The Puzzle

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Solving puzzles in a book is easy, others are not so simple.

Submitted: February 15, 2015

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 15, 2015

A A A

A A A


THE PUZZLE

Michael parked his small car adjacent to the building where he worked as concierge. A stranger seeing him would automatically think he was one of the bankers or businessmen who spent every day in the district, and then went home in the evenings. Once upon a time, before he was given early retirement, Michael had been one of them. He was loath to spend the rest of his life in front of the television, and had searched for a job that wasn’t tiring, but at the same time kept him occupied. He had gone after the job as concierge with the same enthusiasm as he had done other jobs he had had during his work life. The job entailed cleaning the staircase, maintaining the main entrance door metal gleaming, receiving the mail, and looking after the parcels that were too large to go inside the letter boxes.

Weatherly Towers, the small kingdom where Michael kept all in order, was where he had been given employment, when many of his age were only too happy to do very little, or just sit and vegetate. There were nine floors with three flats on each floor. Once he was used to the work itself,Michael found it the easiest job he had ever had. It was about that time he began buying puzzle books to get through the dead moments of the day - those times between lunch and tea. There was a newsagent right where he left his car, and that was how he had stumbled upon the puzzle books, when buying a morning newspaper.

Michael’s work day began after parking his car. His first port of call was the baker’s, where he purchased freshly baked bread for half of the flat dwellers. Then he went on to the small supermarket, where he filled his shopping bag with milk, tea, coffee, butter, margarine, eggs, and bacon. When that was done, he entered Weatherly Towers and went to the floors where the purchasers lived. He hung a plastic bag on the door knobs and gave a light knock, they would come and open the doors to their flats and take in the shopping. Many people wondered why he performed the little service. One reason behind this was that he liked doing it, and the other reason was to make sure that they had nothing bad to say about him. It was also another way of getting exercise.

Michael was particularly friendly with four couples. They were of different age groups, but they all managed to get along. There were no children in the towers, as the flats were deemed too exclusive for them. Anyway, their presence wouldn’t have been welcomed.  

 

Barry and Melinda lived on the seventh floor in door number 20. They were a long-term married couple. They had both held good jobs at one time, and had maintained a house and children. Then as the children left home, Barry and Melinda sold the house and bought a two bed-roomed flat in Weatherly Towers. They were very happy there, one reason being that after going up to the seventh floor in the lift they got out and went into a one floor home. Just being able to walk from one room into another was a great boost, after spending a lifetime of climbing flights of stairs. The cleaning was made so much easier, and they both had a hand in that. Melinda still had a job, which was to help out at the library. The idea was not for the money, but to get out of the flat. There was no escape from Barry, who pestered her day and night. He expected her to be at his beck and call for twenty-four hours seven times a week. Barry bought a pair of binoculars to entertain himself while Melinda was at work. He had a mania for cooking, and spent many an hour preparing exotic dishes for his wife to taste, which she spat out as soon as he was out of the dining-room. They had lived at Weatherly Towers for ten years, which made them nearer in age to Michael.

Jason and Shannon lived on the ninth floor, two floors higher than Barry and Melinda. They had decorated it in the darkest colours imaginable, whereas Barry and Melinda were keen on pastel colours. Jason was a dark character, and never went to open the door until he heard the lift take Michael down to another floor. Shannon was always with her head under the bed clothes when the bag of goodies was put on the door knob. Jason would go into the black-and-red kitchen and prepare breakfast for Shannon and himself. Their kitchen was more like a left-over set from a horror film, than for two normally healthy thirty-five-year olds to live in. They had wanted a flat instead of a house, to save on the wear and care of a garden and the exteriors. All their friends found it odd that they should prefer to live in a flat. Yet when invited round, were never in a hurry to leave. The bathroom reflected the same theme as the kitchen. There was a red floor, and dark blue ceiling with silver stars, the walls had clouds painted on them. It was all rather unconventional, and at the same time held an extraordinary attraction over anyone who visited.

