The Smell of Strawberries

Another challenge… this story had to include a typewriter, a jacket, lip balm, and a cell phone. I had a lot of fun writing it!

smell of strawberries

The Smell of Strawberries

 

“Do your best,” a voice said, and the door closed behind him. He stood in a sterile, pristine white room. Bright light illuminated the perfectly square space from above, but the light was hidden behind broad, translucent white panels so that the source wasn’t readily visible.

There was a slightly sweet smell in the room. He couldn’t place it. Strawberries? Possibly. The room was as high as it was wide, and as wide as it was long. And the only feature in the clean white walls was just the door that closed behind him. In the center of the room was a table and a chair. The table was as white and clean and sterile as the walls. A jacket was draped over the back of the chair, and there was a typewriter, a mobile phone and a small tube on the table. And nothing else.

He detected a slight movement in the cold air, he felt the hair on his neck move. Probably from an air vent hidden somewhere in the ceiling, transporting cold air into the room, to be sucked out through an outlet somewhere on the floor.

He picked the jacket off the back of the chair. He stretched it between his hands, holding it by the shoulders. It had a floral print on it, and the cut and design clearly pointed to the owner being a woman. And a pretty small woman, at that. He held it to his face and inhaled deeply. He could smell the faint odour of a very feminine perfume. It smelled good. But good or bad was arbitrary. He held the jacket in front of him and looked for pockets. There were two on the outside, one on each front panel, and then one discreet slit on the inside of the left breast. He poked his fingers into each pocket and came up empty handed. He wasn’t surprised. This jacket was intended to be a fashion statement, and no woman who would wear such a finely cut piece of art would spoil it by adding lumps to the pockets. The pockets were merely cosmetic, and were never seriously intended to hold anything.

He carefully draped the jacket over the far end of the table, and sat down on the chair. In front of him stood an old Remington typewriter. The thing looked solid and sturdy, and in good repair. There was a sheet of paper fed halfway through the roller. He didn’t want to touch the typewriter as yet, for fear of contaminating evidence. He bent closer and squinted at the bright white sheet. There were a few lines of text typed on the page:

No one can say we haven’t tried, my dear. For six long years, we have both been too occupied with our own lives to realise the enormity of this project. From octagonal projections to singular planes, empty fields…

It made no sense. That didn’t come as a surprise. It’s a puzzle to be solved. He had no idea who he was looking for; the few items on this table was what he was confronted with, and he would have to make the best of it. He bent lower to catch the light from the ceiling panels on the tops of the typewriter’s well-worn shiny keys. Angling his head sideways, he saw the smooth surfaces of the keys light up in reflection, one by one. But there wasn’t anything of interest on the keys. No fingerprints, nothing. He looked at his own hands. They were covered in forensic quality latex gloves. He didn’t remember putting them on. Another mystery.

He gingerly touched the feeder knob on the side of the typewriter, and turned it forward, feeding the sheet slowly upwards, line by line. When there was enough empty space below the end of the text, he pulled the lever on the side of the typewriter and the carriage returned to the left side of the page.

Scanning the keys, he held down the shift button, shifting the whole roller by a fair fraction so that the uppercase letters on the top of the sets will hit the page rather than the lowercase. Quickly looking back at the text, he firmly pressed the N-key. With a loud clack one of the arms swung out of the mechanism and connected with the paper. As quick as the arm with the little lettered hammer appeared, it vanished again. A black ‘N’ appeared on the page, a crisp, black shape, alone in the empty space beneath the block of text. He quickly released the shift button, and making sure he had his finger on the right button, hit the ‘o’. And then the space bar. And then the ‘o’, again. After every key press, the carriage obediently moved to the left. It went slowly, he didn’t want to make any mistakes. But he didn’t need to complete the first line. He could already see what he needed to see. He looked down at the text he typed:

No one can say we haven’t tried

He looked back up to the first line on the original text block. The text lay in a straight line, every letter lying flush on an imaginary line. There were four e’s in the bit he just typed. And they didn’t line up with the rest of the text. They were offset with less than a millimeter, the ‘e’ hammers having hit the carriage slightly higher than the rest of the text. He looked back to the original, then again to his handiwork. It was clear as day. The cryptic letter wasn’t typed on this typewriter.

Another mystery.

Next to the typewriter, a mobile phone. Holding it by the corners, he carefully picked up the phone between his thumb and index finger. He did have latex gloves on, origins unknown, but he didn’t want to smudge any usable fingerprints on the unit. Angling it to the light, he once again wasn’t surprised by the absence of prints.

He pressed the power button on the phone, and the display lit up. It had slightly less than half of its battery life left. The phone didn’t have any security features preventing him from accessing it. No codes to type or patterns to draw or fingerprints to scan. The screen just opened up to a picture of a happy little dog chewing a bright yellow tennis ball. There were a few icons on the screen for applications and shortcuts. He ignored those, and tapped on the contacts list.

A list opened up with names, a few had faces next to them. He scrolled down the list. None of the names meant anything, it could be friends, colleagues, business associates, anything. But there are a few numbers on any young lady’s phone that are always marked the same. He scrolled faster and watched the alphabetized numbers roll by. He stopped when he reached M. Mary Neate, said the first entry. He scrolled up, slowly, until he got to an entry marked Mom. Mom will know who this phone belongs to, and should also be able to tell him where she could be found.

“Have you found her?” an agitated female voice said after the first ring.

“Good day,” he said. “I’m wondering if you could…”

“…tell you more about my daughter,” she said. She sounded angry. “Are you for real, mister? This is the tenth time you’ve called me, and every time you want me to explain the same story!”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “But it’s very important.”

