The hand-delivered, brown manila envelope contained a written demand for an extortionate sum and rather gruesomely a sealed plastic bag containing a severed human ear. It was addressed to my wife and gave the location and time that a briefcase of cash should be left unless she preferred the further delivery of more body parts of her son.
This distressing news was tempered by the fact that said son was with us at the time we were reading the letter over breakfast. Having not been unaccountably missing or having the symmetry of his head ruined the letter did mildly distract us from the 21st birthday breakfast that Jean had just cooked.
Jean rather stoically suggested that with nothing to lose we should contravene the instructions in the letter to refrain from informing the police. Her only stipulation being to wait until we had finished the rather splendid full-English chilling in front of us.
In his statement to the constable later that morning, sat at the table containing the detritus of breakfast and wrapping paper from his presents, (the main one however was parked on the drive), we were astonished to learn that Gavin had previously received letters threatening kidnap at his University digs. He told the police officer that he’d decided they were just pranking and that since his step-fathers lottery win and subsequent publicity, he had probably been expressing himself rather too loudly. He resolved to focus more on his studies when he returned, since a degree was important to him; “despite being made for life” he quipped, winking at the policewoman.
Later Gavin explained that as an apparent bluff he had delivered a briefcase to a given location, containing only a note suggesting that they contact his step-father, he was the rich one, and he gave them my address. He even invited them to forfeit their anonymity by meeting him at his digs over the weekend. They were not to know he had other plans, were they?
In the meantime, we had been expecting the arrival of Gavin’s girlfriend Phoebe whom he’d spoken so fondly of. He had previously met her parents at a pheasant shoot and later he’d admired her dressage skills out on the mezzanine. We were somewhat disappointed therefore to learn that things had “cooled off” between them recently.
Still we jauntily exclaimed almost in unison to try and keep his spirits up, Stuart will be along for drinks later? He’d known Stuart since lower school and they’d been joined at the hip by middle-school. Stuart didn’t get into University on account of his rare attendance at upper-school, but he’d visited Gavin a number of times, hadn’t he?
Gavin agreed that he had and it seemed he’d got along with Phoebe rather too well, but still no hard feelings. Phoebe remained at her digs and he’d rather generously offered Stuart his room for the weekend. It’s amazing how good friends can just live in the moment like nothing ever happened.
(c) Steve Goodlad