Scatology Act

By John Lane All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Other

The Shit List

It’s all crap…

(Thyroid’s personal assessment, of many things)



Thyroid examined the list of names Henry had handed to him during their meeting. How would he go about approaching these people? It wasn’t a subject most people would be happy to talk about, let alone be reminded of. He knew he’d want to forget about it pretty sharpish.

Thyroid was sitting on the steps of the main city library, facing the small spire of the clock tower sitting at the centre of the fountain in the middle of the square. The remains of a ham sandwich and a can of diet Pepsi nestled between his feet. He lit a cigarette and watched the lunchtime procession of office workers, students, shoppers and a few cloaked lawyers from the nearby courts. There were others sharing the shallow curved steps with him, a popular place for people on their breaks, at least when it wasn’t raining. A group of young school children and a harassed teacher shambled to a stop outside the pillared entrance to the art and history museum, just left of the fountain from Thyroid’s point of view.

He couldn’t remember how many times he had been inside those walls, both as a child and as an adult. Even when the displays had seemed to be as dull and changeless as it was possible to get – his uncle used to joke that the museum’s showpieces were so old they belonged in a museum – Thyroid had still gone in there, that old mausoleum of the past, its outer walls dark and grimy then, before the stonework had been scrubbed to its present beige, fleshy tone. The cool, quiet atmosphere of the building let him think without distractions. Thyroid also liked the fact that it was still a place you could enjoy for free, even though he usually made the voluntary contribution whenever he went inside. Thyroid remembered how in awe he had been when his mother had taken him along that first time to see the big model tyrannosaurus rex; he must have been around seven at the time. Later, as a teenager, the place had gone downhill, with nothing new or exciting to look at, or that’s the way it had seemed to him at the time anyway. Sure, there were a few favourite pictures he never tired of looking at, but he always expected more somehow. Things were different now; the museum had been extended and now showcased the work of local artists and put on special, temporary exhibitions. He had particularly enjoyed a recent celebration of Bollywood, even if it had been rather a small celebration for what was such a massive, long-lived movie industry.

A couple of German tourists, both young women, dressed in sturdy looking clothes, brushed past him as they headed down the steps, laughing. They were heading for the museum. Thyroid thought Birmingham was an odd place to find tourists; apart from the museum, a tenuous motive at best, the only other attraction he could think of was the Cadbury World chocolate factory tour. Or Iron Bridge at a push. Neither was that appealing. He was sure he had heard that Kojak, Telly Savalas, had once done a promotional ad for Birmingham, calling the city his “kinda town” or something equally implausible. He doubted the two German girls had seen it. They were probably here to study, he decided.

Thyroid turned his attention back to the list in his hand. He was letting his mind wander. He briefly entertained the idea of entering the museum but knew he had a job to do. He couldn’t just sit there thinking about shit. He exhaled heavily. Actually, shit, it appeared, was exactly what he should be thinking about; the real kind, too. No wonder Henry had made that comment about the story being up his alley, an unusually crude joke for the generally proper editor. There were six names on the list, all apparently victims of a substance that had caused them to evacuate in a shockingly terrible manner. The doctors that Thyroid had spoken to had ruled out food poisoning or a virus. If it had been a bug, they had said, there would have been more victims and in a tighter area parameter. As it was, all the victims had been struck down in very different parts of the city. In each case, the doctors had assured him, someone had administered these unfortunates with a powerful laxative compound, traces of which were found in all the blood samples taken for analysis.

Thyroid rested his elbow on his knee and put his face in his hand. Why, he wondered, would anyone want to go around randomly selecting people to make them shit themselves? What kind of rationale lay behind an act like that? A pretty fucked up, twisted rationale, he concluded with no real satisfaction. More to the point, why would Henry make Thyroid cover the story? The paper, which Henry was pleased to regard as Birmingham’s daily answer to Time, didn’t usually go in for the sensational; that was left to the tabloids. Besides, surely it was still a police matter. When he had raised the point, Henry smiled and told him that the police could always do with a little help and, besides, they were busy slapping fines on spitters and gum-chewers. Thyroid imagined that Henry’s source, someone fairly high up and probably a personal friend, had passed the story on to Henry as a favour. It would be making its way into the mainstream press soon anyway. Maybe Henry’s friend wanted to give him a head-start on everyone else with the information. The deal was that Thyroid would share anything he found out with the source so that they could catch whoever was responsible, while at the same time Henry made a bit of money with the scoop. A poop scoop, Henry had called it, affecting a sort of naughty schoolboy grin. It all sounded fairly dubious to Thyroid but, since Henry was prepared to pay a nice big extra on top of his usual take-home and Thyroid himself needed something other than smoking weed and pretending to write a novel to occupy his mind these days, he had accepted the assignment.