“That’s the same you said, the last time. I’m done. Don’t call me again. As a matter of fact, I’m going to the police, now. The real police. Because I think you’re just messing with me.” She put the phone down, and for a minute he just stood with the phone in his hand, not sure what to do next. He had no recollection of phoning her.

Next, he tapped on the icon opening the text message program. There was only one entry.

I will leave my number on your desk. Call me.

The number it was sent from was a jumble. Strange characters, hashes, ampersands, exclamation marks and dollar signs stood in the ‘from’ window. The sender must have sent the text message through some sort of an encryption program to hide the message origins.

The door opened behind him. Without turning around he knew it was only one person entering. He could hear only one set of footsteps, hear only one pair of lungs breathing. By the weight of the footsteps and the particular noise accompanying the breathing, he knew it was a fairly big man. Not necessarily tall, more than likely overweight, judging by the breathing. With a moustache. Middle aged, likely in his fifties.

“So, what have you found out?”

He turned around and saw the man, almost identical to what he pictured. A red-faced man, on the short side, vastly overweight and red cheeked peered at him over his walrus moustache.

“Not much,” he said. “I don’t even know what I’m looking for.”

“You never do,” the man said. “Yet, you’re the best we have.”

“You need to find out who this stuff belongs to?” he said, and indicated with a sweep of his hand at the items on the table.

“Oh, no,” the man said. “We know very well who it belongs to. Sophia Goldberg, a young intern at a law firm downtown. Her father is one of our biggest clients, and he’s paying top dollar for us to find her.”

“Did she disappear?”

“Yes. Three days ago.”

“And this?” He looked back at the table.

“This is all that was left on her desk. A typewriter, her mobile, her jacket, and a tube of lip balm.”

“Nothing else?”

The fat man just shook his head.

“Well, I can’t really tell you anything, except…” he trailed off, looking at the typewriter.

“Except what, damn it?” The fat man sounded impatient.

“That sheet of paper wasn’t typed on that typewriter.” He pointed, indicating at the page that was two thirds fed through the Remington.

“Oh,” said the fat man, his eyebrows raised. “That’s new.”

“Have I been in here before?” he asked, looking quizzically at the man.

“I’m going to tell you a little secret, all right?” he saw a glimmer behind the fat man’s eyes. He couldn’t tell whether it was humour, or pity. “This is your ninth time in this room. And every time you come up with something all our other investigators have missed.”

“How is that even possible?”

“You suffer from a very peculiar memory condition. It has to do with spaces and framing. And, quite frankly, it gets very tiring explaining this to you every time.”

“Spaces and framing?”

“Yes. Every time you enter a room, you lose all recollection of whatever happened before you passed through that particular door.”

“Bullshit.”

“Okay,” the fat man sighed. “Ask yourself. What’s outside that door?”

He remembered coming through the door. He even remembered a voice from the outside telling him to do the best he can. But try as he might, he can’t remember anything else. His mind was a complete blank. He thought once again of what happened in the room. The lady’s mother on the telephone. She said he called her ten times. Did he? Mother. He had a mother. Everybody has a mother. What was her name? What did she look like?

Nothing. A clean slate.

He should be confused. Confusion is the expected state after such a revelation. But he had nothing to be confused about. He couldn’t remember a single thing from before he stepped through that doorframe. All he had in his mind was what he saw in here, in the last thirty minutes. That was the extent of his experience. And it was crystal clear. A jacket with a floral pattern. A typewriter with a letter that was typed on a different machine. A mobile phone with a text message that informed the recipient that a number would be left on her desk. And everything here was what was found on her desk.

Of course.

A mystery.

He stepped back and ripped the sheet from the typewriter. He stepped over to the fat man and pulled a pen from his pocket. It was a fountain pen, it looked pretty expensive. He sat back down on the chair and pushed the typewriter away. Putting the sheet of paper on the desk in front of him, he studied the text again.

No one can say we haven’t tried, my dear. For six long years, we have both been too occupied with our own lives to realise the enormity of this project. From octagonal projections to singular planes, empty fields…

“What have you got?” the fat man asked. He had a sudden, beaming smile on his face.

“This means nothing, right?” the man with no name said, pointing at the text.

“Sure.”

“But look…” he turned towards the page and uncapped the fountain pen. He looked for anything that can be construed as a number. Either phonetically, or implicitly. After each word he wrote a number and placed it in brackets. And at the end he tallied the numbers at the bottom.

No(0) one(1) can say we haven’t tried, my dear. For(4) six(6) long years, we have both(2) been too(2) occupied with our own lives to realise the enormity of this project. From octagonal(8) projections to(2) singular(1) planes, empty(0) fields… 0146228210

“There’s your number. Phone it, and you’ll find her.”

“Great!” the fat man said. He was positively beaming, now. He picked up the sheet from the desk and walked towards the door. With the door closed behind him, the man with no name got up from the chair and walked towards the recessed wooden door. He heard voices outside. He pressed his ear against the door and heard the fat man talk to someone.

“He came through, he found the number, easy as anything.”

“So we’re done now?” came another voice.

“Hell, no. Still another hour before knock-off time. Send him in again for a final sweep, maybe he’ll pick up something else.”

“Sure.”

 

He found himself in a brightly lit, square room. The room seemed as wide as it was long, and as high as it was wide. There was a table in the centre of the room, and a chair, as white and sterile as the walls. A floral-printed jacket hung over the chair, and on the table was a typewriter, a mobile phone, and a tiny tube of lip balm. The smell of strawberries filled the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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