As Always first things first. I thank my LadyCibelle and Techsan for their patience, proof reading, editing skills and of course encouragement. I'd also like to add that we don't always see eye to eye, so I take full responsibility for the content and any cock-ups in this story.
Life in most ways had been kind to me up until that day. How was I to know that something as simple as my PA at the office, Joyce, leaving her book on the table of a restaurant was going to cause such turmoil in my life?
I came back from lunch to find Joyce sitting at her computer cursing loudly. I assumed the PC had hung again. Why is it that some people appear to be able to make Windows hang just by looking at a computer, Joyce was one of those; she was convinced that Bill Gates had a personal vendetta against her. But I usually found she had used up every damn bit of memory on her system by having just about every conceivable document open and program running at the same time.
I enquired as what was the cause of her obvious anger; I thought that a couple of Alt/Ctrl/Del's would solve her problem, as it usually did. But Joyce informed me that she had misplaced the book she had been reading. She had been attempting to track down another copy as she had really gotten into the story. But it appeared that it was out of print and didn't show up on any of the local library lists either.
Apparently Joyce had picked the book up in a second-hand bookshop and she was extremely frustrated about losing it. Now she had lost the damned thing and she thought she would never discover how it ended.
"It's a mystery story," she said, "to be honest the damn book isn't that good really, too damned slow for my liking; but I just want to know how it ends."
I soon forgot about the incident for a few days after that. Until on the weekend, my wife Sarah started turning the lounge upside down when I was trying to watch the football on the telly.
"Have I done something to upset you, dear?" I asked.
"It's just a little distracting, having you turn the place upside down whilst I'm trying to watch Man-U on the tellythe footy."
"Sorry, dear, but I can't find my book. I had it earlier and now I can't find it."
"Oh, Christ! Not another lost book? I've had Joyce ranting on about losing the book she was reading all bloody week." A bit of an exaggeration, I know, but then it's just one of those things you say.
"Oh, what book has Joyce lost?"
"I'm not sure, something about a Spanish doctor or something."
"Oh, god, not "A Spanish Doctor in Paris?"
"Yeah, I think she said it was called something like that, I wasn't really listening. Have you read it and can you tell her the ending?"
"I'm sorry I can't; it was a long time ago that I read it, before Christina was born. I don't remember finishing it; I think it was too slow for me and I gave up on it. But why don't you take her my copy she can see how it ends herself. It should be in one of those boxes you put up in the loft for me."
Damn it. One of those boxes she had said. Sounds like a simple task, but Sarah is an avid buyer and reader of books; none of which she ever appeared to wish to part with. Consequently there was a least one box of books in that attic for every one of the eighteen years that we have been married. I think she probably had more books up there than could be found in the average local library.
"Jesus, it'll take me a month to go through all those boxes."
"Don't be silly, Mike. I remember I was reading it about the time I became pregnant with Christina. All those boxes have got the year we put them up there on them. All you've got to do is find the right box."
So Sunday morning found me climbing the ladder into the attic and searching for the right box. Which in the end I located. Pleased with myself, I put the book in my briefcase. Joyce had been my right hand for so long at the office and she was always doing things for me. On the Monday, I was going to take great pleasure in giving it to her. (The Book I mean. Jesus, how some folks' dirty minds work.)
"What's that silly grin about?" Joyce demanded when she came in for our conference on the Monday morning. "Is my petticoat showing, or something?"
"No, I've got a little present for you."
"Oh, goody, has my rise come through."
"You'll be bloody lucky. Personnel agree who deserves the rises but then they have to get the money out of accounts. That isn't as easy as we all would like. No, here, "A Spanish Doctor in Paris". That's the book you were so upset about losing last week, isn't it?"
"Oh, thanks, Mike, that was kind of you. Where did you find it?"
"I didn't. Sarah had a copy she read years ago. I just had to spend most of yesterday searching for it."
Yes, an over-exaggeration again, but it earned me a kiss on the cheek. (On the cheek, I said.)
"Thanks, Mike. I don't know what I would do without you," Joyce said as she did so.
"No, it's the other way around, Joyce. I'd be lost without you."
Whilst Joyce flicked through the book probably looking for the place she had left off, a small card fell out.
"It looks like Sarah left her bookmark in here." She said as she retrieved it from the floor and placed it on my desk.
"I think she said it was too slow for her, so she gave up on it."
"Slow, you're not kidding. But I really want to know who the murderer is. Thank again, Mike."
Joyce left me to get on with my work and I thought no more about that little card. Until, I was clearing my desk later in the day, that is. I picked it up and after little more than a cursory glance threw it in the waste bin.
But you know how it is, you read something quickly and it's a few moments before you realise what you have just read. When I realised what I had actually just seen, I dug the card out of the bin again. It was a reminder card, the sort that they give you in some hotels. It had the hotels name, a room number and the date of the reservation on it 23/04/86, together with the name of the guest. The guest's name on this one read Mr & Mrs M J Garrett. That's me, Michael Jeffrey Garrett and my wife.
But there was the problem. The hotel was the Majestic out on the edge of town, but to my knowledge I could never remember being in or near the place. Let alone having booked a room there. So just where had this card come from and how did my name come to be on it? Mildly curious I placed it in the top pocket of my jacket and then promptly forgot about it - well, almost. I had planned to ask Sarah about it later.
Forget about it I did, until about a month later. I'd asked Sarah if she would take a couple of my suits to the cleaners for me, one of them being the one I had put the card in the pocket of. When I came home that evening, lying on my dresser was all the normal flotsam you gather in your pockets that Sarah had removed when she took the suits in to be cleaned.
As I went through all the old receipts, ticket stubs etc. I suddenly remembered the hotel card. But it wasn't there.
"Sarah, when you cleared out my pockets this morning, did you see a reception card from the Majestic hotel amongst all the junk?"
"No, Michael, just the stuff I left on your dresser."
I must admit she was quick and good but she had made the mistake! Yeah, Sarah had just made the mistake that set alarm bells ringing in my head and gave me a very uneasy feeling in my stomach. She hadn't stopped to a take that second or two to think about what she was going to say, before she spoke. She hadn't blushed or looked away before she answered, she had looked me right in the eyes and said "No, Michael!" and that told me something was wrong.
Now I'm Mike to everyone and always have been. I've never been called Michael by anyone but Sarah and then only when she was angry or upset with me. It's one of those things; the warning signs you pick up on when you've been married as long as we have. But Michael was what Sarah called me.
So who was she upset with or was she angry about? Herself, of course - she knew that she had slipped up and I had found that hotel room card. Sarah, when she had found that card in my pocket, had recognised the significance of it. Some significance that she did not want me to know about. That's why she had removed it from amongst all the other flotsam from my pocket.
"Oh, I thought there was a room card from the Majestic in amongst this lot. I was wondering if you knew where it came from, that's all?
"Where the hell would that have come from?" Sarah asked.
"Well, that's what I was wondering since we've never stayed there. The card was in that book of yours I gave to Joyce. I was only curious about it, as we've never been there."
"I suppose I must have got it off my brother. You remember he and Stephanie stayed there when they came to Christina's Christening. They got the short straw; you had to book them in there because the "George Inn" was full."
"Oh, yes, that's right. I remember everywhere was booked up because of some big conference and I paid by credit card when I booked, because they wouldn't guarantee to hold the room."
Apparently satisfied I dropped the subject. Well, that gave Sarah a nice false sense of security. I had to admit that it did sound all nice and plausible. But there was a burning question of the date. I thought that I had a lot to find out about before I brought the subject up again and letting Sarah think I accepted the explanation would possibly serve my purpose best.
.... There is more of this story ...