Friday, December 3, 2010

Short Fiction: I've Come for the Mail

 When he said, "I've come for the mail," it was in a plain voice, deeper than average, but certainly not so deep as to be described as baritone or bass.  Nevertheless, one doesn't expect to hear a voice so deep from a man so skinny as the one who walked into the Torytown, Ohio post office, and Rita Yoring was obliged to give the visitor a more thorough look-over.  He was indeed thin, barely the proverbial skin and bones.  He was wearing spectacles, which until that very minute Rita always believed to be another term for eyeglasses, rather than a distinct object, but there was no mistaking it: these were indeed spectacles.  They had to be.  He wore a business suit, not a flashy one, but it had certainly been tailored to fit, and he had a fedora pulled down over the tops of his ears.

"Do you have a PO box?" Rita asked.

The visitor sighed.  "No box," he replied, rubbing his forehead between the bridge of his spectacles and the rim of his hat.  "But I represent an organization whose mail you're holding.  I've come to collect it and provide a permanent forwarding address."

"All right," Rita said.  "I can check in back, long as you've got proof."  She punctuated this with a wide grin.  "Who are you with, Sugar?"

Again, the visitor sighed.  Rather than answer, he set a leather briefcase on the desk and undid the clasps.  Then, without a word, he handed over a document.

Rita continued smiling politely, since one of them ought to behave politely, and looked at the form.  She skimmed the top until she found the name of the visitor's company.  She found it and read the name.  Then she read it again.  And a third time.

"Ma'am," the visitor said abruptly.  "If it's not too much trouble, I am in something of a hurry."

The woman laughed.  "This a joke, Honey?"

"It is not," the visitor replied, making eye contact so as to remove any doubt.  "I'm here for the North Pole's mail."

The woman laughed again.  "I'll, ah, I'll need to run this by George.  He's the--"

"The manager," the visitor cut her off.  "Please do."

Rita vanished behind a door, giving the visitor another amused look on her way.  To his credit, the visitor restrained himself from rolling his eyes until she was gone.  There were two people in line behind him, a middle-aged woman trying not to laugh and an older man, who just looked annoyed he had to wait.

Rita emerged, along with a man the visitor assumed was George.  George cleared his throat and stared directly at the visitor.  He didn't say a word and didn't seem happy.  Clearly he wasn't going to begin this conversation, so the visitor said, "I assume your clerk explained the situation."

The manager crossed his arms.  "All right.  What's this about?"

"As I already explained, I represent an organization which has reason to believe you may be holding some of its mail."

"And just what gave you that idea?"  He tipped his head forward, so he could glare from beneath his eyebrows.  Perhaps he thought it made him appear intimidating.

"It's our understanding that the vast majority, if not every one, of the post offices in the state of Ohio are currently holding at least some of our mail."

"I'd say every PO in the US of A has a few letters addressed to Santa Claus," the manager replied.  "Must be all those kids."  There was no discernible humor in his voice, and the visitor certainly didn't seem like he was liable to burst into laughter.  Rita and the woman in line, on the other hand, were turning bright red.  Even the older gentleman at the back of the line was amused.

"If you'll consult the documentation I've provided, you'll find everything in order.  We're a very old not-for-profit organization which has recently applied for tax-exempt status with the IRS.  You'll find details about our pending status, as well as legal permission to operate.  There's no reason to draw this out."

Now George did laugh, or at least chuckle, although there was nothing remotely warm or friendly about it.  "That so.  I can think of a few reasons.  You could spend a lot of time behind bars for this prank, son.  So maybe you should give it some thought before you keep wasting my time."

The visitor straightened his tie.  "I know chapter 63 of Title 18 by heart, and I assure you I'm in perfect compliance.  And, frankly, I'd appreciate if you addressed me in a professional manner.  The organization I represent is the same as any other.  We only want our mail."

"Maybe you should just give him the letters," the man in the back of the line suggested.  "I mean, it's not like they're valuable."

George leaned around the visitor, as though he wasn't there.  "Jeff, all due respect, that'd be like giving out the addresses of half the kids in town."  The man in the back of the line shut up, and George turned his attention back to the visitor.  "Besides, we were going to ship those letters to New York.  They got a North Pole there, as well."

"I'm aware of the town," the visitor said, growing irritated.  "We've filed for legal action again the township.  Under Title 18, chapter 63.  Of course.  But that's irrelevant.  I represent the actual organization that mail is addressed to, and as such, have a right to take possession.”

“I don't care what that paper says.  Unless you've come in sleigh driven by eight magic reindeer, you're not getting near those letters."

The visitor clenched his teeth.  "I came in a van.  And I must insist."

"Look, I don't know what you're getting at, but I'm about five seconds away from calling the cops."  George held up his hand, all five fingers extended.  The first dropped.

The visitor looked upset.  Beneath his breath, he muttered, "Eight years.  Eight years of law school,” and two more fingers fell.  "Fine!  Fine!"  His hand moved in a blur, faster than George, Rita, or either of the customers could see.  All of them had stepped back instinctively.  The visitor was no longer upset or even angry: he was furious.

And then, in a single motion, the hat came off in his hand.  He clenched it in his fist.  "Are you happy?" he demanded, practically shoving his head into George's face.  "Are you happy now?"

The four people in the post office just stared in disbelief.  The visitor shut his eyes, took three deep breaths, and returned the hat to his head.  When he opened his eyes, they were still staring.  He grabbed his form from Rita's hand, and she made no move to stop him.  When he spoke again, his tone had returned to its previous level, though his voice shook the slightest bit.

"I'll take the mail when you're ready, and I'd like to leave a forwarding address so we never need to go through this again."

Rita stuttered, "You mean... an address... at the North--"

"In eastern Illinois," the visitor said, snidely.  "It's a regional distribution center we're setting up, since mail sent to the actual street address of our corporate headquarters hasn't been getting through."

"Oh," Rita said.  "Yeah.  I'll... I'll go get the mail from the back.  Right?"

"Right," George agreed, still staring at the visitor.  "I can take your address."  The visitor pulled out another form from his briefcase, already filled out.  As he did so, George observed, "You've got a lot of forms in there."

"Yes," the visitor replied curtly.  "I have a few more stops after this one."

When he'd been given the mail, amounting to two full boxes, George followed him out to his van.  "Look, pal... I'm sorry I had to insist, but...."

"You were looking out for the children in your town," the visitor said, balancing the boxes on the bumper while he unlocked and opened the back.  "As a representative of an organization looking to promote and improve the welfare of children, I don't begrudge that."  He adjusted his spectacles, while he pushed the boxes of mail in up against two dozen others.  "I'd just like to get through one stop this week without having to remove the hat," he whispered.

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