Making a Packet

Emma’s fingers curled around the mug of coffee, her knuckles white despite its heat. The Ikea kitchen clock hanging on the wall opposite ticked loudly, almost accusingly. She raised the mug to her lips and sipped. The pain of the hot liquid on her mouth was a welcome distraction from the knot in her stomach.

The door opened and her daughter, Hannah, flew into the room, all hair and gadgetry. She saw Emma’s face and froze.

“Sit down,” said Emma, quietly.

“Why, what’s–”

Do. It.” The words were like gunshots.

Hannah dropped her school bag and sat at the scrubbed pine table, her posture alert.

“Would you like to tell me,” said her mother, “what this is?” She picked a small, plastic packet full of something fluffy and green up from the table, and held it between finger and thumb.

“Oh, crap.” Her daughter’s face instantly dropped two shades paler. “Look, Mum, it’s not what it looks like, I swear!”

“Really? Because it looks like I found skunk in your bedroom, Hannah. I can’t believe how many times I’ve talked to you about this sort of thing!”

“I know, I know, Mum! But, honestly, it’s not mine!”

Emma snorted and raised her eyebrows.

“It’s not! I swear! I took it for N–, um, a friend. Look, you know that trip I went on today? To the power station? For physics?”

“What on earth has that got to do with anything?”

“They’re taking the whole year group, only they split us in half, on separate days, so’s it wouldn’t be too many at once. My friend’s group went yesterday, but, like, in form time their tutor told everyone that the security guys might search them.” She gulped a breath.

“Are you telling me, Hannah, that one of your friends had cannabis at school?

“Um, yeah, but, like, not to use.

“That’s all right then,” said Emma, dripping acid. “I’ve half a mind to call the Head.”

“Nononononono! No, Mum, don’t do that!”

Emma shook her head despairingly. Of course she would never do such a thing. That would be madness. She sighed. “And where do you come into this?”

“Well, she couldn’t leave it in her locker ‘cos she shares it with someone else and she could hardly leave it lying around and she didn’t dare risk it so…”

“She asked you to look after it, and you said yes? Hannah, what were you thinking?” Emma’s voice became momentarily shrill. She coughed and took a deep breath.

“I know I know I know, I’m sorry, Mum, I know it was stupid. But she was stuck and I felt sorry for her and it was only meant to be until the end of the school day.”

“What if a teacher had found this?”

“Oh, they wouldn’t. I put it at the bottom of my bag. They can’t go in my bag without your permission. Um, I think.”

Emma put her face in her hands. “I’m reassured by your in-depth knowledge of school policy. So why did I find this in your bedroom?

“Yeah, well, her coach was delayed on the way back so I missed her, and I was going on the trip today so, so, yeah, I hid it in my pillowcase.”

Emma picked up the plastic packet again and waved it at her daughter like a referee with a red card. “Hannah, this is a class B drug. It’s illegal to possess it! I do not want to see the police at the door.”

“It’s just cannabis, Mum, they just give you a fine–”

“That is not the point!”

“Well they–”

“Hannah!”

Her daughter stopped talking, chewed her bottom lip and looked at Emma. For a long moment they stared at each other. She had grey eyes. Exactly like her father’s.

“Do you understand what a stupid risk this was?” asked Emma, eventually.

“Yeah.”

“You’re grounded for a week. And I changed the wi-fi passcode,” said Emma, expecting protest. Given a choice between losing a toe and losing internet access, she would not be at all surprised to find her daughter removing her sock and shoe.

“Okay.”

Emma’s eyes widened.

“I’ll go and put my bag upstairs,” said Hannah, meekly.

“You haven’t got a router up there I don’t know about, have you?”

“No, Mum.”

“You’d better not have. Tidy up while you’re up there, it’s a pigsty.”

“Yes, Mum.”

After her daughter had left the kitchen, Emma stared at the packet again. Even through the sealed plastic she thought she could smell the distinctive, green scent. She took a mouthful of her coffee, letting the now-cooler liquid sit on her tongue for a moment, and considered.

The sun was sinking by the time Emma reached the house, its light painting the whitewashed walls in shades of red and gold. She stood on the pavement and looked up at the building. The house was detached, with a neat driveway bordered by carefully-tended delphiniums and hostas. Its back garden overlooked some fields. Quiet, but not too far from a train station. A decent school nearby. House prices rising steadily. A good investment, she’d thought. But then the first lot of tenants had trashed the place. Thousands, it had cost.

