Remick Delhunty stood in front of the full-length dress mirror, teeth clenched. He slowly unclenched and clenched his jaw, all the while staring at his reflection. His hair was slick and neat. He wore a dusty black suit, with patched elbows. There was a grey sheen to the whole ensemble that spoke of the past. In one hand, he held a small Dictaphone; the other was busy massaging his jaw.
With one of his nine remaining fingers, he pressed record and took a deep breath.
‘Day Twelve of Howard Case. Suit looking ratty. Note to self: self also looking ratty. Perhaps time to trade in for newer model? Will pray for vehicular accident of some kind. The Lord provides.’
Remick pressed stop, turned and tossed the Dictaphone into an old attaché case on the bed. He grabbed his black bowler from the night-stand and pressed it down squarely on his head. Taking one glance back at the mirror, and adjusting his tie, he picked up the case and strolled smoothly out of his apartment.
He paused halfway down the stairs. Scritch-scratch, scritch-scratch, went the noise. Remick felt his mouth grow dry. The old fear – it was back.
He snuck down a few more steps, stopped and tilted his head like a dog snuffling at the air. The sound resounded louder this time; closer, more urgent.
Remick moved as swiftly as a fox that’d just slept with the head hound’s missus. Clutching his case tightly to him, he fled downwards, towards the old door at the bottom of the stairs.
Just as he touched flesh to metal, he heard the door to apartment 2A being flung open and the shudder-inducing sounds of walking frame on solid oak.
‘Don’t think you can escape me, Mister Remick!’ said a brisk voice.
Remick shuddered briefly, a barely visible motion that elicited a ‘harumpf’ of disapproval from behind. He straightened up to his full height and, forcing his brightest smile firmly onto his features, turned and faced the beast.
An elderly lady of average height and average features opposed him. Her eyes, huge behind glasses like chrome hubcaps, were filled with above-average malevolence. Her head was framed by purplish-pink hair.
If Remick had to hazard a guess, he’d have bet that was her natural hair colour.
‘Why, Mrs Crick. It’s been far too long,’ he said, removing his hat with mock courtesy. “Although I appreciate that a day in the life of one so primeval can be lengthy indeed.’
Mrs Crick’s vein-ridden hands clutched at the walking frame. Her brows knitted closer.
‘I will not abide back talk, Mister Remick. Not from a reprobate rent-dodger! Why it’s Thursday today, young man – Thursday! For shame! What would your parents say, if they knew what a mess their son had made of his …’
Remick swiftly interjected before Miss Crick reached vocal critical mass.
‘Dear, dear, Miss Crick, you didn’t know my parents. I’d probably go up in their estimation. As for the rent, why, my money is as good as in your ancient hands. But to acquire m-o-n-e-y,’ and here he sounded out the letters, ’I must go as I am late, late, late, for a very important case!’
He bowed smoothly, about faced and opened the old door. The sound of it shutting deftly cut off a half-muttered expletive.