He didn’t notice the men unloading the truck in the forecourt. He just walked past them as if they’d been invisible. Jake, the warehouse foreman, called out, “Cheer up Max, it might never happen.” Max showed no sign of having heard – not even the traditional reply of “It’s too late, it already has.”
Jake watched as Max made his way through the warehouse, past the rackings of quality teak garden furniture. There had been something about his face, perhaps a few wrinkles, more than you’d expect from a man in his thirties, perhaps his hair was just a little flecked with grey. Jake shook his head and sighed. They’d all heard about the problems Max had been having, but he hadn’t known they were so bad.
Max wearily climbed the stairs to the long open-plan office, failed to hear Sharon’s cheery “Hi Max, tough weekend?” and slumped down at his desk. He was halfway through his second cigarette before he noticed someone talking to him. It was Dan, the logistics co-ordinator.
“Thought you were trying to give up on the fags?”
“Oh, Dan. Ja. Sie haben Recht” Max briefly slipped into his native German, his mind on other things. “She’s left me, Dan. Becky has left me.”
Dan paused, then he quietly asked “When?”
“Yesterday. I don’t blame her. This has been hard for both of us. She was starting to have a nervous breakdown.”
He took another long drag on the cigarette, then continued. “She kept imagining that someone was following her everywhere, even in the house. She said she could hear voices, footsteps. Then yesterday, I was in the garden, when she started screaming from the kitchen. I ran inside and found the place was in a mess, our Sunday lunch had been thrown onto the floor and most of the crockery and cutlery was with it.”
“She… Any idea what made her snap so quickly like that? I mean, I this has been bad for both of you, but…” Dan’s voice tailed off.
“I don’t know. She kept insisting she had not done it, that the pots and pans just flew through the room by themselves.” Max sighed. “I had no idea she’d been so badly affected. It could be me next.”
“So, your… er, other problem’s still going on, then?”
“‘Fraid so,” chipped in Sharon, the receptionist, as she brought round the post. “This looks like one of hers.” She dropped a bright green envelope, covered in hand-drawn hearts and kisses, on Max’s desk.
Max mumbled a silent thank-you, and reached for the letter. He wanted to throw it straight in the bin, of course, but he couldn’t do that. Not with Sharon and Dan watching. He tore it open, and pulled out a sheet of A4 paper with a large multi-coloured heart drawn on it in children’s wax crayons. On every available bit of white space was written “This is my heart, it belongs to you! Diane.”
“How long’s it been, now?” asked Sharon.
“Since spring, over three months ago. First the letters, then the phone calls. And then the flowers and notes left in the house. She must have broken in to leave them there. And the worst thing is in all this time, I have never even seen the woman.” He sighed. “If I could only meet her in person, I’m sure I could persuade her to stop.”
The others nodded. They’d heard all this before, and still didn’t know what to say. Sharon mumbled “Never mind, eh? You’ll work something out.”
Max shrugged his shoulders, screwed up the unrequited love letter and its envelope, and dropped them into the bin. Dan and Sharon reluctantly drifted back towards their own desks.
The phone call
came that lunchtime. Sharon, who would normally answer the phones, was out along with half the rest of the office staff. When the phone rang, it was Max who answered it.
“Hello, Henson Services. Can I help you?”
His heart sunk as he recognised the voice at the other end of the line. “Oh Max, I just knew it would be you.”
Max knew he should just hang up, but he had also learned the hard way that this Diane would only be encouraged further by that kind of challenge.
“Have you…” he began
“Did I ever tell you how much I love your voice? People say German is an ugly language, but I think German accents are very sexy!”
“Do you know what you have done?” His raised voice attracted the attention of the rest of the office, but he didn’t care.
“You mean Becky leaving you? Yes, I know everything about that. Maybe even more than you do.” She giggled. “That wimp wasn’t right for you anyway, not like me.”
“How can you say that? I’ve never even met you.”
“No, but I’ve seen you Max, lots of times, even if you haven’t seen me. Anyway, you’ll meet me soon. What do you think I look like? Can you guess?”
“I don’t care what you look like! I don’t want to look at you – I just want the chance to talk to you in person.”
“There, I knew you’d understand. You’ll meet me tonight, when you least expect it.” Diane giggled, then hung up.
Quickly, Max dialled “1471” to trace the call. There wasn’t really any point. Every one of Diane’s calls had been from a different location – shops, houses, offices – and each time, the people at those locations always denied knowing anything about her.
“Telephone number: 0181?”
As the computer voice read out the number, Max couldn’t believe his ears. That was the number of the phone down in the warehouse. He looked out of the long window, which ran the length of the office overlooking the ground floor of the warehouse. He could see the phone on its trestle table, but no sign of the stalker.
Perhaps she was hiding amongst the crates? “Nein,” he sighed under his breath. More likely she’d never been there at all. What if she worked for a phone company? Could she fake any number she liked. That must be it. He smiled for the first time that day…
Continue to chapter two