Paul and Leanne were another couple who had Michael buying their basic necessities every morning. They lived on the fourth floor, and had everything decorated in white and cream. Their curtains were made of the heaviest creamy-white linen thinkable. There was no room for colour in their lives, and their underwear was the same. They also slept in creamy-white sheets under enormous white duvets. The clothes in the cupboards were in neutral colours too. Michael found them rather boring, as they never passed more than a couple of words with him, whereas the other tenants made an effort to say something, however superficial it might seem.

Gary and Michelle were both market traders, and spent more time at work than in their flat. Their flat was bare bones as regards decoration, in comparison with the other flat dwellers. Their abode was on the eighth floor.

 

The four couples mentioned, were the ones that Michael had more contact with, but at the same time, no one could say they were on intimate terms. Michael was as useful to them as his wife, Nancy, was. When Michael had taken on the job as concierge, many of the tenants of the flats had asked him if he knew of any ladies who would be willing to help out with the cleaning of their homes. Michael had suggested the idea to Nancy as a little money earner, and she had been more than delighted to do a spot of vacuuming and dusting for a fair remittance. She had no problems with her clients, as they were away from home for most of the day. Meanwhile, downstairs, Michael, during his easy hours, opened a new puzzle book every day. Since becoming concierge, he had become quite an expert. He recognized that there were questions that were frequently asked. The sudoku had been a bit difficult at first, but he had soon conquered them.

Every afternoon as the sun went down, Michael was to be seen in his cubby-hole doing puzzles. At night when Michael and Nancy were in their home, the conversations quite often spun around the tenants of Weatherly Towers.

“Did you see that large box for Barry and Melinda Fallon that arrived today?” Nancy asked her husband.

“Of course I did. What was in it?”

“I didn’t open it, but it rattled when shaken. I left it by the front door so they would see it on arriving home.”

“Nancy, you should leave well alone. One day you’ll get caught doing something you shouldn’t.”

Unwilling to be left with those words as the end of the conversation, Nancy continued, “There’s still no furniture in the Coombs’ flat, only the bare essentials. I reckon they’re planning a moonlight flit.”

“How would you know that? Have they told you?”

“They’re always on the phone when I’m there, and they don’t receive any visitors either, and she has a personal trainer now,” Nancy explained.

“I know, Michelle told me. She said a young man would be calling on her three times a week to get her into shape.”

Nancy, whose work in the staircase was light enough to nosey into others lives, poo-pooed the idea, and went to see how their dinner was coming along in the kitchen.

 

Melinda was kneeling on the floor where the box had been left by Nancy. She opened it rather gingerly, not knowing what to expect. Barry came out of the kitchen at that moment and asked, “Haven’t you opened it yet?”

“I’m still wondering what’s inside it. Why should your brother send us such a large box without any description of the contents?”

They both attended to the opening of the box, and sat back on their heels as the contents were revealed. There was an accompanying letter.

 

Dear Barry and Melinda,

Hope you find the enclosed useful. I’ve been clearing out the garage as we’re moving soon and chucking out old junk. I know you used to like these things. Love to you both.

Tom.

 

The ‘enclosed’ turned out to be a large, old-fashioned jewellery box, inside which was the ugliest jewellery to be imagined. “I hope he doesn’t think I’ll wear any of this, it’s perfectly horrendous. What does he mean when he says ‘you used to like these things’?”

Barry smiled and said, “I used to think about making jewellery when I was younger.”

“And why didn’t you?”

“No one in the family was in the jewellery business, so it was not taken very seriously, and in the end, I forgot all about it.”

“You could go back to it if you wanted to, instead of cooking.”

“We’ll see,” Barry answered.

 Between the two of them they broke up the box, and later that night, Barry put it down in the paper bin.

 

Paul and Leanne were sitting on their creamy-white sofa eating dinner off white plates. They were dressed in white pyjamas, the only non-white thing they didn’t have in their lives was their hair, that was highly coloured. Leanne’s hair was a rich red, and Paul’s was dark brown. “I’ve made an appointment to see the dentist in two days. He’s going to whiten my teeth,” Leanne said to her partner.

“Good idea, make me an appointment when you’re there. OK?”

“All right, if you say so. How much longer do we have to stay in this flat?”

