them out of the office, starting up the back stairs to the storeroom on the next floor. She had indexed and priced them, even managing to send out a tentative email to a perspective buyer and now needed to put them away. She could, of course, leave them for Peter, but she felt that a celebratory glass of wine might be just what the doctor ordered tonight, and delaying the inevitable seemed a good idea.
Angela listened to the familiar creak of the old stairs as she ascended, her high heels tapping gently on the bare wood steps.
Entering the second floor, a whole room in itself—a room that in all its grandeur would have made a much better sales floor than the library below—Angela inhaled deeply. The room was stocked heavily with books and papers, letters, even some small antique jewelry, and it all smelled…cool.
Well, to Angela it did.
Angela loved the faint musty scents of old paper and parchment.
She walked across the bare floor to the closest book shelf and slipped the Journals on the end, inhaled again, and turned to leave.
Through the door, descending the stairs was a shadow. It startled her briefly. “Peter?” she called, “What did you forget this time?”
He didn’t reply.
Angela shook her head and returned to the door, her heels clacking loudly on the oak floor boards. She looked down the stairs to the floor below, “Peter?” she called again, this time with more urgency, “Answer me.”
He still didn’t reply.
Angela looked around quickly for something—a weapon?—to, if nothing else, make her feel better. She picked up a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. A book weighty enough to be a weapon, and if nothing else she could bore the assailant to death.
She descended as quietly as she could, which wasn’t quiet in heels. Damn shoes.
As she moved from the last step, a slender young woman in expensive garb, wielding a book of over a thousand pages like a wood axe, she noted that the front door was latched. She lowered the book.
A trick of the light, perhaps?
Of course, she quickly went from the library to the office to settle the doubts in her mind, but there was no one there. There couldn’t have been. Even Peter would have to knock to get back in. Maybe she should lay off the liquor if it was going to cause hallucinations? Or perhaps, she just needed a drink?
Angela returned The Count to its rightful place upstairs and then left the library for the night, reaching out for her umbrella before remembering its likely demise in the streets of London last night. After alarming and locking the building behind her she headed out, head hunkered down in the rain and started the push towards the underground.
She wondered what Raphael would have for her tonight.
The Oyster Card opened the turnstile at the cold entrance of Sloane Square Station for the nightly trudge of the Central line to Victoria Station and then the Victoria line home.
Down flights of escalators and tunnels, the human race herded itself toward the bullet shaped ‘tube train’. The noise of the approaching train as it emerged from the tunnel was a tornado of wind rushing past the hundred waiting bodies, the voice on the intercom drowned out.
It stopped with a clunk and the doors shwooped open.
Fifty people disembarked.
One hundred forced their way on.
Angela stood, she had removed her bag from her shoulder and held it between her legs, squashed between fat men wearing wet coats. The immediate heat and claustrophobia as the doors shwooped back shut. She felt her chest tighten slightly, as she always did when the tube was this busy.
And it was always this busy when it rained.
Airs of suspicion lingered between most of the travellers, no one wanting to look directly at another person, no one speaking.
Just densely packed in human meat.
As he watched her from further down the carriage.
Already on the train before her…
… knowing where she would get on.
“Shit it,” Angela looked at the small bubble of water on the one hundred year old manuscript, laid so carefully and perfectly on the desk before her. She looked around. ‘Where in Hell did that come from?’
She pulled a lint free cloth from the drawer and started to work on the water. It was no more than a pinhead in size, but would affect the value.
Peter appeared at the door, “’Sup, Boss?” Angela shook her head without looking up or speaking. It was clearly the only acknowledgement that he was going to get. He shrugged it off—Angela was like that when she was buried in work—and returned to wherever he had come from.
Angela continued, ignoring day six of the rain at the window.
Fully restored and held firmly between two sheets of glass, Angela was finally happy with the library’s latest acquisition, the manuscript, and before pulling up her email to see if she had a response about the Journals, she glanced out of the window. It was dark and raining. Still.
She frowned and looked at her watch. It was six-fifteen. “Peter?” she called. There was no reply, but of course there wouldn’t be. Not at this time. She didn’t remember him leaving—or even announcing his intention to—and hoped that she had at least acknowledged him. He was a good boy. He would make a fine addition to the management of the library one day.
Angela took the manuscript to the upper floor and stored it with the other glass locked antiquities and then returned to her office. She opened her email one last time for the day and then closed the computer down. She turned off the working lights—spot lights—that spidered over her desk, closed and locked the bureau and turned the office lights off, closing and locking the door.
She went into the library, to cross to the front door, to find a man standing in front of one of the glass display cases—the one that held the library’s vastly expensive copy of the Napoleonic War Diary—the one next to the stairs that led to the second floor. He was studying the book.
She jumped, startled by the sudden presence of someone—anyone. “Who are you?” she asked, glancing over to the front door.
The latched front door.
The man nodded—apparently in appreciation of the tome—but didn’t turn to face her. “It is a fine piece,” he said.
“How did you get in?” Angela insisted.
“I remember the difficulties that one has on making such formal decisions when pricing such works,” he chuckled without sharing the joke.
“Could you leave, please?” Angela became nervous of the man’s intention.
The man turned. “Angela Mitchell, I assume?”
Mark Taylor’s debut novel crash landed on planet earth in 2013. Its dark brooding style benchmarked his writing and has led to further releases of novel and short story collection alike.
While most of Mark’s work is macabre, occasion has it that he will write about kittens and daisies. Just not very often.
Some say he is a product of his environment, others, a product of his own imagination.
Whichever it is he works happily, portraying dark existences on this planet and others. He relays his fears and doubts on his characters, so always has a smile. If Mark is real, as some say he is, you might find him in England.
©Mark Taylor, 2016. All rights reserved.