The day moves into the deeper, darker blues of the evening, and there’s a tappity-tap-tap at Macadamian’s back door. He’s already in the kitchen, waiting, eating black olives out of a jar. It’s clinically clean in here. Surgery could be done on the work surfaces, all black marble. His eyes flick to the clock. Ten minutes early. Displeasing. He screws the lid back on the jar, places the jar back in the refrigerator, straightens his suit and unlocks the back door. There are two large bolts which screech and thunk. They aren’t there because he’s overly security conscious. It’s the effect that those noises have upon whoever waits outside.
Everything he does is coldly calculated.
Shania cringes away as the door opens, clutching the delivery to her chest like a protective talisman. She imagines for a second that she is not seeing a man looking out from behind a door but some undead fiend emerging from its coffin.
She always thinks that this time she’ll be immune to him, but it never works that way.
‘Well, this is a pleasant surprise,’ rasps Macadamian even though it’s no surprise at all.
‘I didn’t mean to be early, I couldn’t help it, I just have to be somewhere. ‘That is the most Shania has ever said to him in one go. Her courage usually fails a lot sooner.
‘You have to be somewhere? Do you really…’ She has made a mistake by trying to offer an explanation. Why couldn’t she keep her mouth shut? She’s twenty years old, not seven and needing to blabber on about everything. ‘Where is it you have to be?’
Her mouth is dry, the scratches on her face stinging. ‘My grandmother’s birthday. It might be her last.’
Doesn’t that stir up his juices? ‘Her last birthday. There’s every chance it will be, isn’t there? She is very, very old. Frail. A little bit senile? At the very least she’s forgetful. So many children, grandchildren, other distant leeching family members all seizing one of the last opportunities to squeeze something out of her will, she won’t be able to take in who’s there and who’s not. She’ll forget that anything at all happening by morning. You know what the very old and frail are like! Or, and I don’t know if you’ve considered this, but the excitement of the party might kill her tonight. He shrugs his massive shoulders. ‘Just a thought. Give me the box.’
With shaking hands she completes the delivery, relinquishing the box she has meticulously carved over the course of many, many hours. The design, the dimensions, all exactly the same as the previous dozen he has commissioned. He traces those awful spindly fingers of his around the whorls and spirals, as if following them by touch is the only way to tell if they’re in precisely the right place. ‘Although your time-keeping is a disgrace, your workmanship remains satisfactory. The money is already in your account as usual.’ He tore his eye away from the box, pinned it to Shania. ‘Would you like to come in? I feel we’re long overdue a chat. So much to discuss, don’t you think? We could talk about these creations of yours for hours alone. I have the finest herbal teas you’re ever likely to try…’
Shania’s legs were jelly towers about to topple. ‘I… I would love to, really… I would…’
‘Don’t wet yourself, my dear. I’m only having a little fun at your expense. I wouldn’t want you to be late for the birthday bash. Be on your way.’ She’s unable to stop the gratitude reaching her face, backs away towards the eight-foot hedge and fence at the rear of the property. ‘A warning, Shania. Forgetting the time you are supposed to be here is one thing, and close to unforgivable. Should you forget our agreement that you must only ever come to my back door, should I ever catch you wandering up my drive to make a delivery, I will arrange for a box to be made for you, a box that will take you six feet under.’ He closes the door on her, leaving Shania to scramble her way through the hedge once more, taking another long scratch on the cheek. A small price to pay for escaping that dreadful man, she feels, until she is summoned again.
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