“Invisible ink, Mrs. Parsons.”
Elizabeth Parsons, holding a sheaf of blank paper, looked up at Mr. Umbridge, an expression of confusion on her pink face. “But why?”
“Believe me, I don’t know, Mrs. Parsons. But your husband assured me that it would be visible under ultraviolet light. Alas, we have no such source on the premises. But I’m sure you’ll be able to buy one, or perhaps borrow one for the duration required.”
“Do you know what he wrote?”
“That I do not, Mrs. Parsons, and if I did, I’m afraid I still couldn’t tell you. It would breach client confidentiality.”
“But surely now he’s dead?”
“It matters not, Mrs. Parsons, the principle is paramount. However, …” He paused, gazing out above the bags under his eyes into Elizabeth Parsons’ bright blue orbs. “However, he assured me it was written with, er … kindness.”
Hah. That would make a change, she thought but kept her face expressionless.
“So, there we have it, Mrs. Parsons, we’ve been through the terms of the will and it just remained for me to pass on that envelope from your dear, departed husband.”
Elizabeth sat in a station cafeteria at a table, alone. The café was generally quiet, the adjoining tables unoccupied, save for a solitary middle-aged man. She sipped her latte and took out the envelope, extracting the sheets and holding one up to the light. She could make out the faintest translucence in places but the writing was well and truly invisible. Just what had the old bastard wanted to say to her in death that he couldn’t have said in life? She put the papers back in the envelope and put the envelope to one side. Well, she would have to first determine how much an ultraviolet light would cost. And test it out first, of course. She didn’t want to splash out on a costly white elephant!
Just then, a cry came from somewhere outside, where tables spilled onto the station concourse. “My little boy. Where is he?” The woman’s voice was shrill, panicked.
A handful of patrons stood up from their chairs but seemed reluctant to move towards the woman’s increasingly desperate cries. Elizabeth rushed across, putting her hands on the woman’s upper arms. “Calm down. Please calm down!” The woman was red-faced, looking around frantically, her frightened eyes wide with ancestral angst.
Elizabeth resisted the urge to give her a good hard slap. Instead, she shook her vigorously. “Listen to me. When did you last see your boy? What was he wearing?”
The woman seemed to regain some composure. “He … he was here just two minutes ago. I … I went to get some sugar.” She spoke rapidly, gasping for breath. “When I came back, he’d gone. He’s nowhere to be seen!” She gestured around the cavernous station hall.
“What was he wearing?”
“A red jumper. Blue jeans. He’s only six.” She began to sob. Others had gathered around now.
“We need to call the police,” someone said.
A tall man with a huge bulbous nose and no-nonsense manner stood forward. “No, wait, let’s all spread out and search the station. All report back here in three minutes, then we’ll call the police, if necessary. He’s probably wandered off. That’s what children do.”
Elizabeth looked over at her bag anxiously.
“Don’t worry,” said the man. “One of us will stay here to watch our belongings. You!” He pointed to a huge woman in a ludicrous pink dress. She certainly didn’t look the type to bound along a hundred metres of the platform and back in three minutes. He began to regiment the members of the impromptu search party.
Elizabeth headed down the outside platform, the one nearest to her, as per her orders. A train stood waiting to leave. She ran down the side of the train, looking anxiously through the windows. Towards the middle of the train, a man noticed her and quickly glanced away, down at something on the table before him. He looked oddly familiar. From the café perhaps? Suddenly she heard a cry and looked back. In the distance, the woman in pink was holding the hand of a small boy with a red jumper and blue trousers.
All’s well that ends well, Elizabeth thought as, back at the café, she passed the mother, who was half-laughing, half-crying, remonstrating with the boy.
“But mummy, I saw a pussy cat. I wanted to stroke it.”
What a fuss over nothing, she thought as she picked up her bag. She looked for the envelope but the table, the chairs, the ground were bare. Frantically she emptied her bag over the table. With growing horror, she realised the envelope wasn’t there, just as she heard the train pulling away from the near platform.
Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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