He picked up the rest of his sandwich and demolished it in two straight bites, squashing the soggy lump into his mouth and swallowing the wet bolus in three or four gulps, washing it down with the last, flat dregs of the Pepsi. He stuffed the list into his pocket, collected his rubbish from the floor, slung his bag over his shoulder and made his way down the library steps. No more prevarication, he thought; it was time to start putting arses to names.


*


Broughton Road, in the Yardley area, was a long, attractive suburban row of handsome houses and wide front gardens in a comfortable middle class neighbourhood. The gardens were mostly divided by gravel driveways and the houses all appeared to have bay windows as a matter of course. Thyroid pulled up outside number 20, where two cars, a black Ford Mondeo and a red Nissan Micra, were already parked side by side in front of the closed door of a garage. The house was a semi-semi-detached red-brick, separated from the house to its right, a mirror image in design, by the garage – so it may as well have been fully detached for all the noise interference the semi-semi-separation must have done away with – and joined, completely, to the house to its left. Thyroid saw that the rest of the road followed the same pattern. Both upstairs and downstairs boasted large, curved bay windows set into clean white frames, the upper panes broken into a grid pattern. A smaller, more angular window jutted slightly from the area above the arch of the front door. A decent patch of lawn stretched from the base of the wall beneath the lower window to the waist high hedge sitting where the property met the pavement. Thyroid felt a sudden, unaccountable pang of envy.

He emerged from his Cooper and pointed his key-ring at the small car. With a comical, high-pitched double woop, the doors of the Mini locked shut. Thyroid took a deep breath to get in the right state of mind; it had been a long time since he had interviewed an ordinary member of the public, and then it had been for reasons far more enjoyable than his present task – nowadays, for all the time he spent commenting on society, he never really got out and spoke to it. He walked up to the door and rang the bell. He was surprised when it began to chime, quite loudly, the theme tune to Coronation Street. Surprisingly, the unexpected but familiar melody helped him relax. A dark haired, attractive woman in her early thirties opened the door and eyed Thyroid up and down with considerable suspicion. Her eyes, which seemed almost black in colour, narrowed. ‘Yes?’ she enquired testily, her lips pursed. He noticed that the woman applied her make-up carefully and professionally.

He cleared his throat. ‘Mrs. Fitzlaurel?’ The woman nodded curtly. ‘Ah. Good. I wondered if it would be alright to speak to your husband, Peter. It’s about the… um… the incident… a few weeks ago… when… when your husband, ah…’

‘Are you the police?’ Mrs. Fitzlaurel managed to convey the impression that even if he were the police, she was still going to be a long way from being pleased about it.

‘No. I…’

‘Then I don’t see why my husband needs to speak to you,’ she interrupted firmly.

‘Of course,’ said Thyroid, meaning it. ‘I know how difficult this must be. Let me just explain. I’m a journalist. Not exactly a reporter, mind, but I do write the odd piece for The Contemporary.’ He showed her his ID. ‘So you don’t have to worry about Peter being splattered all over a front page.’

The woman was fixing him with an icy glare. ‘Is that supposed to be some sort of joke?’

‘What?’ Thyroid looked puzzled for a moment until he realised how that must have sounded. ‘God, no. Sorry, I guess that did sound a bit… Anyway, as I was saying, this is me.’ He passed her his ID and tapped the photo. ‘Christopher Bolton. Please, honestly, I’m not here to cash in on your misfortune. I’d just like some information. To help me find out what’s been going on this city.’

Mrs. Fitzlaurel regarded him in silence for a few moments, clearly working his words out in her mind. ‘So,’ she said after a while, ‘you mean there have been others? Peter was not the only one?’

Oh very well done, Thyroid, he thought, very professional. He shrugged. ‘A few,’ he replied. ‘Look, can I come in and talk. I promise you, I’m not from the Sun or anything.’

The woman gave him another once over and finally seemed to come to a decision. ‘Right,’ she said. ‘Come on in, then.’

