I didn’t get much sleep that night.
I’m being generous. I didn’t get any sleep that night. I didn’t do the traditional thing of tossing and turning. I just lay in my bed, poker straight, staring into the dark. It was like I didn’t want to sleep, and wouldn’t want to even if I could. I kept thinking about the old man.
The old man that wasn’t that old.
I’d given up on trying to recollect the hours I’d forgotten. They were lost now, that much I understood. But there was something in that exchange, there had to be. Some sort of clue. Something to show us how and when, maybe even why, that time was taken from us.
The old man. At first I thought he was unsettling because of how he spoke. How he seemed to not understand our answers or be able to follow the conversation. But now…his face. His face wasn’t right. His skin was taut, youthful, healthy looking. His hair was a solid mass of black. He was tall and, in his trendy suit, he cut a broad, toned figure. There was nothing to suggest he was old at all. But I’d been so sure of it. Maybe it was his slow, deliberate walk. Or maybe it was his shadowy eyes. Or maybe it was that he looked too youthful. Too artificial. Studied. Like he was an old man masquerading as something young.
I was pissed at myself for not getting his name. I was pissed at myself for not pressing him further. A man doesn’t just walk into an office by accident. He came for something and it seemed as though he didn’t get it.
Chaim Woodbine and Bethan Hardy.
Who or what did he want with them?
If they were his friends, why didn’t he ask for a forwarding address? If he was a client, why didn’t he ask for their replacements? He seemed sure that he’d gleamed all the information he needed from Ward and I. Had he come to make sure they were no longer there? Was he some kind of…hitman?
By the time first light streamed through my window, I had completely given in to the idea that the old man was an FBI agent undercover, who’s sole mission was to seek and destroy Woodbine and Hardy, who had used Ward and I to get information and then made us forget, Men in Black style. It wasn’t entirely implausible. But what had he possibly gathered from three hours of us seemingly going about our daily routine?
The next day was probably the most haggard I’d ever looked at work. I waited semi anxiously, semi excitedly for Ward to walk through the foyer so that I could tell him my theory.
But he never did. From my desk I could see shadows moving about in the post room. At times the door would swing open as someone else left or entered, and I would hear his muffled tones. By mid afternoon, I had figured out that he was avoiding me.
I could see where he was coming from. I was his only real link to the bizarre and random events of the day before. Avoid me and he could avoid it. But that didn’t suit my needs at all. I’m a talker. I need to talk things through. I’ve got an overactive imagination and the only time I can quiet it is when I’m talking, when someone else is talking to me and making sense.
So I opened my draw, chose a random item of stationery and shoved it in an envelope addressed to me. Totally out of company guidelines, but so was a weird man erasing my memories. That’s how I justified it anyway.
I called the post room. Much like I expected, it wasn’t Ward that picked up.
‘Hello, Post Room.’
‘Hi, I have a courier to go down.’
Ward’s supervisor, Mike, groaned.
‘I’ll be out in a second.’
I rolled my eyes at the hiccup in my plan but I was not disheartened. As soon as he took the parcel, I created another one.
‘Hi, I have a courier to go down.’
‘Another one?’ Ward’s desk mate, Fletcher, asked.
‘You know what the secretaries are like. Any excuse.’
He came out and took the package. So I made a third.
I called the post room. No one picked up. When the line cut off, I called again. No answer. I was calling a third time, when the phone was abruptly answered. There was a pause. And then Ward’s exasperated voice.
‘I have a courier to go down.’
‘I know what you’re doing.’ He said, quietly.
‘I’m trying to get a courier sent down.’ I replied, firmly.
There was another pause and then Ward sighed deeply and hung up the phone. An agonizing minute later, he stepped into the foyer.
He did not look haggard, like I did. More rugged, if anything. Like the stubble was a style choice rather then a drowsy oversight. If I hadn’t been up the night before myself, I wouldn’t have guessed he had.
‘Where’s this parcel then?’ He asked. He wouldn’t meet my gaze.
‘Why are you avoiding me?’ I asked, gripping the parcel in my hands.
‘Can I have the parcel or not?’
‘You’re going to have to talk to me eventually.’
‘If you won’t give me the parcel, I’m going to go back to my desk.’ He said and began walking away
‘I think I know what happened-‘ I started, l
Suddenly, Ward spun around and leaned over my computer screen.
‘No, you don’t!’ He spat. ‘If you did know, you wouldn’t be talking about it here!’
His fingers gripped the screen so hard his knuckles were white. I just stared at him.
‘Do you know something?’ I whispered. His eyes darted around the room.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘You do know something. Don’t you?’ I pressed. Ward opened his mouth.
A member of finance came stumbling through the foyer, with a tray of coffees. She glanced in our direction. Ward let go of the screen and straightened up.
‘Can I have the parcel, please?’ He asked.
I handed Ward the parcel and he walked away. For a while I sat stewing. How dare he freeze me out of his investigation? How dare he let me fester here, alone in the dark, while he had all the answers?
I had begun to type a strongly worded email when he came back, parcel in hand.
‘The address is wrong.’ He said.
‘The address is wrong.’
‘It can’t be. It’s my own-‘
He shoved the envelope at me. In between the lines that I had written was another message so small it was almost illegible. It read: Something happened to Woodbine and Hardy, and I think the company is involved. Unless you want something to happen to us, we have to stop looking for answers.
I looked up at Ward. He looked from me to the camera above us.
‘Oh right.’ I said, eventually. ‘I’ll get a new envelope.’
I tore the envelope apart and shoved the shreds in my bag instead of the bin. Ward saw the large roll of cellotape that had been inside and rolled his eyes, but he didn’t leave. I put it in a new envelope, wrote the address and handed it over. Ward took it with a slight nod and walked away.
I went back to my work. But every so often, I’d glance at the camera above me.