Monday 24 December 2018

Years of Eclipse by L F Roth

Sanderson inserts the key. His aim is right, in spite of the dim light. He turns it, expecting the usual barely audible clicking sound as the catch is released, but there is none. Puzzled, he tries the handle. The door opens. Has someone broken in? Don’t panic, he orders himself, as his heart beats faster. One slow step at a time he advances into the hall, leaving the door gaping behind him. “Hello,” he calls. The silence builds. Advancing, he inspects the bedroom, but everything is as it should be: the bed unmade, his pyjamas spread-eagled across the solitary pillow. Getting rid of its companion had been a good move — his back had improved overnight. As his gaze returns to the hall, he hears the toilet flush and stops in his tracks. The bathroom door swings open. A hand appears, followed by the head and shoulders of what proves to be a squat figure dressed in an overall and wearing a heavy tool belt. If he is a burglar, he must be a professional.

“Sorry about that,” says the intruder. “Caught short.”

No professional, evidently, but curiously at home. Sanderson remains uneasy: the face wears no name. Is he an electrician come to fix the light in the stairs? Caught short, he may have rung the nearest bell and, after a brief delay, produced his master key. Sanderson probes him.

“You are …?”

“The plumber. Pete Dexter.”

There is a wrench among his tools.

“Someone phoned in about a dripping tap.”

“They did?” He’d meant to report it, but had he done so? Occasionally, he will write himself a note as a reminder, but notes tend to get lost or else become illegible. His neighbour may have sworn over the dripping late at night when sounds magnify. She wouldn’t rest till she got hold of somebody. “You’ll have to put in a new …” He breaks off. Having intended to test the man, he himself is on trial. He stares into the distance, but the word he is groping for isn’t there. “A whatchamacallit. Like a discus. With a hole.”

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