Thyroid followed her through the hallway and into a spacious living room that was about the same size as Thyroid’s living room, bedroom and kitchen put together, give or take an ounce of exaggeration. A large, luxuriously comfortable sofa sat against the wall between the doorway they had come through and the interior of the bay window he had subconsciously been coveting outside. A flat-screen television stood regally in the corner. Between the sofa and the authentic-effect fireplace, which glowed gently beneath a massive, spotless mirror, was a low glass-topped table, its surface currently home to a few cups resting on cork coasters and a motorbike magazine. The other half of the room, which lay to the other side of the doorway and looked out from two big glass doors onto a wide, green garden at the back of the house, contained a wall unit packed with books and photograph albums and a heavy wooden dining-table ringed by six matching chairs. At the centre of the table was a bowl of fresh fruit. Thyroid had long ago stopped buying fruit when he realised that all he ever did with the stuff was throw it in the rubbish when it started to sprout fungus. Used to the absence of any cohesion in his own apartment, Thyroid could only marvel at the precise tidiness and lack of clutter he witnessed on display in the Fitzlaurel household.

‘Take a seat,’ said Mrs. Fitzlaurel, indicating a large brown armchair that also played a part in divvying up the two sections of the room. ‘I’ll get Peter.’

‘Thanks,’ said Thyroid, settling into the chair with a rubbery squeak. He smiled to himself and wondered if he’d ever be invited to rest in a chair that didn’t make a noise whenever he sat in it. A few moments later, Mrs. Fitzlaurel returned, with her husband Peter by her side. Thyroid stood up to offer his hand.

‘Mr. Bolton,’ said Peter, shaking Thyroid’s hand briskly.

‘Call me Chris,’ said Thyroid, happy for the chance to be addressed by his own name again.

‘Whatever you say, Chris,’ said Peter Fitzlaurel, gesturing that Thyroid should take his seat again, while he himself perched on the end of the sofa. ‘I’ve read some of your stuff.’

‘Oh? Did you like it?’ Jesus, he thought, fishing for compliments? How sad was that?

‘It was alright, I suppose,’ Peter answered noncommittally. ‘Fiona buys your paper a couple of times a week. She usually leaves it in the bog, so I flick through it most mornings.’

Serves you right for asking, thought Thyroid, mentally rolling his eyeballs. ‘I can’t think of a better compliment,’ he said.

Peter settled back into the sofa and laughed, obviously very much at ease. ‘Glad to see you don’t take yourself too seriously,’ he said. If only you knew, Thyroid was thinking.

‘I’ll make some tea,’ said Fiona. ‘Would you like some?’ she asked Thyroid.

‘Great, yeah. Lovely.’

Fiona went off to the kitchen, leaving the two men alone for the moment. Thyroid took a minute to inspect Peter Fitzlaurel. He looked some years older than his wife, maybe in his mid- to late forties, with a strong build and an air of self-assuredness. His head was shaved and skull-like and a pronounced brow shaded his pale blue eyes. He was wearing a tight green t-shirt which showed off his muscular arms and torso. Thyroid noticed a regimental tattoo poking out from beneath the right sleeve. ‘You were in the army?’ Thyroid enquired, pointing at the tattoo.

Peter rolled his sleeve up over his shoulder to show Thyroid the full tattoo, a rose-draped dagger on a shield background, the name of a platoon written on a scrolled ribbon beneath it. ‘I was in the TA for a few years,’ he said. ‘It was a good laugh. Good people.’

‘And what do you do now?’

‘I’m an engineer. At the airport.’

‘Nice job?’

‘Pretty good. The money’s good at any rate.’

‘And your wife, Fiona?’

‘She works in a bank. Ah, down to business, eh?’ he said as Thyroid took out a pen and a small notebook.

‘Why beat about the bush?’ said Thyroid, calculating that Peter would probably appreciate a more direct approach. ‘Start by telling me what you were doing the night you… um… that night.’

Peter leant forward, interlocking his fingers. He didn’t seem uncomfortable talking about it. ‘We were in town, having a pizza.’ He snorted, a wry grin on his face. ‘Luckily it wasn’t a place where anyone knew us. That really would have pissed me off.’ Thyroid nodded. ‘Well, it was just like any other night,’ he went on. ‘I had my usual, ham and pineapple with chips and pecan pie for dessert.’ He watched Thyroid scribble in his notebook. ‘Fiona had the same. That’s how we guessed it wasn’t the food, anyhow,’ he said, leaning forward a little further. ‘The doctor confirmed that. Lucky for the management, otherwise I’d have gone back round there and beat the shit out of them.’ Thyroid didn’t doubt it as he watched Peter fall back again and pinch his nose with a force that made Thyroid’s eyes water.