She rummaged in her Radley handbag. Lips pressed together, she strode up the front path and slid the key she was holding into the lock.

Emma waited for her breathing to slow again after climbing the two flights of stairs to the large, converted attic. She pushed open the door. The air inside was thick with scent, catching in her throat.

She closed the door firmly behind her.

“Oh, hello, Mrs Davison! I wasn’t expecting you today, was I?” asked Jas, turning towards the sound. His crisp vowels and polite tone contrasted oddly with his ripped jeans and greasy hair.

“I thought I’d drop by,” replied Emma, curtly.

“Ah, well, everything’s fine, as you can see. Should have a new batch ready to go by Thursday.” He sounded calm. “Is there something you particularly wanted?”

“Yes, Jas.” Emma’s eyes scanned the rows and shelves of plants lit by purple light. She forced herself to take a deep breath of the pungent air, trying to relax the knot which persisted in her gut, a thrill of fear twisted up tight with strands of guilt.

Emma reached into her handbag again. “I want to know how my sixteen year-old daughter came to have a packet of my own product hidden in her bedroom.”


Author’s notes

Another thriller-type story, with a twist. It perhaps has the feeling of the start of something, rather than a complete work, but I think it just about stands on its own.

© Kat Day 2017

The Silvery Spoon

Detective Inspector Lisa Anderson stared at the iPad she’d been handed, then pinched to zoom in on the image.

“It’s a spoon,” she said, eventually.

“Not just a spoon, Guv,” said Detective Constable Ben DeSouza, adopting a pretentious tone, “it’s an ‘insight into the inconsistency of our future via the medium of a replica of a mundane object.’”

“It’s a spoon, Des.”

“Yeah,” he conceded, “but it’s a spoon worth over a million quid. It’s an original Junion.”

Lisa whistled. She considered her surroundings. The house was Edwardian, spacious, but not enormous. Round here it would be worth a fair bit, but hardly millions. The furnishings were tasteful, neither super-modern nor antiques. The parquet floor was probably original. Smells of leather and polish drifted in the overheated air – yesterday’d been the hottest day so far this year. There were a few framed photographs on the wall, but none of the usual detritus that accompanied a family. In short, this was the home of a retired, single man who was well-off, but probably not hugely wealthy.

Everything seemed to be in place, apart from a Perspex box lying on the floor below a shelf containing a small, but conspicuously empty, white plinth.

“I’m thinking Mr Ekal isn’t a millionaire art collector. So how’d he end up with a piece by Daniel Junion?”

“He was given it a few years ago by the artist, he says. Knew him before he was famous. Family friend, apparently.”

“Some people get all the luck, eh?”

“Yeah, until he got robbed, I suppose.”

“True. What happened yesterday?”

Des looked at his notes. “Mr Ekal left yesterday afternoon at 1pm. Locked everything, set the alarm. Spent the evening with friends. Came back 2am, found the back door lock smashed, spoon missing. Nothing else touched.”

“Did the alarm go off?”

“No. But logs show it was definitely set.”

“What about the cleaner?”

Des frowned. “What cleaner?”

“This place smells of polish. Maybe Mr Ekal is a lover of lemon Pledge, but I think it’s worth checking.”

“Good point. Will do.”

Lisa lowered her voice. “Is it likely he took it himself?”

“Maybe,” murmured Des, “thing is, he was massively under-insured. Says he hadn’t realised how valuable this thing’d become.”

“How much?”

“He’ll be lucky to get a hundredth of its value.”

“Ten grand is still a decent chunk of money, especially if he’s still got the damn thing to sell on.”

“Don’t reckon that’d be easy, guv, Junion’s pretty famous. Something like this up for sale would be hard to keep quiet. And if Ekal really wanted to get rid of it, why not just sell it publically? From what I can make out, he’d easily get seven figures at auction, especially with some publicity. Why go to all this trouble for a measly ten grand?”

Lisa drummed her fingers on the iPad’s screen. She had to admit, if it was an insurance scam it wasn’t the smartest she’d ever seen. “Anyone hear anything last night?” she asked.

“Nothing from the neighbours. And before you ask, the only fingerprints are Ekal’s.”

