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The prompt for this story was: a cliche and a twist.
He was late. The old man would be waiting.
Carter tugged his hat firmly down on his head, gathered the parcel to be delivered, and swung down from his seat. Winter had come early this year, but it was no less vicious for that. The icy wind froze his skin despite layers of wool and leather; it whipped his long coat about his knees and threatened to blow his hat clean off.
This business wasn’t illegal, as such, but he’d be lying if he said it was completely above board. He gave the brim of his hat another tug, darted a look down the deserted lane, and made for the side door with a halting stride that was equal parts trudge (in deference to the ankle-deep snow) and slide (because at the bottom of the snow was a packed layer of ice.)
It was twice as far to the servant’s door than it would have been to the big oak double doors at the front of the house, but he didn’t mind it. For all his vivid imagination (“It’ll get you in trouble one of these days, Carter,” Mrs Carter had said only yesterday), he would never dream of using the main doors. Deliveries went to the side door. Especially deliveries of this nature.
He only slipped once on his way to the small porch, managing with the dexterity of long experience to keep his box upright and clear of the ground as he struggled to his feet. It was a relief to reach the lee side of the house and slide in under the jutting eaves, out of the wind.
Three tugs on the bell, and he settled in for the wait. It always took the old man some time to move from place to place in this huge mansion of his.
Carter walked up and down the porch a number of times, stomped his feet to shake the worst of the snow off his boots, and amused himself by blowing steam from his mouth and nostrils like a great dragon of legend. He was debating tugging the bell chain again when there came a fearsome yell. Around the corner of the house hurtled a massive figure in greatcoat and boots, tricorne hat low on his brow and scarf high across the nose, rapier raised.
Carter raised his free hand. “Good evening, your lordship.”
“Avast there, you young rapscallion!”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, sir.”
The baron checked his headlong rush a bare foot from the porch. “Eh?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” he repeated.
“What was that? Speak up, lad!”
“I’M PROCLAIMING MY IGNORANCE, SIR.”
“Alright, keep your hat on. Upon my oath, such disrespect from young ’uns today.”
Carter maintained his look of stoic patience, forbearing to mention that at thirty years of age he was hardly a youth just out of the schoolroom.
“I saw you coming up the lane,” the baron went on, joining him on the porch and juggling his rapier in order to fish a crowded key-chain from his pocket. “You want to be careful at this time of night in these parts. All sorts of people about.”
Carter raised an eyebrow and bit back a smile. “Yes, sir.”
“Scoundrels. Ruffians. You know.”
“Yes, sir. I brought your package, sir.”
Carter nodded to the flattish square box in his hand.
“Oh, that package! I’m much obliged to you. Tell Marsdon I’ll settle with him at the end of the month, would you?”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“The devil it won’t. I’ll come up to the shop myself if I must. A gentleman pays his debts, lad.”
“Yes, sir, but these debts aren’t, er, on record, if you follow me.”
Finding the correct key, the baron fitted it to the lock, shooting Carter a sharp look from under shaggy brows. “It’s like that, is it?”
“I see.” The old man swung the door open, hooked the rapier over the hatstand, and turned back, hand outstretched dramatically. “Stand and deliver!”
“I am endeavouring to do so, sir.” Carter proffered the pizza box.
The baron grunted and took it from him. He eyed the bright red logo: Mars’ Pizza Palace. “Charity for an old man, is it?”
“Mars worries about you.”
“He needn’t,” was the blunt reply.
“So do the rest of us at the shop, especially those of us who were in your summer production. Really. It’s the least we can do.”
The baron’s expression softened. “Well, thank you – and thank the rest of ’em for me, will you?”
“Now be off with you. I’m sure you’ve places to be.”
“Yes, sir. Have a good night, sir.”
The baron grunted again. The door swung shut in Carter’s face.
He tugged his red cap lower on his head and headed out into the cold. A few minutes had him back at the truck; he swung up into his seat, checked the list of deliveries for the night, and turned the key in the ignition.
Soon there was no sound but the fading thunder of the engine, and no sight but the swirling of snow.