‘We’d just finished paying and were walking out when I suddenly felt this horrible fucking pain in my stomach, you know, like someone had stuck a knife in there or summat. I swear, I never felt anything like that before. Never. Next thing I know, shit comes pouring out my arse and I’m down on the ground screaming like a baby. I mean, it really fucking hurt. Fiona didn’t have a clue what was happening. Anyway, she called an ambulance and they carted me off, cleaned me up and checked me out. Said some silly wanker put something in my grub, probably as a practical joke. The police spoke to the staff at the pizza place but they seemed pretty satisfied that it hadn’t been any of them that did it. Said it must have been another customer.’ Peter shook his head incredulously. ‘What sort of sick twat goes around doing that to people I do not know.’

As if she had calculated exactly how long it would take her husband to tell his story, Fiona returned to the living room bearing a tray. Peter moved the cups and the magazine occupying the table to one side to make room. Fiona smiled at her husband. ‘Milk and sugar?’ she asked Thyroid.

‘One sugar, no milk,’ he responded. He watched her stir. ‘Thanks,’ he said when she handed him the cup. There was a picture of the Rovers Return on it. ‘Who’s the fan?’ Thyroid asked.

‘Guilty,’ replied Fiona with a self-deprecating smile.

There were no ashtrays about the room and the air smelled very clean so Thyroid didn’t bother asking if he could smoke. ‘So,’ he said instead, ‘you can’t think of anyone who might have actually wanted to do this to you?’

Peter shook his head. ‘No. I mean, of course there are people I don’t get on with, but I wouldn’t say anyone felt so strongly they’d want to fuck me up like that. I was down for a few days after it, you know, because I was like physically drained. I was drained. Believe me, I’m not joking when I say it takes a lot out of you.’ Fiona was sitting on the arm of the sofa, drawing patterns on Peter’s scalp. ‘No,’ he repeated. ‘I don’t know anyone with that kind of grudge against me. I reckon it must have been random.’

‘You think so?’

‘Yeah. Some tit getting a kick out of humiliating strangers. It’s not right.’ He almost shouted the last. Thyroid thought he seemed more angry than humiliated and wondered what kind of psychological effect such an event would have on someone with a more fragile sense of self than Peter unquestionably possessed. ‘Whoever it is,’ he continued, ‘he’s got it coming to him.’ He sounded absolutely certain of that. ‘If there’s a natural order, and I say there is, he’s in for a fall and he’d better hope I’m not around when he does.’

‘Assuming it is a he,’ said Fiona.

‘Whoever it is,’ Peter reaffirmed, ‘bloke or bird; they’ll get theirs.’

Thyroid chewed on his pen for a moment, thinking. ‘What about God, Peter? Are you a believer?’

‘I am,’ he replied, his voice on the edge of defiance, as though sensing he were about to be mocked for his beliefs. ‘Why?’

Thyroid shrugged. ‘Dunno,’ he said truthfully. ‘Could be a motive. I mean, I know almost anything could be at this stage, but still. Maybe the person who did this hates Christians or something. Maybe they think religion is shit so they go around making the religious do just that. Maybe they thought they were helping you to truly express your soul.’ Peter appeared furious at the words but Fiona put her arm around him and the fire rapidly subsided. For a moment Thyroid was pleased with his line of reasoning. It’s probably not that simple, he conceded, but it’s how you should be thinking. ‘Do you go to church? It could have been someone who saw you there.’

‘I go to the church around the corner sometimes, but I don’t think it would be anyone else from the congregation. I know most of them pretty well.’

‘It wouldn’t necessarily be a member of the church,’ Thyroid explained. ‘It could have been someone outside, observing the people going in and out.’ He turned to Fiona. ‘And what about you?’

‘No, I’m not a believer and I don’t go with Peter to the church. I’ll reserve my judgement until I see some evidence,’ she said.

Thyroid looked from one to the other. ‘But you’re obviously both fairly harmonious about your differences, I see.’

‘Sure,’ said Peter.

‘Why wouldn’t we be?’ Fiona quizzed Thyroid. ‘We do have the occasional healthy discussion…’

‘Argument, you mean,’ Peter interrupted her with a grin. He got a slap on the shoulder for his troubles.

