Doris rubbed the bridge of her nose and mentally estimated the time remaining before she could go home and maybe get some sleep. Her head felt like somebody had used it for a tetherball, and frankly, the sun shining through the window onto her desk made her want to either arrest or shoot something. Couldn’t though. Being chief of police meant you had to act responsibly and not give way to minor irritations. Though with the way her head felt, minor irritations like glare from a desktop were enough to drive her nuts.
She heard the door to the police squad room open, and then, after a pause of about twenty seconds, close. She leaned forward to look around the filing cabinet that blocked her direct view of the door, and spotted Hugh Scholander, a sixth grade teacher at Toledo Junior High. Hugh was generally a bit to the shy side of nervous, and today looked to be one of his poorer days, Doris reflected. She tried to catalog his expression and finally decided it hovered between indignant and appalled, with a faint touch of worried. She chalked it up to remember since she doubted she’d ever come across anything quite like it again.
“Afternoon, Hugh.” Doris kept her voice neutral; Hugh got agitated with very little prompting.
“Ah, yes. Doris… I…” The silence would have stunned casual on-lookers, had there been any. It reeked of a grade-B mayhem flick. Amazingly, it was Hugh who broke it, rather than Doris. “You gotta stop them. I can’t take it any more. I just can’t,” he blurted. Doris winced as Hugh’s nasal tenor hit higher and higher notes on its way to minor grade shriek.
“Okay, got it. We’ll stop them. Calm down now. Have yourself a seat and you can give me enough information to get started doing something. Let me get you some coffee.”
“Decaf by all means.” Doris tried hard to remember if any of the coffee that had ever been put through this particular coffee maker had ever been decaf. She didn’t think so. She poured herself a cup and then got one for Hugh, thought about it, and then added some hot water. Maybe diluting it would be a good idea.
“So, here we go. Now what’s going on, Hugh? Can’t be anything to do with school since school’s out for the summer, so I’m lost. Who or what is after you?”
“I don’t know, but they keep sending me stuff . I’ve gotten five of them now and if I get any more, I think I’ll have a stroke. I can’t take the pressure. I can’t sleep…”
Doris raised an eyebrow and held up a hand, placatingly. “Slowly… slowly… we got time. Whatever it is, we can at least slow down long enough for the coffee to make us sick. Okay?” Hugh took a shuddering, deep breath and drank some of the coffee. His expression quickly changed to 100% appalled, but Doris had more or less expected that. Counted on it, really. Anything that bitter demanded someone’s complete attention, once it sank in.
“Sending you what?”
“Bbboo… oks. I keep getting these books.”
Doris’s expression didn’t change, which was remarkable, because she really wanted to ring Hugh’s neck. She rather doubted this qualified as a police matter. She also doubted that Hugh still had both oars in the water. “Books. Like in… what? Book of the Month Club? Time-Life? That sort of thing?”
Hugh’s sad, brown eyes watered as he peered into his cup; he didn’t look as if he believed that it contained coffee. Technically, that is. But he recovered himself after a moment and answered, his voice now at least in a more nearly normal human range. “Yes. I mean no. I mean… oh hell, Doris, I don’t know what I mean.”
“Are you getting Book of the Month Club books? Stuff you didn’t order? Is that all this is? Because, if it is, Hugh, I can’t do anything about it—you have to handle that sort of debt problem on your own. The Toledo Police department can’t do a thing to help you.” Doris reined in her exasperation and forced herself to take a sip of coffee. It worked on her as well as it did on Hugh.
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