“Damn. Looks professional.” But, she mused, why would a pro silently disable the house alarm yet clumsily smash a lock?

Lisa stepped towards the plinth on the wall. It was a small, slender cylinder with “Number 31” etched onto one side. A hairline crack split the letters. The top surface was slightly concave. She looked again at the image on the iPad, which showed the elaborate, bluish-silver spoon balanced vertically in the dip, handle upwards.

“No crack here. When was this photo taken?”

“He said two days ago. A friend wanted to see it.”

“Follow up that ‘friend’.”

“Already on my list.”

“Why Number 31?”

Des shrugged. “That’s what the sculpture’s called. It’s an arty name, I suppose.”

“How does it stay upright? I can’t see any wires.”

“There’s a spike on the rounded bit at the bottom. It sticks in here.” Des pointed. Standing on tiptoes, Lisa peered and saw the small, dark hole.

“Why,” she muttered, half to herself, “would you leave the plinth?”

#

Mum? You never listen to me!” complained Lisa’s daughter, Ella, as Lisa opened the front door of their home.

“Hm? Sorry, I was… never mind. What did you say?”

“I said, can I go round to Ruby’s tonight?”

“How much homework have you got?”

“Nothing, honestly.”

Lisa raised an eyebrow.

Ella scowled. “I’ve got a bit of chemistry to finish. It’ll only take ten minutes.”

Lisa’s eyebrow remained raised.

“All right! History. And art, but I’ve got another week to do that.”

“You can go when you’ve finished chemistry and history. And don’t leave the art until the last minute.”

“I won’t, Mum.”

“You say that, but last…” Lisa stopped, staring at one of the books Ella had just opened on the kitchen table. “Why’s this bit a different colour?” she asked, pointing.

“Oh, yeah, Mrs McCastra told us this story. It was, like, quite interesting. I coloured that in as she was talking,” Ella shrugged.

“Really? Tell me.”

#

“I think,” said Lisa, that you know exactly where the spoon, or should I say Number 31, is, Mr Ekal.” She picked up the plinth. It was heavy in her hands.

Mr Ekal ran his hand across his balding head. “I don’t, I told–”

The cylinder hit the wooden floor with a crunch. “Oops,” said Lisa, “butterfingers.”

“How dare you! I’ll sue, I–”

Lisa prized apart the plaster to reveal a lump of silvery metal. “Goodness me, what’s this?”

“I have no idea!”

Lisa gazed at him, letting silence fill the space. Mr Ekal’s left eyelid twitched.

“It’s the spoon, isn’t it?” she said eventually. “It was made of gallium metal, element 31. It melts at thirty degrees Celsius. It was very hot yesterday, it must’ve tipped over that with all the doors and windows closed.”

For a moment, it looked as though Mr Ekal was going to argue. But then he made a sound like a deflating balloon and slumped into a chair.

“We’ve spoken to Daniel Junion. He insists that he warned you.”

“He didn’t! Not properly! He… told me not to handle it. He said people used to make joke spoons out of gallium, because they melt in hot tea.”

Lisa smiled. It was the same story Ella had told her when she’d asked why the square for element 31 was coloured in pink in the periodic table in her chemistry book.

“He never said it would melt in a room,” continued Mr Ekal. “When I found it missing I thought it had been stolen.”

“But then you saw the plinth was cracked and… what? You picked it up and realised it was heavier?”

He nodded despondently. “I… panicked.”

“So you smashed the back door and reported a theft.”

“I wasn’t sure my insurance would pay out anything if I just admitted…” he tailed off. “Are you going to arrest me?”

She paused, “I should. This has been a serious waste of police time.”

“Oh.”

Lisa took pity on him. “But I think you’ve probably suffered enough, losing a million quid’s worth of spoon. Tell you what, though, I could murder a cup of tea.”


Author’s notes

This is my attempt at a mystery, and naturally I wanted to include a dash of chemistry. Poison seemed a little obvious, but I’ve always liked the story of the disappearing gallium spoons (I also wonder if perhaps this is the secret behind certain spoon-bending “psychics”?) Mr Ekal’s name, by the way, is a little nod to Mendeleev – the scientist who developed the periodic table. He predicted the existence of the as-yet undiscovered gallium, and named it eka-aluminium.

© Kat Day 2017