Paul pulled out a calendar and flicked over a few pages, and then said, “Till about next month. That should do the trick. Are you all right about this?”

“I suppose so, as long as you don’t get me into a scandal.”

They went into the kitchen and washed the dishes, and then went into their separate bedrooms. Leanne stayed in the white, double-bedroom, while Paul switched on his laptop and began sending messages. When he had done his work for the evening, he opened a cupboard door and unfolded a double-bed, also in white. Nancy’s curiosity would have been at an all time high if she had seen that.

 

Gary and Michelle lived more in the style of camping than dwelling in the flat. There was no sofa or armchairs, but deckchairs and picnic tables. Nancy was amazed at the apparent poverty-stricken conditions they lived in. They loved the fact that Michael had never made mention of how they lived, and that he took them up the shopping they ordered every day. The couple led a very disorderly timetable in the eyes of some, but for what they did, it was perfect. Gary and Michelle had stalls in markets, and went to different places every day. Their goods were left in a van that was parked far away from the prying eyes of the other tenants of Weatherly Towers. It had taken them a lot of moves and arguments to get a decent place to live in, as what they did for a living was considered a bit bohemian. What no one knew, and probably would never have guessed, was that they had both been gainfully employed once upon a time, but with cuts and recessions, they had made the decision to look after themselves and become independent traders. They were successful in a job area that is hard work, where you have to rely on your wits, and buy goods that sell. Ladies’ clothes always sell, and many people buy goods from markets, and tell lies to their friends and families about the origins of their clothes, when times are tough. It was also a good way of avoiding paying taxes. As they were so used to changing addresses, it had become second nature to both of them, to take up stakes when they thought they were threatened. Before that happened, they were busy earning good money and saving to move to sunnier climes.

 

Michael was cleaning the metal on the main door to the building. He liked to be more or less outside of the block of flats, because that was when he met the other concierges and the people like Michelle’s personal trainer, who always greeted him on entering and leaving.

One night he commented to Nancy, “Do you see any improvement in Michelle’s body since she had the personal trainer?”

Nancy, who was not at all interested in Michelle, said, “No, I haven’t, but then she doesn’t interest me. A woman who hasn’t got any furniture is either too poor, or too stingy.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

What neither of them knew was that the personal trainer had little to do with Michelle, but was an accomplice of Jason and Shannon. They had been associates of Gary and Michelle for a long time, and although they weren’t exactly friends, they covered each others backs. Nobody had ever seen them talking in the hall or in the elevator, and had never aroused suspicion of any sort.

 

Michael had run out of puzzle books, and one afternoon went to the newsagent to get some new ones. He made a startling discovery on seeing Shannon talking to Gary in animated conversation. He felt it was better to say nothing to Nancy, as she had the habit of telling her friends and family everything on her mobile. He kept that fact to himself. What Gary was saying to Shannon, was, “Is Jason going tonight?”

“Yes, we’re both going.”

 

 Michael was back in his cubby-hole when Gary returned and said, “Good afternoon, Michael.”

The concierge said, “Hello. Cold, isn’t it?”

 

Gary’s elevator arrived and he got in. Michelle was lying on the bed when he arrived, and got up to make him a cup of tea.

“Is everything OK?” she asked him.

“Yes, it’s fine for the moment. We must make sure the concierge isn’t around when we leave the building, that’s why we have to go in at midnight, when he’s snug in bed with that wife of his.”

“Fine, then we’d better eat now. I shan’t be long preparing something.”

 

That night at midnight the two couples, Jason and Shannon, Gary and Michelle, sneaked down the stairs to the street. They didn’t take the elevator in order not to attract attention. They went to where a van was waiting for them, and got in. The driver with no name, said, “Is everyone here?”

They all nodded, and the van set out for where cars were assembled. There were other vehicles outside also, with moonlighters waiting to enter. The large sliding doors to the building opened and they all entered. The noise was deafening, but that was no matter, they were all there for one thing only, and that was to earn money, however tiring and uncomfortable it was. The women went to one end of the assembly line, and the men to another where the work was much heavier. At the end of the night they would be paid in cash, and no one would be any the wiser. Names were never given and everyone was there on trust. They were kept so busy that they hardly had time to breathe, there was no break, and they worked solidly all through the night till daybreak appeared. The same vehicles that had taken them to the assembly line, took them back to the pick up points. Everyone who worked there had their own reasons for doing so. Woe betide the snitch who put the bubble in. For the manufacturers it was a perfect solution, and for the workers too.

