A Squeak in the Dark

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: CLOG
'teatime tales', from which this story comes, is a collection of short stories based on the characters from the Peckham Novels, which are available on Amazon.
'A Squeak in the Dark' features characters from the third book in the series, 'Paint the Town Red'.

Submitted: October 15, 2016

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Submitted: October 15, 2016

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Darren shuddered as he heard the noise again. It was definitely a squeak, and it came up from below, escaping through the hole in the linoleum that exposed the gaps between the floorboards. As loading bay supervisor he was always first to arrive each morning, and this Monday, in the quiet of the empty office, he could hear it very clearly. Usually he enjoyed the quiet few minutes before the day began in earnest, with just him in the packing area, and perhaps the store man, Reg, along the corridor. It was as if he was in control of the whole silent factory.

But recently that squeak had began to irritate him. Later on, as the team drifted in and indulged in idle chatter about what they did, or did not do, the night before, then the noise in the room would drown out such a small sound. But now, on his own and in need of supplies from the cellar below, the sound spoke loudly to him. Darren sat, and told himself that, rather than investigate the source, it was more important that he watched the kettle come to the boil.

He waited as the cold water began to warm, and make the occasional gurgle. It was a fairly new kettle, but you can never be too careful. It could be faulty. Yes, it was his responsibility to his staff to watch it. He did not have time to go down to the cellar yet.

As he sat the kettle began to join up its gurgles into a continuous stream, and the sound became louder, more urgent. Darren glanced up at the clock. Young Billy should be here soon. He could send him down for the packs of boxes while he checked over the paperwork on his desk: the paperwork that he had already checked the night before. As he listened to the kettle getting louder and louder he heard someone whistle, and breathed a sigh of relief as he recognised the ever cheerful Billy coming up the steps from the loading bay, two treads at a time.

“A good morning to you, boss,” called Billy as he approached. “Tis a grand day, to be sure. A grand day, indeed!”

“Hello, Billy,” replied Darren. “Billy, can you pop down and get a few packs of the ten by seven boxes from the cellar… Oh, and Billy, be careful. I thought I might have heard a noise down there.”

“What sort of noise, Boss?”

“Not sure,” Darren lied, “could have been a squeak. A mouse perhaps?”

Billy laughed.

“Dat’s not a ting to be careful of. On the farm der whole place was overrun wid dem. We used to see who could catch the most in five minutes. I got seven once, dat I did.”

“Could be bigger than a mouse. I’ve seen a rat on the bomb site down the road, and on the canal bank.”

“Well now, dat’s a different ting altogether. Can I be borrowing your cycle clips?”

“Cycle clips?”

“Der old men on der farm used to tie their trouser bottoms wid string. To stop the little devils running up, and biting the fleshy bits.”

Darren shuddered. To date he had little opportunity to use his fleshy bits, but he wanted to be sure they were intact should the opportunity arise. He had high hopes for Lisa, one of his team of packers, to be the first to oblige him, and he was sure that rat bitten fleshy bits would do nothing to enhance the romantic evening he planned to invite the girl to. He got up and reached for his jacket pocket.

“Let me have them back, I might need to go down there myself later.”

Darren wondered if he could cycle down to the post office, and forget to take the clips off when he got back. But he dismissed the idea as likely to project the wrong image, and be counter-productive in his pursuit of the lovely Lisa. Billy interrupted his musing on the problem.

“Dat I will, boss. And I’ll write to Grandpa, and get him to send me some of der stuff they use at home. Dat will do the job, to be sure. You can’t get it here, but in Cork all the shops sell it.”

Darren suddenly had a vision of rows of quaint little shops with tins of rat poison on the shelves, next to the sweets, bread and haberdashery.

“Dat..., I mean that’s kind of you Billy. Much appreciated. I tell you what, why don’t you pack up a box of that green paint they over-produced, and tuck you letter in with it. I’m sure they’d find a use for it on a farm.”

“Dat I will, tank you. Grandpa was talking of repainting the kitchen ceiling, the distemper is coming off in the cooking, so it is.”

Darren smiled and headed for the now steaming kettle. With a canteen in the basement the company had rules against making tea in offices, but Darren had successfully argued that they needed the kettle to steam open packages that had been sealed in error without including all of an order. Tracey Mulligan, the new factory owner had ignored the kettle, at least until she got round to doing something about the atrocious brew that the canteen assistant, Edith, called tea.

He took the kettle back to his desk, carefully took the pens and pencils out of the stone Coleman’s mustard jar, and dropped a teabag in.

“Do you want a cup, Billy?” he asked, his hand hovering over the Tupperware vase of plastic daffodils that doubled as a guest cup.

“No, tanks. I’m just grand. I’ll just pop along to the canteen for a butty on my way.”

Darren shook his head. Life whilst growing up on their Grandfather’s farm must have been rough for Billy and his brother Patrick. He had once actually seen Billy complement Edith on her cooking as he bought a second mug of her evil brew. The only time Darren drank the stuff was when he was in dire need of a laxative, and with rats in the cellar that was not a current requirement.

Darren’s own Grandfather had been a grocer, who took delight in telling the young boy horror stories about rats, usually just before bedtime. A favourite tale involved the pest being caught on sticky boards put down by the rat catcher. In the morning he would examine the boards, to find that rats had been caught, but had escaped by gnawing through their own legs. The old man would describe in graphic detail the trails of blood and the chewed claws that were the only evidence of the deed. Other tales told of cats loosing an eye, or gangs of rats stealing eggs by clutching them with all four paws while other rats pulled them back to their holes by their tails No wonder he had nightmares as a boy, and was so nervous of the rodents now.

Billy scampered away, and Darren listened to his footsteps as the young man went along the corridor, down the bare wooden steps and back under where he sat. He squeezed the teabag with a ruler and pencil, and reached into his desk drawer for the cardboard drum of Marvel. He checked himself as he remembered that if the tea was too hot then the powder would curdle.

Billy took some time before returning, laden with packs of flat packed boxes.

“I can’t see any sign of dem little devils down der. Not even a dropping. Are you sure the squeak came from der cellar? Not a door hinge?”

Darren shook his head. It was definitely from the cellar.

The following morning Darren again heard the squeaking from below, and again turned his attention to the kettle until Billy arrived. Over the next few days Darren found various excuses to avoid going down to the cellar. As the week progressed his tentative attentions to Lisa seemed to be reciprocated, and he definitely did not want rat bites to affect his chances.

 

 

It was almost a fortnight before Billy came in one morning with a Kwiksave bag in one hand. Nine working days in which Darren had employed every excuse he could to avoid going down to the cellar. Billy put the bag down on the bench, and walked over to the coat stand.

“Der stuff is in der. You need to put some in a tray or someting. Grandpa uses an old tobacco tin. It’s in the cocoa tin.”

Darren looked into the bag. There was a cocoa tin and a small bottle. The bottle was half full of a pale yellow liquid.

“What’s the bottle for, Billy?”

“Oh, dat. Dat’s neatsfoot oil for Reg down in the paint stores. He was telling me last week dat his new shoes squeaked, and I said I’d get Grandpa to send over some of der stuff we used on the horse harness to stop der noise.”

 

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Darren and Billy are central characters in Paint the Town Red, the third of the Peckham novels: now available on Amazon.

 



© Copyright 2017 James Court. All rights reserved.

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