‘OK,’ said Fiona, ‘I admit it. Sometimes I’ll get a bit over excited. I suppose I’m too passionately logical when it comes to religion. Anyway, we love each other enough to respect what each of us believes.’

‘Okay,’ said Thyroid, changing tack. ‘What about political affiliations, Peter? Are you actively political, you know, like involved with some sort of ideological movement?’

Peter shook his head again. ‘I’m a member of the union at work and I vote whenever I have to but that’s about as active as I get. It’s all a big waste of time, if you ask me.’

‘You’ll get no arguments from me on that one,’ said Thyroid, finishing off his tea. ‘Okay, I reckon I have enough to get on with.’ He started to get up and gather his belongings. The Fitzlaurels got to their feet as well. ‘Thank you for speaking to me,’ he told them.

‘A pleasure,’ said Peter. ‘Maybe I’ll start reading you in the living room from now on.’

Thyroid winked. ‘Don’t go changing on my account,’ he said. He became serious for a moment. ‘I really am glad to have met you both,’ he said. Despite the fact that the couple’s easy intimacy and apparent harmony had stirred some long-repressed emotions in Thyroid, there was something about them that made him feel unusually hopeful about the subject of love, a subject he had worked hard at ignoring for a while now. He decided he would have to ponder on the implications of these feelings later. For now, however… ‘And I’m glad to see that you’re bigger than all of this, Peter. People have gone off the rails for a whole lot less.’

‘Will you let us know if you find anything out?’ Fiona asked.

‘I don’t know if I am going to find anything out,’ he said apologetically. ‘Frankly, this isn’t my usual area of expertise, but, if I do, I will be in touch, although I won’t be able to give you any names, you understand.’

‘Of course,’ said Peter, extending a hand. Thyroid shook it warmly.

Fiona showed him to the door, where they shook hands, too, and watched him as he got back into his car and drove off with a quick wave goodbye. She shut the door.


*


It was after midnight when Thyroid finally kicked off his shoes and lay down on his own sofa once more, his legs dangling over the arm. He grabbed a cushion and stuffed it under his neck, wriggling about until he was comfortable. He reached into his bag, which was on the floor beside him, and found his notebook.

Thyroid had visited two of the other names on his list after leaving the Fitzlaurels. The first of those was a Miss Annabel Rogers, a twenty-three year old shop assistant who lived and worked in Acocks Green. The girl had not been very talkative. She had let him in but had not offered tea or coffee; she had just sat there staring at the wall, still badly shaken up by the shameful ordeal that had befallen her. Miss Rogers had mumbled a few responses to Thyroid’s questions while all the time fiddling with her unwashed hair or playing with the golden cross around her neck. When he had asked her if the cross held any special significance for her, the girl had nodded but did not elaborate any further. He saw her experience had left her worn, bedraggled and thoroughly dejected. It was perfectly understandable. Her nightmare had taken place in a wine bar in town. She had been enjoying the attention of an interested young man while her friends looked on when her insides had erupted.

Annabel’s mother, a small, sparrow-like woman in her late fifties, was in the distraught girl’s flat when Thyroid arrived. She had mostly kept out of the way but when Thyroid had finished with her daughter, Mrs. Rogers had approached him, whispering to him in a contradictory state somewhere between genuine compassion and morbid pleasure that Annabel had apparently been wearing a g-string and a light, silky mini-skirt at the time. She had then leaned in closer to Thyroid’s ear to tell him that this had caused her “you know what” to spray over several other people in the bar who happened to have had the misfortune to be sitting nearby, including two of her girlfriends and the amorous young man. Annabel had been inconsolable ever since, but her mother was sure she would be back to her old self soon enough, God willing.

The next call was a man by the name of Paul Verde. Verde had been in a constant rage since the attack and was only too eager to vent his spleen to a willing listener. He was small but thickset and looked like a stocky grizzly bear with his fat fuzzy beard and wild tumbleweed mop. His arms were covered by shaggy rugs of black hair and his chest by a carpet of the stuff; the deep shag spilling out from his half-undone shirt gave him the appearance of a werewolf midway through its lunar transformation. He had paced up and down continually while he told his story and Thyroid plied him with questions.

Verde was a poet – an angry one, even before the attack – but mostly earned a living as a freelance trouble-shooter for various organisations which, as a rule, revolved around some worthy cause or other but which were also generally beset by problems of hierarchical and structural squabbling. Verde’s function was to put people in their place and remind them of their duties. At the moment, he was involved with a group that should have been fighting for disabled rights but were instead busy fighting each other. Although his manner was gruff and direct – and he certainly had a right to be, all things considered – Paul Verde was a man for whom justice and equality were paramount.