 

Michael guessed there was a puzzle in the building, but he never guessed what it was. During the bad weather Michael was never outside in the street. He preferred to be in his cubby-hole with an electric fire burning up the little oxygen he had. The puzzle books were still his staple entertainment. Every so often, he’d wonder about the tenants, but as nothing had taken place that was untoward, he just got on with his job.

 

Paul and Leanne, who were known as the white couple, had an online business that sold only white clothes, linen, and furniture. They weren’t partners in any other sense than business. Therefore they weren’t emotionally involved. Leanne had been in business with her ex-husband and wanted out, after putting in a lot of hard work only to find him spending money at the casino and at the betting shop. When she met Paul he was looking for someone to help him set up a new business, and Leanne had told him about her white clothes. Paul had come up with the idea of selling everything in white, and being uninvolved with other colours, in order to avoid being out of fashion - as white is always in. The flat was all right, but they both wanted to be independent. The sales were good, and they made the decision to get flats or small houses so that they wouldn’t be so much in each other’s hair.

 

Barry took the jewellery to be cleaned at a jeweller’s. One day, Melinda got a call from said jeweller, asking Barry to call in.

“Good afternoon, Mr and Mrs Fallon, please sit down. I have some news for you. Some of the jewellery you brought me to clean is very good, and I think you could take it to be auctioned. I don’t know how much it might fetch, but something for sure. Are you interested?”

Barry and Melinda exchanged looks, and Barry said, “Yes, of course I’m interested. Please go ahead.”

The jeweller took down Barry’s particulars and placed the jewellery in his safe. “I’ll ring you, to let you know when the auction is. Good afternoon.”

 

Barry and Melinda didn’t say a word till they got home. “Do you think your brother knows about this?” Melinda asked.

“I don’t suppose so for a minute. Anyway he was never keen on old things. You’ve seen how young his wives are getting. The new one is younger than his daughter!”

 

The jeweller kept his word, and a few days later he rang the Fallons. Melinda answered the phone, and was told that the auction was dated for the next Friday. Both Barry and Melinda turned up at the auctions rooms, not knowing what to think, as neither of them had ever been to one before. The auctioneer went through several other articles, and the couple was getting more and more tired of waiting. At last, the auctioneer announced the jewellery. They sat up, wondering what would happen next. “The next items are a collection of antique jewellery, the starting price is one million pounds.”

Barry fainted in his seat, and Melinda’s throat went dry. When it was all over they had received ten million pounds. They were too overwhelmed to say or do anything, so they went back to their flat.

After some thought, they emigrated to New Zealand, and bought a lovely bungalow there with precious views of both sea and mountains.

 

Gary and Michelle were fed up with selling clothes in a cold climate, and when they had saved enough money moonlighting, they went to live in Portugal, where they found life far more relaxing.

 

Jason and Shannon went to live in an area where moonlighting was common practise, and were quite happy to continue living in the same way. When their jobs ran out in England, they moved to Portugal, where Gary and Michelle had managed to find that kind of work. The language wasn’t a problem, as the majority of the population spoke English. The two couples were both happy in their choice of a new home and work prospects.

 

Michael woke up one morning to find that a bag of money was hanging in his cubby-hole. There was no way of identifying who had left the money. The same day he also discovered that four of the flats were empty.

 

He didn’t say anything to Nancy, even though it was thanks to her (and sudoku), from what she said about the rattle of the parcel, he deduced where the bag of money had come from. She would have wanted to spend it, so he decided to stash it away for when he was tired of being a concierge.

 

Michael was happy as his brain had never addled, thanks to the puzzle books. Although he would never know how, the puzzles in the building were solved. He decided to continue with his puzzle books and his job, to keep his mind stimulated, and stay out of his wife’s way.


© Copyright 2019 Georgina V Solly. All rights reserved.

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