the college murder case (part one)

Mail delivery was rather typical for U-town, in that it was casual, somewhat messy, and more or less functional.

Every day, a post office truck came over the bridge and dropped a big canvas bag onto the barricade. The bag was then put on a dolly and wheeled to a nearby storefront. There, the contents were sorted (usually fairly accurately) by a group consisting of volunteers, people expecting mail, and runners. If somebody saw mail for a neighbor, they would usually take it as well (if they were on good terms). And the runners would also pick through the pile, looking for mail they could deliver (especially to people who were known to be generous tippers).

Our mail was collected slightly more efficiently. A member of our staff, a girl of about fourteen, named Ron, handled it. She clearly enjoyed the (supposed) status and prestige that this responsibility conferred, and she wouldn't let anybody fill in for her, even when she was sick.

Every morning, she would go down to the bridge and wait for the mail truck. Then, when the canvas bag was dropped next to her, she bawled "Mail!" no matter who, if anybody, was around. She never transported the mail bag herself, but when somebody came with the dolly to bring it to our impromptu post office, she walked with them, usually watching them very carefully, especially if it was somebody she didn't know well.

While the mail was being sorted, she would take anything for any of us and put it carefully into her bag. The bag was a battered canvas shoulder bag in olive green, with a faded red cross on it, and I never did see her without it. Then, when she was absolutely sure that she had every piece of "official U-town mail," she would set off for the hotel.

When she arrived, she would always attempt to interrupt whatever we were doing in order to deliver the mail immediately. This usually led to an altercation, most often verbal but occasionally involving kicking, with either Pat (who couldn't stand her) or Fifteen (who took it as a friendly challenge whenever anybody tried to outdo him in officiousness).

Sooner or later, usually sooner, one of us would go out and let her in, since the din she generated always made it impossible to concentrate on anything anyway. Ron was not large, but her lung power was nearly superhuman, and her voice resembled either a buzz saw, a chain saw, or the world's largest dentist's drill. Opinions differed on that question, but we all agreed that, of all the people we had ever met, she was the one we least wanted to hear singing.

When she had been admitted, she would walk around the table, giving each of us our mail. She would also tell each of us whether we had received any packages. In some cases, she would actually give us the packages, but most of the time she would say, "It looked suspicious, so I disposed of it."

Ron was always very leery of packages. Her decisions may have been arbitrary, but it was not impossible to imagine someone sending us some kind of explosive, so we didn't complain. She had met (and had apparently approved of) Jan's father, and Doc's father, so packages from them were delivered, and my employer had threatened Ron with various dire punishments (loss of her job, mostly) if any shipments from her tailor went astray, so they were delivered as well.

We never did learn how she disposed of the packages she decided were suspicious, but none of them ever turned up.

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About Anthony Lee Collins

I write.
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