He had been in a pub when, as he put it, fate dealt him a literally shitty hand. He had not long ago finished a double ploughman’s lunch with extra cream-crackers (the poet had insisted, with what Thyroid considered disproportionate vehemence, that cream-crackers were the finest food a man could eat, “simple and unpretentious”, and that this ugly, sorry business would in no way diminish his love for “nature’s honest savoury biscuit”, in case Thyroid had been wondering). It also turned out that Verde was not religious; in fact, he abhorred religious faith as barbarism. Thyroid had silently cursed at this news; it meant he’d had to give up his first theory almost immediately, with nothing much to put in its place. When it became clear that the poet had nothing more to say, or rather shout, about his experience – other than what he would do to the bastard if ever got his hands on him – Thyroid had left his apartment and drove out of Edgbaston and back home. Thankfully Verde had been a smoker, so Thyroid was able to light up, too, as he listened to one diatribe after another during the interview, although even he had found it difficult to keep up; the poet was a serious chain-smoker and only seemed to stop when he needed to wet his throat with neat vodka (Thyroid had declined the offer to join him) or breathe every now and then.

Thyroid let his eyes wander over the notes he had made throughout the afternoon, trying to find even a tenuous connection between the victims he had spoken to so far. There wasn’t one. He threw the notebook down to the other end of the sofa where it bounced off his knee and landed somewhere beyond his vision. He lit a cigarette. Tomorrow he would check out the other remaining names and maybe they would be able to shed a glimmer of light on what the bigger picture might be, though he didn’t hold out much hope. He took a long, deep drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke out in broken, ragged rings. He laughed humourlessly. Who was he trying to fool? A bigger picture? Some weirdo going around making people cack themselves… it was nuts. He couldn’t figure out why Henry thought he’d be able to handle this. It might have been a dig, or some non-too-subtle hint; Thyroid’s articles, as Gary was always fond of pointing out, were normally just variations on the theme of society being a pile of shit, and perhaps Henry agreed. Society and shit, he mused; maybe the nutter was trying to make the same point, albeit infinitely more expressly than Thyroid ever had.

He jumped when the phone started to ring but was grateful for the distraction. ‘Yes?’ he asked.

‘Hello Christopher. Sorry to call you so late but it’s Henry here.’

‘Henry. What can I do for you?’

‘Thing is, source tells me that an official statement is going to be made soon and, well, I realise you haven’t had much time, but I’m going to need you to knock something out for next Wednesday. Obviously, you don’t need to worry about getting to the bottom of this mystery – no pun intended – just as long as we get it in print before some other bugger does.’

Thyroid blew his cheeks out. ‘Wednesday,’ he said tonelessly.

‘Come on, Christopher, it’s nothing to fret about.’

Thyroid had always hated that kind of assumption. ‘I’m not fretting, Henry,’ he replied tetchily. ‘I’m thinking.’

‘Thinking? Ah, well, that’s good. Very good. You keep thinking. Listen, I have every faith in your ability to extemporise. Just come up with a working theory, a possible reason; it doesn’t have to be the right one at this stage of the game. You’ve spoken to the people on the list I gave you?’

‘Half of them, yes. I’ll do the others tomorrow.’

‘Excellent. Any leads?’

‘Not really, Henry.’

‘Ah. A pity. But never mind; like I say, nothing wrong with a good hunk of speculation when nobody else knows anything either, eh?’

‘I suppose not. Okay, Henry. You’ll have a piece on your desk by Tuesday afternoon.’

‘Marvellous,’ said Henry, sounding pleased. ‘Circulation’s been dropping a bit lately. Story like this might just ensure a merry Christmas for everyone this year.’

So that’s why we’re covering this, thought Thyroid. Sales are down. ‘Well, we all love Christmas,’ said Thyroid, deadpan.

‘Right,’ said Henry after a pause. ‘We’ll leave it at that then. Tuesday afternoon.’

‘Tuesday,’ confirmed Thyroid.

‘Thanks Christopher. Goodnight now.’

‘Goodnight Henry. See you soon.’ He put the phone down and scratched his head. He hadn’t expected to have to write anything so soon. Still, that was his job and, in terms of sales at least, Henry was counting on him. Thyroid didn’t like to disappoint the man who to some degree had become a prominent father-figure in his life.

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