I now have in my possession a package, the contents of which I will reveal in due course, but for now I can only write that things have taken a strange turn, the strangest of all. In truth, this whole adventure has entered the realm of the unfathomable.
I returned three days ago from my journey to uncover the mystery of that curious message left on my answer phone. I would reveal to you now exactly where I went but after all that has happened I am wary of disclosing the precise location of my meeting in the tucked away city bookstore – all I will say is that the clue I unravelled while walking in the woods that day proved accurate. The reason for my wariness, however, lies not in my concern for anything or anyone connected to the bookshop itself (observant readers will see that there is a photograph of a bookstore frontage accompanying this post), rather I feel that in saying too much now I may be subjecting myself to further unwanted exposure, maybe even danger, even though I cannot strictly state why; it is a feeling that has lingered since my fateful visit to the village of Cley – Emma Fielding’s last known location – and it simply will not shift.
I arrived at the bookshop in the afternoon three days ago, a little hesitant at first simply to walk in and ask for Giles Tester or his ‘colleague’ Julian Coleman, not least because I was pretty certain these two names were no more than a cryptic device employed in order to lead me to that very place. I could see through the front window that the bookshop was empty of customers, but at least it was open for business. I pushed through the door, allowing it to swing shut behind me, and stood in the narrow hallway looking towards an empty desk at the back of the shop. The corridor I was in was lined half way up each wall with piles of books, stacked haphazardly in precarious columns. The smell of dust on paper covers and the arcane quiet of the place were heightened by the afternoon sunlight that filtered through the window, picking out the motes of slow dancing dust suspended in the air – the place had an eerie feel to it that did not at all put me at my ease.
Nevertheless, I made my way to the desk at the end of the hall and saw that there was a bell on it, the old fashioned kind with a sign that said ‘please ring for attention’ at its side. With some hesitation I reached out to that bell, at once curious to see who it might summon and yet also afraid that I was on the worst kind of fool’s errand and would soon be exposed as the most ridiculous of dupes. Even so, I pressed that bell and its sound, though by no means a portentous acoustic – rather a high noted ‘ping’ that seemed insufficient to summon anything other than the most will-o’-the-wisp proprietor – brought no one at first to my attention. I tried again, this time giving a more forceful stamp on the bell with my hand. And then, as if conjured from the ether, and not unlike in a cheap uncloaking magic trick, an ancient, small-framed woman appeared immediately from the curtain behind the desk, as if she had been standing there all the while just waiting for her cue. She was tiny in stature, no more than four and a half feet tall and was Marple-esque in her birdlike manner, with a kindly, benign smile and yet the sort of gimlet blue-eyed stare that seemed to suggest she knew exactly why I was there and who I was. Her voice as she asked me if she could help me was surprisingly clear for her age (which I took to be anywhere between 80 and 105!). I noticed that her hands moved constantly about her person – at first fiddling with the long chain at her neck that held her half-moon glasses suspended at her breast, then reaching up to pat at her hair, an unyielding clutch of silver curls held tightly and unnaturally in place by an excess of spray.
I smiled, feeling at once relieved that this was no confounded foe or someone who could in any way wish me harm. ‘Hello, yes, thank you,’ I said, ‘I received a telephone message to say that a book I ordered has arrived.’ I paused, waited, but she continued in her appraisal of me, her eyes fixed on my face as her fingers continued their fidgets. ‘I was told to ask for Giles Tester or Julian Coleman,’ I went on, but had hardly finished my sentence when her hands froze at her neck and she stood perfectly still. For more seconds than were comfortable there was silence between us.
Then she said: ‘Neither Mr Tester nor Mr Coleman is available I’m afraid. But I can help you I believe. You are…?’
‘My name is Joe Delgardi and…’
‘…Yes, of course,’ she interrupted; not in a rude way, but in a way that would brook little argument. ‘Please wait one moment,’ and with that she disappeared behind the heavy curtain.
Almost at the same time the door to the bookshop opened and two people came in – a middle-aged couple, smiling at each other, holding hands – and stood immediately behind me. I felt both relieved and not a little hemmed in, as if I was in some way being corralled by the two of them, but before I could say anything or move to one side (to give me easy access to the one and only exit – I cannot say why I was so uneasy but the feeling persisted despite my best efforts to dispel it), the old woman appeared once again, holding a brown paper package that was secured firmly with string. She looked at the couple and smiled while handing me the parcel, placing it in my hands and closing her own over them, pressing down hard as if wanting to be certain I would not let it go. Then without a word she released her grip and turned her attention to the couple at my back, looking straight through me as if I had suddenly ceased to exist.
I left the bookshop quickly, more interested in the contents of that package than in questioning her further about her role in this entire strange affair – an action I regretted later as soon as I opened that parcel and discovered what was inside. When I did I went straight back to the bookshop with the questions all but bursting from my head, but the store was closed, its windows dark and the door firmly locked. It stayed that way for the remainder of my visit, although one further day was all that I could spare as work was calling me back; but more so the lure of that package, the contents of which, now I have discovered what is inside, I simply cannot comprehend.